Kingston at the Olympics: Will Crothers Takes on Tokyo 2020

By Emily Coppella

Will Crothers is a Kingston household name. He’s been rowing internationally for Canada since 2004. He has claimed two World Championship medals, won silver at the London 2012 Olympics as a member of the men’s eight, bronze at two World Cups as part of the same “True North Four” team, and two gold medals at the 2015 Pan Am Games. The True North Four is continuing to prove that they haven’t come this far just to stop now. With their second-place finish at the final Olympic qualification regatta for Tokyo 2020, the crew has earned their spot at this summer’s Games, and Crothers is in the stroke seat.

Tokyo 2020 will be Crothers’ third time at the Olympic Games, and he continues to remain vocal about how his hometown of Kingston has supported a variety of athletes, including himself. His multi-Olympic journey started at Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute (KCVI). While originally introduced to rowing through his older brother who was a rower in high school as well, some friends whom Crothers rode with needed a fourth man to round out their four. He decided to hop in the boat. Being one of the taller students was an asset, as length and leverage is helpful when rowing. But what started as simply joining his friends down at the Kingston Rowing Club (KRC) became an activity he both enjoyed and excelled at. The four were undefeated in their novice season, “fueling the fire” of Crothers’ competitive personality. We spoke with him about how growing up and learning to row in Kingston has impacted him as a soon-to-be three-time Olympian.

“I was really fortunate to be able to grow up on the water…the community at the Kingston Rowing Club is full of passionate people and the type of people that just knew the path for a high-performance athlete to take and I guess they sort of steered my ship. They steered me in the right direction as far as the next steps and constantly chasing something that was a higher goal than what I was doing that year.”

Crothers, who is also a member of the Kingston Yacht Club (KYC), recognizes Kingston’s powerful sailing legacy. While solid wind isn’t necessarily conducive to rowing, the bodies of water here still nurture Olympic rowers. Crothers teammate Gavin Stone also has ties to Kingston as a Queen’s University graduate and former Queen’s rower, and Tokyo 2020 will be the fourth Olympics in a row in which a Kingston rower has competed.

While he genuinely believes the sense of community in sports runs nation-wide, Crothers emphasizes how his hometown focuses on putting relationships first. His team had a dedicated lead coach, John Armitage, who connected the crew with a novice coach, Nathan Splinter, then a coxswain for the Queen’s men’s eight. The crew was guided by “Master Splinter” before being coached by Armitage himself. When speaking about the Kingston rowing community though, Will Crothers is grateful for more than his coaches.

“The countless volunteers that are hanging around the club, willing to put in the time so that young kids like myself could have a great experience, willing to drive the truck and trailer up and down the 401 to different regattas, St. Catharines, Montreal, all over the place…I was super fortunate to have all these people that would donate their time to us as athletes because without them we wouldn’t have been able to go and see what was happening around the province and compete against those guys and then eventually start rowing with them on the Junior World Championship level. It was huge, having the help of those volunteers and a lot of rowing wisdom was passed around.”

While his professional career took off in Kingston, Crothers says he’s been fortunate enough to experience strong relationships throughout his whole rowing career. That Kingston community-feel follows him all over the country, wherever he’s training or competing. Despite heading to the Olympics for the third time, Crothers is more motivated than ever. After all, he believes that rowing is sort of elusive.

“Rowing is one of those sports where you’re chasing something. It’s like trying to hold fire in your hand, you know. You get too close; it gets really hot and then you have to back off almost. It’s a magical feeling when you’re getting it absolutely right and I’ve only felt that a few times, I think, in my career, where, for a full two thousand metres, you’re actually doing the right thing the entire time. I’m still learning at this point in my career, which is amazing.”

It’s not just the technical elements that continue to inspire him, but the new people he gets to work with and the bonds he forms in the boat with his teammates. With two Olympic Games already in his back pocket, we asked him what’s changed since. His first Olympics in 2012 involved absorbing the knowledge of the leaders he had in the boat that had done well in Beijing in 2008. After his first Games, he continued to take one step forward every day during training, but he had a clearer picture to prepare for his second Games.

“Now, I feel like it’s about execution for me and going out and trying to have the best performance that I possibly can. I think that that’s still out there for me and I happen to believe that it coincides with a gold medal at the Olympics. I’m chasing that feeling of my best performance on the day, once every four years, which is a pretty unique thing to be able to do and I feel very privileged to be able to do that. But it’s also earned, you know, it’s a lot of hard work to do that. But to have the support of all of Canada and all the taxpayers, shouts out for allowing us to do what we do and hopefully bring a nation, a country, and the world together.”

As a Kingston legend and a rowing veteran, Crothers is excited to pass on the lessons he’s gained, even stating that he feels as young as he did when he first started at the National Training Centre.

“I still feel like I’m in the best shape of my life and have so much to give to the sport and it’s just such an honour too to represent Canada and Kingston, such a well-respected country on the world stage. It’s an honour to put the leaf on my blade and wear it on my chest and put everything on the line.”

Will Crothers is rowing towards his third Olympic Games, and we’re holding to the belief that good things come in threes.

Read more: Kingston Athletes Take On the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics

Header photo credit to Kevin Light