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COLUMNISTS

Sat, July 10, 2004

Boat just too crowded for Barber


As a young rower learning the sport on Hamilton harbour, Joe Stankevicius had his hero, an accomplished Olympian, as a source of motivation. For the past year, Stankevicius rowed beside that idol, Darren Barber, and was anxious to join him in Athens for a shot at completing his own dream of gold.

Yesterday, under the gloomy skies of quiet Elk Lake, home to Canada's world-class men's rowers, Stankevicius and his teammates came to terms with Barber's release.

"He was one of my superstars when I was a kid," said the 25-year-old Stankevicius, nine years Barber's junior. "When he won gold in '92, I always looked up to him.

"Lately he has been a good guy to row with, one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. It's tough to see him go, but, in the end, it's what makes the boat goes faster."

The news that Barber was the odd man out came after an intense week of trials at the men's training retreat.

It started with Barber and St. Catharines native Chris Jarvis being bumped from the powerhouse men's eight. Those two were replaced by Ben Rutledge, who is coming back from injury, and Kyle Hamilton, who moved up from the men's pair.

Barber, Jarvis and Dave Calder then were left to battle the past two days for the two seats on the pair boat, with the latter two sewing up spots on the water yesterday.

"Darren really deserves to be out there -- on any other team in the world he would probably be leading the whole crew," Grimsby native Jarvis said. "He congratulated me and wished me well in the Olympics. It was tough for all of us to deal with, really, and shows his class."

Hamilton had pretty much wrapped up a spot on the men's pair but his real goal was to get back on the men's eight, the two-time defending world champions and gold-medal favourites for Athens.

The Richmond, B.C., native learned of his move on Tuesday then anxiously waited with his teammates waiting for the pair to be set.

"You've got to allow yourself to be happy, but at the same time it's tough to see," Hamilton said. "You wish there was a spot for everyone, but eventually it comes down to winning. And everyone agrees we are in this to win."

To a man, the rowers felt for Barber, who came out of retirement this year to rejoin the men's eight team he rowed with at both the Atlanta Olympics (fourth) and Barcelona (first).

With a medical degree in his pocket, he has another career waiting, though that didn't make the task easier for men's eight coach Mike Spracklen or head coach Brian Richardson

"I'm not comfortable talking about it, as coaches this really tears at your heart," said Richardson, who seemed a little shaken by the release of an inspirational leader.

"Darren made a huge sacrifice to come back and try to be a part of this team. His experience and talent have been a huge contribution.

"It has been difficult on all of them. When you train with someone for a period of time, you develop a very strong bond."

Barber took the news graciously, congratulating Jarvis and encouraging the rest of his colleagues.

That was the pact made by the fraternity that these men have formed. Veteran eight member Jeff Powell said through all the muscle-burning strokes and rigorous off-water training they have endured they all agreed one one thing -- only the best should make it to Athens.

"A little piece of everybody's heart goes with Darren," Powell said. "But the reason for the change is the boat goes faster. Unlike basketball or hockey, where you can influence the opponents' performance, we can't really.

"If you pick up an inch or two, in this sport you take it."

CANADA'S TEAM

Rowing Canada's men's boat lineup for the Olympics:

- MEN'S EIGHT

Scott Frandsen; Kevin Light; Ben Rutledge; Kyle Hamilton; Adam Kreek; Andrew Hoskins; Joe Stankevicius; Jeff Powell; Brian Price.

- MEN'S FOUR

Barney Williams; Jake Wetzel; Tom Herschmiller; Cam Baerg.

- MEN'S PAIR

Dave Calder; Chris Jarvis

- MEN'S LIGHTWEIGHT 4

Jon Beare; Jon Mandick; Iain Brambell; Gavin Hassett, Victoria.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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