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Island-based Canadian Olympic rowing gold medallists celebrate weekend reunion in Boston

Soccer doesn’t have the only Canadian women’s gold-medallist team from the Tokyo Olympics on a celebration tour.
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Susanne Grainger at the Victoria International Airport in in July 2021 following her return from the Tokyo Olympics. SUBMITTED

Soccer doesn’t have the only Canadian women’s gold-medallist team from the Tokyo Olympics on a celebration tour.

The Olympic-champion Canadian rowing eight, which was based on Elk Lake, reunited over the weekend for the historic Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston.

“After our race in Tokyo we all scattered and went home to our families and friends, so racing in Boston [was] such a great opportunity to get us all back in the same place to hopefully make some more memories,” said crew member Christine Roper of Victoria, in a statement.

“I still have trouble wrapping my head around what we were able to accomplish in Tokyo. I cannot wait to be with the other women who were on that team who can relate to that same feeling,” added Roper, before leaving the Island for Massachusetts.

The Canadian crew in Tokyo consisted of Roper, University of Victoria Vikes rower Avalon Wasteneys of Campbell River, Sydney Payne out of Brentwood College, Andrea Proske of the Victoria City Rowing Club, Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski of Calgary, Susanne Grainger of Victoria via London, Ont., Madison Mailey of Burnaby Lake Rowing Club, Lisa Roman of London, Ont., and coxswain Kristen Kit from UBC.

They combined to win the first Olympic gold medal for Canada in the women’s eight since 1992 in Barcelona.

“That was a huge part of our inspiration,” Payne said.

“We see several members of the 1992 crew at the [Elk Lake] boathouse on a regular basis.”

Seven of the nine Tokyo crew members reunited over the weekend in Boston. National team members and Olympic spares Becca Zimmerman of the UVic Vikes and Morgan Rosts of Jordan, Ont., sat in for Grainger and Roman, who couldn’t make it. Guiding the crew was its Olympic coach Michelle Darvill of Victoria.

“We didn’t get to celebrate much after the Olympics, due to the pandemic,” said Mailey, adding it was great “to spend some quality time together.”

But it being nearly three months after peak performance in Tokyo showed as the Canadian crew placed sixth in the women’s elite eight in Boston behind in-form and in-season Stanford winning with Princeton second and Yale third.

Canada captured two rowing medals in the Tokyo Olympics through the women’s eight and Caileigh Filmer of Victoria and Hillary Janssens of Cloverdale in the women’s pair. They were the 42nd and 43rd Olympic medals won by Canada in rowing, the third highest total among Canadian sports in the Summer Games behind track and field, and swimming.

The Canadian Olympic rowing team trained on Elk Lake for more than four decades but is vacating its long-time home post-Tokyo yet remaining on the Island. Training will move to Quamichan Lake in North Cowichan for Rowing Canada’s Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 preparations.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com