Ottawa sculler shooting for the Olympics next

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Louise Munro (Photo: Merijn Soeters / Rowing Canada Aviron)

By Charlie Pinkerton

One of the Ottawa Rowing Club’s oarswoman-on-the-rise is hoping that an improved performance at the international regatta where she debuted last year will steer her to a stream heading for the Olympic Games.

Twenty-two-year-old Louise Munro took her first dip into international competition at the Under-23 World Rowing Championships last summer. At the top annual regatta for rowers of her age, Munro placed 5th in the quadruple sculls.

She followed that performance by returning to Queen’s University’s rowing team, where she contributed two gold medals to the team’s tally at the OUA Rowing Championships last fall. Months later she was plucked from Queen’s by Canada’s national rowing organization and invited to move to Victoria, B.C. to train full time alongside the senior national team.

“To me it was really, really awesome to be able to focus on just rowing and not have to manage school or full-time school as well, so in that way it was like a huge stress relief for me to have the support from the senior rowing staff. … And it was really awesome to be training with likeminded people and people kind of eying the same thing as (me),” Munro said.

Though she ultimately was not selected to compete at the 2019 World Rowing Championships for senior rowers, she was given a vote of confidence by Rowing Canada Aviron, in the form of the discipline she was chosen to race in at the U23 championships this summer.

At the world championships for her age group that were held from July 24-28, Munro raced in her own boat, which it’s customary for a country to reserve for its top oarswoman.

In the single sculls at the Sarasota-Bradenton-held U23 World Championships, Munro bumped up her placing from last year, this time finishing just one spot shy of the podium.

Munro races using a strategy that’s reliant on a rower’s preparation and mental toughness. Called “even-splitting,” Munro’s tactic is to maintain as close to a consistent speed as she can throughout the entirety of the 2000 metre race, which typically takes rowers about seven-and-a-half minutes to finish. One downside to this strategy is that since rowers are seated towards the back of the boat, they can no longer see their opponents if they fall behind them.

“A lot of people will go off hard on the start and they get the psychological advantage of being able to see their competition and that’s sometimes enough of a motivator to keep them in front,” Munro said. “But they also can produce way too much lactic acid in their body and start dying.”

Even-splitting requires the oarswoman to remain composed and trust in her training and preparation, rather than overreacting to how others’ races are going.

In the repechage for her event, Munro’s times in the first and second half of her race were almost identical. She finished one spot ahead of where she was positioned through the halfway point in the race in the qualifier.

In her finals of the single culls, she overcame a slow start with a much faster second half of her race, passing two other boats in the last 1000 metres.

“I think that was one of my strengths at this regatta – keeping my cool when I wasn’t ahead, or I wasn’t in a favourable position. I just kept thinking, ‘maintain your speed,’” said Munro.

Trying for Tokyo

The 2019 World Rowing Championships, which Rowing Canada did not select Munro for, instead choosing to have her race at the U23 championships, is the first event that rowers can use to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics. The event was in its second day of competition at the time of publication.

Munro told the Sportspage near the end of August that she will extend her leave from Queen’s if Rowing Canada invites her to return to the National Training Centre this fall. After the world championships, the next qualifier for Canadian rowers is the Americas Continental Qualification Regatta held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil in April.

There’s a final event that Canadian rowers can qualify for the Olympics for in May, if they don’t make it out of their regional qualifier.

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