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Mark De Jonge, Canadian Kayaker, Wins Gold At Pan American Games

07/14/2015 09:30 EDT | Updated 07/14/2016 05:59 EDT
WELLAND, Ont. - Canada's Mark de Jonge and Laurence Vincent Lapointesoaked up the spotlight as Pan American gold medallists on Tuesday.

Now the two world champion paddlers face far different futures.

De Jonge captured gold in the K-1 200 metres, and has his sights set on the top of the medal podium at next year's Rio Olympics.

Vincent-Lapointe, from Trois-Rivieres, Que., dominated the women's C-1 200 in the event's Pan Am Games debut, roaring to gold by a margin of more than two seconds.

But women's canoe isn't on the program for the 2016 Olympics, and Vincent Lapointehasn't decided whether she'll compete until 2020, when it's expected to be added. The 23-year-old also plans on attending medical school at some point.

"I really want to go to Olympics, that's for sure, but I don't know," she said. "Five years is a long time, let's see what happens then.

"In the past I've been a lot disappointed, because it's always being first but then never having the chance to compete in the Olympics, which is the place for the people who do the best in their countries," she said. "I would be really disappointed if there were not Olympics, but still my goal is to improve and do the best I can and show the way."

The two gold medals highlighted a five-medal day for Canada at the Welland Flatwater Centre. Canada finished with 10 medals in the sprint events, and now switches to Minden, Ont., for the slalom events.

De Jonge and Pierre-Luc Poulin also earned a bronze in the men's K-2 200 metres, earning a tie with Brazil.

Jason McCoombs of Dartmouth, N.S., added a silver in the C-1 200 metres, while Michelle Russell of Fall River, N.S., won silver in the women's K-1 200.

As for Vincent-Lapointe, Frank Garner has high hopes she'll be competing in the 2020 Games. The Canadian is the International Canoe Federation's chairman of the canoe sprint committee, and said the ICF has recommended her event be added, as the IOC looks to make the sport more equitable. There are 12 canoe/kayak sprint races in the Olympics, and just four of them are women's events.

"It's a numbers game, how many come to the line, how many countries, those are the things they measure," Garner said.

He noted that there were 19 entries in the event at the last world championships, and there are expected to be more than 30 at next month's worlds.

Canada's paddling team at the Pan Ams has competed with one eye on those worlds next month in Milan, which double as Olympic qualifying. De Jonge said the paddlers couldn't afford to peak for the Pan Ams.

"We were training pretty hard last week and didn't have that taper going into this as much as we would for worlds," de Jonge said. "But you just have to deal with it, the long-term goal is qualifying for the Olympics, and ultimately win a gold medal at the Olympics."

The 31-year-old from Halifax was a big story three years ago at the London Olympics, winning bronze after deciding to put his engineering career on hold to focus on paddling. He had missed qualifying for both the 2004 and '08 Games, while juggling finishing his engineering degree and then working full-time as a civil engineer.

"I found that to be a bit of a challenge, especially with all the challenge of travelling as well, going away for a month at a time while trying to learn some pretty hard material was a big challenge," he said. "Right now I'm at a place where this is my one goal."

De Jonge won the world championships last year, and is near the top of his game now.

"Now the story is really different, I'm a full-time athlete now, I've been training consistently for several years toward this one goal, and I'm up at that 99 percentile working on these little details that I didn't have time to work on back then," said de Jonge. "It's more refined, and (it's about) seeing myself on the top of that podium."

A day after fans baked in the sun at the refurbished Welland Flatwater Centre, paddlers competed in intermittent downpours on Tuesday. The rain didn't keep the fans away though as the paddling venue enjoyed a packed house once again.

In the first race of the day, Canadians Hannah Vaughan and Emilie Fournel were fourth in the women's K-2 500, missing the podium by just five-hundredths of a second.

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Canadian Gold Medallists At Pan Am Games