By Dan Plouffe
A plethora of paddlers from the nation’s capital posted top performances in international competition at many points on the planet this summer, with a large group showing they’ll be strong contenders to compete for Tokyo 2020 Olympic berths.
Whitewater paddler Lois Betteridge is definitely a key player in the race for the rings as she chases her spot for the Olympic debut of the women’s C-1 discipline (the one-person canoe with the paddle on one end of the oar and the handle on the other).
“This year’s been my best season yet, and probably my biggest season as well,” states Betteridge, who spent 54 days in Europe at the start of her campaign and is headed back for the Sept. 24-29 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in Spain.
“(The Olympics) are definitely a big goal,” adds the 21-year-old Ottawa River Runners product who’s currently on break from her architecture studies at Algonquin College. “Our qualification process starts in September, so we’ll see how that pans out.”
Alongside a 28th-place showing at the under-23 worlds (plus 10th in the mixed-gender C-2), and 24th- and 26th-place results at World Cups in the U.K. and Slovakia, Betteridge came home with a silver medal from the July 26-Aug. 11 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru.
“To be on that podium was really cool,” highlights Betteridge, who finished behind the world’s #3-ranked athlete Ana Satila of Brazil. “It’s a different experience to be on the podium at a Games.”
All four of Canada’s canoe slalom athletes in Lima were from Ottawa. Olivia Nelson and Liam Smedley both placed 4th in women’s K-1 (that’s the one-person kayak with the double-bladed paddle) and men’s C-1, while Keenan Simpson earned bronze medals in the men’s K-1 slalom and the extreme slalom.
“It was really, really fun to be wearing a medal with Keenan,” Betteridge says of her high school prom date at Glebe CI. “I’ve spent pretty much my whole kayaking career with him. He’s basically been on every trip to Europe that I’ve been on.
“To get to go to the Games in itself was really cool, but it was really special to go with him too.”
Betteridge picked up more hardware back home for the Aug. 12-18 National Championships in Minden, Ont. She edged Alberta’s Haley Daniels by .28 seconds for the women’s C-1 crown and also placed 2nd in K-1.
Also at nationals, Ottawa’s Spencer Pomeroy took down 2016 Olympian Cam Smedley by .24 seconds to claim the men’s C-1 crown over his local counterpart.
Cam Smedley also toured Europe with Betteridge, earning a top World Cup finish of 24th in the U.K., while K-1 athlete Michael Tayler’s top result was 26th in Slovakia.
Home to the national team’s training centre on Lebreton Flats, Ottawa owns a very strong whitewater tradition, and it’s easy to find inspiration paddling alongside the likes of Tayler, a 2-time Olympian, Betteridge notes.
There is plenty of time together for the small team that travels around in an 8-seater van or on Ryanair flights when they’re zigzagging around Europe, the sport’s hotbed. But there’s nothing quite like the feeling of being by herself on the start line with the water rushing, signals Betteridge, who fell in love with whitewater paddling since she first tried it at age 11.
“It’s a unique sport,” says the daughter of the nationals’ lead organizer whose first family canoe trip came before she turned a year old. “And it’s all-consuming.”
Sprint paddlers pile up prizes
Local success abounded in flatwater canoe-kayak competition as well. Here is a look at a few members of the decorated crew:
Drew Hodges of the Rideau Canoe Club was a double-medallist at the Pan Am Games, earning men’s C-2 1,000-metre silver, and C-1 1,000 m bronze.
“The Games were an amazing experience,” Hodges, a Carleton University commerce grad who began paddling at age 15 after dropping competitive hockey, said in a media release from RCC. “The people of Peru have been amazing to us. We stop and take pictures with local residents, and it makes us just as happy as it makes them.”
Rideau’s Rowan Hardy-Kavanagh also made the Pan Am podium with a bronze in the C-2 women’s 500 m. A paddler since age 11, the Carleton University psychology student switched to canoe from kayak a decade later and quickly made the national team the following season.
At the July 6 Para Pan Am Championships in Brazil, Mike Trauner of the Ottawa River Canoe Club earned a bronze medal in the men’s VL3 500 m event. The 39-year-old lost both his legs in 2008 while serving his country in Afghanistan and participated in the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto.
At the Aug. 1-4 ICF Junior & U23 Canoe Sprint World Championships in Romania, Toshka Besharah and Maren Bradley helped Canada to a K-4 junior women’s 500 m bronze medal, while fellow Rideau paddler Ella Hodgson-Pageau took C-2 junior women’s 200 m silver.
Bradley is a recent Nepean High School grad headed to Dalhousie University to study commerce this fall and paddle in Dartmouth, N.S. Besharah and Hodgson-Pageau were amongst the youngest competitors at the under-18 worlds, having first represented Canada last fall as U15s at the Olympic Hopes regatta.
The pair will return to this year’s Olympic Hopes competition in Slovakia from Sept. 13-15 alongside Rideau’s Kieran Graham, Matthew O’Neill and Jacob Price.
At the Aug. 21-25 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Hungary, Madeline Schmidt placed 24th overall in K-1 women’s 500 m. Also an 8th-place K-1 women’s 1,000 m finisher at a June World Cup in Germany, Schmidt began her career at Ottawa River Canoe Club before joining Rideau. Now based in Dartmouth, the 24-year-old came as close as can be to a K-2 Olympic berth in 2016, losing out by a few strokes in a 2-boat showdown for Canada’s spot on the Rio start line.
Rideau’s Natalie Davison also competed at the worlds, placing 12th overall in K-4 women’s 500 m. Davison, who followed her older siblings into the sport, was not amongst the very top Canadians as a junior, but found a path to the national team once the registered nurse dedicated herself to paddling full-time after completing her university degree.
The local athletes will be back on the water for the Aug. 27-Sept. 1 Canadian Championships in Regina, where Rideau Canoe Club will seek to hold onto its national club crown before hosting the nationals next summer at Mooney’s Bay.
—with files from Scott Bradley, Rideau Canoe Club