By Martin Cleary
To put a baseball twist on it, Cascades Club’s Sophia Jensen is in the on-deck circle waiting to step into the batter’s box of the Big Leagues for women’s canoe racing, which debuted at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
After a strong first outing (two gold and one silver medals) in the senior women’s canoe sprint class at this week’s Canadian canoe kayak championships on the Mooney’s Bay racecourse, she’ll leave Sunday for two world championships in September.
Jensen, 19, has qualified to represent Canada in the U23 division of the world junior and U23 championships Sept. 3-6 in Montemor-O-Velho, Portugal. She’ll also race in her first world senior championships Sept. 16-19 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
World championships are nothing new for the Chelsea, Que., canoeist, who has set the international waters on fire over the past three competitive seasons. At the 2017, 2018 and 2019 world juniors, she won a combined six gold and two silver medals.
While Jensen will make her first appearance in both the world U23 and world senior championships with plenty of confidence in her skill set, she’s not expecting to own the podium. Rather, she feels just the opposite.
“I’m going in as an underdog,” a humble Jensen said in a telephone interview, after she won the C1 500-metre and C2 500-metre titles and silver in the C1 200 metres at the national championships for a career nine gold, six silver, three bronze.
“I’ll go and try to have the best races possible. It’s my first senior worlds and I’m really looking forward to seeing the competitors and how it’s all run.”
Jensen is in her element with three major championships in three different countries in a 28-day block. That’s quite a change from when the COVID-19 pandemic kept all sprint paddlers landlocked until recently.
“I was really looking forward to it (national championships). It has been a crazy, long time with no racing,” said Jensen, who visited friends a month ago in Nova Scotia and won the 200- and 1,000-metre races at the Atlantic Division team trials.
“There have not been many races, mainly a lot of (national team) training in Montreal and doing camps. It (Atlantic race) was fun, but I was super nervous as I hadn’t done a 1,000-metre race in a long time.”
Jensen found she had some down moments during the pandemic, but she kept her motivation alive because “I really love what I do and the training. It kept me motivated. Before I knew it, nationals were here,” she said.
After finishing a close second to double Tokyo Olympic medallist Laurence Vincent Lapointe in the national women’s C1 200 metres on Monday, Jensen scored an impressive four-second win Tuesday in the C1 500 metres. Vincent Lapointe didn’t race.
“I wanted it really badly and to put my skills into place,” she added. “I told myself there was no reason to be nervous and just put in all the effort.”
Jensen also was thrilled to race against her role model Vincent Lapointe and to push her to a narrow victory. Vincent Lapointe defeated Jensen by 0.376 seconds over 200 metres, which was about a quarter of a boat length.
“It was nice of her to come after the Olympics,” Jensen said. “Honestly, it has been a real cool experience to be part of her Olympic journey.”
By the 2024 Olympics in Paris, Jensen could be in serious contention to make her first Olympic team.
“I think I can do that, if I have really good winter sessions and dial in for the next two years. The past two years have been tough with COVID. But I’m really looking forward to the next two years,” she explained.
On the fifth day of the Canadian canoe kayak sprint championships, which are scheduled to end Sunday, the Bradley family had two good reasons to celebrate on their Rideau Canoe Club course Friday.
In the wake of older sister Maren Bradley qualifying for three senior women’s kayak finals, brother Peter won the men’s U17 C1 1,000 metres and younger brother Stuart placed third in the men’s U16 K1 1,000 metres.
Peter got off to a slow start, but he patiently pulled to the front using his big reach. At the end, he dug deep over the final 100 metres and edged South Niagara Canoe Club’s Austin Pigeon by 0.771 seconds.
“It’s really exciting,” said Peter about his first individual national title. “I’ve been working hard at this for awhile, especially last year when there was no racing. That extra year of training helped.
“I’m glad it came off. I’m lucky to have such great coaches and teammates to push me to be the person I can be.”
Peter’s victory qualified him for Canada’s team to the Olympic Hopes regatta Sept. 10-12 in Racice, Czech Republic.
Rideau qualified five boats for the women’s U16 C1 200-metre final and emerged with two medals. Ruby Muhl earned the silver, while Zoe Wojtyk took the bronze. Janina Winnicki of Rideau was the women’s U17 C1 200-metre bronze medallist.
Heading into the final two days of the national championships, Rideau has collected 12 gold, seven silver and seven bronze medals.
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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