Pan Ams at boon to women's whitewater canoe and Olympic dream: Daniels
TORONTO — Whitewater paddler Haley Daniels feels doors are finally opening for her sport.
Not only is canoe slalom a sport in the Pan American Games for the first time, but women canoeists could soon get the green light to compete in the Olympic Games.
Daniels is a member of Canada's whitewater team, but the 24-year-old Calgarian doesn't receive Sport Canada funding because women's canoe slalom is not part of the Olympic program.
She's had to be creative raising money while training six hours a day six days a week. The vegan athlete published her own cookbook "Canoeist Kitchen." She gives cooking lessons, crowdfunds and works part time for the Alberta government, yet still runs in the red.
Canada's whitewater canoe and kayak team competes in Saturday's preliminary rounds followed by Sunday's semifinals and finals in Minden, Ont.
Edmonton's Ben Hayward will race men's K1 and also C2 with Cameron Smedley of Dunrobin, Ont. Smedley will compete in C1 and Jazmyne Denhollander of Chilliwack, B.C., in women's K1.
Daniels says the introduction of women's canoe slalom to the Pan Am Games helps make the case for Olympic inclusion because it will be showcased in a multi-sport Games environment.
"This year has been really big for women's canoe, just giving awareness to people and letting them know there's a glass ceiling that needs to be broken," Daniels said.
The difference between canoe and kayak racing is canoeists kneel in an open boat and use a single-bladed paddle. The kayakers sit in a boat with a close cockpit and use a double-bladed paddle.
Women's canoe is not an Olympic sport. The slalom program includes men's and women's kayak, men's single canoe and men's double canoe.
The men race flatwater canoe at the Summer Games, but the women don't.
So Daniels is in a situation similar to flatwater counterpart Laurence Vincent-Lapointe of Trois-Rivieres, Que., who dominated the women's canoe sprint to win Pan Am gold earlier this week. Vincent-Lapointe is also the reigning world C1 champion in the sprint.
The International Canoe Federation has asked the International Olympic Committee to include women's canoe slalom and sprint in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. CanoeKayak Canada supports both requests.
Gender equity in the Olympic Games is a priority for the IOC. Canoe stands out as an Olympic sport where there is none.
"In my opinion, if women's canoe slalom is not added to the Olympics we won't be an Olympic sport at all," Daniels said. "If we don't become gender equitable, we will be denied to go further in the Olympic Games."
At the same time, the IOC caps the number of athletes at each Summer Games to keep costs down. If women's canoe gets in, men's C2 could get dropped. Hayward says there is already a #SaveC2 Twitter campaign.
"It's a thing about beds in the Olympic village more than anything," Hayward said. "It's an unfortunate kind of double-edge sword that we're looking at, but it ultimately does make sense to get gender equality.
"It would be nice not to lose our doubles event."
Daniels, ranked 27th in the world, acknowledged it can be uncomfortable lobbying for her sport at the expense of her male counterparts.
"Even now there's things I feel I can't say as a canoe woman," she said. "In the media, I'm standing up for my sport and my right. I've been called a feminist and all those stupid stereotypes.
"It's sad because I'm just fighting for something I want to be included in."
While it could be five years before Daniels could race in the Olympics, the prospect is what keeps her in her sport and trying to find the $50,000 a year to pay for it.
"As much as I want to say it's not my biggest motivating factor, it is," Daniels said. "(The) Olympics is the thing to the rest of the society that is that one moment where you're either elite or you're not."
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press