Junior rowers test mettle against National Team members

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ethan mcalpine

Ethan McAlpine at Day 1 of the National Rowing Championships. Photo by Austin Cameron.

Day 1 – Oct. 8, 2015 When junior Ethan McAlpine lined up at the starting gates to row in the quarter-finals at the 10th annual National Rowing Championships in St. Catharines, Ont., he did it in the company of National Team members Matthew Buie and Rob Gibson.

The significance of that wasn’t lost on the high school rower.

“It’s just exciting to compete against such high-level athletes,” McAlpine, 17, said heading into the race Thursday afternoon. “It definitely motivates me and makes me strive for something out of reach but that I want to achieve. This quarter-final, I don’t want to give up on catching Rob Gibson. I know it’s going to be a tough race but I want to feed off their energy and their power just to push myself harder.”

In the end, McAlpine, who hails from Grimsby, Ont., did just that, rowing to a respectable 7:41.26 finish (sixth place) in the men’s singles. He moves on to men’s singles semi-finals C/D Friday.

It wasn’t long ago that Natalie Mastracci was in a similar situation to McAlpine. That’s why the Olympian and National Team member from Niagara makes a point of keeping those memories close at hand when rowing with junior athletes. 

“I was given a lot of opportunities and people took a lot of chances on me,” recalled Mastracci, who heads into the women’s pairs semi-finals with boat mate Susanne Grainger of London, Ont., Friday afternoon. “I feel I need to pay it forward to get others excited and take a chance on others the way they took a chance on me as a rower in this community.”

The National Rowing Championships kick-start the last and most important ten months of the quadrennial and will be the first of many selection events for the 2016 Olympics in Rio held throughout the year. Typically held in November, these championships are happening earlier this year to allow the athletes more time to prepare for the 2016 Summer Games.

They run Oct. 8-10 at the Royal Canadian Henley Rowing Course in St. Catharines.  

Results from Thursday’s races are posted online at regattacentral.com

Peter Cookson, RCA’s High Performance Director, called Thursday’s competition among the best in the 10 years the National Rowing Championships have been held.

“We had a real mixture of our veteran talent competing with our up-and-coming talent, and along the same vein, a lot of very strong performances from our up-and-coming talent,” Cookson said. “We’re seeing a very strong contingent of scullers coming through: men, women and lightweight. And that’s a direct consequence of the emphasis we have put on sculling within the Canadian rowing environment.”

The championships continue Friday with semi-final and C/D final competitions.

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