Leaving the competition in their wake

Jonathan Rinaldi and Renaud Garon-Gendron’s gold medal performance in the men's lightweight double in last weekend’s Canadian University Rowing Association championships marked a first for a McGill crew in the event. / Photo: Jan Vailhé/ Sportphotography.ca
Jonathan Rinaldi and Renaud Garon-Gendron’s gold medal performance in the men

Rowing team wraps up stellar season with university championship gold

By Jim Hynes

Philip Hedrei can’t help referring to the McGill rowing team as “the club” from time to time. Old habits die hard. Back in 2001, when he was a medical student and both a rower and President of the then McGill Rowing Club, he was instrumental in helping it achieve Level Two varsity sports team status.

Hedrei and McGill Rowing have come a long way since that time. Today, the 33-year-old Montreal native is a paediatric emergency doctor at the Montreal Children’s Hospital as well as the head coach of the rowing team that has just wrapped up one of its best seasons ever.

The McGill crew took two medals in the Canadian University Rowing Association (CURA) championships, an event that attracted some 21 schools and 275 athletes to the Olympic rowing basin at Île Notre-Dame last Sunday.

The first place finish by McGill oarsmen Jonathan Rinaldi and Renaud Garon-Gendron in the men’s lightweight double marked the first-ever gold medal performance for the McGill crew at the championships, which have been held every fall since 1981.

“We really didn’t expect to win,” said Garon-Gendron, who normally rows in the eights but was recently partnered with Rinaldi in the hopes that McGill might have a shot at a medal in the double. “During the season, the team’s priority was on the eight and the lightweight four, so we hadn’t trained together in this boat for more than five sessions. Our game plan was to combine cadence and power, which resulted in gold and we’re very happy.”

The McGill women’s lightweight coxed four boat of Claire Gowdy, Jennifer Allan, Emma Sheehan, Marie-Christine Razaire and coxswain Stephanie Peruzzi won bronze in the event.

Due to unsafe weather conditions on Saturday, the time trials were postponed until Sunday morning, followed almost immediately by the finals in each event, which left little recovery time for the crews. Following the championships, Hedrei, a coach in the McGill program since 2004, received the CURA President’s Award, presented annually to a person deemed to have contributed significantly towards the development of rowing.

“I’m very proud,” said Hedrei, who took over from his predecessor, Andrew Howard, earlier this year. “There are so many other coaches who have so much experience and who do this as their primary career. I’m surprised but really honoured to even have been considered for it.”

Hedrei was also named Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Coach of the Year following last week’s OUA championships in St. Catherines Ont., where another McGill crew walked away with gold. McGill finished first of six finalists in the men’s lightweight coxed eight, beating out the second-place Western Mustangs by almost a full boat-length. The winning crew included Rinaldi and Garon-Gendron, as well Nathaniel De Bono, Brent Hopkins, Andrei Popescu, Michael Ross, Kirk Vilks, and Evan DeJonghe. The coxswain was Nicole Bewski, a 5-foot-4, science freshman from Winnipeg.

The previous week, McGill’s crew of Eric Baumann, Adam Hart, Travis O’Farrell, John Willcock and coxswain Jeremy Van Slyke stunned the rowing world with a gold medal performance in the elite men’s coxed four at the 45th annual Head of the Charles regatta in Boston, which is billed as the world’s largest rowing regatta.

“It was an outstanding year, a landmark year for many reasons,” Hedrei said. “I don’t think we’ve had results like this for a while. But they were a few years coming. A lot of the athletes that did well this year have been on the team for several years. And they’ve been training together over the summer. I think that’s critical. And I think that if we want to continue having these kinds of results we have to continue that approach,” he said.

“I think it bodes really well for the future because a lot of these athletes are returning, and for those who may not have been as successful, I’m hoping they can see that this kind of success is a realistic goal and that they can learn something from the performances of the top athletes on the team and really understand what it takes to perform at that level.”

For more information on the McGill Rowing crew visit: www.mcgillcrew.com