Monday, July 22, 1996
Laumann deep in choppy water
By JIM O'LEARY
Executive Producer SLAM! Sports
ATLANTA -- Appearances to the contrary, Silken Laumann did not spring
a leak in her boat yesterday. But you have to believe she has developed a crack
in her confidence.
Four days ago she was talking boldly about winning an Olympic gold
medal. But after taking a disappointing ride yesterday in Trine Hansen's wake,
Laumann had dropped the world gold from her medal talk.
Now, instead of a four-day rest, she must return to the water on
Tuesday for a second chance to advance to the semi-final.
She was expected to breeze through yesterday's qualifying heats. And,
for half her race, she seemed poised to do just that. Laumann led Hansen by two
lengths at mid-race and, if anything, seemed poised to widen the gap coming
home. Instead, she failed to answer the challenge when the Dane shifted into a
quicker gear and was beaten easily.
And Hansen isn't even supposed to be as strong as Sweden's big hope,
Maria Brandin, an easy winner in her heat.
An hour later, Laumann was still trying to figure out how it could go
She talked about being tense, about underestimating the Dane, about
making a tactical error. Her race was run at high noon, when the Georgia sun was
at its hottest, but the temperature was the same in all the lanes. Physically,
she said she has never felt stronger or faster.
"I think,basically, I had a pretty good race,'' Laumann said. "I just
didn't quite hit it right. I think I was a little too tense and I underestimated
the Dane. I didn't think she would stick with me for the full 2000 metres.
"When I crossed the finish line I was disappointed, but I certainly
wasn't devastated. I know I have more to give.''
It was how she was beaten that must be most depressing to Laumann. At
the 1,000 metre mark, leading by a length, Laumann believed decided to dig a
little deeper and pull away from the pack. She picked up the pace, but Hansen,
obviously unimpressed, matched her stroke for stroke.
Then it was Hansen's turn to show her best move to Laumann. It was a
dandy. The Dane blew past Laumann, taking the lead at the three-quarter poll.
Laumann thought about putting on another push but, recognizing the futility of
wasting any energy, decided to save her strength.
"She surprised me,'' Laumann admitted. "It's what happens in the
latter part of the race that matters most.''
Laumann has just one day to recover before she has to repeat the
gruelling qualifying ordeal in Tuesday's repechage. Another poor showing and she
is out of the competition.
But even is she does advance (as expected) Laumann's medal hopes have
been harmed because the top rowers, having already advanced directly to the
semis, will be rested and waiting for her on Thursday,
Scrambling to get a foot on the medal podium is not knew for Laumann.
She went the repechage route when she won the 1992 world championship, placed
third at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and placed second at last year's world
"It's not something that's completely knew to me,'' she says. ''Some
athletes have their best races in the heats and then they go down as the
"I have to try to be more relaxed and try to attack a little harder
through the middle of the race. There's the potential to be eliminated, which is
always stressful. But I've always been the type to get less stressed out as the
Still, speaking about medalling from the repechage is a long way from
the confident tone Laumann struck four days earlier when she said she came to
Atlanta to settle for nothing less than gold. She claimed then that she'd never
felt stronger, faster or more focussed.
Yesterday, that swagger was lost, replaced by doubt and indecision. It
came as a blow to Laumann to be beaten so badly. She had complete confidence at
the half-way poll that, after all her additional training for this event, there
was no way Hansen could come from behind to catch her. But Hansen did even
better. She made it look easy and won going away.
And suddenly the calm waters of Lake Lanier must look awful choppy to
Jim O'Leary is Executive Producer of SLAM! Sports (www.canoe.ca/slam)