David Blair (right) and the Canadian mixed coxed four adaptive rowing team got to finish their Paralympics with some smiles as they won the B final at Eton Dorney in London. Photo: Dan Plouffe
By Dan Plouffe
LONDON – If you’d told Ottawa’s David Blair prior to the Paralympic Games that his Canadian crew would win their race on the final day of rowing, you can bet he’d have been on top of the world.
And that’s precisely what played out in London, but the big surprise was that Canada’s LTA4+ mixed coxed four adaptive rowing team was racing in the B final for seventh to 12th place.
Canada won the race in three minutes, 31.17 seconds – close to one second ahead of France. But make no mistake – the Canadian team’s performance in London was a bitter disappointment on the heels of gold and silver medals at the 2010 and 2011 world championships, although they did get to end their Paralympic experience on positive note.
“Obviously given our track record, we wanted to be in the A final,” Blair said on the dock at Eton Dorney. “But that wasn’t in the cards, so we all needed to reset and come here today focused with a new goal, and that’s what we did.
“It was a good confident, relaxed feeling warming up. It feels good to come out in first in whatever race you’re in. That was nice.”
A national team member for only two years and the youngest member of the Canadian crew, Blair’s teammates had warned him that the Paralympics would be unlike any other competition he’d previously participated in, and that turned out to be the case when he made his Paralympic debut on Friday, Aug. 31.
“My first race going down, I knew I would get a surge of energy just by knowing where I am, hearing everything that’s going on,” recounted Blair, whose team was over six seconds behind eventual gold medalist Great Britain in the heats to miss the lone automatic qualifying position in the final.
“My focus was on being as technically clean as possible,” the Ottawa Rowing Club member added. “By the end of the race, I had so much energy still that I could give from absorbing everything that was coming from the crowd. It’s been pretty incredible.”
The repechage round on Saturday, Sept. 1 was when the big letdown came for the Canadians. With two more places were available in the final, Ukraine and China both beat Canada to the line in 3:23.53 and 3:25.03, compared to Canada’s 3:28.82.
“It was disappointing, especially because we were in contact,” sighed the Merivale High School grad who now studies in humanities at Carleton University. “If we had our best race, I think we could have qualified.”
Blair said it wasn’t so much a case of the Canadians racing poorly, it was just that their competition enjoyed standout races.
“The level stepped up,” added the rower who is visually-impaired and wears a blinder so that he’s not able to see at all. “If you look at our times, they’ve been pretty consistently around there. It was more that other crews from other countries upped the bar in a big way and we weren’t capable of responding.”
Despite the disappointment, Blair sounded somewhat at peace with the result. The 20-year-old was already thinking about the future and taking another crack at the Paralympics come 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
“I spent every day trying to get ready for these Games,” the Nepean resident noted. “About a week ago I realized I never want to stop improving. I’m never going to be at that point where I can say, ‘Yes, OK, this is the best I’m ever going to be.’ I came in here knowing that I’m going to give it my all and when I come back next time I’m going to be even faster.
“I’ll definitely do it again.”
Goalball 1-1 to start Games
The Ottawa-based Canadian women's goalball team is 1-1 after their first two matches at Copper Box gymnasium in London.
Whitney Bogart scored Canada's lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Sweden on Saturday to open their four-match round robin competition in Group D.
Amy Kneebone scored twice along with Nancy Morin's single marker to lead Canada to a 3-1 victory over Australia on Sunday, Sept. 2 to even their record at 1-1.