By Madalyn Howitt
One of Ottawa’s own Olympians had both a happy homecoming and an exciting day on the water this past weekend.
Racing smoothly in lane five on the Mooney’s Bay course, Ottawa’s Maddy Schmidt confidently clinched a win in the women’s K-1 1000-metre sprint last Thursday evening at the Canoe Kayak National Championships. In the final race of the evening, the Rideau Canoe Club star finished with a time of 4:22.521.
This, despite the fact that she hasn’t raced 1000m all year, even though it’s her favourite race, she said.
After accepting her gold medal, Schmidt shared with the Sports Pages how it felt good to be back racing on the water with her hometown club.
“I love coming home after a really long season and putting on a purple singlet for the Rideau Canoe Club,” she said, pointing out that the faded purple singlet she was wearing once belonged to her mother.
Health and safety precautions meant racers competed only in singles events at this year’s championships.
“It’s too bad this year we’re not racing crew boats because it’s always nice to come back from a [big] championship, in this case the Olympics, and hop in a crew boat with a bunch of the club girls,” said Schmidt. “I love hanging out with the Rideau girls — my ‘Purple People’ — but I’m just so happy this event is even happening,” she added.
Only a few weeks out of her debut at the Olympics, Schmidt is still reflecting on that whirlwind of an adventure.
“It was a crazy cool experience — one I will never forget,” she shared. “It was busy, it was emotional, it was a roller coaster. In terms of racing, I don’t think we performed as well as we had hoped, and learning from that is a big one.”
Schmidt and her teammates placed 17th in the women’s K-2 500m event in Tokyo, and placed 11th in the women’s K-4 500m sprint. Fewer competitions this season meant fewer opportunities to prepare for the Games, explained Schmidt. “We only raced twice this year, once at trials and once at the Olympics,” she shared, but stressed that regardless of where she placed at the end of her races, she thoroughly enjoyed her experience.
“Just being in the Olympic Village is so cool. It’s such a surreal experience to be around the best of the best and such specialized specimens – you’ve got the big shot-putters and then you’ve got the little gymnasts. It’s so incredible and everyone’s so focused and unique in their own way. It’s really inspiring,” she said.
In fact, Schmidt was so determined to embrace the Olympic experience that she and her partner Simon McTavish, also a kayak sprinter, created a YouTube channel to document their respective journeys to Tokyo and subsequent adventures in kayak sprinting.
Speaking of which, when asked how racing in Ottawa’s current heat wave compared to competing in Tokyo’s humid weather, Schmidt joked about the similarities.
“Everyone’s saying that it’s not as bad as Tokyo, but in Tokyo we had an air-conditioned room to go afterwards — here it’s like, I need my air conditioner,” she laughed, pointing to the white tents in the spectator area. “It’s very similar, but you can’t really escape it.”
Following the wrap up of nationals over the weekend, Schmidt’s plan was to begin focussing on the World Championships, to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark from Sept.16-19.
“I’m hoping to do some different races there and am excited to just compete again,” said Schmidt, who hopes to race the 1000m again along with the 500m.
Afterwards, Paris 2024 is already on Schmidt’s mind. “It’s a tri, not a quad, so there’s one less year to prep for the next Games,” she said, referring to the three years until now and when the Olympics arrive in Paris. “It’ll happen really fast, so I want to keep the momentum going, but I also want to make sure that I’m setting myself up for the rest of my life as well.”
Schmidt will be studying kinesiology at Dalhousie University in the fall, taking on a full course load. She said her goal is to graduate before the next Olympics, but she admitted she’s a bit nervous for this new challenge.
“I’m going in a very intense semester with a lot of classes. It’s intense in another way [than] what I just went through, [but] it’ll be nice to change it up,” she remarked. “The year after the Olympics is generally less stressful [for] training – there’s less it on the line. You can kind of take a step back and broaden your horizons a little bit so I think going back to school will be good,” she observed.
She may be setting herself up for success off the water but given her consistently strong racing in recent years and infectious enthusiasm for the sport, Schmidt is also setting herself up well for a strong showing at World’s, Paris 2024, and beyond.
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