The Challenges Faced during TO2015 Pan Am Games and Olympic Qualifiers

In July, TO2015 had finally arrived… Sitting on the sidelines was harder then I had expected. It once again hit me that female canoeists did not have the same opportunity as men…  As much as I was thrilled to see the canoe slalom (as well as C1W) included for the first time ever in the Pan Am Games, I was saddened by the fact that C1W did not have the same opportunity as other classes to add two additional boats.

What was different about this competition is that the 2015 Pan Am Games would be used as an Olympic qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympics.  This means that in addition to the Pan Am medal contenders, TO2015 has made an exception to allow the ICF (International Canoe Federation) to hold the Olympic selection qualifier simultaneously during the Pan Am Games event.  This allows two extra boats in each category per nation to compete at the Games (the two second boats being ghost boats at the TO2015 Games).  See boat allocations below. I understand the logic behind preventing to additional C1W from competiting at an Olympic qualifier since we are not yet included, however why does this really matter? By allowing these women the same right to compete, inequality can be reduced behind the scenes.  This simple act not only reduces gender inequalities, but also allows C1W to race in a major event and practice racing as if they were qualifying for potential Olympic quotas in 2020.

This being said, I was deeply troubled when I discovered that C1 women will not have the same opportunity.  Specifically, additional C1 women (besides the single Pan Am Games qualified boat) will be prohibited to compete at this event.  That means that two women from each country will not have the same opportunity as the other classes to compete because we chose the wrong discipline.  The main argument to defend this rule is because we are not yet gender equal at the Olympics therefore we are unable to qualify spots for the upcoming Olympics. TO2015 Boat Allocations

If they were to include these extra female athletes, it would mean that a maximum of 10 female canoeists would be given the opportunity to race down the course which would add an average 20 minutes to the racing schedule per day which is not a huge constraint.  With regards to the potential additional cost by including female canoeists, a maximum of ten more athletes would have not clog up transportation in Minden.  Big shuttle buses were already pre-arranged and were leaving every 20 to 30 minutes all day long.  In addition, with regards to food expenses, extra racing sandwiches would not have been too much of a financial burden, and either way, there was lots of extra food. Nonetheless, we would not care for the gourmet race lunch since we would have just been happy to race.  Concerning water releases, additional boats were allowed on the course either way (demonstration boaters, safety boaters etc.) it was clear that adding female canoeist to the training schedule was possible.  It has been done on numerous occasions and can be done again.  TO2015 has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to this event so adding a few extra female athletes would not even come close to a financial burden in comparison.

After discovering this rattling news, I immediately took it upon myself to write a letter to the ICF, more specifically the members of COPAC (Pan American Canoe Federation) asking them to please reconsider their decision in excluding additional C1W from racing at this event.

I ended my letter stating:

Closing argument to COPAC

Sadly, I got no response.  As surprised as we were, my previous coach James Cartwright, who is now the Slalom High Performance Director of CKC (Canoe Kayak Canada) had to go meet with them personally to ask if it was possible to reconsider their decision and let us to compete but they denied the opportunity.  My team mates were also concerned about this unequal opportunity and wrote to them, but did not get a response either.

This was a huge blow, specifically to the additional C1W who could have raced at this event for additional racing experience.  Lois Betteridge, an upcoming team mate of mine was also denied the opportunity to compete which troubled her as well.  Just entering the new sport of canoe slalom, at only 17 years old, she was denied competition.

I found this to be quite ironic considering that I read on the “Latest News” of the COPAC website, that Cecilia Farias MacDonald, the President of the Pan American Federations, was apparently awarded an “Achievement diploma for her outstanding contribution to promoting the development and participation of women and girls in sport”.    (See at the very bottom for printscreen)

It is clear that for TO2015, ICF & COPAC, allowing additional female canoeist from competing would not have added a huge financial burden.  On the other hand, for female canoeists, including C1W in every possible way contributes tremendously to the development of our discipline and the progression towards a more gender equitable sport.  This particular problem is just one puzzle piece to the bigger problem of gender inequity that is still being propagated in the 21st century …

In the end, we still offered our services and volunteered our help to participate as forerunners. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, a forerunner opens the competition, the forerunners are used to demonstrate the race course by paddling the chosen gate sequence before the official race so that the racers can analyze and learn the difficulty of the set racecourse.

I came to TO2015 prepared to support my team mates and the competitors.  I thought I was prepared to sit on the sidelines however it was harder than I thought it would be.  After getting into a few too many heated discussions with the authorities of the race I was also denied the chance to paddle therefore I was not allowed to continue proper training during this event.  As hard as it was to stay solely as a spectator, I did my duty and encouraged the slalom competitors.  I left this event with very mixed emotions.  I was notably ecstatic for my team mate Jazmyne Denhollander and good friend Michal Smolen for winning gold medals meaning they both earned an Olympic quota for their discipline.  However it was also a big mental challenge sitting on the sidelines and made me realize that there is no place I would rather be than on the water at that very moment.

I would like to thank everyone who was so supportive of me during this challenge and specifically Molly Killingbeck who gave me her wisdom and guidance.  Even though she was busy running this whole event, she was always there to lend me a hand and offer me a shoulder.  This challenge has definitely made me grow as a person and as an athlete.

I didn’t mention everyone but you all know who you are 🙂

Group pic with some of my closest ;) From the left,with Michal Smolen K1M Pan Am Champ USA & of course Keenan Simpson K1M jr. and Natasha O'Connel K1W jr.

Group pic with some of my closest 😉 … From the left,with Michal Smolen K1M Pan Am Champ USA & of course my fellow Canadian juniors Keenan Simpson (K1M jr.) and Natasha O’Connel (K1W jr.)

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