As the morning awoke in Aiguebelette, final preparations were underway for the last day of races of these Championships.
With dampened spirits lingering within the Canadian team after yesterday’s emotional ride, hopes were pinned on this afternoon’s remaining three races to provide an uplifting finale to the weeklong regatta.
The three crews contesting finals today included the women’s eight and single, both in the medal rounds, and the lightweight men’s four, which was attempting to secure tickets to the Rio Olympics next summer.
The Canadian women’s eight, made up of Lisa Roman, Cristy Nurse, Jennifer Martins, Ashley Brzozowicz, Christine Roper, Susanne Grainger, Natalie Mastracci, Lauren Wilkinson and coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie, having won their heat at the beginning of the week, progressed directly to today’s final. Along with the United States, who won the other preliminary round, the two countries were favorites in today’s final.
The Canadians, gunning for gold, knew that they would have to dislodge their dominant southern neighbors, which would be no small feat. They would also have to keep the pesky Kiwis at bay, a crew that has been slowly encroaching into territory previously controlled by the North Americans.
The Canadians got off to a good start and settled into a solid, strong tempo.
“The boat felt powerful,” said Mastracci, 7-seat in the crew. “A strong rhythm was established right from the beginning and everyone was supporting each other in the crew.
By the midway marker, the Americans were leading, with the remaining crews in the field battling it out for second through sixth positions.
“The event has really become competitive,” explained Wilkinson (stroke seat) as she waited for the medal ceremony. “Everyone is so close, it’s great to see.”
The increasingly competitive field leaves no room for error, favoring consistency, something the women’s eight excels at.
Led by veteran coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie, the crew crossed the line in the bronze medal position, winning Canada’s second medal at these Championships. The mighty Americans triumphed yet again, while the New-Zealanders eclipsed the Canadians for silver.
Is gold still the goal for the Canadian women’s eight as they prepare for Brazil?
“Of course it is,” emphasized Wilkinson. “We use this as fuel to fire up the next twelve months of training.”
Mastracci reinforced her teammates sentiments.
“We go home, we support each other, and we work harder than we ever have before.”
Great Britain, Russia and The Netherlands rounded out the top six positions.
The next medal race for Canada implicated the 24-year-old powerhouse from Cambridge, Ontario, Carling Zeeman.
In spite of her inexperience racing the single at this level, the Canadian sculler demonstrated her potential this week and the bright future that lies ahead for this rising star.
Though Zeeman never challenged the leaders for a medal, she stayed with the group of rowers, an impressive task considering the field included both an Olympic champion and a bronze medalist from London.
“It was a tough race,” said Zeeman after being released from doping control. “I don’t like losing. But I have to keep it all in perspective. It was a wonderful opportunity to race these women. I do love the challenge.”
Zeeman crossed the line in sixth place, 4.95 seconds out of the bronze medal position. Australia, the Czech Republic and China won the gold, silver and bronze medals respectively.
The third and last race for Canada today was the lightweight men’s four.
The goal this afternoon for this crew was simple: qualify for the Olympics.
Canada won a bronze medal in this boat class at the 2008 Beijing Games, but was unable to qualify a crew for London 2012 four years later.
The foursome of Maxwell Lattimer, Brendan Hodge, Nicolas Pratt and Eric Woelfl, having had a sequence of consistent races this week, knew that securing tickets to Rio was within reach, but that it was going to be a fight all the way down the racecourse.
Following their semi-final two days ago, Pratt emphasized the importance of finding a good rhythm in the final, and maintaining it the length of the course.
The Canadian lightweights found that rhythm today. Sitting in fifth place for a majority of the 2000 meters, but never far off of the leaders, the crew established a sustainable, strong tempo that helped secure a qualification spot.
Lattimer, who sits in bow-seat, was happy with the way the crew was moving today.
“It felt really good the whole way down, but especially in the third quarter,” explained Lattimer. “We even started making up ground on the leaders.”
Crossing the finish line in fifth place, the foursome picked up the last qualifying spot in this event for Brazil. They finish with an overall world ranking of 11th position.
Canada ended the weeklong regatta with a pair of bronze medals, one in the women’s eight and the other in the legs/trunk/arms mixed coxed four. In addition, Canada qualified six crews for the Olympics and one crew for the Paralympics.
And thus concludes the 2015 edition of the World Rowing Championships from Aiguebelette, France.
The athletes will now have a brief respite from training before returning to their respective centers to resume preparations for the 2016 Olympic season.
Story and Photo from Rowing Canada | RowingCanada.org