Fall River paddler wins spot at Tokyo Olympics

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Nova Scotia paddler Michelle Russell, third from left, has punched her ticket to the Olympics in Tokyo this summer.  (Rick Lam/CKC - image credit)
Nova Scotia paddler Michelle Russell, third from left, has punched her ticket to the Olympics in Tokyo this summer. (Rick Lam/CKC - image credit)

Michelle Russell can breathe a little easier this week.

The Fall River, N.S., paddler has clinched a spot in the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, after a strong showing at an Olympic qualifier on Canada's west coast.

"To have the kind of weekend that I had at Olympic trials is really great," said Russell, who will fly home to Nova Scotia on Wednesday.

"It was a huge relief when we crossed that finish line. None of us celebrated too hard, we just kind of let go of all the stress we had."

The Olympics, postponed by a year because of the pandemic, are scheduled for July 23 to Aug. 8 and the Paralympics from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.

Russell, from the Cheema Aquatic Club in Waverley, was in the K-4 boat that won back-to-back 500 metre races at the Canoe Kayak Canada Olympic and Paralympic Sprint Team Trials in Burnaby, B.C.

Russell could also paddle in singles events at the Olympics in the K-1 200 and 500 metre distances, but that is still to be determined.

The 28-year-old is peaking at the right time.

"I don't want to get too far ahead of myself with COVID and everything, but things right now all seem to be going the right way for me," said Russell. "It's always been a goal for me to make it as far as I can and I feel I've accomplished that already."

Michelle Russell could also be paddling in K-1 events at the Tokyo Olympics.
Michelle Russell could also be paddling in K-1 events at the Tokyo Olympics. (Rick Lam/CKC)

Normally, Canada's top paddlers spend a large part of the winter season training in Florida. But with pandemic restrictions preventing the team from travelling to the U.S., they trained in Burnaby, where the weather was tough at times.

"Conditions were so cold that one day my paddling jacket froze and I had to use a ballpoint pen to chisel away all the ice off of it," said Russell. "There was also a freak hailstorm one day. That really hurt and it was weather I just never really thought I would be paddling in."

Russell will continue her training this spring in Nova Scotia.

Next up for the national team paddlers is a scheduled world cup event in Hungary in May.

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