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Follow along on OttawaSportsPages.ca all week for High Achievers coverage on local athletes competing at the Aug. 3-7 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships.
By Martin Cleary
The last time the world senior canoe and paracanoe sprint championships were staged in Dartmouth, N.S., (2009), Sophia Jensen was only seven years old and the sport wasn’t part of her lifestyle.
But when the Chelsea, Que., resident discovered canoeing on the last day of school in Grade 6 and at a subsequent summer camp, it was like she had won a major lottery. The first time she dipped her paddle into the water she felt this was her sport for life.
Eight years after her introduction to canoeing, Jensen, 20, will be on the start line for three races when the world senior championships return to Dartmouth for a third time and the fourth staging in Canada. The worlds were first held in Montreal in 1986 and also in Dartmouth in 1997.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity having worlds on home territory,” Jensen said in a phone interview from Dartmouth, where she has been training with the national team for the past month.
“It’s super, super amazing that all the countries are coming to race on a Canadian lake (Banook). It’s a big deal and I’m excited.”
Canada’s team of 26 men’s and women’s kayak and canoe able-bodied athletes and nine men’s and women’s paracanoeists will have a strong National Capital Region flavour with eight athletes from three clubs.
Besides Jensen, who is from the Cascades Canoe Club, the Rideau Canoe Club will be represented by Toshka Besharah-Hrebacka, Natalie Davison and Madeline Schmidt in women’s kayak, Peter Bradley and Matthew O’Neil in men’s canoe, Gabriel Ferron-Bouius in men’s paracanoe and Brianna Hennessy of the Ottawa River Canoe Club in women’s paracanoe.
Jensen, who still has two more years of eligibility in the U23 age class, is entering her second world senior championships, after qualifying for two finals at the 2021 global event in Copenhagen.
Since 2016, Jensen has been taking giant strides each year on the international scene and the 2022 worlds could be another milestone moment for her.
At the Olympic Hopes regatta for developing paddlers in 2016, she won four gold, one silver and one bronze medals in women’s canoe, which only made its Summer Olympic Games debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games in 2021.
In her three years as a junior racer, Jensen was almost unbeatable. After winning two individual silver medals at the 2017 junior worlds, she posted back-to-back, triple-gold-medal efforts in 2018 and 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled all world championships in 2020, but last year she made her debut in two worlds – senior (where she had two top-eight results with Anna Cyr) and U23 (where she found her way to the medal podium four times – two gold, one silver and one bronze).
She came close to achieving her goal of competing in the Summer Olympics at the Canadian trials, but since countries are only allowed one entry for each race, she narrowly missed that mark.
After her success at the 2021 world U23 championships and the 2022 Canadian team trials, Jensen was named to her first World Cup competitions in Europe. Again, she stepped up, winning a bronze (mixed C2 500 metres) in World Cup 1 in Racice, Czech Republic, and double gold (mixed C2-500 and C4 500) and bronze (C1 200) in World Cup 2 in Poznan, Poland.
While Jensen will be fully supported by her parents, grandparents and teammates, more medals are not on her mind, but rather the execution of solid performances down the lane.
“I want to push to the limits and have fun,” she said about her pre-race strategy. “I don’t put expectations on myself. I want to have the best race I know I can have.
“When you think too much about results, you get lost. This is something I love and I love working hard.”
At the Copenhagen worlds last year, she set baseline results for herself, placing sixth in the C2 500 metres with Roy and eighth in the C2 200 metres also with Roy. In the C2 200 metres, their time of 44.56 seconds was only 19 one-hundredths of a second from the bronze medal.
Jensen will compete in three races at the Dartmouth worlds – C1 500 metres, C2 200 metres with Julia Lilley Orende of Mic Mac Aquatic Canoe Club and C4 500 metres with Orende, Katie Vincent of the Mississauga Canoe Club and Sloan MacKenzie of the Cheema Aquatic Club.
“It (Copenhagen worlds) was definitely different because I was racing as a junior all my life,” she said. “In senior, there’s a lot of competition, bigger fields and you’re racing with world medallists and Olympic medallists. I wanted to see where I was at. So far, I’m on the right track for 2024 (Paris Summer Olympics).
“I think I’ve been ready for it (senior competition) for a long time. I have no fear.”
The ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships will be livestreamed via: https://shor.by/canoeicf
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 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 “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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