Summer Sports·In Depth

Canada's only rowing medallists in Rio thrived by going their own way

The lightweight double sculls pair of Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee were the only Canadian rowers to reach the podium in Rio. Their success, Jennerich says, was the result of their battle for a training program to fit their needs.

Jennerich, Obee trained away from main group to get more time on water

Canada's Lindsay Jennerich, left, and Patricia Obee won silver at the Rio Olympics after asking Rowing Canada to let them customize their own training program. (Kevin Light/CBC Sports)

Despite not meeting expectations at the Rio Olympics, there was a silver lining for Rowing Canada. 

The lightweight double sculls pair of Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee were the only Canadian rowers to reach the podium, winning silver. But Jennerich says their success was a product of their own battle with the national organization to get on a training program to fit their needs.

"Over the last two years we really tried to create a system for ourselves, here in Victoria, where we could be permanently on water," Jennerich said, explaining how the entire women's program used to be under one roof in London, Ont., with less time on the water than Jennerich and Obee felt they needed.

"Last year we were supposed to be in London. We did a little bit of that, but we didn't feel it was the right system for us and wasn't the right plan. So we did struggle for a bit to get ourselves out of that plan."

The turning point came after a 2015 World Cup event where the pair finished in a C-final under the direction of women's national team coach John Keogh. Jennerich says they went to Rowing Canada again to argue for their own program, specific to the needs of their event.

Rowing Canada answered their pleas last fall when it assigned Jennerich and Obee their own coach in Tom Morris. Jennerich says Morris was on board with the idea that the lightweight women needed to branch off from the umbrella heavyweight program, and be on the water in Victoria.

"I think that's the mark that's being missed. In rowing, there's [many different events]. You're taking the same stroke, you're using the same equipment, but each event needs to be looked at as its own sport," Jennerich said.

"So I don't think you can train a light women's double the same way you can train a women's eight. And if you're training those two boats the same way, one of them is training the wrong way."

'Different approach'

Jennerich says having a coach who bought into their beliefs made it easier for them to move their program to the West Coast. The pair saw the dividends of the move early, finishing fourth at the next world championships in 2015, and qualifying for Rio.

"Patricia and I joke that placing in a C-Final was the best thing we ever did," Jennerich says. "By January we were a completely autonomous lightweight program. It wasn't about being away from the [heavyweight program], it was more about doing things that are specifically positive for a lightweight women's double. "

Rowing Canada high performance director Peter Cookson says the reason the switch didn't happen sooner was because, historically, the centralized training program had been successful — evidenced by a gold medal at the 2010 world championships, a silver in 2011 and another silver in 2014.

"It's not necessarily that we didn't look at [giving them their own coach and program], it's just, given the system we have, it's actually worked out quite well in the past," Cookson says.

"We recognize with Lindsay and Patricia, we needed a little bit of a different approach for them, so we went a little different route for them in terms of ensuring they have whatever they needed to get on to the podium in 2016."

Cookson says Rowing Canada has taken this approach with other crews in the past, and every team's situation is looked at individually.

As for whether the organization will continue down the path of individualized training programs for each of its events, Cookson says it will all fall under the organization's post-Rio review as Rowing Canada is set to hold its Annual Meeting on Thursday.


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