By Martin Cleary
Elite athletes face many obstacles in their journey and the one-year-old COVID-19 pandemic has been a monster. But sprint paddler Drew Hodges has met the challenges and is ready for his March 11-14 Olympic trials in Burnaby, B.C.
The 2019 Pan Am Games silver and bronze medallist from the Rideau Canoe Club will compete in the men’s C2 (canoe double) with Cheema’s Craig Spence on Thursday and Friday, and then enter the C1 races Saturday and Sunday. There will be heats, semifinals and finals for each event.
The National Capital Region will be represented at the trials in Burnaby, B.C., by six senior, three U23 and three para paddlers from the Rideau Canoe Club, Ottawa River Canoe Club and Cascades Club.
Hodges said by e-mail that his training has been quite different, but has gone well the past few months on Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island.
“We’ve had some uncharted territory in terms of conditions and weather,” he wrote. “This year was the first year I have paddled with two feet of snow on the ground. However, considering we were paddling in Canada during January, the weather was good.”
Canoe Kayak Canada, which will conduct the Olympic trials Thursday through Sunday, set up a bubble environment earlier this season for the country’s elite paddlers to train safely in British Columbia.
“CKC has done a great job to put us in a safe and productive environment. I haven’t felt unsafe at any time at any of our training camps. Even with the pandemic, I feel I have been able to make the best of the situation and continue to make improvements.”
Hodges will be joined by senior Rideau canoeist Steven Frodsham, who will race in the C1 1,000 metres. Canada’s top paddlers also will compete in the Pan American canoe sprint championships and continental Olympic qualifiers April 8-11.
Canada is guaranteed an Olympic berth in the women’s K4 (four-person kayak) race and veteran Rideau kayakers Madeline Schmidt and Natalie Davison are vying for seats in that crew. They also hope to put themselves in a position to race in the K2.
Aiming to represent Canada for the first time at the Olympics in Tokyo, Schmidt and Davison will be in different K4 500-metre crews Thursday and Friday. On the weekend, they’ll race the K1 500 metres, and the K2 500 metres with different partners.
Davison will be one of the busiest paddlers at the Olympic trials as she also is entered in the K1 200-metre event.
Women’s canoe makes its debut at the 2021 Olympics and four Ottawa-Gatineau paddlers will vie for two or three spots. But they must beat world powerhouses Laurence Vincent-Lapointe of Trois-Rivières and Katie Vincent of Mississauga.
Vincent-Lapointe, who returned to canoeing 13 months ago after the International Canoe Federation ruled she didn’t knowingly take an illegal substance, has won a dozen world titles, since 2010. Vincent earned gold and bronze at the 2018 world championships.
Cascades Club’s Sophia Jensen, the 2018 and 2019 world junior champion with six gold medals from six races, certainly will push the two Canadian frontrunners in her second year as a senior racer.
Jensen will race the senior women’s C1 200 metres Thursday and Friday and the weekend’s C2 500 metres along with Rideau’s Rowan Hardy-Kavanagh, Ella Hodgson-Pageau and Evie McDonald, formerly of Carleton Place.
Rideau’s Maren Bradley, a 2019 world junior silver medallist, will be paddling hard as she gains experience at her first Olympic trials in the women’s K1 200 metres Thursday and Friday and the K1 500 metres Saturday and Sunday.
Rideau’s Gabe Ferron-Bouius, who started kayaking less than two years ago after playing hockey with a prosthetic leg, could fare well in the para seeding kayak races on Thursday and Friday. At 18, he is close to meeting the Paralympic criteria.
The Ottawa River Canoe Club will have two entries in the para seeding VA races. Brianna Hennessy and Michael Trauner will compete on Thursday and Friday.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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