This will be only the second Olympic Games to feature women’s canoeing events

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Sophia Jensen has been on the water since she was a baby.

According to her mother, Jensen first went camping in a canoe when she was about 10 months old.

The 22-year-old canoe sprinter from Chelsea, Quebec, is now preparing for her Olympic debut in Paris, where she will compete in the individual 200-meter canoe sprint.

“I’m really excited for myself and the whole team,” Jensen said. “We’ve been working really hard, for a long time.”

Sophia qualified for the Games in May when she finished second in the 200 meters C-1 (single canoe) at the 2024 ICF World Cup in Szeged, Hungary, finishing 62 hundredths of a second behind fellow countrywoman and Olympic bronze medalist Katie Vincent.

“I felt really good, I cried quite a bit when I finished second,” Jensen said. “It was a really, really long journey, so it was super cool.”

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This is only the second Olympic Games to feature women’s canoeing events. While male paddlers have competed for Olympic medals since 1936, women’s races were only added to the Olympic schedule for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

Described as a “rising star of Canadian paddling,” Jensen is a six-time junior world champion and a three-time U23 world champion. Last year, she won bronze in the women’s 200m C-1 at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago. At the 2022 World Championships in Dartmouth, N.S., she was part of the team that won the women’s 500m C-4 (four-person canoe).

Although she has a chance to medal at the upcoming Games, Jensen says she “doesn’t like to think about it.”

“Results give me a little bit of stress and I think you should never really focus on the result, the goal is to have the best race and execute it the way I want to,” Jensen said. “I just want to be proud of all the work I put in.”

Jensen was born in Edmonton, the daughter of two park rangers who canoed across Canada.

“Paddling runs in the family,” said Jensen’s mother, Alison Amero, who also used to play competitive tennis and now coaches dragon boat and sprint canoeing. “It’s kind of in her blood.”

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Sophia Jensen and her parents.
Sophia Jensen (center) and her parents, Olaf Jensen and Alison Amero, attend a fundraiser and celebration for the athlete in Chelsea, Quebec, on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. Photo by Postmedia /wet

Jensen, who grew up cross-country skiing, caught the Olympic bug at age nine after meeting Chandra Crawford, who won gold at the 2006 Turin Olympics in the long-distance sprint.

“Sophia was sitting there, her eyes were so wide open,” Amero said. “She was looking at her medal, she was in awe, and I think that moment triggered something in her.”

After moving to Chelsea, Jensen joined the multi-sport Cascades Club because “everyone at school was in the club” and she wanted to make friends.

She started paddling more often at the club’s summer camp, moved into the high-performance program and trained year-round.

“I’m basically just at an endless summer camp,” said Jensen, who started competing when she was 11. “It’s definitely a safe space for me, I don’t feel different within the paddling community and I enjoy being outside and training and doing these things with my friends.”

Jensen competed in her first major international competition at the Olympic Hopes Regatta in Hungary when she was about 15 years old.

“Once I did that, I thought, I’m not going to let this pass,” Jensen said.

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Sophia Jensen with medals from the Olympic Hopes Regatta in Hungary
Sophia Jensen shows off her medals from her international debut at the 25-nation Olympic Hopes Regatta in Hungary, where she won four gold, one silver and one bronze medal in the women’s canoe races. PHOTO CREDIT: Martin Cleary wet

Before almost every race, she listens to Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat,” something she says she will likely do during the Olympics as well.

Adam Mayo, who started coaching Jensen at the club when she was 14 and still helps her with race plans and gives her advice, said Jensen was “pretty fast from the start” and her passion for the sport was always evident.

“I don’t think this is it for her,” Mayo said. “I think she’s on the cusp of really breaking through to another level.”

Although she initially trained with a group of friends, Mayo said Jensen was the only one who stuck with it. Despite that, she remained very self-motivated and driven.

“She would just randomly come and train for fun and go cross-country skiing for 20 kilometers just because she enjoyed it,” Mayo said, adding that there’s hardly a moment when Jensen isn’t laughing and having fun. “She was very, very passionate about fitness and being outdoors, she loved it.”

Sophia Jensen in a canoe.
Sophia Jensen, a canoe sprint canoeist for Chelsea, has been selected for Team Canada and will travel to Paris for the 2024 Olympic Games. Photo by staff /Postmedia

Mayo said Jensen made it clear early on that her goal was to become an Olympian and that she had the athletic ability to do so. His focus became to keep her from getting too overwhelmed and to encourage her to live a balanced lifestyle.

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For Jensen, that balance involves training three or four times a day with baking, studying, and exploring the outdoors. She is studying environmental science at the University of Ottawa and is considering becoming a park ranger, like her parents. During her training in California in the winter, she enjoys going to the beach to “find animals.” She has even learned how to set snake traps in the desert.

Amero said it is “surreal” and a little overwhelming to imagine her daughter at the Olympics. She, other family members and Jensen’s boyfriend will travel to Paris to watch her race.

“Sofia can perform very, very well,” Amero said. “But we also don’t want to put pressure on her.”

Until the Games, Jensen will train with her team in Nova Scotia.

“I’ve been representing Canada for a while, but representing Canada at the Olympics is different.”

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