Canoe-Kayak Elite Amateur Sport Para Sport

HIGH ACHIEVERS: False start a blessing for Toshka Besharah-Hrebacka in first senior worlds

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Toshka Besharah-Hrebacka. File photo

By Martin Cleary

False start!

No athlete likes to hear the starter announce those two words. In track and field, starting before the gun blast in a sprint race is an automatic disqualification. See you next time.

But in the world of canoe and kayak racing, start officials take a kinder and gentler approach.

Accomplished Rideau Canoe Club kayaker Toshka Besharah-Hrebacka and partner Andréanne Langlois of Club de Canoe-Kayak de Vitesse de Trois-Rivières were grateful Wednesday for that rule.

When they jumped the gun in their women’s K2 200-metre heat on the opening day of the 2022 world canoe and paracanoe senior sprint championships on Lake Banook in Dartmouth, N.S., they only received a warning and were allowed to return to the start line.

A second offence would have meant game over for that race. Instead, their false start was nothing but positive for them.

On the heels of a concerning result in their earlier women’s K4 500-metre heat, Besharah-Hrebacka and Langlois were more relaxed after the false start and produced a strong K2 200-metre race to advance to the A final.

They hope the confidence they derived from that K2 200-metre race will stay with them for the final and spark a more satisfying effort in the K4 500-metre semifinal on Friday.

“(The false start) made it better. It settled our nerves,” Besharah-Hrebacka said in a phone interview.

When the K2 200-metre started for good, Besharah-Hrebacka and Langlois had their double-bladed paddles churning at high speed. They finished third in their heat in 39.83 seconds and moved directly to the A final as one of the top three boats in their heat.

“We found a rhythm and it came together. We loved it,” continued Besharah-Hrebacka, 19, a second-year biomedical student at the University of Ottawa. “It was the performance we wanted to do.

“The 200 is a fast race and sometimes it feels like it lasts forever. We got into our pace. We paddled as hard as we could for 200 metres. There was really no wobbles. It was full all-out. We definitely have confidence now that we lacked after the K4.”

In their opening K4 500-metre heat, Besharah-Hrebacka, Langlois, Natalie Davison-James of Rideau and Riley Melanson of Cheema Aquatic Club finished seventh and last in 1:40.63. They finished 5.85 seconds behind the winning crew from Poland.

“It was definitely a more relaxed race for us. We didn’t put out the performance we wanted to. We know we had more in the tank. We knew it was not our all-out. It was a wake-up call. We have more to give and let’s give it in the semifinal,” explained Besharah-Hrebacka, who feels the team needs to apply more leg pressure in the boat and have stronger strokes to reach the A final.

“It wasn’t a bad performance. We agreed to that as a crew. We normally give 110 per cent, but this felt like 100 per cent.”

After being an elite U18 kayaker for three years, winning two bronze medals at the last two junior world championships (2019 and 2021), Besharah-Hrebacka has noticed a big change in the game at her first world senior championships.

“At junior worlds, there’s a wider field. You’re going to have greater variations from (lanes) one to nine,” she said. “There’s not one crew (at senior worlds) that’s not in contention for the final. There’s such little variation.”

The Canadian kayakers and canoeists were well supported by the thousands of spectators, who lined the course.

“It’s incredible that I have the opportunity to race my first (senior) worlds at home. I am very grateful,” Besharah-Hrebacka added. “You could hear the cheering all the way down the course.”

Competing in his second world championships in only his third year as a para KL3 class paddler, Rideau’s Gabriel Ferron-Bouius battled through two races and qualified for the B final on Friday.

Ferron-Bouius placed third in his morning heat in 46.66 seconds, but he needed to finish first to advance directly to the A final. Instead, he was slotted into the semifinals, where he placed fifth in a head-wind affected 47.20. He needed a top-three showing to reach the A final, but was 2.33 out of third place.

“I wasn’t sure how it would go (in the heat). There were a lot of new people I hadn’t seen compete on the world stage. Luckily, I got third and that put me in the semifinals,” Ferron-Bouius said.

With one eye on the course and another on his “pace-bunny” Robert Oliver of Great Britain, the 2021 Paralympic silver medallist, in the next lane, he went all out for as long as he could.

In the semifinal, he was part of the top three for the first 100 metres before he started to drop back in the second 100 metres and finished fifth.

“I gave it my all. I pushed hard into a decent head wind, which made the times slower,” he added. “I was a little disappointed not to make the A final, but the B final will be a good, hard race.

“For me, that (B final) is my A final. I’ll go in and try to push hard and race hard and see where I land.”

The world paracanoe championships are the first international competition this season for Ferron-Bouius. But he felt fully prepared for the competition as his training program included spending three months last winter near San Diego.

Ferron-Bouius will remain in Dartmouth after his world paracanoe experience for next week’s Pan-Am championships.


Canada finished with a 2-2 record in the women’s field hockey round-robin on Wednesday at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, after dropping a 3-2 decision to India.

Ottawa’s Rowan Harris was the Canadian goalkeeper and stopped three of six shots. Canada missed the medal round, finishing in third place in its pool and is expected to play in the classification game for fifth and sixth place.

The Canadian men’s field hockey team, which includes Alexander Bird of Chelsea, was shut out 8-0 by India and is in fourth place in its group with one tie and two losses. Canada is scheduled to finish its round-robin Thursday against England.

In athletics, former Gatineau sprinter Micha Powell of Montreal placed fifth in her women’s 400-metre heat in 53.13 seconds to qualify for the semifinals.

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

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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