Rower gets Olympic opportunity out of unfortunate situation

Twenty year old Patricia Obee, from the Peninsula, is on pace to represent Canada at the London Olympics

Claremont grad and former UVic Vike Lindsay Jennerich and Stelly’s grad Patricia Obee emerge from Rowing Canada’s boat house at Elk Lake. In 2011 Jennerich and Obee qualified their boat for the Olympics but until two weeks ago Obee was the alternate. Jennerich and Obee will be named to the Olympics next week.

As Kenny Wu crouches to address Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee on the pier of Elk Lake, his arms and hands gesture in a language all his own.

The boat he’s instructing, the lightweight women’s double, has been given a lot of attention lately, the most of any in the country. Unfortunately, it’s more for what’s happened while the boat was out of the water.

Two weeks ago the crew was Jennerich and Tracy Cameron. But injuries frustrated Cameron and led to some troubled chemistry between her and Jennerich. It’s all come out since Cameron’s sudden retirement from Rowing Canada on June 8.

Her withdrawal came at hour zero for the boat’s London campaign.

“Cameron is a highly respected athlete,” said Wu, whose joyful enthusiasm is helping spur Obee and Jennerich along.

“I don’t know how to say it, we have to focus on continuing to improve the boat. We lost her.”

Now with six weeks remaining until the London Olympics, Wu and the double’s crew of Jennerich, 29, and Obee, 20, are eager to move past the distracting gossip that’s unfolded since Cameron’s resignation.

The 37-year-old Cameron, of Nova Scotia, was the incumbent in the Canada’s lightweight double. She won bronze at the Beijing Games with Melanie Kok and most recently, gold with Jennerich at the 2011 Rowing World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland.

But last summer Cameron suffered a rib injury. Obee, a recent Stelly’s grad, stepped to replace Cameron as a 19-year-old at the September 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia.

Obee earned accolades such as “phenom” and “super-alternate,” as she and Jennerich won silver and qualified the boat for the London Games.

Except for one month, Jennerich and Obee have trained together since then. They won’t be officially named as the double’s crew until June 28 when Rowing Canada releases its Olympic roster. But they’re training like it, with race-level sprints across Elk Lake every morning.

“There’s no manual for this,” Jennerich said. “(Cameron’s decision) is really surprising, not something you would expect this close to the Olympics. I just hope down the road she has no regrets.”

Cameron initially returned to training in January, and though she was confined to the single until she could get back up to speed, she worked hard. By April, with the Olympics approaching, Rowing Canada wanted to have its Olympic candidates finalized for the world cup event in Lucerne.

Jennerich was pre-selected to the boat, which led to a one-off race in the singles between Cameron and Obee.

Cameron won, and returned to training in the double with Jennerich. It looked like Obee’s Olympic dream would have to wait.

For the rest of April and into May, Cameron and Jennerich prepared to defend their gold medal at Lucerne.

Cameron looked like she was back up to strength. But Lucerne did not go well, and the boat finished eighth. Cameron was disappointed. So was Jennerich. And so was Rowing Canada.

Even so, Cameron’s resignation came as a surprise. But Peter Cookson, the high performance director for Rowing Canada, has since confirmed a fallout between the teammates.

“The chemistry was never the same as last year,” Jennerich said.

Furthermore, Cameron’s withdrawal has become the final stroke in the Picasso painting that is Obee’s road map to the Olympics.

“It was surprising, it’s a different situation than last summer but I’m of the same mindset,” Obee said.

Cookson likens the dynamic in a two person boat to that of a figure skating pair, or a marriage.

“You can’t fault one person or another. It happens.”

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