Star Canadian canoeist Laurence Vincent Lapointe has faced a long list of hurdles on her Olympic journey during this extended quadrennial.
Simply qualifying for the 2021 Summer Games has been a challenge for the 13-time world champion. Her lead-up to Tokyo has been impacted by suspension, illness, the pandemic and limited training and competition.
Vincent Lapointe, from Trois-Rivieres, Que., barely missed out on landing the C1 200-metre spot at last week's Olympic Trials in Burnaby, B.C. Her C2 competition plans were derailed due to a fever.
Now she has to wait and hope that the International Canoe Federation will provide Canada an additional quota spot so that she can have a chance to compete in Tokyo.
"The only thing I can do right now is train and get better," she said Wednesday on a video call with reporters.
Vincent Lapointe and Katie Vincent of Mississauga, Ont., split the first two races in the C1 200. Vincent won a raceoff by less than half a second to secure the spot in the discipline, which makes its Olympic debut this summer.
"We are so thrilled to see two of the best paddlers in the world racing together after such a long hiatus and a challenging period of time," Canoe Kayak Canada CEO Casey Wade said in a release.
"With respect to the women’s C2 500-(metre) event, we continue to work closely with the International Canoe Federation to secure an additional women’s canoe Olympic quota spot due to extenuating circumstances dating back to the 2019 world championships. This will also allow us to have a second entry in the women’s C1 200m event."
After reporting her symptoms last weekend, Vincent Lapointe was removed from the competition and isolated, with a COVID-19 test later coming back negative, the federation said.
The C2 500 race was postponed to a later date. Canadian athletes were competing internally in that discipline even though there is no Olympic quota yet, a CKC spokesperson said in an email.
The federation remains optimistic that it will get a spot given the circumstances.
In 2019, Vincent Lapointe faced a four-year ban after testing positive for the steroid-like substance Ligandrol. She missed that year's ICF canoe sprint world championships — which doubled as an Olympic selection event — due to the suspension, leaving Canada with just the one quota spot.
Vincent Lapointe won her case last year after persuading a tribunal that the test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her then-boyfriend. The decision by the anti-doping panel, convened by the ICF, allowed her to return to training and competition.
However, the pandemic has limited continental qualification opportunities over the last year. Results from the 2019 worlds have been a fallback, but that doesn't help Vincent Lapointe given her absence.
Canoe Kayak Canada hopes to have an answer this month on its bid for an additional quota spot, which could allow Vincent Lapointe and Vincent to race in both disciplines. A World Cup is planned for mid-May in Szeged, Hungary, although qualification plans remain uncertain.
"We're very optimistic that we'll get the spot but we're just waiting for all the unknowns to play out," Wade said Thursday in a phone interview.
Wade added that Vincent Lapointe was innocent, unable to compete and essentially blocked from being able to qualify. He added that if the quota doesn't come through, there was also a potential route for her to get a Tokyo spot for "truly exceptional circumstances."
"If there's ever a definition of an exceptional circumstance for a 13-time world champion, this is the one here," he said.
A hair sample from Vincent Lapointe's ex-boyfriend along with a product test helped them find the source of trace amounts of Ligandrol in her system, according to her lawyer. The panel accepted evidence which supported that she was the victim of third-party contamination.
Ligandrol, used to treat conditions such as muscle wasting and osteoporosis, is on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances because it has an anabolic steroid effect.
Vincent Lapointe has said her ex-boyfriend didn't think the unnamed product contained banned substances but he didn't do a thorough check. She added that he believed it would help with performance recovery.
She said Wednesday that the period before the tribunal decision "really did leave a mark" in her lead-up to the Games.
"I was doing really well in 2019 and then I got suspended," she said. "That was really difficult because for six months I was completely left to my own devices.
"I couldn't even talk with my coaches or my teammates."
All athlete nominations for Tokyo still have to be formally approved by the Canadian Olympic Committee's team selection committee.
"I do think I'm going to be able to get ready and be my best self this summer but it needs more, and with COVID we've been really restricted," Vincent Lapointe said. "It has been difficult. A lot of mental work goes into it and I'm just working my best every day to do what I can.
"I'll just try to survive the quadrennial, now at five years."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2021.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press