Having not raced in a pressure-packed international final in more than two years, Canadian canoeist Laurence Vincent Lapointe was feeling the heat and the nerves.
With a scorching sun blasting down Thursday morning in Tokyo at the Sea Forest Waterway venue, Vincent Lapointe lined up for the women's C1 200-metre final.
The 29-year-old from Trois-Rivières, Que., surged off the start, powering her way into a podium spot early in the race. But the rest of the paddlers were coming. Vincent Lapointe found a different gear, winning the silver medal in the event's Olympic debut.
"I'll be honest, there were moments where I was panicking," Vincent Lapointe said of the race. "I could see the girls beside me and [thought], 'Oh my God.' And I just kept going and I'm so proud of myself that I did. Because I came second and it's amazing."
Vincent Lapointe finished in a time of 46.786 seconds, behind gold-medallist Nevin Harrison (45.932) of the U.S. and ahead of Ukraine's Liudmyla Luzan (47.034), who took the bronze. Katie Vincent, from Mississauga, Ont., finished eighth in 47.834.
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Vincent Lapointe had stood on top of a podium many times before, but not in an Olympics, and nothing could have prepared her for how she felt when she put her silver medal around her neck.
"I've never cried on a podium. It hit me like a brick wall. I've done it. I've done it," she told CBC Sports. "Two years. I don't know what to say. I don't know how I did it."
Vincent Lapointe then flashed her newest piece of hardware.
"It's heavy and I love it. It's perfect," she said.
For Vincent Lapointe, just competing at these Games was a dream come true.
"For a long time, I was the fastest woman in the world," said the 13-time world champion in the event. "It's as good for me to be second at the Olympic Games because it's just my dream from always. From a child, I was dreaming of the Games and now here I am."
Vincent Lapointe called her path to the Olympics torturous. It originally appeared she wouldn't be able to compete at all.
In 2019, she tested positive and was suspended for use of a banned substance. But she knew she was clean and fought her suspension, eventually convincing a tribunal that the positive test was the result of contamination from her then-boyfriend and having her ban overturned.
But not before she missed the 2019 world championship, a key Olympic qualifier. And then the COVID pandemic shut down event after event in 2020, eliminating other opportunities to earn a spot in Tokyo.
Vincent Lapointe had to endure months of not knowing whether she would be able to compete, and it wasn't until two weeks before the Olympics began that she was officially named to the team.
Her coach, Mark Granger, has watched it all.
"What she just did today is unbelievable for an athlete to come back and do that and win silver," he said."She's 29 years old. She thought she was going to retire. Then COVID. We weren't in our normal camp. For her to do that is incredible."
Granger says Lapointe was anxious going into her semifinal earlier Thursday morning. A sidewind was causing her to panic. She didn't race well in the semi but was able to advance to the final.
"She didn't race in more than two years. We had to bring it back to the basics. Calm down. Get your start. She got it back together," he said.
Vincent Lapointe was able to find composure when it mattered most and put forward a world-class performance.
"It's a big pressure for me because I've known her since she was a kid, through the provincial team," Granger said, fighting back tears.
"I don't know what to say. It's a bit emotional."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.
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