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Monday, September 20, 2021

Laurence Vincent-Lapointe and a kiss that nearly killed her Olympic dream

"It's pretty surreal. Everything that's happened the past few years, it's been crazy," Laurence Vincent-Lapointe said after bronzing the women's double 500m canoe on Saturday.

Written by Sriram Veera |
August 7, 2021 12:24:39 pm
Canada's Laurence Vincent-Lapointe (R) and Katharine Vincent (L) celebrate with their women's canoe double 500m bronze medals. (Reuters)

A flipbook of recent events in the life of the Canadian canoeist Laurence Vincent-Lapointe will flicker up these images: a tainted kiss, doping shock, humiliation from labelled a drug cheat, a confession, honour restored — and now a bronze medal of redemption.

“It’s hard to describe right now. It’s still pretty surreal. Everything that’s happened the past few years, it’s been crazy,” Vincent-Lapointe, 29, said, after emerging from a euphoric dip in the waters of Tokyo Bay with her teammate Katie Vincent after bronzing the women’s double 500m canoe on Saturday. It was her second medal in Tokyo after the silver in the 200m event.

The horror began in 2019 with a kiss that would unravel the world of the 13-time world champion. “I was with that person for over five years and just a kiss made it happen,” Vincent Lapointe told CBC Sports.

She was chilling at a hotel room at a training camp in Germany ahead of the canoe sprint world championship when an email dropped a bombshell. A mail from a lawyer that said she was suspended, “a serious and scary letter”. She didn’t even read the first sentence as a thought popped up: “Is this a Punk’d show?” An American hidden-camera practical-joke show from the actor Ashton Kutcher where he punks celebrities. It wasn’t. And once her coach confirmed the gravitas at the hotel corridor, she started to bawl.

A four-year immediate ban followed for testing positive for a muscle-building substance Ligandrol that is similar to a steroid. The suspension also left Canada with a solitary quota spot for Tokyo. No one was happy. “It was crazy. It was insane. The media said I was guilty. For a few months people said the same thing,” Vincent Lapointe said.

She went through everything in her head: what she ate, drank, whom she met. The first positive news came in with her hair test: she tested negative. Still, she had to track down the source if she were to convince a tribunal that she was framed.

For two years she couldn’t compete in a race, her Olympic dreams sunk in a watery grave.

She had her suspicions on her boyfriend of the time. But despite months of chats, he hadn’t squeaked. “He was the closest person to me.” She kept pressing and months later, he finally admitted he was taking the substance. “I was so so relieved. But so mad. It was crazy. I am most mad about is the lying about it for months. I was suspended for a long time and not once did he tell me.” He is an ex-boyfriend now. His hair sample was taken and it tested positive for Ligandrol. The anti-doping panel of the International Canoe Federation absolved her but she still had to qualify for Tokyo.

Katie, with whom she would eventually win that bronze defeated her in the C1 200-m race at the trials where Vincent Lapointe would fall off the canoe trying to overtake. Luckily, in July, it was announced that she would partner Katie in C2 500, an event where they held the world record and both would eventually take a victorious dip in Tokyo. It also gave Canada its 23rd medal, the national record outside of the boycotted ’84 Olympics.

“Even to this day, I’m so paranoid.” She keeps the water bottle to herself during training or with the coach and if she loses sight of it for 30 seconds, she is “not drinking from it again”. More trust issues have surfaced. “I haven’t been in a relationship since then because how can I trust anyone?” When she stood at the podium after winning the silver, “it hit me like a brick wall. I have never cried on a podium. I have done it, I have done it. Two years. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how I did it.”

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