Sport: Canoe Slalom
Event: Men’s C-1
Local Club: Ottawa River Runners
By Madalyn Howitt
Coming from a family of dedicated paddling enthusiasts, it’s almost as if Cameron Smedley was destined to one day make it to the Olympics.
Now competing for Canada on the men’s canoe-kayak slalom team, Smedley’s interest in slalom canoeing was fostered through an age-old Canadian tradition: the summer canoeing trip. Growing up, the Ottawa-born athlete would spend vacations on paddling trips with his family, exploring rivers around Canada and going on outdoor adventures. Along with his brother Liam and sister Alison — also talented canoers in their own right — Smedley’s love of being on the water eventually brought him and his siblings to the Ottawa River Runners (ORR), an organization dedicated to whitewater paddling.
It was there that all those family canoe trips paid off for Smedley, as his talent on the whitewater slalom course became obvious to his coaches and mentors.
Michael Staniszewski is a coach for Team Canada’s canoe-kayak slalom team and is himself a former Olympian, winning a silver medal for Poland in the canoe-slalom C-2 event at the Sydney 2000 Games. He met Smedley at the ORR nearly 20 years ago, and said he recruited the young paddler to compete in canoe-slalom over kayak-slalom after seeing his natural talent in the larger boat.
“It’s a huge difference between canoeing and kayaking,” Staniszewski explained. “Because you have one single blade [in canoeing], one paddle on one side, it’s already a big challenge just steering the boat. If you then transition it to whitewater paddling, it’s very difficult. A lot of people get discouraged.”
That wasn’t the case for Smedley, however.
“He was born to canoe,” said Staniszewski. “He has all the skills to pilot a kayak very well, but I thought it would be better for him to be a canoer, given the background of all those canoe trips.”
Smedley’s decision to focus on canoeing eventually paid off. As a young competitor, Smedley made Canadian history when he became the first men’s C-1 paddler to finish in the top 10 at the ICF World Junior Championships in 2007. Years later he won C-1 silver at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto and made his Olympic debut the following year at Rio 2016, where he finished 15th. At the Tokyo 2020 test event he finished in an impressive 5th place, laying the foundation for a strong showing at this year’s Games.
Staniszewski said he’s confident Smedley will perform well this summer.
“This is his second Olympics, so he knows exactly what to do and what to expect,” Staniszewsk said. “He knows what’s good and what’s bad [to do] in preparation for these games. He makes very smart decisions.”
One of those decisions is avoiding things that could hinder his focus as he prepares for his events.
“When I competed, it was very hard to stay on the path when there were so many distractions,” said Staniszewski. “Cameron is trying to not be distracted by little things, starting from media to food, to anything that is uncomfortable. He’s totally aware that he can’t control a lot of things, so he doesn’t try to.”
“He knows how to race, what pace to pick. He manages his expectations and just tries to do what he is capable of. He just needs to be himself at the starting block.”