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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Canadian rowers Filmer, Janssens ’empty the tanks’ for bronze in women’s pair

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TOKYO — Caileigh Filmer and Hillary Janssens wanted it to hurt.

They needed it to hurt.

With each agonizing, powerful stroke as their boat churned towards the finish line, the Canadian rowers believed deep down the pain shooting through their arms and legs — not to mention the sacrifices of the last five years — would pay off.

And when the moment arrived and the times flashed on the scoreboard, an exhausted Janssens collapsed backwards into the arms of an equally spent Filmer knowing that unwavering belief was justified.

They would be standing on the podium at the Tokyo Olympics.

Filmer and Janssens blew out of the gates early and hung on late to win bronze in Thursday’s final of the women’s pair at Sea Forest Waterway.

“The first 1,000 (metres) was about being physical,” Filmer said. “And the second half was about rowing with our heart.”

The 2018 world champions finished in a time of six minutes 52.10 seconds to grab third behind New Zealand’s Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler (6:50.19) and the Russian Olympic Committee’s Vasilisa Stepanova and Elena Oriabinskaia (6:51.45) on a blustery Tokyo Bay.

“I don’t remember too much,” Janssens said. “Stay clean, stay in the lane, and empty the tanks.

“That’s what we trained for.”

Filmer and Janssens are the first Canadians to medal in the event since Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle won gold at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Heddle died of cancer at age 55 in January, while McBean is serving as the country’s chef de mission in Tokyo.

“That’s so special,” Janssens said. “I’m so glad to be able to do that. Especially in memory of Kathleen … thinking about her family, and obviously Marnie’s here.

“Two of the most amazing Canadian athletes and we’re so happy to continue their legacy.”

Filmer, 24, and Janssens, 27, led after 500 and 1,000 metres, and sat second with a quarter of the race to go before having to fend off a hard-charging crew from Britain.

“It hurt,” Janssens said of the last, desperate push to secure bronze. “I knew we were gonna finish it.”

Filmer said the goal was to “go internal” and not worry about any of the competitors around them.

“The mistake that we made in our heat in our semifinal was just trying to focus too much on the other crews, focus too much on the wind,” she said. “Today I just saw this tailwind and I was like, ‘Cool … it’s fast.’

“That’s all we need to know — that it was fast and that we had a plan.”

Conlin McCabe of Brockville, Ont., and Kai Langerfeld of North Vancouver, B.C., were the other Canadian rowers in a final Thursday, finishing a disappointing fourth in the men’s pair on the same 2,000-metre course.

“We left it all out there,” said McCabe, 30. “It felt like the boat was flying underneath us. We were taking great strokes, we were going so fast in these conditions. I had no clue when we crossed the line. I thought maybe we had it.

“It wasn’t until it came up on the screen that I saw that we were short.”

McCabe, who won silver in the men’s eight at the 2012 London Games, and Langerfeld wound up just 0.55 seconds off the podium.

“Coming in fourth hurts quite a bit,” said Langerfeld, 34. “But it hurts a little less knowing you really went for it and laid it out.”

Meanwhile, Carling Zeeman of Cambridge, Ont., and Trevor Jones of Lakefield, Ont., both failed to advance to the finals of the women’s and men’s single sculls.

Canada’s women’s eight will race for gold Friday.

The country’s rowers came to Tokyo looking to rebound after a disastrous showing at the 2016 Rio Olympics that saw the program secure just one medal — in women’s lightweight double sculls — after controversially scuttling the men’s eight in favour of two smaller boats.

Janssens said she “definitely felt a little bit” of the pressure as one of Canada’s podium hopes.

“But I only wanted to live up to it. I felt like the whole team knew what we could do out there, and I wanted to make them proud. I wanted to show this is not just our hard work that got us this medal.

“This is everyone on the team who pushes us every day.”

Filmer was a member of the women’s eight that was fifth in Rio, while Janssens served as an alternate.

“I had the bliss of being naive,” Filmer said of 2016. “I was only 19 … but having that experience and then coming into Tokyo, I wouldn’t have traded that. It allowed me to be calm, or at least calm-ish. It’s an Olympic Games, you’re gonna be nervous. If you aren’t nervous, then you aren’t ready.

“The fact that both of us had been at those Games together, and then we were able to come here with the goal that we had, it helped us get to where we did.”

The Canadians qualified 10 boats for Tokyo — the most since the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta — and have a gender-balanced team for the first time in their history at the pandemic-delayed Games.

“Mentally, physically, everything — we had a lot of hurdles,” Filmer said of that extra year spent preparing. “There was a lot of days that we spent out of the boat due to mental health or injuries — just everything. It was one thing after another, but it was just believing in the process and believing in each other.

“Together, we could get through anything.”

Janssens added “no one else has spent more time on spin bikes” over the last 12 months.

“We have done our time with injuries,” she said as her voice started to crack. “Mentally it’s really tough to believe, in the middle of winter when you’re trying to build fitness and you don’t even know if it’ll pay off at the end.

“To have this makes it worth it.”

Just like all that pain.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2021.

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