Olympic search presents twins with either oar situation

Hannah, left, and Fiona Elliott have begun training in competitive rowing. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

Hannah and Fiona Elliott have taken a stroke toward representing Canada at the next Olympics Games in rowing.

The 16-year-old Sarnia twins caught the eye of Canadian rowing coaches this spring at the RBC Training Ground athlete search.

They were two of 100 athletes to qualify as Olympic hopefuls from a pack of nearly 2,000 applicants at the St. Catharines event.

They’ll head to Calgary this month for the next round of selections. Thirty finalists will walk away with funding to pursue training in an Olympic sport they might never have considered.

The sisters’ sports background is in track and basketball, but coaches flagged their skillset as good potential for rowing team membership.

“We weren’t really sure about it when we started but we’re pretty sure we want to continue with it for a while,” said Hannah Elliott.

“I had never really considered it, so it was pretty exciting,” added sister Fiona.

The RBC Training Ground is a series of cross-Canada talent searches that test the speed, power and endurance of athletes age 14 to 25, and links up-and-comers with representatives of national sports organizations.

The Northern Collegiate students heard about the program through a Sarnia Journal article in February profiling Bright’s Grove Training Ground hopeful Vivian Kristjánsson.

While basketball is their main pursuit, it turns out height and speed are major benefits to aspiring rowers, they explained.

They underwent a series of fitness tests at the Brock University intake while coaches from rowing, bobsled and other lesser-available Olympic disciplines looked on.

“They just saw us (and said), ‘Hey, you could be good at rowing,” said Hannah Elliott.

This summer they’ve made daily trips to London to practice in a double sculls boat, as well as playing basketball through Valhalla’s summer program.

The girls described with a laugh how their first foray on the water resulted in frequent spills. But their coach paired them up in the same boat as a doubles team and they’ve been at it ever since.

Most of the races the Elliotts will compete in are two kilometres in length, which they can do in about eight minutes, they said.

Meanwhile, they also preparing to return to the basketball court this fall with Northern’s senior squad, which they agree is still their main focus.