The University of Victoria and University of British Columbia have a spirited and long-established rivalry in sports. But UVic and UBC rowers combined Saturday to deliver a stunning gold medal for Canada in the women’s pair at the 2018 world rowing championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
The world title launches Vikes star Caileigh Filmer of Victoria and Thunderbirds rower Hillary Janssens of Cloverdale as podium favourites for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Especially since they relegated defending world champions and world-record holders Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast from New Zealand to the silver medal, with Spain third.
Filmer, a graduate of Mount Douglas Secondary, and Janssens edged into the lead at the midway point of the 2,000-metre final and then held off a stiff Kiwi challenge over the final 500 metres.
Filmer and Janssens were across in a Canadian best time of six minutes, 50.67 seconds, which was just one second off Gowler and Prendergast’s world record.
“It is such an amazing feeling to finally achieve exactly what we had been imagining — racing against the world’s best and winning,” said Janssens, in a statement.
“We knew it would be tight with New Zealand. We put in a lot of work improving our last 500 metres and knew we had it in us to row out in front.”
Communication and trust are key in the pair, explained Filmer, because each person has one oar and is responsible for their side of the boat only. That is opposed to the double, in which each rower has two oars, with each sharing equal responsibility for both sides of the boat.
“There is a lot of trust in the boat. That’s so important in the pair,” noted Filmer.
“Both Hillary and I love working with each other and communicate really easily to each other. We are a very technical crew. We both have a similar work ethic, so I think we complement each other.”
Filmer, whose mother, Helena, also rowed for UVic and whose uncle, Bob Heyes, is Victoria Shamrocks coach, made her Olympic debut at 19 with a fifth place in the Canadian eight at the 2016 Rio Summer Games. Filmer stroked Canada to eights gold last year at the world U-23 championships while Janssens helped sweep the Canadian senior eight to the silver medal at the 2017 world championships in Sarasota, Florida.
Their path seems set to Tokyo 2020 as a potent pair. It is highly unlikely Rowing Canada would now separate such a promising Olympic medal contender, as Filmer and Janssens’ world title capped off a summer that included gold and silver medals in the Belgrade and Lucerne World Cup regattas.
“We are still a very young team so we will keep working hard over the winter [on Elk Lake] to ensure we keep getting better and faster,” said Janssens.
Another Vikes-Thunderbirds collaboration, however, didn’t fare as well in Plovdiv at the world championships. The Canadian men’s lightweight pair of St. Andrew’s Secondary-grad Patrick Keane, from UVic, and Delta’s Maxwell Lattimer of UBC, who have been fourth twice in World Cup regattas over the summer, were the victims of some bad luck in their controversial semifinal race at the worlds that was affected by wind conditions. Keane and Lattimer settled for 15th place overall, but showed over the course of the summer there is considerable potential in the boat leading to Tokyo 2020.
Canada had two fourth-place finishes Saturday in the men’s pair and Para mixed-cox four.
Canada has a chance for three medals on the last day of the world championships today, including the women’s double of Gabrielle Smith from Knowlton Rowing Club and Andrea Proske from Victoria City Rowing Club racing their final. This newly created team has made some waves since winning the silver medal at the World Cup event in Lucerne.
“We’ve increased our training time significantly since Lucerne and that has definitely helped build our relationship and trust as a team,” Proske said.
The defending world silver-medallist Canadian women’s eight — including Sydney Payne out of Brentwood College and Rebecca Zimmerman from the UVic Vikes — are racing in their final.
Canada entered the world championships after winning four medals at the last World Cup in Lucerne. The rebuild comes after Canadian rowing, which has won 26 Olympic medals since 1984, was held to the lone silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics by the retired Victoria lightweight women’s double crewed by Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee.
“The team has the ball rolling. Expectations now are about getting into ‘A’ finals and being in the medal hunt,” said Filmer.
The retooled Canadian men’s eight, which has returned after Rowing Canada passed on the event at Rio 2016 because of a lack of depth, will be a slower rebuild under legendary former Kiwi Olympic coach Dick Tonks, as the Canuck crew races today in the B final for seventh through 12th positions. The men’s eight is looking to eventually regain its heady place in the event to follow in the oar strokes of the Canadian crews that came out of Elk Lake to win Olympic gold medals at Los Angeles in 1984, Barcelona in 1992 and Beijing in 2008 and silver at London in 2012. Conlin McCabe and Tim Schrijver join fellow Rio 2016 Olympic fours rower Kai Langerfeld of Parksville and coxswain Jane Gumley out of UVic in the rebooted Canadian eight.