Two Canadian rowers with ties to Kingston punched their tickets to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics over the weekend in Lucerne, Switzerland, at the world rowing final qualification regatta.
Will Crothers of Kingston and former Queen’s University rower Gavin Stone are boatmates in the men’s four, which will compete in Tokyo a year late due to the postponement of the Games last year amid COVID-19 pandemic concerns.
Two other crews also qualified for the Games at the Lucerne regatta.
Ten boats from Canada overall will compete at the Olympics, a release from Rowing Canada said, including Jennifer Casson of Kingston and partner Jill Moffatt, of Bethany, Ont., who unofficially qualified in women’s lightweight double sculls last month.
According to a news release on the Rowing Canada website, the men’s four, also with Jakub Buczek and Luke Gladson among the quartet, got off to a fast start in the race against competitors from South Africa and France. With South Africa taking the lead, Canada’s crew chased it throughout the middle of the race and successfully opened up some distance ahead of France to finish second.
“When the race was unfolding in the third 500 metres, we all just had trust in each other and our race plan,” Stone said. “We knew we had to stick to our plan and go for it. We had the speed and we knew going into the sprint that we could turn it on and that anything they were doing, we could do more.”
Crothers, while travelling back from Europe to his training centre in Victoria, B.C., was unavailable for comment on Monday.
Longtime rowing coach John Armitage said in an interview this is the fourth Olympics in a row that a Kingston rower has competed.
Many of the Olympic rowers have come out of the former Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute program, including Crothers and Casson along with three-time Olympian Rob Gibson and Nick Pratt.
“It’s pretty cool we have Kingston athletes in four straight Olympics,” said Armitage, a member of the Kingston and District Sports Hall of Fame. “Within the (local) community that rows, there’s a real dedicated following, and that has lent itself to a self-perpetuating recruitment cycle of athletes.”
Armitage has worked with Crothers, who turns 34 in June, and Stone, who turns 24 on Friday, as well as Casson while coaching at Kingston Rowing Club and Queen’s University.
Crothers has been able to pivot between different rowing disciplines, Armitage said.
Between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, Crothers and Gibson went from the men’s eight to the men’s quad, transitioning from two hands on one oar in the eight to one hand on each oar in the quads. With the men’s four, Crothers is back to two hands on one oar.
“When you are switching from sweep rowing (one oar) to skulling (two oars), that’s a mammoth challenge,” Armitage said. “So you have left brain, right brain working.”
Armitage said Crothers is a patient and determined athlete, especially having to wait one extra year to participate in most likely his final Olympics. He had already taken off 2017 after competing in the 2016 Olympics.
“He then rededicates himself for three years and his boat fails to qualify for the (2020) Olympics in 2019, and then he continued to train in the spring of 2020 with the expectation to qualify at Lucerne, which then got cancelled due to the pandemic,” Armitage said.
Crothers, a trained firefighter, had to put off any future plans and train for the opportunity at the “last chance” regatta in 2021.
“I don’t know if I can think of a better definition of resilience,” Armitage said. “Because people are saying, ‘Why don’t you get on with your life.’ Then you are saying to yourself, ‘I can do this, this is what I want to do and I enjoy the process.’
“Very few of us get to experience the exhilaration that comes with succeeding at that level and the crushing defeat that comes with failure,” Armitage said. “Most of us are afraid to put ourselves out there because of the fear of failure.”
Armitage recruited Stone for Queen’s from the Island Lake Rowing club near Orangeville.
In addition to rowing at Queen’s, Stone received an engineering degree from the university.
Stone represented Canada at the last U23 world championships in 2019 and is now on the Olympic team.
Armitage said it usually takes five years to go from the U23 competition to be Olympic-ready.
“He’s made that leap and that speaks volumes of him as an athlete,” he said.