Smithers native Antje Seydlitz-Kurzbach and her three Canadian teammates, Carling Zeeman, Kate Goodfellow and Emily Cameron, shocked the rowing world in Korea last week, winning silver in the 2,000-metre women’s quadruple sculls.
It was Canada’s first medal in the event in more than a decade and Seydlitz-Kurzbach’s first medal at the senior level.
After a summer of mixed results in Europe, including a recent ninth-place finish in their last competition, the Canadian coaches decided to switch things up in the lead up to the rowing worlds. They replaced two of the four rowers on Seydlitz-Kurzbach’s team, but she survived the chopping block.
In their first race, the Canadian women’s sculls team was ranked dead last and were given an outside lane and an outside shot of making it through the opening heat.
The team’s goals were modest: make it through to the final race.
On the first day of competition, the Canadian team found themselves in a heat with four other countries they had previously lost to this season: Poland, Austria, the U.S. and Belarus.
The Canadians fell behind the leaders from Poland early, but rowed a strong second 500 metres to take the lead. For the next 1,000 metres the two teams battled neck and neck, exchanging leads, but in the final 500 metres the Canadians pulled away and never looked back.
The victory meant Seydlitz-Kurzbach and the Canadian rowers qualified directly to the final, avoiding the repechage three days later.
“Earlier in the year, it was our goal to make the A final,” Seydlitz-Kurzbach said. “As we got closer to the competition, we realized we had a bit of speed and power, and we adjusted our expectations and aimed for a podium finish.”
With a week off between events, the team trained twice a day and opted to stay in a secluded hotel, away from the crowded competition.
In the final, the favourites from Germany came out quickly. They built a two-second lead on Canada and Poland by the 500-metre mark. Germany continued to pull away from the group, but Canada managed to put some distance between themselves and Poland in third place by the 1,000-metre mark. Poland came storming back during the last half of the race to within milliseconds of second place, but Seydlitz-Kurzbach and her team dug deep to hold on for the silver medal.
“It was nerve-racking, trying to hold off the Poles,” Seydlitz-Kurzbach said. “But exciting at the same time.”
For Seydlitz-Kurzbach, the victory was sweet; it was the culmination of years of effort.
“I’ve thought about it and this is definitely my favourite moment of my career so far. I won gold at the Under-23s but it’s a whole different ball game at the senior level.”
After a week to relax and soak it all in, Seydlitz-Kurzbach and the Canadian team are already back to the grind.
Now, Seydlitz-Kurzbach begins the arduous journey towards her next major goal: the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.
It’s not going to be easy.
She’s moved from Victoria, where she was finishing her undergraduate degree in microbiology, to London, Ontario for full-time training with the Canadian rowing team.
Rowers with the national team participate in three training sessions a day, four days a week. Her days begin at 7:30 a.m. and finish 12 hours later.
She’ll train in London until next summer, when the next round of big rowing competitions begin in 2014 and the national team heads back to Europe for the World Cup schedule and the world championships in Amsterdam.
In between, she’ll have to find time to study for her four online courses as she attempts to finish off her degree.
After she finishes her schooling, she’ll begin to focus solely on rowing for the foreseeable future.
“I would like to go back to school at some point,” Seydlitz-Kurzbach said. “I’m interested in medicine and medical research, but that’s too far away to know at this point.”
She credits the sacrifice she’s made for her sport with teaching her the discipline necessary to get through such a tough schedule.
“I have learned so much through rowing. I guess sometimes the volume of training can be a negative, especially with school. But its taught me to have dedication to my goals and I know that if I work hard, I can achieve those goals.”
Personal bests, like the silver in Korea, will get her through the long winter months ahead.
“Sometimes you question why you do it,” she said.
“The insane amounts of time and effort you put in and you don’t get any rest. But when you are on the water you get so much speed.”
“It feels like you are flying, it’s effortless.”