Road To The Olympic Games

Canoe-Kayak

Russian doping ban gives Canadian kayakers Olympic opportunity

It came at the last-minute, but Hugues Fournel was named to the Canadian Olympic team after two additional spots in K2 200-metres were opened after a Russian team received a doping ban.

28-year-old Hugues Fournel joins sister Emilie in Rio

Ryan Cochrane, left, and Hugues Fournel were last-minute additions to the Canadian Olympic Team for the K2 200-metres event. (Quinn Rooney/Getty)

By Matt Cullen, CBC Sports 

It was a moment that was well worth the four-year wait.

Just days before the Olympics began, Canada Canoe-Kayak added Hugues Fournel to the Canadian Olympic team after receiving two additional spots in K2 200-metres because of a Russian doping ban. Watch the event live on cbc.ca/olympics and the CBC Rio 2016 app on Wednesday morning at 8:40 ET.

Along with Ryan Cochrane of Halifax, the kayaking duo will compete in their second Olympic Games after finishing seventh in the K2 200 in London 2012.

Canada will now have 11 athletes competing in canoe-kayak events and for the 28-year-old Fournel, it puts an end to what seemed like a lifetime of speculation.

"I started to hear rumours that Canada had obtained two spots in the men's K2 200 event. From that moment on, I went through a roller coaster of emotions," Fournel told the Canadian Press in French. 

'You're going' 

Canadian canoe-kayak coach Frederic Jobin finally broke the news less than a week before the opening ceremony. 

"He invited me to join him for a coffee and he didn't beat around the bush," Fournel told the Canadian Press. 

"His first words were, 'you're going.' The stress I went through for five days was gone in a second." 

A native of Lachine, Que., Hugues will now join his sister, Emilie, who will compete in the women's K1 500-metres and the K4 500 event in Rio. 

'Very emotional moment' 

Samuel Raiche, a long time coach at the Lachine Racing Canoe Club, knows the Olympics will be special for both Hugues and Émilie.

"I'm sure the Rio games will be very emotional moment for both [of them]. They will get to compete together [at the Olympics] for the second time…but this year is special because we're celebrating the 40-year [anniversary] of the Montreal Games in 1976. Their father, Jean, competed in 1976. [He] passed away a few years ago unfortunately but he passed the torch to both his children and they get to carry it at the Olympics now so it [will be] a very emotional moment to come for them."

Hugues and Emilie, both very young when Jean lost his battle to leukemia in 1998, have developed a deeper connection with the sport their late father worked so hard at. 

For Hugues, the loss has helped make him stronger, especially on the water.  

Domenic Gomez, a childhood friend whose father coached Hugues, recalls his exceptional attitude towards the sport. 

"[He was] always there for me even if I had a bad race. 'Don't be sad. Just be better next time,'" Gomez told the CBC. "[Hugues] loves racing. He'll never go to a race and say, I don't want to race."

'Best news he could get' 

"I am happy for him [that] he's going to the Olympics. He worked really hard for it and he really wanted to go," Gomez explained to the CBC. "When he [originally] wasn't able to qualify for the Olympics, he was very sad. I wasn't used to seeing Hugues like that…When he got the news that he was going to [Rio], he was really happy."

Raiche also couldn't hold back his excitement, especially for their community. 

"He has trained at Lachine for more than 10 years before [he] joined the national team…Everyone in Lachine is very proud of him," Raiche said in an interview with the CBC. "It was the best news that he could get…I am sure it was a surprise and it's probably very motivating for him to know that after all the work he did, he'll finally have a chance to pursue his dream." 

With files from the Canadian Press

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