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The return to rowing glory is so close, the Canadian women’s team can almost taste it.
In fact, those two World Cup medals earned this past week rank right up there with a daily trip to a Swiss ice cream shop.
“There’s not a lot to do in the little (Swiss town) where we have training camp,” said Susanne Grainger, a big part of the four boat’s bronze-medal performance in Lucerne, Switzerland, “so we eat gelato a lot. Some mix it up, but I tend to lean towards this Nutella flavour, which is quite incredible there.”
Last year, the Canadians were picked apart and lamented for a one-medal performance at the Rio Olympics. The idea of chasing success in smaller boats — especially on the men’s side — was roundly trashed.
Grainger was part of the women’s eight crew that finished fifth in the final in Brazil. Launching the first post-Olympic season with a bronze medal in the four (Carling Zeeman added a silver in the single sculls) ranks as an encouraging development for the Lake Fanshawe faithful.
“The program’s obviously going through a lot of changes and I think there have been a lot of positive things in what we’ve done,” Grainger, a 26-year-old Londoner, said. “We took a good chunk of time off after Rio, whereas not all countries do that. Especially on the world stage, we came together as a boat fairly late in the game and it’s exciting knowing this is our start and it’s cool to think how much further we can go from here.”
Five years ago, Grainger and Christine Roper were part of a Canadian gold medal in the four at the under-23 world championships. They teamed up again for this bronze.
“I haven’t raced in the fours since (the 2012 event),” Grainger said, “but even as part of the eight, we do train in fours. It’s not foreign to us. Working in the four, there’s something a bit more intimate about it. It becomes very personal. You have a much clearer idea that, ‘OK, this person is really good at doing these things, so they will help me get through a part of the race.’
“You can mentally think about who will help me where.”
Through the selection process, Grainger and Roper were teamed up with Nicole Hare, part of an under-23 world pairs gold last year, and Hillary Janssens, a silver medallist in a four with Hare two years ago at u-23s in Bulgaria.
“They were around a lot last quad — Nicole was in the pair in Rio and Hillary was a spare,” Grainger said, “and on this trip, we got to know each other much better and bonded as a group. When we got to Europe, we really settled in and learned about each other on a rowing level. It was a bit of smaller team overseas this time, which was a bit strange compared to how it’s been in the past, but it was great putting our heads together, working hard and representing Canada for our first international appearance since Rio.”
The next step is worlds, which will be held in Sarasota, Fla., rather than Europe, as it has been for five of the past six years. That’s at the end of September.
“I trained in Florida a lot — at (university with) Virginia and with Canada, too,” Grainger said. “We can expect some things. It tends to be windy. I think it’ll be really interesting not having to go overseas this time. The worlds the year after an Olympics is really anyone’s game and it’ll be exciting to have everybody come this way instead of us going in that direction.”
In the meantime, she has balanced the training load by working part-time for Tutor Doctor, which helps elementary school kids in math and English.
“When you’re training, sometimes you forget why you’re doing this,” Grainger said. “We’re always focused on the goal and end point, which is gold in Tokyo (2020). But you work with these kids and they have such a fresh view.
“They’re quite excited knowing I’ve been to the Olympics and rowed for Canada. It’s heart-warming.”
Wait till she tells them about the gelato in Switzerland.
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