By Dan Plouffe
Maddy Schmidt had endured a defeat of the most crushing variety. Moments earlier, she’d lost a two-boat race where the winner would go to the Olympics and 2nd-place would not.
But, choking back tears, the 21-year-old Rideau Canoe Club paddler pledged “I’m still happy.”
“It is hard,” indicated Schmidt, who, with K-2 women’s 500 metres teammate Michelle Russell, lost the final Canadian team qualifier to Geneviève Orton and Kathleen Fraser by 1.628 seconds. “It’s not really what we expected. We did beat them twice at the first trials. We went into it pretty positive. I was pretty pumped and I felt good.”
It was a fairly convoluted path to get to the showdown – Schmidt and Russell had won the first national team trials event, but Orton and Fraser earned Canada’s Olympic quota position at the continental qualifier, where Russell was ineligible to compete because she’d qualified a quota position for Canada herself the previous year.
But the scenario for the June 24 race at Montreal’s Olympic basin was as crystal clear as it could be – one race, winner take all. Schmidt said she’d never before experienced anything like it.
“There was a lot of the line,” underlined the Woodroffe High School grad. “I’ve never had to race head-to-head like that before. It’s pretty stressful when you’re not looking at a whole field of boats, all your focus is on just one.”
Despite the devastation of the moment, Schmidt showcased the great growth she’s experienced recently by noting that the progress she’d made to get to that point was worth celebrating.
Following a 2013 season where she won a K-1 world junior bronze medal, five medals at the Canada Games, seven at the Canadian championships and three Pan Am championships gold, Schmidt’s transition into the senior ranks was anything but smooth.
“I hit rock bottom,” she recalled. “I was depressed. I had mono. I hardly competed at all. I lost a lot of weight.
“I was pretty miserable that winter.”
After moving from Ottawa to Halifax to join the senior women’s national team at their home training base, Schmidt began to turn it around thanks to a positive mindset, a training group with many fast athletes, and hard work.
“It’s really nice to see that fast progression and all of a sudden, I’m here competing for a spot at the Olympics,” highlighted the Dalhousie University student. “So I have to be happy.”
This season was a big step up from last year when Schmidt failed to even make the top-16 in her individual event at national team trials. At age 21, the future remains bright for an athlete who still has the under-23 worlds on tap this summer, and came within a few short strokes from making it to the biggest stage of all.
“I’m someone who enjoys the process a lot more than the race execution. I like developing as a person and as an athlete,” added Schmidt, who began her kayak journey at the Ottawa River Canoe Club. “Even when we were at World Cups competing, the whole time I’m thinking about what I’m going to do this winter to get better for next year. I’m just happy that now I can start focusing on developing and becoming a better athlete, not just competing.”
RCC paddlers poised for jr/U23 berths
Schmidt did win a title later at the June 24-26 competition, topping the U23 women’s K-4 500 m standings. Rideau’s Drew Hodges (U23 men’s C-2 1,000 m) and Isaac Finkelstein (junior men’s C-1 1,000 m) were also champions at the event, while Scott Braddon was twice 2nd (junior men’s K-1 500 m and 1,000 m).
Tayler, Smedley to hit Rio slalom
Largely on the strength of victories in all four runs at the national team trials, London 2012 Olympian Mike Tayler, 24, won the points race to earn Canada’s lone Olympic berth in the men’s K-1 whitewater event, while Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games silver medallist Cam Smedley officially punched his ticket to Rio in the men’s C-1 slalom.
“It is an incredibly tough battle every four years for just the one spot at the Games,” Tayler said in a Canoe-Kayak Canada press release. “I want to say thank you to all of my teammates and especially Ben Hayward and John Hastings for constantly pushing the bar higher for Canadian slalom.”
7 locals chosen for slalom worlds
Ottawa River Runners Andrew Musgrave, Lois Betteridge, Liam Smedley, Benjamin Risk, Willa Mason, Keenan Simpson and Sheamus O\’Connell have all been selected to compete for Canada at the July 13-17 ICF Canoe Slalom Junior and U23 World Championships in Poland.