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Canada's rowers chasing Olympic dreams on Elk Lake

It is a record of accomplishment most other Canadian sports can only envy. Rowing has produced 40 medals for Canada at the Summer Olympics, third only to the 53 won in track and field and 42 in swimming.
Peter Filice of Rowing B.C. competes in a semifinal heat at the Canadian Rowing Championships at Elk Lake on Saturday.

It is a record of accomplishment most other Canadian sports can only envy. Rowing has produced 40 medals for Canada at the Summer Olympics, third only to the 53 won in track and field and 42 in swimming.

The aspirants looking to continue that legacy at the 2016 Rio Summer Games are gathered this weekend on Elk Lake for the 2014 national championships. The qualifying races were Friday, quarter-finals and semifinals Saturday and the finals today from noon to 2:45 p.m.

The Canadian rowing team to Rio will be comprised from among the 280 top national rowers looking for titles this afternoon — including London 2012 Olympic silver medallists Will Crothers, Rob Gibson, Conlin McCabe, Ashley Brzozowicz, Natalie Mastracci and Lauren Wilkinson.

Kai Langerfeld from Parksville is among the most fascinating of the bunch. Although his father, York Langerfeld, rowed for Canada at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, Kai showed little interest in the sport.

“I went out on the water a few times with Dad and hated it,” said the younger Langerfeld, who did not row at Ballenas Secondary.

“I had pretty much given up on athletics.”

But epiphanies can come in the most unlikely of places and at the most unexpected of times.

“I was at work at Costco in Langford, and the thought suddenly jumped into my head that I wanted to be an Olympic athlete,” said Langerfeld, now 27.

As a University of Victoria student, Langerfeld followed up by joining the Vikes novice rowing program coached by 2004 Athens Olympic silver-medallist Barney Williams. Maybe it’s the genes, but Langerfeld’s progress has been impressive as he now follows in his dad’s oar strokes to the Olympics.

Langerfeld is part of the Canadian men’s four, which placed fifth at the 2014 world championships earlier this year in Amsterdam. The other three in the boat are Crothers, Gibson and McCabe, who won Olympic silver in the Canadian eight at London in 2012.

Previously cool to the sport, Langerfeld is now a convert.

“Rowing is a team sport, but it is also very individual,” he said.

“You find out a lot about yourself when you are out there [on the water]. You get out of it what you put into it.”

That’s a lesson learned from within the family.

“My dad is a very humble guy. … He put in a lot of work,” the younger Langerfeld said of his father, whose civilian career was as a bank manager.

The Canadian championships aren’t contested in the rowers’ regular crew boats. Racing instead is in singles and pairs boats, giving national team coaches a better chance to analyze the speed and technical skill of individual rowers.

Langerfeld is paired with Crothers for the nationals.

“Kai’s experience is deeper than people realize,” Crothers said.

“He was in London with us, as our unofficial spare, and was with us the whole way [as the Canadian eight won Olympic silver in 2012]. So he brings a great dynamic.”

It’s that experience of watching the process unfold firsthand from the sidelines at London 2012 that has enabled Langerfeld to fit in so seamlessly with Crothers, Gibson and McCabe in a Canadian four that hopes to make waves at Rio 2016.

London Olympians Patricia Obee and Lindsay Jennerich, both of Victoria, are also among the rowers in the national regatta with podium dreams for Rio. Their silver in the women’s lightweight double was one of the two medals, including the silver in the women’s eight, won by Canada at the 2014 world rowing championships in Amsterdam.

All the finalists from the 2014 world championships — including Obee, Jennerich, Langerfeld, Crothers, McCabe, Gibson and the Canadian women’s eight — earned a trip earlier this fall to Rio to look over the Olympic preparations.

“London was so similar to Canada. Rio is a different setting. I was really nervous at first and stayed in my [Rio] hotel room because I had heard about the crime,” said Obee, a Stelly’s Secondary grad, who rows in the NCAA for the University of Washington Huskies.

“But when I went out, I felt safe. It was a good trip. It was good to get that out of your system [before the Games].”