By Anne Duggan
Ottawa’s Corey Hamilton will not allow a disappointing finish at last month’s canoe-kayak world championships to be the end of his story. The 29-year-old Rideau Canoe Club sprint paddler came away from the mid-August event held in Szeged, Hungary with lots more experience, and a plan to be on Canada’s 2012 Olympic team.
“Canada has a really good chance at qualifying for a spot at the Olympics at Pan Am Games in the K-2 1000 meters category,” says Hamilton, who won’t be competing at the late-October Olympic qualifier in Guadalajara, Mexico, but would have a chance for later selection to be in the Canadian boat. “I am hoping to win one of these spots.”
This unwavering determination has fueled Hamilton’s 20-year career in kayaking, both in whitewater and in sprints. Disappointments, he says, are just reasons to try harder.
“I don’t consider [paddling] a commitment. I am not forcing myself to do it. I want to do it. My problem will be knowing when to stop. It hasn’t felt like a commitment. It’s a passion.”
Maturity is bringing a new element to Hamilton’s sport. It turns out that the brain is the most important muscle when it comes to putting down a great performance, he believes.
“Recently a lot of my learning to race has been finding out what my body can handle. I am just discovering what my body can take.”
Hamilton has only had 500 meters of mind-game-free paddling before his internal battle begins. “By halfway through 1000 meters, it hurts. You are feeling each stroke and after this point, you have to try so much harder… By the halfway point you are saying to yourself, “Am I going to take the easy way out?”
Giving in to pain means there is a breakdown in technique: strokes shorten and not as much energy is dedicated to each motion.
Since 2005, when the University of Ottawa graduate first made the national sprint team, Hamilton has focused solely on sprint kayaking and the joy he gets from training, often at Mooney\’s Bay. “Being on the water,” he says, is important. “I like all water sports. Training is always on the water. Training brings daily opportunities to compete. It\’s more motivating.”
Hamilton\’s path to the 2011 world championships in the K-4 1,000 meters category began last January at a training camp in Florida. Two potential teams of four paddlers were made and a date was set for a deciding time trial in June. Hamilton was part of the B crew that eventually won the right to compete in Hungary.
“A few days before the deciding time trail we were out on the water and I thought, ‘This is going to be a race and not a blowout.’ Then we made up a race plan and executed it perfectly.”
Unfortunately, the team did not fare so well at the actual event. With a relatively small amount of team practice, Hamilton and his teammates faced formidable crews and did not make the finals.
“All the practicing before Worlds had been on our own. This is different than racing eight crews,” he explains. His team had been together for a mere one and a half months while some of the crews had eight years to jell. Canada has been working on new teams recently and there was no veteran crew in this category, he explains. “What is routine for other crews wasn’t for us.”
“This is the life of a paddler,” says Hamilton. There are always other boats and teams to qualify for, which remains a reason why he can maintain a passion on the water after 20 years.
“Peak performance age varies for different athletes,” Hamilton notes. “Kayakers often compete into their mid-30s. It’s a sport you can do for a long time. There is no shelf life. I will stop when I stop improving, and these last three years have been when I improved the most.”
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