By Martin Cleary
OLYMPIC PROSPECTS (Part 6 of 8): Like brother, like sister.
Maël Rivard dipped his kayak paddle into the water 10 years ago to start his slalom whitewater career and younger sister Beatrice Olson thought that was a great idea.
“My brother did it and it looked like fun. At this age, you do what your older sibling is doing,” said Olson, reflecting back five years, when she decided to take a kayak paddle to the rushing rapids. “I found it quite challenging and a bit scary. At first, it was tippy and I flipped over a lot.”
As they moved through the sport with the Ottawa River Runners Whitewater Club, their skill development took them to national and international competitions.
Rivard, 20, has represented Canada at three world junior and one world U23 canoe slalom championships. Olson, 16, qualified for her first world junior championship in 2021 and raced in kayak singles and canoe singles.
When Rivard went to his first RBC Training Ground test day three years ago and returned again in 2020, Olson didn’t want to be left behind so she made her debut along with more than 4,000 other athletes across the country as a 14-year-old.
The RBC Training Ground is “a nation-wide talent identification program dedicated to finding and funding Canada’s future Olympians.”
Rivard and Olson did their testing Feb. 1, 2020, at the University of Ottawa, but because of the health and safety concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, the process to determine the Top 30 athletes who would receive RBC Future Olympian funding took two years instead of one year.
After the initial test, Rivard and Olson were approached by a recruiter from Speed Skating Canada, but they decided to stay with slalom whitewater. Canoe Kayak Canada knew them well and watched them advance to the national finals for the Top 100 athletes. They were accepted and went through more testing at one of six regional national finals in Montreal.
“Doing the testing with my brother was very fun,” Olson said. “I enjoyed being able to do it with my brother. It made it more special to be there. We support each other.
“He helped me because I didn’t know how it was going to happen. He told me they will show you through a warmup and bring you to the first station.”
Olson is familiar with receiving helpful tips from her brother.
“In training and at races, he usually helps me and gives me pointers. It’s reassuring to know he’s guiding me through it,” the Grade 12 Lycée Claudel d’Ottawa high school student added.
Last month, Rivard and Olson learned they had both become RBC Future Olympians and would be receiving funding and full national team support from Canoe Kayak Canada for two years.
“A phone call came from the RBC program manager, but I didn’t answer the call. I don’t like answering the phone,” she said. “My dad asked me if I got a call and my brother got a call. Then I was sent an email and I got really excited. I would have liked to have answered the call.”
Olson was afraid if she answered the call it might be negative news. But the results of her two testing sessions and a round of sport-specific testing with Canoe Kayak Canada were quite impressive.
“(Being an RBC Future Olympian) will be very helpful,” she continued. “Slalom is expensive. Most of the big races are in Europe. I’ll likely use the money to pay for trips, training camps and races to get race experience on the international courses. It will be very beneficial.”
At the 2022 Canadian national team trials this spring in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Olson hopes to qualify for the national junior and/or senior squads and compete at the Pan-American championships, World Cups and world championships.
“I felt some potential there (after the 2021 world junior championships),” she said. “It wasn’t my best performance. I made some mistakes, but I can counter that with experience and practice.”
She is excited to be an RBC Future Olympian and aim for the 2024 Summer Games in Paris and the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.
“It’s an opportunity to be part of a training group. I get support from Canoe Kayak Canada. It’s also good motivation to train even harder,” Olson added.
CROSS-COUNTRY SKIERS GIVEN INTERNATIONAL ASSIGNMENTS
Eight National Capital Region cross-country skiers have received international assignments from Nordiq Canada.
Nakkertok Nordic’s Bronwyn Williams and Pierre Grall-Johnson will race for Canada in the U23 category at the world junior and U23 championships Feb. 22-27 at Lynga, Norway. Jasmine Lyons of Nakkertok and Tory Audet of Chelsea Nordiq will compete in the world junior championships.
Another four skiers will be part of the USA U20 B-tour team, which will be competing Jan. 26 to Feb. 7.
Katya Semeniuk of Nakkertok will race in the Western Canada Cup. Nakkertok’s Benjamin Croteau and Sophie Tremblay are headed for the Eastern Canada Cup along with Guillaume Pelchat of the Pembroke and Area Cross-Country Ski Club.
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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