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7/20/21

by: Bernie Puchalski, BP Sports Niagara

Niagara Olympians have their eyes set on the podium in Tokyo

The list of Niagara Olympians competing in the Tokyo Summer Olympics is small in numbers but high in medal hopes.

Former St. Catharines resident Mohammed Ahmed will represent Canada in the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres in track and field while St. Catharines native Kristen Kit will cox the Canadian women’s eight.

Ahmed, a 30-year-old alumnus of St. Catharines Collegiate, is competing at his third Olympic Games. At the 2016 Games in Rio, the former University of Wisconsin scholarship runner posted a best-ever finish by a Canadian by placing fourth in the 5,000 metres. After winning silver medals in the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, Ahmed won a bronze medal in the 5,000 metres at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar — which represented Canada’s first-ever world championship medal in a long distance track event.

“My goals and my intentions are to go for gold and that is what I have been gearing up for a long, long, time,” Ahmed said.  “I feel like I am one of the players to do that and I am in the medal hunt, for sure, in both events.”

The three-time St. Catharines Athlete of the Year knows it won’t be easy.

“It’s going to be tough and there are a lot of key players but I feel like the expectation for me is that I want to get a medal. I want gold if possible.”

He feels his past Olympic experiences should be helpful.

“I know what it is like, I’ve been there and done it,” he said. “The one thing for me is that I have been looking forward to performing at the highest level and being on the podium. That is what I celebrate and I am excited about.”

Ahmed has been training in Park City, Utah, since April and will arrive in Tokyo on July 25 or 26.

“It has just been a grind, more than anything,” he said. “I would describe it as waiting for a prolonged period of time, more time than I have ever waited. That is pretty much what it is.”

The men's 10,000 metres will be staged on July 30. The first round of the 5,000 metres will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 3 and the final will go on Friday, Aug. 6.

Kit, a 32-year-old St. Catharines native, has been coxing the women’s eight since 2017, when she guided the crew to a silver medal at the world championships.

“We had a funny eight for 2017 and we literally only had eight women for the eight. We didn’t have the best erg scores and it was a story of a group of women working as one and we won a silver medal in Sarasota at the 2017 world championships in what the announcers were saying was the closest women’s eight race in history. That just got me hooked for the rest of the quadrennial.”

The eight also won silver at the worlds in 2018 and placed fourth at the 2019 worlds to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

The St. Catharines Rowing Club member and former University of British Columbia Thunderbird was also coxie for Canada’s LTA (leg, trunk and arms) coxed four that won a bronze medal at the 2016 Paralympics.

“I feel that we have an amazing opportunity ahead of us and going to win a medal for Canada is what we are all working towards,” Kit said. “That is what the last five years have been all about.”

Joining Kit in Canada’s women’s eight are Susanne Grainger, Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski, Madison Mailey, Sydney Payne, Andrea Proske, Christine Roper, Lisa Roman and Avalon Wasteneys  — with the latter two,  Roman (PEI 2009) and Wasteney (Winnipeg 2017), having previously competed and won three medals at a Canada Games. 

“What Canada is going to see is going to be completely different from what Canada has seen in the last five years in the women’s eight,” Kit said. “We’re a totally different personality and totally different group. We have some names that are the same but we have some really exciting people in the boat. It is going to be pretty cool.”

The women’s eight heats start July 25 and final is on July 30.

Other athletes with Niagara ties who will be in Tokyo are Morgan Rosts, Jakub Buczek and Luke Gadsdon.

Rosts, a 24-year-old Jordan native and member of the Ridley Graduate Boat Club, was a contender for the four until the end of the selection process. The Governor Simcoe graduate, who won under-23 gold medals in the eight in 2017 and 2018, will serve as the alternate for the women’s heavyweight program.

The former University of Virginia scholarship rower’s versatility likely played a role in her selection as a spare.

“I can row starboard, port and I can scull. I can fill in anywhere except lightweight.”

Because injuries are a part of rowing, Rosts will need to stay ready in Tokyo.

“There's 19 rowers in total and 17 are heavyweight rowers. Anything could happen and I’ve been told that I have to be ready, be prepared for anything. This whole year I have had to be very adaptable and resilient so it just kind of goes along with the theme of the year,” she said. “I am able to row both sides so I can hop in anywhere where I am needed. It will be thrilling to have the experience of being around the team and in the Olympic environment even if I don’t end up racing.”

Tokyo should help Rosts’ quest for a spot in the 2024 Paris Games.

“It will be really good for my development and the next time around I will know what to expect. I will be watching the people who do really well and see what they do during this whole process, from how they handled the training camp to the way they are in the Olympic Village.”

If she isn’t required to fill in for an injured athlete, Rosts’ role will be being a good teammate.

“I will be supportive, do what my teammates need me to do and help wherever I can.”

Buczek, a 27-year-old Burnaby, B.C., native, lists the St. Catharines Rowing Club as one of his home clubs and will compete for Canada in the men’s four. He was part of the Canadian men’s eight that won a bronze at a World Cup event in 2019 and placed eighth at the world championships. He also won bronze in the men’s four at 2015 under-23 world championships.

Gadsdon, a 24-year-old Hamilton native, who rowed for Brock University and the Leander Boat Club, also won two gold medals for Team Ontario at the 2017 Canada Summer Games. He was also part of the Canadian men’s eight at the 2018 and 2019 under-23 world championships and will represent Canada in the four at Tokyo.

This report was filed by BP Sports Niagara, which is owned and operated by Bernie Puchalski and Bill Potrecz.

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