VICTORIA – Week one at the Olympic Games has seen Canadian women dominate the podium, and the same is true for Vikes rowing. Avalon Wasteneys and Cailigh Filmer can add their names to the history books, earning gold and bronze medals in Tokyo and continuing the Vikes Olympic rowing dominance trend.
It was a picture-perfect performance on Thursday night by Wasteneys and her teammates in the women’s eight, taking home the first gold medal in the Olympic women’s eight event since 1992. This also marks Canada’s first Olympic gold by a women’s crew since Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle’s double sculls victory in 1996.
“It’s absolutely surreal, I just don’t think it’s fully hit us yet. We’re just kind of rolling with the punches still and processing it, but every time I watch that video, I get the chills and feel like crying a little bit; it’s really special,” said Wasteneys in a post-event interview with RBC Spotlight.
The women’s eight started the Olympics by coming in second in their heat, just 0.3 seconds behind New Zealand. They then progressed to the A final after a second-place finish in the repechage, in which they set a new Canadian record. However, it was clear they saved the best for last, leading the final race from start to finishing ahead of New Zealand, China and the USA, who hasn’t missed the podium in 11 years.
For Wasteneys, who got her start as a novice with the Vikes and quickly climbed her way up the ranks, it was a full-circle moment. Her mother Heather Clarke rowed in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and her aunt Christine Clarke in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
On Wednesday, former Olympian and Vikes alumna Caileigh Filmer won the bronze medal in the women’s pair event.
After taking the early lead in the 2000 metre race, Filmer and her partner Hillary Jansenns of UBC battled against solid performances from the gold medal-winning New Zealanders and the silver medallists from Russia. In a photo finish, the Canadians held onto the bronze with a time of 6:52.10, nearly three seconds ahead of the fourth-place crew from Great Britain.
In an interview with CBC, Filmer said, “we told ourselves that, to the first kilometre, we were going to race physically. And in the last kilometre, it was with heart.”
It was indeed all heart and grit as the duo collapsed at the finish line with no gas left in the tank.
Much like Wasteneys, Filmer has rowing in her genes. Her mother, Helena, was also a national level rower with the University of Victoria.
Elsewhere on the water Wednesday, it was another thrilling performance for Vikes alumnus Kai Langerfeld and partner Conlin McCabe in the men’s pair as the come-from-behind duo made a late move but finished just off the podium. The tight finish came on the heels of another thriller that saw Langerfeld and McCabe move up from fifth to third place in the final 500 metres of their semifinal race to earn a berth in the final.
Langerfeld made his Olympic debut in 2016, helping the coxless four team finish sixth in Rio.
Rounding out the outstanding Canadian Olympic rowing showcase, current Vike Patrick Keanne finished fourth in the men’s lightweight double with partner Max Lattimer of UBC in the B final for a tenth place finish overall.
Watch the gold medal race again!