Canadian rowers excel in Poland

Canadian rowing continues rebounding from the rubble of Rio.

An air of optimism prevailed as the rebuilt Elk Lake-based Canadian team began stroking into a big summer season Friday at World Cup II in Poznan, Poland.

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The season will conclude with the 2019 world championships, which are also the Olympic qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

There are big hopes for some of the Canadian boats after the retooling that took place on Elk Lake following the disappointing showing at the 2016 Rio Olympics, which produced a lone silver medal through the Victoria women’s lightweight double of Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee.

Canada won two gold and two silver medals at the 2018 world championships and is pushing to continue that momentum for when it really counts with Olympic qualifying on the line.

The Canadian men’s pair of University of Victoria Vikes-graduate Kai Langerfeld of Parksville and 2012 London Olympic silver-medallist Conlin McCabe won their qualifying race in Poznan to advance to today’s semifinals.

Another win by a wide margin was turned in by Patrick Keane of Victoria and Maxwell Lattimer of Delta in the men’s lightweight double.

Sydney Payne out of Brentwood College and Hillary Janssens of Toronto were also opening-round winners in the women’s pair, as were Andrea Proske from the Victoria City Club and Gabrille Smith of Unionville, Ont., in the women’s double.

The eight, the big-boat marquee event of rowing, begins today in World Cup II. The Canadian women — including University of Victoria Vikes products Rebecca Zimmerman and Avalon Wasteneys from Campbell River — are a legitimate Olympic medal threat for Tokyo 2020 after winning silver at the 2017 and 2018 world championships.

The Canadian men’s eight has had a storied history with Olympic gold medals at Los Angeles in 1984, Barcelona in 1992, Beijing in 2008 and silver at London in 2012. But the program had sunk so low that Canada did not even enter a men’s eight at Rio 2016.

Now there is a promising crew emerging with the likes of Brentwood College grad Martin Barakso of Nanaimo. There is also something old school in this men’s eight mix with 2012 London Olympics silver-medallist Will Crothers returning and also 60-year-old coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie, a five-time Olympic medallist, who has come out of retirement looking for her astonishing 10th Olympic Games appearance.

The reconstruction of the Canadian program at Elk Lake has taken place under imported New Zealand coaches Dave Thompson on the women’s side and Dick Tonks on the men’s

“The men’s, women’s and para programs are all coming off a solid winter and spring of training,” Rowing Canada high-performance director Iain Brambell of Brentwood Bay said.

But keep the eyes on the prize, Brambell said.

“Although World Cups serve as an international assessment for each crew, the 2019 priority is to secure Olympic and Paralympic qualification positions during the 2019 world championships,” the 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze medallist added.

The Canadian program, long based at Elk Lake, used its soon-to-be post-Tokyo home of Quamichan Lake in North Cowichan for the national trials last month to select the team for the World Cup regattas running through Sunday in Poland and World Cup III next month in the Netherlands.

“I am very excited to see the quality and depth of our Canadian crews heading into the Olympic and Paralympic qualification year,” Brambell said.

Rowing has won the second-highest number of gold medals for Canada in the Summer Olympics with nine, behind only track and field’s 14. Rowing also has accounted for the third-highest total medals for Canada in the Summer Olympics with 41, trailing only the 60 by track and field and 49 by swimming.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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