By Kieran Heffernan, Charlie Pinkerton, Madalyn Howitt, Dan Plouffe & Martin Cleary
It was a nightmare case of déjà vu for Cam Smedley at his second Olympic Games. On Day 3, he missed qualifying for the semifinals in canoe slalom (C-1) event by a single spot, finishing 16th. The 30-year-old finished one spot higher in the heats in Rio, where he was also the first man to not make the cut to the next round.
Smedley started off his first run of the day by taking penalties early, including a 50-second penalty for missing a gate. Although the rest of that run was clean, 54 seconds in penalties meant he was relying on a much stronger second attempt through the course. Paddlers’ best time out of their two runs counted as their qualifying time.
Unfortunately, despite the confidence of the play-by-play commentators, his second run time of 108.12, which was 15th best, ultimately landed him 16th overall — which was just 0.69 seconds behind Kazakhstan’s Alexandr Kulikov.
“I felt like I could’ve competed with the top contenders,” a noticeably disappointed Smedley said afterward. “Obviously that didn’t happen and I need to go home and reassess, see where things went wrong.
Here’s Smedley’s second run, courtesy of Radio-Canada:
“I took some penalties and I think paddled too cautiously,” Smedley said. “The course wasn’t that difficult and I think the nerves got the better of me today.”
Smedley had been allowed exclusive access to the course before the competition took began because a passenger on his flight to Tokyo tested positive for COVID.
While Smedley came into the Tokyo Games positioned 51st in the world canoe slalom rankings, his 16th-place overall finish is well behind No. 9, his placing at the 2019 world championships, and No. 5, his finish at the Tokyo 2020 test event.
Before the Games, the Sports Pages’ Madalyn Howitt spoke to Michael Staniszewski, a coach for Team Canada’s canoe-kayak slalom team, about Smedley’s earlier training days.
As Staniszewski explained, it took a combination of Smedley’s own canoeing background — fostered by family trips while growing up — and nudging by coaches, such as himself, to convince Smedley to pursue canoe slalom over the similar kayaking event.
““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 the two-time Olympian, however.
“(Smedley) 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.”
Despite heartbreaking eliminations in back-to-back Olympics, Smedley’s career in the canoe has nevertheless been marked by significant achievements. 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, before debuting at the Olympics in Rio in 2016.
The other Ottawa athlete who competed on Day 3 was:
Fencer Kelleigh Ryan made it to the quarterfinals in the women’s individual foil. She won her first two matches of the day, including upsetting the Russian Olympic Committee’s (ROC) Adelina Zagidullina, who is ranked 8th in the world (Ryan is ranked 34th). Ryan eventually lost to the ROC’s Larisa Korobeynikova.
“Throughout the bout, we were making a lot of adjustments to each other and I guess (Korobeynikova) just made the right one,” Ryan said following her elimination.
“I tried to stick with it, and keep playing my game, my way, (and) maybe I was a little bit hesitant to finish my attacks,” Ryan added, also pointing out that the Russian’s height played a factor in their matchup.
Korobeynikova is listed as about 8 inches taller than the 5-foot-3 Ryan.
“It’s kind of like when you’re fighting as a little kid, you can put your hand on their head and they just can’t reach you,” said Ryan, with a laugh, while describing how a height advantage can be beneficial in a fencing bout.
“So, it does make it more challenging to attack, especially if they’re running way … She was pulling the distance, and it was really hard for me to get into a distance where I could hit her.”
Here’s Ryan’s and Korobeynikova’s quarterfinal bout, from Radio-Canada:
Day 4 Preview: Ottawa athletes get a breather
With Smedley falling just short of qualifying for the canoe slalom semifinals, there will be no Ottawa athletes in action on Day 4.
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OH, SO OLYMPIC CLOSE: Martin Cleary’s series on Ottawa athletes who almost made it
Merissah Russell was asked by Canada Basketball if she would like to accompany the senior women’s team and travel to her first Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Russell, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Louisville, wasn’t named to the core team of 12 players, but was selected as one of four alternates. She would train with the team, but not play in the Olympics.
It was a tough question, but she declined the offer for two reasons: her commitment to her university and her health and safety.
“I have a big responsibility here at Louisville,” Russell said. “It’s a very competitive environment. I want the chance to show the coach I can play and that I have improved. It was in my best interest to come back here and train.”
Montana Champagne competed in four races at the 2021 Olympic trials and five races at the pre-Rio competition 2016. In each case, he touched the finish wall a few seconds short of when he needed to. Instead of being an Olympian, he’ll be a team supporter.
Qualifying for the 2021 trials, which were delayed more than a year because of the pandemic, in the 200- and 400-metre IMs and 100- and 200-metre butterflys, he felt prepared, despite no spectators and piped-in cheering.
Champagne’s best chance to earn an Olympic berth was in his best race, the 200-metre butterfly. He swam a strong opening 100 metres and was in contention for the five-ring prize. But the second 100 metres tore him apart.
The people in his immediate swimming community have encouraged Champagne to continue training and racing for another three years and take a third shot at the Canadian Olympic trials for the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.
“But for now, I’m retired,” said Champagne, who hopes to write his Law School Admission Test in October. “It’s a huge decision to make and it still hits me in small doses. I definitely didn’t treat this lightly.
Kate Miller qualified last year to test her skills against the best in Canada at the recent Diving Canada Olympic trials in Toronto. But she knew that no matter how well she dove, she wouldn’t be going to the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Miller didn’t meet the age criteria to represent Canada at the Summer Games. She was a year too young, having just turned 16.
But the Olympic trials also were a multi-purpose meet. They were her national senior championships (third on platform, eighth on 3-metre) and Miller also was trying to qualify for the Junior Pan American championships Oct. 5-10 in Tucson, Arizona.
This was not the expected Olympic dream finish for water polo goalkeeper Jessica Gaudreault of Ottawa. Yes, her name was on Water Polo Canada’s Games’ list, but in the wrong location.
You had to go to the bottom on the list of players to find Gaudreault’s name under the category heading of “Alternate.” It was a great disappointment for the Capital Wave’s player, who is in her 11th year of international play for Canada.
“I don’t have any comment,” said Gaudreault, when asked during a telephone interview from Japan about not seeing her name on the core list of players. “It’s still a sensitive topic. It’s a lot to take in, after my history with the team.”
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