By John Gregory

We could not have anticipated the tumultuous journey when we started following Canoe Kayak Canada’s Women’s Canoe Team between Rio and Tokyo. This third article continues our focus on Katie Vincent & Laurence Vincent Lapointe representing Team Canada for this historic introduction of women’s canoe into the Olympic sprint program.

The first Olympic gold medal in the C1 men’s event at the 1936 Games was won by a Canadian, Frank Amyot from Ottawa. Thirty two years later, Canada was again at the forefront when the then 23-year-old Marjorie Homer-Dixon competed in the women’s kayak 500-metre events at the Mexico Olympics in October 1968, marking the introduction of women in the Olympic canoe sprint program.

“I was fortunate to be the first female chosen by Canadian Canoe Association (now Canoe Kayak Canada) to paddle in ladies’ kayak for our country at the Mexico Olympics.” She heralds from the same Mississauga club up from the shores of Lake Ontario as Katie Vincent. “And now, for another first, ladies C1 and C2 will be part of the Olympics in Tokyo, and Missy will be sending Katie,” she adds.

This series of articles took an unexpected turn with the suspension of Vincent Lapointe less than a week before the 2019 World Championships in Szeged, Hungary. Vincent was given only a matter of days’ notice that she would need to switch category at those World Championships to the 200 metre race.  But, arguably, she did the job and secured the needed sixth place to qualify the Olympic spot for Tokyo.

“It's been one of the hardest weeks of my life. It's a devastating situation and it's nothing that as an athlete you can anticipate. Nor should any athlete have to ever anticipate what happened this week,” said an emotional Vincent at the time in Szeged. 

Vincent talks about resilience as the ability to deal with adversity, getting through it to become stronger on the other side. “It's definitely been a learning curve and trying to manage the things out of your control and focus on your performances. Leading into the games, it definitely gives our team a lot of competence to be able to kind of handle the chaos, but you know, put something down when needed.”

“It's my first time and I want to win a medal at it,” says Vincent. Given her golds in Racice and Montemor-o-Velho seniors worlds in women’s C2 and U23 World Championships in Plovdiv in C1 200 and C1 500, you wouldn’t bet against that likely outcome.

Vincent appears very focused and strong now. Much calmer than during our interviews in Szeged in August 2019. Faster too. During the cold March Canadian Olympic team selection race in Barnaby, British Columbia, Vincent set a personal best of 45.400 seconds.

Canada Katie Vincent

The world best time is held by Vincent Lapointe of 44.504 seconds set at the Szeged World Cup race in 2018. There are no world records in canoe sprint. In Tokyo, we will see Vincent & Vincent Lapointe battle it out in the C1 200 metres for likely medals. As the debut of the women’s canoe it will establish a new Olympic best time.

“I’m looking forward to making some history,” explains Vincent. It's an exciting moment and I definitely feel pretty honoured to be and grateful to be in this position given that so many women were fighting for this, and now I get to be there.” 

Women’s double 500 metres

A confluence of unanticipated events looked to have deprived us of the opportunity to witness CKC’s Vincent Lapointe and Vincent race in the women’s C2 500 in Tokyo. Canoe Kayak Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee therefore worked to exercise a performance assessment approach  to get Vincent Lapointe onto the start line in Tokyo.

In short, meaning that Vincent and Vincent Lapointe who are holders of the world best time in women’s C2 500 of 1 minute 51.428 seconds set in Duisburg, Germany in 2018 will race for Olympic gold.

This will make a substantial difference to Team Canada’s medal hopes. In March 2021, Vincent and Vincent Lapointe were closely matched at selection trials. Both will now be on the start line for the Women’s C1 200 metres and then partner for the C2 500 metres.

Sport can be a tough and lonely journey. Ten thousand hours, double that in the case of Vincent Lapointe training early mornings, alone, in the rain in pursuit of a singular goal. That said, Canoe Kayak Canada was swift in their support of Vincent Lapointe. She was back training alongside her teammates in Florida after the decision to clear her by the International Canoe Federation posted in January 2020.

She had described the whole episode as a nightmare. Vincent Lapointe, the 12-times Senior World Champion is a rock for the women’s canoe team and has been a long-standing vocal advocate for the inclusion of women’s canoe in the Olympic program.

“Going through the last two years has made me realize that I am a lot more resilient than I ever thought I could be,” remarks Vincent Lapointe. “It was challenging but it helped me learn that as athletes, when there is unknown in front of us, the best thing we can do is to simply keep going forward.

"I now know I would rather be ready for something that might not happen than be unprepared for something that ends up happening. It gave me motivation to keep that in mind.”

The tumultuous journey starting around the Szeged Worlds in 2019 saw Vincent Lapointe unavailable to train with the CKC team while her case went through due process. This void created opportunities for other athletes, most notably Sophia Jensen, 19, from Quebec.

Canoe Kayak Canada was forced into contingency planning to draft in the junior athlete, Sophia Jensen. She became the unlikely beneficiary of Vincent Lapointe’s suspension. She has her eyes fixed on Paris in 3 years. To compound matters, COVID led to the cancellation of the Pan American Championships scheduled for May 2020 in Curitiba, Brazil. The qualifier was anticipated to pave the way for Canada to qualify a spot for the women’s C2 500 metres.

Vincent Lapointe, 29, echoes the sentiments about the importance of those surrounding you. “The people closest to me, including my family and friends, my Trois Rivière club and my teammates have consistently been there for me to help push forward. They were always the best support when things didn’t necessarily go as well or when the motivation became lower.

"But as one of my teammates told me, ‘You have to fake it until you make it’. Some days you might be feeling down or be disappointed but if you keep your head up, you’ll end up getting results and you’ll be proud of yourself.” 

Vincent follows in the footsteps of other Canadian women’s kayak paddlers, including Olympic medallists Sue Holloway and Caroline Brunet. Homer-Dixon is somewhat of a sport icon for Vincent and touchingly gave her a good luck charm.

“Katie is every coach’s perfect athlete,” adds trailblazer Homer-Dixon.She is a tremendously dedicated, incredibly hard working, and extremely focused athlete who concentrates on every single stroke she takes, listens and responds to coaching critiques for that perfect stroke. She is humble, a wonderful trait in an athlete, preferring to let her accomplishments speak for themselves.

"‘Brag’ is a four-letter word and not in Katie’s vocabulary. Training for any international competition is time consuming and rigorous, but the Olympics is especially so because the whole world watches them. The pressure is incredible, which is one reason why the training has to be so specific and precisely accurate, and the athlete needs to be so mentally prepared.”

The course in Tokyo is saltwater. Canoe Kayak Canada is familiar with saltwater from the training camps in Florida. The team is training at the freshwater Olympic Basin in Montreal, which has a similar infrastructure to the racecourse in Japan. It is expected to be warm in the Sea Forest Waterway alongside Tokyo Bay, something that could have an impact on increasing boat speed by a further one percent.

All the canoeing community across Canada, those in Mississauga and Trois Rivière, will be glued to the canoe sprint races in Tokyo for the C1 Women 200 metre final on Thursday, August 4th. All being well, the 2018 World Championships should be together on the start for the women’s C1 500 metre final on August 7th. Vincent tells us about the cool and exciting boat design, which is being kept secret, is a testament to home. Perhaps they will be displayed at the renovating Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario.

Look for the last part in this series in the fall after the Tokyo Olympics.

Words John Gregory, photography Bence Vekassy.

Tags: #WePaddle #ICFsprint @gregiej

Series part 1 -

Series part 2 - 

Canada Laurence Vincent Lapointe



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