By Andrew Willows
First, my apologies to those who were looking for a column at the beginning of April. What can I say? I wound up a little bit distracted as I prepared to race. However, now that I have a moment, I would like to share with you some of my pre- and post-race thoughts from the month of April.
Unfortunately, April started in a dismal fashion. I had the feeling that March had flown by without seeing any significant improvement or focus on the task at hand (winning a gold medal at the Olympics). In all honesty, I was concerned and worried at the beginning of April that I had let the past month slip by and was not prepared to race.
I turned to my coaches for assistance and guidance. Mark Granger, the Canadian kayak team coach, reassured me that I had completed all of my training to his satisfaction and he believed that I was in better physical condition than last year.
Despite my coach’s confidence, I still felt unsatisfied. So I called my long team friend and sport psychologist, Went Sharp, who I have consulted with for 15 years now. I had a lot of confidence that he would help me out, as he has done in most situations when I felt uncertain about my sport. Like Mark, Went also advised me that it was normal to go through a period of bleakness, but suggested that I spend additional time concentrating on the goal at hand.
With these thoughts in mind, I set my fears aside and grabbed April by horns with only 140 days left until my race at the Olympics. With this amount of time left, I decided that I had to work hard at remaining focused and not let any more time slip by. I re-examined my goals and the process I believed it would take to achieve them. Not before long, I started to act and train how I thought an Olympic gold medalist should.
I began to walk with my shoulders head held high and put priority on ensuring that I was eating, recovering, and resting properly. Every time I trained, I focused on what it would take to win the Olympics. I made each stroke I took with my paddle as important as if I were racing the final at the Games.
With this newly energized approach to training, I felt as if I had accomplished a lot in April. I was paddling well and having fun everyday. By the end of the month, I started to get the itch to race. With the Canadian Olympic Team Trials the first weekend in May, the timing couldn’t have been better.
The Canadian Olympic team trials were an opportunity to see if all the hours of training would pay off. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous; this weekend decided our fate for the summer. On the Saturday, we raced the K-2 1,000 metre event- a race that is not our strength, as we are not known as 1,000 metre paddlers. Knowing this, I was really nervous in the hour leading up to the race. However, we won the race by 1.3 seconds — a full boat length ahead of second place and with energy to spare — and my nervousness went away.
My confidence level was boosted for Sunday’s race and we handily won the K-2 500 metre event — our strong distance on the international scene— by three seconds and this time two full boat lengths ahead of second place.
With these two wins, Richard and I are only one win away from achieving the Olympic nomination for Canada. Our next chance to ensure our spot on the Olympic team will be at the first World Cup in Szeged, Hungary on June 7. Not only are we setting our sights on securing the Olympic spot, but we are also shooting for a medal in the K-2 500m and K-2 200m, as well as a top-6 finish in the K-2 1,000m.
Despite being back into a regular training schedule for the past few weeks, we took a brief pause to race the Pan American Championships in Montréal. While this race was not high on our priorities, it was nice to win the K-2 200m event in a convincing manner. Although our 200m win was meaningful to us, the importance of the weekend for many of the Canadian canoe/kayak athletes could not be underestimated since it was also the continental Olympic qualifier. My teammates raced extremely well, and I am happy to report that Canada is now qualified for every event at the Olympics.
In the meantime, I continuing to train and push hard like an Olympic champion every day. With every stroke on the water, our hope is that we can reach the top spot on the podium and, in victory, hear the Canadian national anthem played.
I look forward to sharing my experiences from World Cup circuit in June when I get back from Europe. Until then, take care. — Andrew Willows is a member of the Pointe Claire Canoe Club.