It was the podium times two on a memorable Friday for Island athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Victoria rowers Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee won the silver medal in the women’s lightweight double while Victoria swimmer Hilary Caldwell captured bronze in the women’s 200-metre backstroke.
Jennerich’s and Obee’s was a medal years in the making after the 2012 London Olympics, where the duo failed to make the final after winning silver at the 2011 world championships.
“I am really happy and relieved . . . it’s hard to describe,” said Obee, by phone from Rio.
Trailing by three seconds and in fifth place at the halfway point of the 2,000-metre final in Rio, Jennerich and Obee put on their patented late push to rally for the silver medal, holding off the bronze-medallist Chinese double but were unable to catch the proficient gold-medallist Dutch.
Jennerich, who rows from the bow seat and is the quarterback of the duo, said she asked Obee to empty her tank with 750 metres remaining, and her partner did. Backed by all those early mornings and hard kilometres on Elk Lake, they left everything out there on the water Friday in Rio.
“Patricia responded when we needed and never once did she let me down,” said Jennerich.
“We were fully committed to each other.”
Even at that, there would be no catching the Dutch, who were in a class by themselves. But this is a silver medal with a golden lining. Jennerich said the seamless power of the untouchable Dutch double in the final made her appreciate her second-place finish all that much more.
“Silver for VCRC [Victoria City Rowing Club] junior alum . . . what a race!,” the club said on Twitter.
“We really felt the support from Vic City,” said Obee.
Jennerich talked about a life’s journey. “I came out of Vic City to UVic rowing all out of the same boathouse,” she said.
“Elk Lake and that boathouse has been a huge part of my life for half my life. I hope I made everybody at the boathouse really proud. I must thank them so much. To have two rowers from the same city and same boathouse on the Olympic podium together is really special and unique.”
Even the weather for the Olympic final was just like home for the Islanders.
“It was gray and raining and we looked at each other and said: ‘Victoria is here with us,’” chuckled Jennerich.
“And we'll never forget how it was pouring rain in the ‘B’ final at London in 2012. It’s almost like everything had come full circle on this day. It’s unbelievable.”
The emotions came welling up as both rowers thought back to a quest with so many highs and lows.
Their coach, Tom Morris, had placed duct tape on their foot plates in their boat before the final with the word “Tunnel” written on Obee’s, as in tunnel vision, and “No Regrets” written on Jennerich’s.
“Both messages were perfect and were good reminders of what each of us had to do,” said Jennerich following the medal ceremony. “I’m at peace with no regrets,” Jennerich said of her silver medal.
With Caldwell’s bronze in swimming Friday, Island-based athletes have three medals at the Rio Olympics, with the women’s rugby sevens team capturing the bronze medal earlier in the week. It’s the seventh consecutive Olympics in which an Elk Lake-based Canadian crew has won a medal in rowing.
But that proud legacy could be fading with Victoria-based Rowing Canada facing a massive post-Rio rebuild almost from the ground up. Although Obee is 24 years old, Jennerich is 34.
“My parents are wondering why they don’t have grand-children by now,” said Jennerich, only half-jokingly.
The men’s rowing program, meanwhile, will need major retooling after a hugely disappointing Rio Olympics.
The Elk Lake-based Canadian men’s four made the final Friday but fell back to a sixth-place place. Obee’s boyfriend is Will Crothers of the fours crew.
“I’m just gutted for them,” she said.
Canada's final chance for a rowing medal is Saturday when the Canadian women’s eight — with Caileigh Filmer and Christine Roper of Victoria and UVic Vikes product Antje von Seydlitz of Terrace — race in the final.
Meanwhile, two-time Olympic-medallist swimmer Ryan Cochrane of Victoria began his quest Friday in the 1,500-metre freestyle qualifying preliminaries. The 2008 Beijing bronze- and 2012 London silver-medallist qualified for Saturday’s final but didn’t look like his old confident self as he began fading late and laboured in qualifying seventh for tonight’s eight-man final.
The world appears to have caught up and the 27-year-old Islander, the most decorated Canadian swimmer of his generation, is going to have to dig deep Saturday night to reach the podium for a third consecutive Olympics and for the 11th time combined at the Olympics and world championships.
It was even worse for the old guard, as represented by defending Olympic champion Sun Yang, who placed 16th in the prelims and failed to qualify for the final.
Hilary Caldwell of Victoria, Cochrane’s training partner at Saanich Commonwealth Place, was on form all through the preliminaries and semifinal in winning her 200-metre backstroke bronze medal Friday in 2:07.54 behind winner Maya DiRado of the U.S. (2:05.99) and silver-medallist Katinka Hosszu of Hungary (2:06.05).
“I wanted that gold medal. But being on the podium is amazing,” said Caldwell, in her post-race CBC TV interview.
“Making the podium feels normal. Something Canada has never felt before,” she said. Canadian athletes have won 10 medals so far at the Rio Olympics, six of them in the pool.
Meanwhile, both the Canadian women’s beach volleyball teams have qualified out of pool play for the playoff knockout rounds amid the spectacular Games venue of Copacabana. But in an Olympian quirk of fate, Jamie Broder of Victoria and Kristina Valjas of Toronto have drawn fellow-Canadians and world No. 5 Heather Bansley and Sarah Pavan in Saturday’s Round of Sixteen.