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Island rowers set for last-chance Olympic qualifier for Paris

Event begins Sunday in Lucerne, Switzerland
Canada’s Kristen Kit, right, calls out to Lisa Roman, Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski, Christine Roper, Andrea Proske, Susanne Grainger, Madison Mailey, Sydney Payne, Avalon Wasteneys during their gold medal performance in women’s eight rowing competition at the Tokyo Olympics. More Canadian boats hope to book their spots to the Paris Olympics at the last-chance qualifier. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

It’s just 2,000 metres to Paris. But they will be the hardest to stroke, with no second chances.

The Canadian rowing team, based on Quamichan Lake in North Cowichan, has so far ­qualified only two crews for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. That hangs over the once-mighty program as the last-chance Olympic qualifying regatta begins today and runs through Tuesday in Lucerne, Switzerland, with Canada looking to qualify two more boats for Paris.

The Canadian men’s eight, led by 2012 London Olympics silver-medallist Will ­Crothers vying for his fourth Olympics, need to place in the top two in Lucerne to earn a berth in Paris. Crothers will be 37 by the time of the Paris Games. The other crew members are Jack Walkey of Victoria, Tokyo Olympians Gavin Stone and Jakub Buczek along with youthful sweepers Curtis Ames, Joel Cullen, Ryan Clegg and Terek Been with Paralympian Laura Court coxing.

“Our team is passionately focused on qualifying the men’s eight for the 2024 Olympics” Ames said in a statement.

“With only two berths for Olympic qualification left available, and several countries vying for these spots, the competition is fierce. But this challenge had us pushing our limits every session [in North Cowichan], each stroke bringing us closer to our goal of gold in Paris.”

Canada’s only other crew in the Olympic qualifier is the women’s quad and it must also place in the top two at Lucerne in order to get to Paris. The boat features 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.

The two Canadian boats that qualified for the Paris Olympics, through the main qualifier last year in Serbia, are the defending Tokyo Olympic champion ­women’s eight and the women’s lightweight ­double of Jill ­Moffatt and Jenny ­Casson.

Those two crews will race in the World Cup II regatta beginning Wednesday 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 returning from the Tokyo Olympic gold-medallist crew.

“We’ve trained relentlessly to ensure we make ourselves, and Canada, proud on the world stage,” Payne said in a statement.

“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.”

New to 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 2023 Santiago Pan Am Games gold-medallist Abby Dent.

Canada has won a rowing medal in every Summer Olympics and 43 in total. There will, however, be only a maximum of four Canadian boats qualified, and perhaps only two, to keep that streak alive in Paris this summer.