By Martin Boyce
Less than a year after beginning her canoeing career, Rideau Canoe Club paddler Rowan Hardy-Kavanagh is already amongst the best in the world.
Formerly a kayaker, Hardy-Kavanagh recently switched to the single-blade paddle, with women’s canoe a freshly-confirmed new Olympic discipline for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
The 20-year-old made her World Cup debut for Canada May 26-28 in Hungary, placing 5th in the women’s C-2 200 metres. A week later in Serbia, she again placed 5th in the C-2 200 m as well as the C-2 500 m.
“It was amazing,” smiles Hardy-Kavanagh, who set foot in Europe for the first time, noting they were the loudest events she’s ever paddled in. “There were lots of spectators. I guess it helped me, but I’ll be better at focusing in the future.”
Sending a full women’s canoe team for the first time, Canada continually swapped its crews in hopes of determining the best pairings in advance of the World Championships later this summer, and the Olympics further down the road.
The switches added an extra challenge, but Hardy-Kavanagh was especially pleased to come 5th in the 500 m distance – which is on the Olympic programme – since that’s the most competitive women’s C-2 event.
“I’m really happy with it,” underlines the Merivale High School grad who savoured the opportunity to wear a Team Canada singlet alongside the likes of Olympic medallist Mark Oldershaw.
It was a long way from just a year ago, when Hardy-Kavanagh was a kayaker trying to move up the ranks in Canadian paddling while dealing with bursitis that caused her severe pain when she sat down. It got unbearable.
“I was ready to quit,” she signals. “One of my friends had a canoe he wasn’t using, I just went out for fun and I found it really cool.”
After leisurely canoeing every day for a while, a lot of people suggested she race at the national qualifiers, so she did, and she earned a place on Team Canada.
“I surprised everyone, I guess,” Hardy-Kavanagh laughs. “I mean, I was hoping for that result, but it was unexpected.”
She’s noticed the level of women’s canoe picking up across Canada and internationally with its inclusion in the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee is seeking to achieve gender equity at the Games, though without increasing the number of participating athletes in each sport, which means some men’s races had to be removed.
“I think it’s really unfortunate that they had to take away an event to do it,” Hardy-Kavanagh states. “But if that’s the way it has to be, then I think it’s fair.”
One notable casualty from the change is Rideau clubmate Ben Tardioli, a national team veteran who missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics by a fraction of a second.
The C-1 men’s 1,000 m remains in the Games, but the sprint specialist’s signature 200 m distance has been dropped.
Canoe-Kayak Canada also removed the race from its national team trials and did not fund any C-1 men’s 200 m national team athletes to attend this year’s World Cups.
While he wouldn’t mind if the 200 m is reinstated in the future, Tardioli says he’s not too worried about that right now. The 27-year-old will attempt to rework his fitness to better suit the longer distance.
“I’ll give it a shot,” Tardioli indicates. “It’s a bit different. You’ve got to find a different pace.”
The Carleton University grad says he doesn’t want to let his unfortunate situation get in the way of the great opportunity it provides women’s canoeists as they’ll have legitimate Olympic aspirations for the first time in their career.
“I’m happy for people like Rowan and the other women’s canoers in Canada. It’s definitely good for the sport,” Tardioli highlights. “I’m a little disappointed they chose the 1,000 over the 200, but what can you do?”
Two other Rideau Canoe Club paddlers also competed for Canada at the pair of World Cups. Natalie Davison made her World Cup debut, earning 8th and 12th place finishes in women’s K-2 200 m and K-2 500 m, respectively, while Drew Hodges was 16th in the men’s C-2 500 m.
Six Ottawa River Runners players earned senior national team positions in canoe slalom: Rio Olympians Michael Tayler and Cameron Smedley, Keenan Simpson, Spencer Pomeroy, Liam Smedley (an alternate) and Lois Betteridge, the only Canadian paddler to qualify in both canoe and kayak singles.