TOKYO — Laurence Vincent-Lapointe's long, winding road to the Tokyo Olympics has led her to the podium.
The Canadian canoeist won silver in the final of the women's C-1 200-metre race at a sweltering Sea Forest Waterway on Wednesday.
The 29-year-old paddler from Trois-Rivières, Que., finished the sprint in a time of 46.786 seconds.
"I pushed until the end," Vincent-Lapointe said. "No matter how many people I thought were catching up to me, I was just like, 'No, no, no. You cannot drop, you cannot let go. Just push until the end.'
"It's just crazy. I have 13 world championships, but this silver at the Games is so different."
Nevin Harrison (45.932) of the United States took the gold, while Ukraine's Liudmyla Luzan (47.034) claimed bronze in temperatures that felt like a staggering 44 C with the humidity on a windy Tokyo Bay.
Katie Vincent of Mississauga, Ont., finished 8th with a time of 47.834 seconds.
"We push each other a lot, especially on the water," said 25-year-old. "That teamwork goes a long way on a day like today. I'm disappointed I can't be on the podium.
"But to see a Canadian flag rise today is a huge plus and something I think all Canadians in the paddling community will remember."
A dominant canoeing force for more than a decade, Vincent-Lapointe had to wait for the sport's international federation and the International Olympic Committee to make room for women to race at the Olympics.
That finally happened in Japan.
She had won a combined six world titles in C-1 and C-2 500 metres by the time women's canoe was added to the Olympics in 2017 ahead of the Tokyo Games, and went on to win five more by the end of 2018.
But then her life and career descended into controversy.
Vincent-Lapointe had an "adverse analytical finding" in July 2019 during an out-of-competition drug test. She was suspended and missed the 2019 world championship, but battled for reinstatement.
The International Canoe Federation cleared her to compete in January 2020, accepting that Vincent-Lapointe was the victim of third-party contamination of a banned substance.
The ICU believed her assertion that a trace amount of ligandrol was transferred to her via her ex-boyfriend's body fluids.
"I had the feeling I would make (the Olympics)," Vincent-Lapointe said. "In my head ... I was like probably, 'Fake it 'til you make it.' In my head I was trying to convince myself, 'You're going to be at the Games, you're going to be at the Games.'
"Even the darkest moments I just clung to it, to that feeling. It was so relieving when I finally got my spot in. It was just like, 'All right, I had the right to believe in myself that I would make it to the Games.' But once I came here I was like, 'All right, you made it to the Games, now do your best.'"
And while COVID-19 was a devastating gut-punch to sports and society around the world, it gave Vincent-Lapointe an opportunity to get back in the groove.
Missing the 2019 worlds, however, meant she still had to qualify for Tokyo, and the global pandemic didn't allow her to travel to North American qualifying events.
Vincent-Lapointe also lost to Vincent in the women's C-1 200 metres at March's national trials in Burnaby, B.C.
Canoe Kayak Canada declined to send paddlers to international World Cups this spring because of the pandemic, but ultimately awarded Vincent-Lapointe an Olympic quota spot following a performance review.
Next up for Vincent-Lapointe and Vincent is the women's C-2, where they are medal contenders, on Friday and Saturday.
In other races involving Canadians on Thursday, kayakers Brian Malfesi of Maple Ridge, B.C., and Vincent Jourdenais Ste-Basile-le-Grand, Que., were sixth in the 'B' final of the men's K-2 1,000 metres, while Toronto's Nicholas Matveev was sixth in the 'B' final of the men's K-1 200 metres.
But the day — clearly — belonged to Vincent-Lapointe.
"Going through all I had to go through the last two years, if you'd ask me if I'd do it again, even knowing a silver medal comes at the end of this, I'm not sure I would say yes," she said in French. "It was extremely difficult.
"Everybody told me this week that with all I went through, I must be mentally the strongest here."
Now she has a silver medal to prove it.
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