Questions remain after Canada's women's rowing team pulls out of London

A national rowing coach is slamming Rowing Canada’s decision to move its women’s training hub to British Columbia after calling London home for more than three decades. But, the national rowing organization says it’s not entirely putting up its oars in the city.

Rowing Canada could create as many as five training hubs across the nation, including London

Angela Schneider (middle), who's a Kinesiology professor at Western University, rowed for Canada's women's team in the mid 1980s. (Submitted by Angela Schneider)

A national rowing coach is slamming Rowing Canada's decision to move its women's training hub to British Columbia after calling London home for more than three decades.

But the national rowing organization says it's not entirely pulling up its oars in the city. There are indications London could become one of several training hubs for budding national athletes.

After 32 years, Rowing Canada has decided to move its women's team's wet training grounds from Fanshawe Lake to Elk Lake in Victoria B.C., where the organization's men's teams already train.

Volker Nolte, an assistant coach for Rowing Canada, said the decision comes as a blow to the local rowing community that supported the national women's team.

"The national team brought a completely different level of competitiveness to London," said Nolte, who coached both men's and women's rowing teams for more than two decades at Western University. "You have these athletes who are world class and are role models for the university athletes and club athletes. They represented the sport of rowing within our community."

Rowing Canada said one of the motivations behind the move was to acquire more water time out west, where teams can train in better weather conditions. Another reason for the centralization of all of its rowing teams was to create a better high performance training environment for both women's and men's teams.

Carling Zeeman, who's a Canadian rower, alongside Adam Rabalski, who's a Western University varsity athlete on Fanshawe Lake. Rowing Canada’s has decided to move its women’s training hub to British Columbia after calling London home for more than three decades. .

New rowing hubs

Nolte said "it's a bad move in a country like Canada to put everything in one centre" and urged the organization not only to stay in London but expand into other centres across the nation.

And that's exactly what the organization plans on doing, said CEO Terry Dillon.

"We want to create a vertical integration and we want to create opportunities for developing athletes to spend time and have the opportunity to train with the more senior athletes," he said.

Dillon said the organization has rolled out its next generation strategy that could see as many as five training hubs for emerging national athletes scattered across the nation.

"The notion that we're sort of moving out of London is a little bit overstated," he said. "It's extremely likely that one of those hubs will be in London, Ontario, and that Western University will form the centre of that hub."

Angela Schneider, a kinesiology professor at the university, played an integral role in spearheading the organization's move to London three decades ago.

Schneider, who once rowed for the national team, said a shared space between varsity and national athletes is beneficial for the city.

"(Western athletes) won't have that role model right there in front of them all the time anymore. It's much more real when you have a role model, when you see the people do what it actually takes to make it," she said. "That will be something that will be missed."

The women's national rowing team in London, Ont. training at Fanshawe Lake alongside Western University athletes. (Submitted by Volker Nolte)

Next steps

Dillon said the organization has renewed a four-year lease of its boathouse at Fanshawe Lake, where several athletes are set to return in October after competing in World Championships.

The team of 12 will then move to B.C. for a year, while about three athletes who are unable to make the move will remain in Ontario to train.

"I have a deep appreciation for what has been achieved for London and the significance and importance of that community, and the way it's contributed blood, sweat and tears, and financial aid at times," said Dillon.

The future of the national training centre's dry facility on Huron Street is up in the air, with a lease ending in March.