Bernadette Wallace Beats The Odds And Has Another Crack At Olympic Glory
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will feature women’s canoe events for the first time after the boat class was added to the Olympic program in 2017 in a push for gender equality across the Olympic sprint classes. And this week Paddle Australia’s women canoeists Bernadette Wallace and Josephine Bulmer will be lining up for the first time in the women’s canoe double at an international start line in their quest to qualify the boat class for the Tokyo Olympics.
They will be part of the 17-strong Olympic class canoe sprint team that will kick-off the Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification season at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup 1 in Poznan, Poland tonight (23-26 May 2019). See media release about the full team HERE.
Bernadette Wallace and Josephine Bulmer have only been paddling together for just over six months and when the opening World Cup of the 2019 Olympic qualification season starts, they will get a step closer to their dream of being the first Australians to qualify the women’s canoe classes for Tokyo 2020.
The pair will be contesting the two Canoe Sprint World Cups in Poznan, Poland this weekend and Duisburg, Germany next weekend, before it will all come down to securing Olympic quota spots for Australia at the 2019 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Szeged, Hungary at the end of August.
In Poznan, both paddlers will be lining up in the women’s C1 200 as well as the women’s C2 500 with the heats in the C1 200 scheduled for today from 15:10 local time (22:20 AEST). The C2 500 heats will follow tomorrow, Friday, 24 May.
“Our aim is to qualify as many boats as possible. So, whether it’s Bernie or me, the plan is to do the C1 200 and the C2 500 as well come the World Champs,” Josephine Bulmer said.
“We have to take as many chances as we can. We are both fit enough and with both of us coming from the kayak we are used to race the full program. The 200 requires quite a lot of intense effort, so learning to do that is a whole other thing and obviously it’s up to the coach, but we would like to have has many chances as we can to get Australia into the Olympics,” Bernadette Wallace added.
The signs have been promising for the new combination since Bernadette Wallace moved from the Gold Coast to Adelaide at the end of last year to train with Josephine Bulmer and the national women’s canoe program that is run in collaboration with the South Australian Sports Institute.
Up until then, 22-year old Josephine Bulmer had been battling it out on the international level in the women’s C1 on her own, making her first Senior A-final last year and the B-final at the U23 World Championships.
“Quite a few girls have come through since then and it’s all really exciting. It’s been great having someone to train with and push me and it’s great to have the C2 now. I’m looking forward to this international season and see what it brings,” Bulmer said.
“It’s exciting times. Josie has stuck at this alone for some time. That takes a super strong person and she’s done an awesome job over the last couple of seasons. She’s really been pushing the standard a bit higher in the single but now her boat is a bit heavier with me in the back. I’m just trying to keep her straight and let her do the job at the front,” Bernadette Wallace laughed.
Over the last six months the pair has been working together under the tutelage of former national and Olympic coach of the Serbian Women’s canoe team Duke Ruzicic at the South Australian Sports Institute in Adelaide and it has been a steep learning curve for former kayaker Bernadette Wallace who is new to the class.
“It’s the same people on the same course, the same community. You’re just paddling a different boat. There are so many similarities, but everything’s new in a canoe. As a sport, kayak to canoe is like someone in athletics transitioning from javelin to long jump,” Bernadette said of the shift from kayak to canoe.
“Maybe if the class had been around when I was younger, I would have picked it first as I think it’s quite suited to my body and it’s addictive. We’ve done kayaking, surf, ocean racing and in terms of a polished paddler, canoeing to me is like being an all-around paddler, a ‘water woman’ of some kind. If I can nail this one as well, then I think I really paddle. In the Olympics, it’s the true canoe-kayakers class,” Wallace added.
The pair has come a long way in a very short amount of time and after meeting the international performance standards at the national championships in March, they were selected to represent Australia at the World Cups. They also hope to take the next step, to compete at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Szeged Hungary at the end of August, the Olympic qualification event, for their chance to secure quote spots for Australia.
“Women’s canoe has been going for a while now and those times are getting faster and faster internationally so we are just trying to catch up and hopefully we’ll be there by August,” Wallace said.
Ultimately it is all about the Olympic dream as Wallace admits, but not only her own, but also that of the sport as such.
“My goal in all of this is to have Australian women canoeists on the start line at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and thereafter. It blows my mind that canoeing was only a men’s sport on the world stage at the Olympic Games and that it will only change in Tokyo 2020. I just think the women racing the canoe right now are so cool and I have a lot of respect for them. If I can be so lucky, I want my career in a boat paddling from A to B to mean something, to push women in sport forward as well as the sport (canoe/kayak) in general.”
For Bernadette Wallace, who is the sister of 2008 Olympic champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Ken Wallace, this is the second crack at her own Olympic glory, after she had to withdraw from being part of the K4 kayaking team in the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympics after a touch with cancer (melanoma).
“This will be my first international racing since 2015 and the first time I’ll be lining up with half a blade and no rudder, the canoe, at an international event. Nationally, my last ‘race’ in the single kayak was at the 2016 Olympic trials with my neck stitched up post-surgery and I had no realistic hope of making the team at that point, but I just wanted to line up. To now make it back on the team, and represent my country again is such a bonus in my life and I’m very grateful, ” Bernadette Wallace said.
“I’ve worked really hard at this and kept the dream alive for a long time now and just had to hang in there. It hasn’t been a straight line to getting back on the team and I’ve had to change my body to fit the canoe technique, 200m distance and to be able to train full time again. Changing from kayaking to canoeing was like shedding my skin to become something else. I’m lucky to have such great training partners in Josephine and Mihajlo (Ruzicic) and a coach that believes in us, Duke (Ruzicic). Now that I am back on the team, I hope I can do everyone proud and Australia proud.”
Just being back at the start line today is a win for Bernadette Wallace. Anything else will be a bonus, but going by the judgement of her brother Kenny Wallace, things are looking very positive.
“It’s amazing to see my little sister succeed in something that she has only taken up properly six months ago. Her going into a C boat is amazing, it’s a skill that you can’t just learn overnight. She knows how to train and she knows how to race. She’s done it before, she’s won World Cup medals in K1s and now that she’s moved into C1. The moment she hones into that skill, which she is starting to now, it’s going to be quite amazing,” Ken Wallace said about his sister’s journey.
“It’s great to see a women’s C2 in Australia, it’s been a long time since that happened so it’s gonna be good. Olympic qualification in three months’ time, there’s no doubt that she’ll do something special there, Josie and her. I don’t know yet where this will end up, but I will definitely be following my sister’s performances around the world and the rest of the team as well. I will be following it very closely.”
The ICF Canoe Sprint World Cups in Poznan and Duisburg can be followed live via canoeicf.com.
Racing starts in Poznan at 9:00 local time (18:00 AEST) with the paracanoe classes. The Olympic classes will join the action from 14:00 (22:00 AEST).
Watch live HERE.
Live results can be followed HERE.
For start lists and schedule see HERE.