Canoe-Kayak Elite Amateur Sport Para Sport

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Madeline Schmidt, Rachel Cohen win Unified K2 gold at world canoe sprint championships

By Martin Cleary

Ottawa’s Madeline Schmidt had the perfect icebreaker experience heading into this weekend’s high-pressure races at the International Canoe Federation senior canoe sprint world championships and the first round of Paris 2024 Olympic qualifiers.

In the opening final Thursday at the world championships in Duisburg, Germany, Schmidt, who represents the Rideau Canoe Club, and Rachel Cohen of the Balmy Beach Canoe Club of Toronto won the gold medal in the Unified women’s K2 200 metres.

Cohen, who paddled at the front of the boat, and Schmidt, who raced at the Tokyo Olympics, worked hard and rallied to win the sprint race in one minute, 9.377 seconds. Germany’s Nina Voll and Isabel Schank were 2.078 seconds behind the Canadians in second place.

Canada also won the Unified men’s K2 200 metres, when Matthew Casey, an 11-year member of the Cheema Aquatic Club, and Laurent Lavigne of Trois-Rivières Canoe Kayak Club posted the fastest time of 1:00.296 and won by 2.488 seconds.

Cohen and Casey are part of Canoe Kayak Canada’s PaddleALL program, which has been operating for almost 20 years. PaddleALL encourages athletes with intellectual impairments to train and race in paddling events.

“Maddy is trying to qualify for the Olympics at worlds, but she also had a goal to be a world champion with Rachel. And they succeeded,” Ian Mortimer, the chief technical officer for Canoe Kayak Canada, said in a phone interview with High Achievers.

“They were behind at the start, behind two or three boats. But they built up and won it. It was special.”

This is the first year the ICF had approved the Unified K2 200-metre races as official events of the world senior championships. The races were exhibitions at the 2022 worlds and Cohen earned a silver medal.

“They’re both happy,” Mortimer said about the gold-medal performance by Cohen and Schmidt. “It’s a new experience for Rachel being here at the world championships. She was a little nervous.”

On Thursday, Schmidt and Courtney Stott progressed to the women’s K2 500-metre semifinals from their heat.

Toshka Besharah-Hrebacka placed well enough in her heat to qualify for the women’s K1 200-metre semifinals.

Brianna Hennessy of the Ottawa River Canoe Club qualified for her second final, after a strong women’s KL1 200-metre heat. On Wednesday, she moved through her VL2 women’s 200-metre heat directly to the final.

Cascades Canoe Club’s Sophia Jensen was third in her women’s C1 200-metre heat and advanced to the semifinals.

The Rideau pair of Natalie Davison and Besharah-Hrebacka formed half of Canada’s women’s K4 500-metre boat, which moved into the semifinals, after a quality heat race.

Gabe Ferron-Bouius of Rideau has qualified for the men’s KL3 200-metre semifinal, following a successful heat.

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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