By Martin Cleary
They started as outsiders, but finished inside the company of medallists Saturday at the 2022 Canoe and Paracanoe Senior Sprint World Championships in Dartmouth, N.S.
Canada improved its medal total to three with the addition of a pair of bronze medals from parakakayer Brianna Hennessy of the Ottawa River Canoe Club in the women’s KL1 200 metres, and the women’s K2 200-metre team of Andréanne Langlois of Club de Canoe-Kayak de Vitesse de Trois-Rivières and Toshka Besharah-Hrebacka of the Rideau Canoe Club.
In both cases, Canada’s latest medal winners struck from the outside lanes, out of harm’s way and away from the fastest A-final qualifiers, who were in the middle of the pack. Hennessy started in lane 2 in the nine-kayak field, while Langlois and Besharah-Hrebacka charged to the finish line down lane seven.
With only one day remaining in the five-day world championships, Ottawa paddlers have been instrumental in producing all three of Canada’s medals (one silver and two bronze). On Friday, Hennessy captured her first-ever world championship medal with a silver in the women’s paracanoe VL2 200 metres.
Hennessy, a tetraplegic who only started paracanoeing two years ago this month, revved up the Canadian cheering section early in the morning session. She had a slow start because her core muscles aren’t strong, but had a great finishing kick over the final 100 metres, charging from fifth place to win the parakayak KL1 bronze in 52.89 seconds.
Ukraine’s Maryna Mazhula earned her fourth consecutive world championship gold medal in the race at age 39, which is two years older than Hennessy. Mazhula completed the sprint in 51.86 seconds. After the race, Mazhula told an International Canoe Federation interviewer: “This victory was for all of Ukraine.”
A three-time world bronze-medallist, Chile’s Katherinne Wollermann captured the silver medal in 52.32.
“I can’t believe it,” an overwhelmed and overjoyed Hennessy said in a phone interview about winning her second world championship medal in as many days. “I don’t know what to say. What planet am I on?”
When the sprint race finished, it took Hennessy a minute or so to learn her final result. The scoreboard initially shows the numbers of the top three paddlers required to go to boat control. In Hennessy’s race, the screen showed four numbers, including hers. She was confused.
The Canadian team tent, which is close to the finish line, cheered her during and after her race, but then she said there was “an eerie silence.” More confusion. Finally, a team official yelled she had finished in third place.
“It was a very delayed reaction,” added Hennessy, who had a favourable tail wind.
After winning her first two medals in her first world championship, Hennessy feels she is on the right path to qualifying for the 2024 Paralympic Summer Games in Paris.
“I have so much to learn. I am so new to this sport. And I’m taking on two new (disciplines, kayak and canoe). But whatever the coaches come up with, I’ll follow suit,” she happily said.
“I saw (Canoe Kayak Canada CEO) Casey Wade after the race. He asked me do I remember what the best sound is. I said I don’t remember. It’s two medals clinging together.”
She’ll hear that every time she wears her paracanoe VL2 200-metre silver medal and parakayak KL1 200-metre bronze as she moves along in her wheelchair.
Besharah-Hrebacka, who won a bronze medal at each of the 2019 and 2021 junior world championships, had a double A-final agenda on a sunny and humid Saturday in her inaugural senior worlds. And her two races were condensed into less than an hour.
The Canadian K4 500-metre crew of Langlois, Natalie Davison-James of Rideau, Riley Melanson of Cheema Aquatic Club and Besharah-Hrebacka had a promising start and were in the middle of the pack after 250 metres.
But the national team finished ninth in the nine-boat field in 1:35.69 and was 4.98 seconds behind the winning team from Poland. The Polish crew was timed in 1:30.70 and dominated the other two medallists, Australia, 1:32.78 and Mexico, 1:33.24.
Fifty-five minutes after the K4 500-metre race, Langlois, a 29-year-old 2021 Olympian, and Besharah-Hrebacka, a 19-year-old rookie senior-level kayaker, were in lane seven for the K2 200-metre final.
They had an impressive opening off the start line and moved smoothly and swiftly down the course as thousands of Canadian supporters roared their approval.
While Hungary’s Blanka Kiss and Anna Lucz won the 200-metre K2 sprint in 38.76, Spain’s Sara Ouzande and Teresa Portela edged Langlois and Besharah-Hrebacka by 0.03 seconds in the battle for second place – 38.96 to 38.99.
“We were so close to the silver, but the bronze means just as much to me as the silver, if not more,” a jubilant Besharah-Hrebacka said in a phone interview.
“It’s an incredible feeling. I’m speechless. It has been an up-and-down emotional rollercoaster. I was in tears on the medal podium.”
The tears actually started for her as the medallists were marching into the medal ceremony. When Besharah-Hrebacka saw her long-time Rideau teammates Olivia Pucci and Maren Bradley crying in the spectator area, she broke down as well. Besharah-Hrebacka has paddled and won medals with both girls in her career.
The Rideau club contingent also included head coach Cheyanne Farquharson and high-performance coach Reid Farquharson.
“After the ceremony, I hugged everyone in sight and one of them took photos,” she added. “I signed a kid’s shirt and hat. I’ve never had experiences like that ever.”
Immediately after their K4 500-metre race, Langlois and Besharah-Hrebacka rode the Canadian team’s stationary bike to get rid of the lactic acid and quickly prepare for the K2 200-metre A final. Besharah-Hrebacka wore an ice vest, which was popular to confront the heat at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, to cool down and also dipped towels in ice water.
“I thought it would be extremely difficult, but the adrenalin was still there,” she added about entering her second of three A finals on the weekend. Langlois and Besharah-Hrebacka will race the K2 500-metre final on Sunday.
“The 200 is close to my heart. I could have two or eight races before that race and I’d be ready to go. We did a good start, I don’t know what happened in the middle and when we hit the 100-metre mark, I said we’re going for it.”
Langlois and Besharah-Hrebacka have only paddled together since March, but the latter said they are a match made in heaven.
“It’s something special that comes once in a lifetime,” Besharah-Hrebacka added. “Our height difference is a lot, but with my power (at the back of the kayak) and her (long) stroke and power, it balances out perfectly.”
Langlois is five feet tall, while Besharah-Hrebacka is five feet, 10 inches.
“The first time we got in the boat we knew we had something special. We’re close whether we’re inside or outside the boat.”
Meanwhile, six-time world junior champion Sophia Jensen of the Cascades Canoe Club and Julia Lilley Osende of the Mic Mac Aquatic Canoe Club started well from lane one in the women’s C2 200-metre A final. But they couldn’t keep pace with high-stroking Cubans Yarisleidis Duboys and Katherin Segura, who won the race.
Duboys and Segura used their in-sync, rapid-fire strokes to win the sprint in 45.09 seconds and hold off silver-medallists Wenjun Lin and Changwen Shuai of China, who finished in 45.24. Jensen and Osende were 3.25 seconds behind the Cubans in 48.35 for fifth place.
The C2 200-metre championship race was a direct final with no heats or semifinals. Two heats were originally scheduled, but were cancelled when athletes from one or two countries were denied entry into Canada because of their vaccine status. The International Canoe Federation cancelled the heats, despite some canoeists wanting to test the waters before the final.
Jensen is also scheduled to race in two A finals on Sunday. She’ll compete in the C1 500 metres and the C4 500 metres with Katie Vincent of the Mississauga Canoe Club, Sloan MacKenzie of the Cheema Aquatic Club and Osende.
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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