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Heartbreak for Island-based rowers at last-chance Olympic qualifier

Both Canadian boats missed out on the Paris Olympics with third-place finishes.
Canada came agonizingly close to adding to its Paris-bound rowing team in Tuesday's last-chance qualifier. Canada's men's eight rowing team celebrates its silver medal during the 2012 Summer Olympics in Dorney, England, in 2012. SEAN KILPATRICK, THE CANADIAN PRESS

There is no sorrow in sports quite like missing out on something by the narrowest of margins. Just ask the Vancouver Canucks. There’s always next year, as the saying goes. But not for the Olympics, where there is the next four years to think about what could have been.

The last-chance Olympic qualifying rowing regatta concluded Tuesday in Lucerne, Switzerland. Both Canadian boats, based on Quamichan Lake in North Cowichan, missed out on Paris with third-place finishes. Only the top two in each event qualified to advance to the 2024 Olympic Games.

The Canadian men’s eight (five minutes, 39.53 seconds) was an agonizing one/hundredths of a second behind second-place Italy (5:39.52). The U.S. was first across in 5:35.97.

The Canadian eight was led by 2012 London Olympics silver-medallist Will ­Crothers, who was vying for his fourth Olympics at age 37. But Crothers, Jack Walkey of Victoria, Tokyo Olympians Gavin Stone and Jakub Buczek along with youthful sweepers Curtis Ames, Joel Cullen, Ryan Clegg, Terek Been and coxswain Laura Court will have to watch the racing from Paris on TV this summer.

Canada stroked furiously over 2,000 metres but fell just a whisper short. The program this summer will not be able to add to Canada’s storied Olympic history in the boat. When the national team was based on Elk Lake, the Canadian men’s eight won gold medals in the 1984 Los Angeles, 1992 Barcelona and 2008 Beijing Games and silver at London in 2012, the last time a Canadian men’s eight qualified for an Olympic Games.

Canada’s only other crew in the last-chance Olympic qualifier in Lucerne was the women’s quad and it also just missed by one spot in placing third in 6:29.25 behind second-place Ukraine (6:28.27) and the winning Americans (6:28.04). The Canadian boat included Katie Clark of Cranbrook, Marilou Duvernay-Tardiff, sister of medical doctor and Super Bowl champion Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff, Shannon Kennedy, a Victoria physiotherapist, and two-time Olympian Carling Zeeman.

“Given the intense preparation and professional approach the women’s scullers have taken, it is difficult to swallow this result. The women are incredibly talented and hopefully this is just the beginning of the resurgence,” said coach Lauren Fisher, in a statement.

The results mean the Canadian rowing team will have only two crews in the 2024 Olympic Games. That fact will hang over the once-mighty Island-based program heading into Paris. The defending Tokyo Olympic champion Canadian women’s eight and the women’s lightweight ­double of Jill Moffatt and Jenny ­Casson qualified through the main qualifier last year in Serbia.

“We are understandably disappointed not to have achieved our goals here in Lucerne this week and we take forward some great lessons for L.A. 2028,” said Rowing Canada high performance director Adam Parfitt of Sidney, in a statement.

“We recognize how difficult and disheartening this result is for our athletes, especially given the immense dedication and hard work they’ve put into their training. It’s incredibly tough to not see those efforts translate into the results we all hoped for, however, we remain confident in this group of athletes and are committed to supporting them as we rebuild.”

No Canadian men have qualified for the Olympic rowing in Paris.

“We recognize that there is a gap specific to men’s rowing in Canada that needs to be addressed,” said Parfitt, who was fourth in the Canadian eight in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

“I feel confident we can reinvigorate this pipeline. This is certainly a priority for us moving forward into the next Olympic quadrennial.”

Canada has won a rowing medal in every Summer Olympics and 43 in total. There will, however, be only two crews to attempt to keep that streak alive in Paris this summer. The Canadian rowing program, when based on Elk Lake, used to routinely win that number of medals or more at a single Olympics — including six at Los Angeles in 1984, five at Barcelona in 1992, six at Atlanta in 1996 and four at Beijing in 2008.

So, in Paris, it is up to the Canadian women’s lightweight double and defending Tokyo Olympic champion women’s eight. Those two crews will race in the World Cup II regatta beginning today in Lucerne.

The Canadian women’s eight includes University of Victoria Vikes grad Avalon Wasteneys of Campbell River, Brentwood College-grad Sydney Payne, Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski and coxswain Kristen Kit, all returning from the Tokyo Olympic gold-medallist crew. New to the crew for Paris will be Tokyo Olympic women’s pairs bronze-medallist Caileigh Filmer of Victoria, Kristina Walker and Jessica Sevick of Victoria, Maya Meschkuleit from Yale of the Ivy League and 2023 Santiago Pan Am Games gold-medallist Abby Dent.

“The memories of our triumph at the 2020 Olympics continue to resonate deeply within me, serving as a constant reminder that we have the strength to overcome any challenge that lies ahead,” said Payne.

Meanwhile, Canadian Paralympian rower Christa Akins was fifth in the women’s singles qualifying race in Lucerne and did not advance to the Paris Paralympics.

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