Wednesday, August 4

Opinion | Tokyo gold in the eighth women’s category moves Canada beyond rowing pains

TOKYO – It’s called the Sea Forest Waterway, the venue for the Olympic rowing regatta at these postponed Games. And if the name conjures up a certain image, perhaps an idyllic basin flanked by green foliage, which is the way it is viewed from some angles on TV broadcast, it’s a bit of false advertising.

The “Sea” is out there somewhere. But the part of Tokyo Bay where the world’s best rowers came to rank for medals this week is flanked by an industrial wasteland laden with rusted metal and desolate concrete. And as for the “Forest,” well, if you look past the adjacent heavy truck route and underneath the planes that frequent the commercial flight path, yes, there are some trees.

Speaking of not living up to expectations: For the second Olympiad in a row, the Canadian rowing team entered the final day of competition in desperate need of a great performance from all eight women to help redeem a disappointing performance. For the second Olympic Games in a row, the national rowing team emerged from the first two days of medal races with just one trip to the podium, in this case a hard-fought bronze from Hillary Janssens and Caileigh Filmer in the female pair. In Rio, a medal ended up being all the spoils of Canada, this in a regatta in which 14 other countries obtained at least two medals.

So let’s just say Canada’s gold medal win in the women’s round of 16 on Friday was more than timely. By winning Canada’s last chance at a rowing medal at these Games, the team not only managed a surprise for reigning world champions New Zealand, who finished with silver almost a second behind the Canadians. It also put an end to one of the sport’s most impressive dynasties, toppling from the podium a United States program that had won three consecutive gold medals at the event. China won the bronze. The United States finished fourth in both men’s and women’s eighth and exited the race without a single medal.

So take a bow, Lisa Roman, Christine Roper, Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski, Andrea Proske, Susanne Grainger, Madison Mailey, Sydney Payne and Avalon Wasteneys, not to mention helmsman Kristen Kit. charting a dangerously misguided course.

“I could talk to you all day about these women,” Kit, the St. Catharines helmsman, said of his eight before the Olympics. “We have really excellent communication. We really respect each other. Our hearts really beat as one. By that I mean, our dream is the same, our feelings towards dreams are the same. “

Kit, mind you, acknowledged that the Olympic final was almost impossible to predict given that, by the time they reached the Games, the eight Canadians had not raced in the better part of two years.

“In fact, it’s very difficult to know where we are,” Kit said. “We know our speed. We know where our areas of opportunity are in our career. But obviously we don’t know what our competition is doing. “

Gold allowed Canada to match its total of two medals from the 2012 London Olympics, when it took equal silver across all eight men and women.

Heading into Friday, there are those who wondered where the program had failed since then. Not that there are no worries yet, especially on the men’s side of the boathouse. Canada has not featured eight men since the London silver. In 2016, the country’s small-boat strategy meant it didn’t even attempt to qualify for an eight for the Rio Games. This time, a qualifying attempt to bring a large ship to Tokyo fell short. Conlin McCabe, the show’s veteran who was a member of the London Eight and finished fourth here in the male duo with his partner Kai Lagerfeld, said the world is getting better.

“The Olympic rowing regatta has become increasingly competitive. Qualifying for the Games is increasingly difficult now than in London, ”said McCabe. “In London we had a couple (of men), four and eight. Here we only had one couple qualified for the world championship, Kai and I, and then the four of them got their last chance. The regatta is getting more competitive. The quality of rowers around the world is increasingly competitive. Canada has to answer the call. “

There is hope in sight. McCabe, 30, said there are promising young rowers on the way, including one of four men who won gold at the U23 world championship.

But what does it take for the show to rediscover something closer to the heyday of 2008, when Canada won four medals in the sport? Both Lagerfeld and McCabe chose an interesting word: leadership.

“What I really hope for in Canadian men’s rowing is really strong and clear leadership and guidance, something that all those young men can sink their teeth into and just establish a good team and a good culture to work with,” Lagerfeld said.

McCabe added: “As Kai said, (eventual success) comes from having great leadership with a clear vision – (this) could really help establish that for the great crop of promising young rowers that we are super excited to see what they can do. do “.

Leadership changes, of course, have not been exactly uncommon for Canada’s rowing staff. The poor performance in Rio led to changes in the coaching ranks and in the all-important high performance director’s chair, with Peter Cookson stepping out to make room for Iain Brambell.

“It’s easy enough to peer into from the outside. But the athletes on the inside who have been through that since 2012, and have been through all these changes, they know how difficult it has been at times, “Lagerfeld said.

What hasn’t changed much, at least so far, has been the hefty budget for rowing. The sport received around $ 17 million in taxpayer-driven Own The Podium funding in the run-up to Rio. And while there was concern that the number would be hit in the run-up to Tokyo given Own The Podium’s pay-for-performance model, the rowing was able to convince those who control the threads of the bag to shell out around $ 20 million in the road to Tokyo. .

Before the eight women in Canada pulled the gold out of the fire on Friday, he might have been excused if he was skeptical about the program’s future prospects of withholding such funding. But when a triumphant eight celebrated their triumph, with Kit standing in the boat to applaud his exhausted crewmates after they crossed the line at Sea Forest Waterway, it was perhaps a bit easier to see that particular forest through. the trees.

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