For a 19-year-old paddler, Jason McCoombs is about as pressure-tested as they come.
Not only has the Dartmouth canoeist dominated his age group on the biggest stages, winning three gold medals at the 2009 Canada Games and three more at the 2010 Pan American junior canoe championships, he burst onto the scene at the senior level this year to clinch Canada’s C-1 200-metre spot at the Olympics.
That process involved winning a race-off against 2004 Olympian Richard Dalton and then beating veteran Aaron Rublee — eight years his senior — in back-to-back World Cups in May.
When the stakes are high, history shows McCoombs rises to the occasion.
“I think I always do better when there’s something on the line,” McCoombs says. “I just kind of use all the nervous energy and it makes me get a little more pumped up. It seems to help a lot.”
McCoombs is one of three Nova Scotian paddlers at the Olympics and will compete on Aug. 10 and 11 in Buckinghamshire. It’s all been something of a whirlwind for an athlete who came into 2012 just hoping to make the senior national team.
“Initially I was thinking 2016 (for the Olympics),” says McCoombs. “I didn’t really know what to expect going into (the season) … Then I started doing some pretty good times (and that’s when) I figured I might have a shot.”
When asked about McCoombs’ speedy rise to prominence, his veteran coach, Laszlo ‘Csom’ Latorovszki, said he’s never seen anything like it.
“Fastest I’ve ever seen,” he says. “Really.”
High praise from a man who has coached his share of Olympians, but Latorovszki says he’s becoming “less and less surprised” by McCoombs’ success.
“It’s turning into expectation,” Latorovszki says. “The sky’s the limit right now. He’s still improving.”
Since clinching his Olympic spot, McCoombs has been training three times a day — on the water in the morning and afternoon and in the weight room in between — and continues to get stronger and faster.
He’s coming off a good two-week camp in Montreal during which he posted the best times of his career. With the stakes higher than ever, McCoombs wants to continue his breakthrough in London.
“I just need to have my best race,” McCoombs says. “My time has been and should be competitive, so if I have my personal-best performance, I should be in the mix.”
NEW DISTANCE BIG BONUS FOR BLUENOSERS
This is the first year for the 200-metre distance in paddling at the Olympics and it’s been a big plus for Nova Scotians, with three competing in the discipline — Dartmouth’s Jason McCoombs (C-1 200), Halifax’s Mark de Jonge (K-1 200) and Windsor’s Ryan Cochrane (K-2 200).
“It’s a fun event,” McCoombs said. “Everybody’s really close and it comes down to thousandths of a second. It’s been really cool to see the level come up so quickly.”
Prior to 2012, only the 500- and 1,000-metre distances were Olympic disciplines.