July 24, 1996
Queen of repechage
By CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun
LAKE LANIER, Georgia -- For those of you who thought Silken Laumann's time was up -- you know who you are -- you need only look at her time yesterday to know she's in the hunt for a gold medal and not a gold watch.
You would have thought Canada was up a creek without a paddle Sunday when she failed to win her heat in the opening round of the Olympic regatta.
The loss in single sculls to Denmark's Trine Hansen caused a nervous twitch across a nation already wondering what was wrong with a Canadian Olympic team which had squeezed out just two medals in the first four days, both of them bronze.
How could it be? Silken was an ironclad gold medal, right? Any Canadian fan who watched her churn through yesterday's repechage -- her last chance to qualify for the semifinal tomorrow -- once again can dream in color.
Laumann crushed her opposition and posted the best time by more than two seconds in the three repechages, where first-round losers get a second chance.
"I was pretty nervous," said Laumann, who is seeking the gold that was denied her in '92 after a crash sliced open her right leg 10 weeks before the Games.
"There's one side of your brain that's not rational and it's thinking, `What if I make a mistake?' You try not to concentrate on that, but it does cross your mind."
Laumann served early notice that Sunday's disappointment was behind her, as were all of her opponents after her first furious dig into the water.
Her boat leapt forward and by the 150-metre mark of the 2,000-metre race, she was already a full boat length ahead of France's Celine Garcia.
Laumann's smooth, powerful start was slightly more controlled than her frantic burst from the start Sunday.
"Sunday I think I came out too hard, too aggressive and I tried to do it all in the first 500 metres," she said. "I got pretty tired."
Yesterday she opened up a six-second lead by the halfway point and maintained that through 1,500 metres. She eased off a little in the final 200 to beat Garcia by almost four seconds. The top three scullers in each of the three repechage races advanced to the semifinals along with the winners of the three preliminary round heats.
It was the kind of performance you expect from those athletes who have the special ability to deliver a dominating performance when it is needed, when they refuse to consider the possibility of delivering anything less.
Then again, it's not like Laumann hasn't been in this situation before. She pointed out yesterday her route to the final in Barcelona -- which ended with that bronze that was good as gold -- was a "ride through the reps."
Mike Forgeron and Todd Hallett also took the repechage route to the semifinal. The double sculls crew, which nipped Austria to win yesterday, races tomorrow.
Delivering the message
Laumann's goal yesterday transcended just winning a spot in the semi-final. She concentrated on cleaning up her technique, putting a governor on her power and rowing a purer, more efficient race. She had all but registered the win in her mind and was focused on sending a message to herself and to her opponents.
And it looks like Laumann has drawn the tougher of the two semifinals. Hers goes at 9 a.m. and features 1995 world champ Maria Brandin of Sweden and 1992 silver medallist Annelies Bredael of Belgium.
"I'm in the best position I could be in considering I didn't win my heat," said Laumann. "All I'm thinking about is making the final. You go with 100% of your ability and you can only do that maybe twice a season, go completely outside yourself. Hopefully it will be in the final. I didn't have to do it today."
That's something to think about. Laumann torched the field yesterday and still has gas in the tank. She'll need it.