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Island-based Olympic-champion Canadian women's eight qualifies for Paris Games

World rowing championships wrapped up Sunday
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Kristen Kit is among four crew members returning from the Tokyo Olympics gold-medallist eights crew, along with University of Victoria Vikes graduate Avalon Wasteneys of Campbell River, Brentwood College graduate Sydney Payne and Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski of Knowlton, Alta.. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The Island-based Canadian women’s rowing eight secured its spot in Paris in its bid to defend its Olympic gold from Tokyo, but under no illusions that it is going to be anything but a grind to reach the podium again, never mind the top.

The Canadian crew placed fifth Sunday to earn the final qualifying berth out of the world championships in Belgrade. The final two of seven Olympic spots will be decided in the last-chance qualifier May 19-21 in Lucerne, Switzerland.

The 2023 world rowing championships, which concluded in the Serbian capital, were the main direct qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics. It was a making moment and the Canadian team had been preparing for it though months of training on Quamichan Lake in North Cowichan. But only two Canadian boats got through to Paris, the women’s eight and the women’s lightweight double of Jill Moffatt and Jennifer Casson, which was fourth in Belgrade.

For the rest of the Canadian crews it will come down to the last-chance qualifier next spring in Switzerland. That is the reality as the remaining crews have all winter to figure it out on Quamichan Lake.

You have to be in to have a chance to win and the Canadian women’s eight was celebrating that fact.

“Just really grateful and honoured to be in a boat that just qualified for the Olympic Games,” coxswain Kristen Kit said in a statement.

“Really proud of our crew. It was super feisty [world] final and our goal was to go out there and chase the win. We didn’t get the win. But it still feels like we won a little bit, because we did qualify the boat.”

Kit is among four crew members returning from the Tokyo Olympics gold-medallist eights crew, along with University of Victoria Vikes graduate Avalon Wasteneys of Campbell River, Brentwood College graduate Sydney Payne and Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski of Knowlton, Alta.

Newcomers to the crew include two rowers from the UVic Vikes program in Alexis Cronk and Kirsten Edwards. Also joining the crew in the bid to defend the Olympic gold in Paris are Jessica Sevick of UBC and Ontario rowers Morgan Rosts and Cassidy Deane.

The attempt to resurrect the halcyon days of the Canadian men’s eight will remain a work in progress over the winter in North Cowichan as Canada placed eighth at the world ­championships to give every indication that it will be in the hunt for the final two Paris Olympic berths in the last-chance qualifier next spring in Lucerne.

The crew is chasing a Canadian men’s eights legacy that includes Olympic gold medals at Los Angeles in 1984, Barcelona in 1992, Beijing in 2008 and silver at London in 2012 when the Canadian team was based on Elk Lake. After foregoing the event for the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 cycles because of lack of depth, Canada again has a men’s eights crew. It is led by the veteran 2012 London Olympics silver-medallist Will Crothers, 35, backed by a young crew that includes Liam Keane of ­Victoria, following in his brother and Tokyo Olympian Patrick Keane’s oar strokes.

The overall Canadian team at worlds consisted of 39 athletes in 10 crews. Among notables, Tokyo Olympics bronze-medallist Caileigh Filmer of Victoria returned to rowing after turning to cycling, and was 18th in the women’s pair at Belgrade with Maya Meschkuleit. The women’s four with UVic Vikes rowers Piper Battersby, daughter of two-time Olympic gold-medallist Brenda Taylor of Nanaimo, and Rebecca Zimmerman placed 10th at worlds. The women’s double sculls included Marilou Duvernay-Tardif, sister of Super Bowl champion doctor Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and Katie Clark and was 15th.

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