Vincent Lapointe’s ‘torturous’ path to Olympics could end in 2 gold medals

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It was an experience so jarring and traumatic Canadian canoeist Laurence Vincent Lapointe says she no longer trusts anyone.

“I haven’t been in a relationship since then because how can I trust anyone? I was with that person for over five years and just a kiss made it happen,” Vincent Lapointe told CBC Sports.

That person she’s talking about is her ex-boyfriend. 

Vincent Lapointe says he’s the one responsible for her positive test for a banned substance in 2019. The 13-time world champion was suspended, forcing her to miss the canoe sprint world championships that year and causing a chain reaction of events that nearly left her on the Olympic sidelines.

But a hair sample from her ex-boyfriend and a product test helped Vincent Lapointe and her legal team find the source of trace amounts of the muscle-building substance Ligandrol in her system. It was enough to convince a tribunal that she was not guilty and she was reinstated, but not before she missed six months of competition. 

“It was crazy. It was insane. Media said I was guilty. For a few months people said the same thing,” Vincent Lapointe said. “Now that I look back on everything, if I had to do that again, I would have said I’m out.

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“I’ve been through a lot of shit but now let’s forget about that.”

Vincent Lapointe and her lawyer Adam Klevinas are shown at a news conference in Montreal on Jan. 27, 2020. Vincent Lapointe was cleared by an anti-doping panel and allowed to return to competition and training. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Vincent Lapointe is now in Tokyo preparing for her first race at the Olympics Wednesday in Tokyo, the C1 200 event that is making its debut at the Games. She holds the world record in the event.  

And while the world-class canoe sprinter from Trois-Rivieres, Que. wants to move forward, the lingering effects of her suspension, the legal proceedings that followed and not knowing if she’d even get to the Games are still very present. 

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“Even to this day I’m so paranoid. If I don’t see my water bottle for like 30 seconds when I’m training, or it’s with my coach, I’m not drinking from it again,” Vincent Lapointe said. 

She remembers vividly the moment she received the news of her positive test. She was a week away from the world championships in 2019, at a training camp in Germany, relaxing in her hotel room when she got an email.

WATCH | Family comes first for Vincent Lapointe:

Laurence Vincent Lapointe, from Trois-Rivières, Quebec, says growing up in the small town was like having a big family. 3:05

“It was a sombre email from a lawyer [that read] I was hereby suspended. That’s basically what it said. It was a serious and scary letter,” she said. “I don’t think I even read the first sentence on the letter. The first thing that popped into my head was like, is this a Punk’d show? I felt punked. It felt like a joke. Unreal.”

She ran down the hotel hallway to talk to her coach. He had a serious look on her face. 

“As soon as I understood, the flood gates started. I was bawling,” Vincent Lapointe said. 

She faced a four-year ban after testing positive for the steroid-like substance. It took her out of the world championship event, which also served as an Olympic selection event. Because of the suspension, it left Canada with just one quota spot for the Tokyo competition. 

‘Needed to find exact source’

Vincent Lapointe then had to put together her case to persuade a tribunal that she had been contaminated by her boyfriend at the time.

“I had gone through everything. What I ate. Drank. My hair came back negative,” she said. “I still needed to find the exact source. At one point I was talking to my ex. He was the closest person to me.”

She pressed him and, months later, he finally revealed he was taking the substance.

“When I learned he was the source, it was the weirdest mix of emotions. I was so relieved. So, so relieved. But so mad. It was crazy,” she said. “The thing that I’m the most mad about is the lying about it for months.

When I learned he was the source, it was the weirdest mix of emotions. I was so relieved. So, so relieved. But so mad.-Laurence Vincent Lapointe

“I was suspended for a long time and not once did he tell me.”

A decision by an anti-doping panel, convened by the International Canoe Federation, allowed Vincent Lapointe to return to training and competition.

But even earning her spot on the Canadian team in Tokyo was not without drama as well. In March, Katie Vincent of Mississauga, Ont., defeated Vincent Lapointe in the C1 200-metre race at national trials. 

Vincent Lapointe wasn’t even sure where that would leave her in terms of qualifying for the Olympics. 

However in July, the national sport organization said both Vincent Lapointe and Vincent would race in the individual event. They’ll race together in the C2 500, an event in which they hold the world record. 

“I’ve learned so much in the last few years about myself and life. I would not be the person or athlete going into this if I had not gone through everything. It’s probably better for me because my head is a different space,” Vincent Lapointe said. 

She says she’s racing as fast as she did when she was in peak form in 2019 before her world came crashing down. 

Now, after all she’s been through, she’s finally reached the destination she’s dreamed of for most of her life and wants to make history by winning double gold.

“It was a tortuous road. This was not a straight path to the Games,” Vincent Lapointe said. “My technique has never been as good. I think my body is in a good spot.

“And I do feel like I’ve really helped bring this forward for women. I’m so proud of that. It’s an opportunity for me to race but it’s also a chance for all women to race.”

WATCH | Sport Explainer: Canoe sprint:

Need a refresher on canoe sprints? Get to know the sport before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. 2:57

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