Canada's women's eight row in synchronization in a lake.

Best of 2021: Return to gold medal glory for women’s rowing

Our Best of 2021 series recaps the incredible performances by Canadian athletes over the past year. Check out the full list here.

Canada has a storied history of success in rowing, but heading into Tokyo 2020, it had been 13 years without an Olympic gold in the sport and 25 years since a women’s crew had stood atop the podium.

The drought ended in dominant fashion on Day 7. Despite fractured competition and training schedules leading up to the Games and a longer route into the Olympic final, the Canadian women’s eight were not going to settle for anything less than first place.

Rowing crew celebrates win
Canadian rowers Lisa Roman Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski, Christine Roper, Andrea Proske, Susanne Grainger, Madison Mailey, Sydney Payne, Avalon Wasteneys and Kristen Kit celebrate after winning gold in Women’s Eight during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Friday, July 30, 2021. Photo by Leah Hennel/COC *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Here’s a quick recap of Canada’s rowing excellence at Tokyo 2020:

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, no member of the women’s eight had raced internationally in almost two years, since the 2019 World Championships where the Canadian boat finished fourth. 

The crew of Lisa Roman, Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski, Christine Roper, Andrea Proske, Susanne Grainger, Madison Mailey, Sydney Payne, Avalon Wasteneys and coxswain Kristen Kit finished second in their heat, which forced them to row a repechage. But they showed their mettle by setting a Canadian record time of 5:53.73 to get into the final.

READ: Team Canada women’s eight wins rowing gold at Tokyo 2020

In that final, they blasted out of the start and didn’t relinquish their lead over the 2000 metres. It was Canada’s first gold in the women’s eight since Barcelona 1992 and the first gold in any women’s Olympic rowing event since Atlanta 1996.

READ: Belief in the crew has Canadian women’s eight celebrating Tokyo 2020 gold

That victory followed a bronze medal by Caileigh Filmer & Hillary Janssens in the women’s pair. The 2018 World Champions in the event had set their own Canadian record in the semifinal. It was Canada’s first Olympic medal in the women’s pair since Barcelona 1992.

Filmer and Janssens look back over shoulders
Canadian rowers Caileigh Filmer and Hillary Janssens compete in Women’s Pair finals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Photo by Stephen Hosier/COC

READ: Filmer & Janssens win Canada’s first rowing medal of Tokyo 2020

Each had suffered injuries leading up to the Games. Filmer had broken her collarbone in an October bike crash while Janssens was off the water for three months with a back injury. With most of their fitness training coming on the stationary bike, earning a spot on the podium was a remarkable feat.

READ: Fitness and friendship propel Filmer and Janssens to the podium

Tokyo 2020 was marked by historic performances from Canadian women and the rowing team epitomized this as 11 of them took to the podium. The two medals won at Tokyo 2020 brought Rowing Canada’s all-time Olympic medal count to 43.