Will Dean and his Canadian teammates were down to one last chance to get to Rio.
And with their backs firmly against the wall Tuesday in Lucerne, Switzerland, the Canadian men’s quadruple sculls crew delivered one of its finest performances yet.
Dean, Julien Bahain, Pascal Lussier and Rob Gibson rowed their way to a second-place finish against six other crews to qualify for the last available spot at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
Canada finished second only to Russia, and 3.7 seconds ahead of New Zealand for the coveted final berth.
With the reality of the accomplishment still sinking in 24 hours later, Dean said lifting the weight of expectations from his team’s shoulders was an immense relief.
“It was a whole year of a lot of tension, and you try and reduce the pressure the best you can,” said Dean, 28. “You really just block (Olympics) it out and focus on the next race, nothing more. You’re not thinking emotionally, you’re just doing the physical things you need to do.
“When it happens and you’ve done it, it’s such an emotional relief.”
The Canadian crew’s previous attempt at qualifying for Rio at the 2015 world rowing championships in France was met with disappointment, as they finished in 10th place out of 14 boats. While the top eight teams moved on to Rio, Canada had to go back to the grindstone and prepare for one last try.
Dean said it may have been just the right recipe for success.
“We didn’t have a good race (at worlds) and it was disappointing and stressful,” said Dean, who won two gold medals for Canada at the 2015 Pan American Games. “I think we had a chip on our shoulder from that, we were backed into a corner and it was good for us.
“There was desperation in (Lucerne) and we put together our best race as a crew.”
Now that Dean has had at least little time to absorb the reality of his team’s achievement, the gravity and importance of competing at the Olympics clearly isn’t lost on the KSS grad.
“We’ve worked for this for so long, so to get there is really validation for the time and effort we’ve put into it,” he said. “It’s the Olympics, so what else can you say ? The fun part will be testing ourselves against the world.”
As for representing Canada at the world’s most renowned sporting event, Dean is humbled to be getting the opportunity.
“I’m privileged to be representing Canada,” he said, “not very many people are as lucky as we are to do this.
“Canada is such a supportive place to be from, everybody has your back.
“And there’s no better community to be from than Kelowna. I’ve been getting lots of messages from back home. It’s so nice to have so many people in your corner.”
In Brazil this summer, Dean and all of his Canadian Olympic teammates will be exposed to the country’s current social and political problems.
Polluted water, an unstable government and the Zika virus have all been topics of concern leading up to the games.
While the situation is regrettable, Dean is hopeful something good can come from the rest of the world’s exposure to Brazil’s troubles.
“The political climate there is nothing new, there have been similar problems, social or political, wherever games are held. It’s good that questions are being asked and maybe we can demand more of institutions to take some action.
“If Brazil is able to get clean water for its people, then that’s something good that can come from this,” Dean added. “If we can focus on what can be fixed in these countries, then that’s more important than the Olympics and whether we have clean water to row in.”
Dean and the Canadian quad crew will be back on the water this weekend in Switzerland for World Cup II.
The foursome will then train in Victoria, New Hamphire and Guelph, ON leading up to the start of the games.
The 2016 Olympic Games will begin Aug. 5 in Rio.