After two disappointing early races, Canada’s rowers needed a big win to set them back on course to be one of the biggest medal winning teams at these Games.
On that front, the women’s eight boat, ranked second in the world, stepped up and delivered, as they won their heat in dominating fashion Sunday over Romania and the Netherlands to advance right to Thursday’s final.
Even more impressively, they posted the top time of the day, cranking through the Eton Dorney course in the English countryside in 6:13.91, slightly better than the powerhouse U.S. team that advanced from the other heat in 6:14.68.
That sets up a showdown between the two nations with medals on the line.
“That’s exactly what we wanted to accomplish,” Canada’s Janine Hanson said of the win. “But we can’t be satisfied with that.”
“I hope that provides the catalyst for the team and the momentum to drive us forward,” said Peter Cookson, Rowing Canada’s high performance director. “I’m pretty sure the team will build on that.”
The convincing win was a good omen after the men’s eights finished last in their heat on Saturday and the two lightweight doubles boats missed advancing to the semi-finals earlier in the day Sunday.
All three of those crews will still have a chance to move on by taking part in the repechages, but their first appearances at these Games hardly inspired confidence.
Canada is hoping for as many as four medals from its rowing team – including both the men’s and women’s eights – but after six heats only two crews have avoided the repechage.
That will mean a tougher road to a medal for at least two teams that are considered strong contenders (the men’s eights and women’s lightweight doubles) coming in, with another day of racing required in order to move on.
The women’s lightweight duo of veteran Lindsay Jennerich and rookie Patricia Obee, who won silver in the world championships last year, were particularly disappointing in finishing fifth in their heat after a slow start that saw them sitting in last in the early going.
“I’m not disheartened,” Jennerich said. “There’s a big difference between disappointed and disheartened.”
“Jennerich will come back really strongly in the next race,” Cookson said. “She’s known for that.”
The men’s lightweight crew of Douglas Vandor and Morgan Jarvis, meanwhile, were out front in the opening 500 metres of their heat but faltered late and finished third.
Both the lightweight boats will now have to place in the top three in Tuesday’s repechages – potentially tiring them out for the semis – in order to keep their Olympic hopes alive.
The only other race involving a Canadian boat Sunday saw the men’s double sculls team of Michael Braithwaite and Kevin Kowalyk finish third in their repechange to advance to a semi-final on Tuesday.
They join the men’s pairs team in moving on, as David Calder and Scott Frandsen – silver medalists in Beijing – have already advanced right to the semis after the first day of action on Saturday.
The only Canadian boat now left to make its first appearance is the men’s fours, a team Cookson called a potential “dark horse” on Sunday. They, along with the men’s eights, will be the highlight of the team’s rowing schedule on Monday.