Sydney Payne ‘16

Going for Gold
Brentwood to Bulgaria

U23 Rowing Canada Gold Medalist 

The U23 Rowing World Championships is about pomp, pageantry, music,

and patriotism. Boats are everywhere, charging down the course, fighting through the finish. The athletes gasp, collapse, and cry. It’s about the hype, then the fear, and then the truth. Six weeks of trust and determination is now tested. 

It’s still a little unbelievable it all happened; now it’s all done. I had the pleasure of working alongside eight amazingly talented women and Dave Thompson, the new head women’s  coach with Rowing Canada. Dave drilled, pushed, exhausted, tested, raced, and believed in us. He made us laugh and he made us strong. Lesley Thompson-Willie refined us, and got us rowing smoother and faster together. Rowing Canada believed in us, and now we had to pay back that trust.

Most of our eight arrived at the national training centre in London from the NCAA National Championships in Princeton. We arrived a bit dazed and confused; seven weeks later we sat on the start line with the common goal to make this eight go faster than we ever imagined.

In our heat we crossed the finish line incredibly happy, but we had no idea it was a world’s best time until we finished our cool down laps and rowed to the dock. The last U23 Women’s Eight world best time was set in 2011 also by the Canadians: 6:03.23. When we left the training centre for Europe, the last message we got from the seniors was “Go get our time.” We took three seconds off and stunned ourselves with a 6:00.13. 

But getting the new world’s best time was just a perk, for the real work had yet to come. Hidden away in our Bulgarian hotel room, we waited to come face-to-face with the US who have been dominant in the eight for most of the last decade. Showtime.  

We sit calmly in Lane 3 at the start line. To our left we have the US, Russia, and Great Britain, and to our right we have Germany and Denmark. It’s 12:30pm on Sunday, July 23, 2017. The temperature is rapidly rising, there’s no wind, and it’s about 35 degrees. After the longest pause in the world, the start finally happens. We are not together, but nobody panics. Our goal is to stay near the front and not to lose contact with the leaders, executing our big move just after the 1000 metre mark.


Our timing is perfect: we move past the US boat. We’ve already passed the UK, Denmark and Germany. Russia drops off the pace. It’s just us and the Americans. And we are in perfect sync, moving inch-by-inch to get our bow ball ahead. Just as we really start to gain momentum, there is a wobble beside us in the 2 seat of the US boat. They stumble; we pull ahead to open water, opening the gap to six seconds over the last 750m. We cross the finish line all by ourselves and the dream comes true.

I am so proud of this amazing group of girls: Morgan Rosts (St. Catherine’s/University of Virginia) in bow seat, Antonia Frappell (Victoria/Indiana) 2 seat, Madison Mailey (Lions Bay/Northeastern University) 3 seat, me, Sydney Payne (Toronto/Brentwood College School/University of California Berkeley) in 4 seat, Karen Lefsrud (Calgary/Western) in 5 seat, Stephanie Grauer (Vancouver/Stanford) in 6 seat, Julia Vander Hoeven (St. Catherine’s/UC Berkeley) in 7 seat, Caileigh Filmer (Victoria/UVIC) in stroke seat and Laura Court (St. Catherine’s/Brock) our coxen.

It’s seems like a long way from the docks at Brentwood to the podium at Worlds but at the same time it doesn’t seem that far at all. It’s not as far as you might think.



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