Canadian Vincent-Lapointe's winding journey to Olympics leads to silver in C-1 200m

·5 min read

TOKYO — Laurence Vincent-Lapointe would tell herself in the darkest moments as she stared down an uncertain future to just keep going.

One day at a time.

Dominant on the world stage in women's canoe, the paddler was desperately trying to clear her name following an "adverse analytical finding" from an out-of-competition drug test in July 2019.

If things didn't go Vincent-Lapointe's way, she would miss out on the Olympic debut of a sport she had largely owned for more than a decade.

And after the clouds parted and it was announced she would be allowed to compete at the Tokyo Summer Games, the 29-year-old nicknamed "LVL" used the same mentality to secure a precious podium spot in Japan.

One powerful paddle stroke at a time.

Vincent-Lapointe fought off a couple of late challengers in the women's C-1 200-metre race Thursday to win the silver medal at a sweltering Sea Forest Waterway.

"I pushed until the end," said the ecstatic native Trois-Rivières, Que., who finished the sprint in a time of 46.786 seconds. "No matter how many people I thought were catching up to me, I was just like, 'No, no, no. You cannot drop, you cannot let go. Just push until the end.'

"It's just crazy. I have 13 world championships, but this silver at the Games is so different."

Nevin Harrison (45.932) of the United States took gold, while Ukraine's Liudmyla Luzan (47.034) claimed bronze in temperatures that felt like a staggering 44 C with the humidity on a windy Tokyo Bay.

Katie Vincent of Mississauga, Ont., finished 8th with a time of 47.834 seconds.

"We push each other a lot, especially on the water," the 25-year-old said of Vincent-Lapointe. "That teamwork goes a long way on a day like today. I'm disappointed I can't be on the podium.

"But to see a Canadian flag rise today is a huge plus and something I think all Canadians in the paddling community will remember."

A powerful canoeing force since 2010, Vincent-Lapointe had to wait for the sport's international federation and the International Olympic Committee to make room for women to race at the Games.

She had won a combined six world titles in C-1 and C-2 500 metres by the time women's canoe was added to Tokyo's sporting docket in 2017, and went on to win five more by the end of 2018. She also topped the podium at the under-23 worlds in 2013 and in the C-1 5,000 metres at the worlds in 2018.

But then her life and career descended into a doping controversy.

After that "adverse analytical finding" two years ago, Vincent-Lapointe was subsequently suspended and missed the 2019 worlds, but battled for reinstatement.

The International Canoe Federation cleared her to compete in January 2020, accepting that Vincent-Lapointe was the victim of third-party contamination of a banned substance.

The ICU believed her assertion that a trace amount of ligandrol was transferred to her via her ex-boyfriend's body fluids.

"I had the feeling I would make (the Olympics)," Vincent-Lapointe said. "In my head ... I was probably like, 'Fake it 'till you make it.' In my head I was trying to convince myself, 'You're going to be at the Games, you're going to be at the Games.'

"I just clung to it, to that feeling. It was so relieving when I finally got my spot in. It was just like, 'All right, I had the right to believe in myself that I would make it to the Games.' But once I came here I was like, 'All right, you made it to the Games, now do your best.'"

And while COVID-19 was a devastating gut-punch to sports and society around the world, it gave Vincent-Lapointe an opportunity to get back in the groove.

Missing the 2019 worlds, however, meant she still had to qualify for Tokyo, and the global pandemic didn't allow her to travel to North American qualifying events.

Vincent-Lapointe also lost to Vincent in the women's C-1 200 metres at March's national trials in Burnaby, B.C.

Canoe Kayak Canada declined to send athletes to international World Cups this spring because of the pandemic, but ultimately awarded Vincent-Lapointe an Olympic quota spot following a performance review.

She didn't disappoint.

"It's so relieving and exciting," Vincent-Lapointe said. "After all I went through, it's just ... the peak. I did it. I didn't (win) gold, but I did the performance I wanted to do.

"I'm super proud of the race."

Next up for Vincent-Lapointe and Vincent is the women's C-2, where they are medal contenders, on Friday and Saturday.

In other Thursday races involving Canadians, kayakers Brian Malfesi of Maple Ridge, B.C., and Vincent Jourdenais of Ste-Basile-le-Grand, Que., were sixth in the 'B' final of the men's K-2 1,000 metres, while Toronto's Nicholas Matveev was finished in the same spot in the K-1 200 metres.

But the day — clearly — belonged to Vincent-Lapointe.

"Going through all I had to go through the last two years, if you'd ask me if I'd do it again, even knowing a silver medal comes at the end of this, I'm not sure I would say yes," she stated in French. "It was extremely difficult.

"Everybody told me this week that with all I went through, I must be mentally the strongest here."

Now she has a silver medal to prove it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2021.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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