Canada's Sevick, Smith finish sixth in women's double sculls at Tokyo Olympics

·6 min read

TOKYO — Jessica Sevick battled to hold back the tears.

Reflecting on a journey that's brought her from a coma following a devastating childhood accident all the way to an Olympic rowing final was a lot to take in.

"Sorry," she began minutes after the gold-medal race in women's double sculls at the Tokyo Games.

"It's a bit tough right now."

Sevick and partner Gabrielle Smith put up the fourth-fastest time in the competition's semis, but it was over for them early in Wednesday's championship run as they finished more than 12 seconds back of the winning boat, and nearly 7 1/2 seconds off the podium.

"Just not good enough," Smith said.

"It's been pretty incredible," Sevick added of the experience. "An Olympics ... like no other."

Her path to Tokyo Bay could be described in the exact same light.

A 32-year-old from Strathmore, Alta., Sevick suffered a traumatic brain injury 20 years ago on the luge track at Calgary's Olympic Park.

Her parents were told by doctors to prepare for the unthinkable. And if their daughter pulled through, there was a chance she might have a severe disability.

Sevick was in that coma two weeks, and remained in hospital two more. But while her injury led to cerebellar atrophy — staying balanced, both on land and in the boat, can be challenging — she overcame incredible odds to not only lead a normal life, but become an Olympian.

"It's just hopefully a message not to ever be limited by your circumstances," Sevick said. "And that any sort of physical disability or something that you can't control that happens to you is not something that has to define you.

"Just to keep trying."

Sevick and Smith finished the 2,000-metre race with a time of six minutes 53.19 seconds in windy conditions at Sea Forest Waterway — well back of Romania (6:41.03), New Zealand (6:44.82) and the Netherlands (6:45.73) for podium spots.

"We're obviously super fortunate and super grateful to be here," Sevick said of competing at a pandemic-delayed Olympics where COVID-19 is always top of mind. "We have a lot to be proud of."

The duo had never competed together until Tokyo because of the impact the coronavirus had on the sports world, but were second in both their races before Wednesday's disappointment.

"A really fun and exciting ride," said Smith, 26, from Unionville, Ont. "We're both big-time workhorses. That's been a really good partnership."

In other races involving Canadian boats Wednesday, three crews made finals as the country looks to rebound from a disastrous, one-medal showing at the Rio Games five years ago.

Conlin McCabe of Brockville, Ont., and Kai Langerfeld of North Vancouver, B.C., came back from a tough start to finish third in their semis in the men's pair.

Perhaps Canada's best medal hope in rowing, Victoria's Caileigh Filmer and Hillary Janssens of Surrey, B.C., were also third in their semi of the women's pair.

Both boats will race in Thursday's finals, while the women's eight wound up second in its repechage to book a ticket in Friday's gold-medal race.

But one of the national program's grinding foot soldiers might have taken part in his final Olympic competition earlier Wednesday.

A silver medallist with Canada's storied men's eight crew at the London Games in 2012, Will Crothers and his teammates finished second in the consolation 'B' final of the men's four.

"It's been a wild ride ... 2012 seems like just yesterday, but ages ago at the same time," said the 34-year-old from Kingston, Ont. "I've been so lucky to weld it up with three quadrennials worth of guys, and just have this unbreakable bond with people that I've died on the water with.

"It's an amazing feeling."

Crothers bought in when Rowing Canada controversially scuttled the perennially successful men's eight ahead of Rio in favour of a four and quadruple sculls, with an eye towards of doubling its medal chances and increasing the odds of receiving more cash from the government-funded Own The Podium program.

The plan failed spectacularly as both boats weren't close to the podium in Brazil, but Crothers believes Canada is on the right path in Tokyo and beyond as its talent pool grows under new leadership.

"We've obviously had a period of downtime — at least on the men's side," he said. "In Rio we had some tough finishes. We got a great silver medal in the (women's lightweight double sculls), which was awesome (and) carried us through this quad.

"The future's bright for Canadian rowing, for sure, and I'm excited to see what it brings."

He just might not be part of it.

Crothers wouldn't divulge if he plans to continue racing for his country — "never say never" — but he wants to move forward with his life.

First up is a trip home to Kingston to see family for the first time since before the pandemic. He also has interest in becoming a firefighter, likening that environment to a rowing crew.

"It's a group of motivated guys, everybody's always trying to be better, they're all in shape," Crothers said. "There's periods of high intensity, periods of downtime.

"Operating on a team like that would just be amazing."

He'd probably use the word "amazing" to describe his experiences in rowing — both the highs and the lows.

"In London, it was awesome to be able to walk away from that with a medal," Crothers said. "But you learn so much more from the harder experiences. Every one of these Olympics has been just super rewarding.

"I feel so fortunate."

Sevick, meanwhile, said before her injury at age 12 she wanted to be an Olympic luger. Following her recovery, she switched to biathlon, but quit in high school because she "didn't want to be 30 and training."

Her family was focused on academics — Sevick has a degree in civil-biomedical engineering and is working towards a masters in experimental medicine with a focus on concussions — but high-performance sports pulled her back in at age 26.

"Now I'm (over) 30 and training," she said with a smile. "It's kinda come back full circle."

That circle might be complete for now, but Sevick and Smith will carry this Olympic experience forward.

"Super grateful for having Gabby," Sevick said. "And having the support of my family and my hometown.

"I hope we didn't disappoint them."

There's little chance of that.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2021.


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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