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COLUMNISTS

Mon, August 16, 2004

Canadians just lose it


Pity the unsuspecting well wisher who may cross paths today with a member of the Canadian men's eight rowing team.

"I think they're not going to be the best guys to talk to the next couple of days," Rowing Canada head coach Brian Richardson said. "They're a little mean. I'd be leaving them alone."

The team with the target on their back, the two-time defending world champions, finally tasted defeat yesterday here at the Schinias Rowing Centre.

And they were none too happy about it.

Rowed down by the powerful U.S. crew in the late strokes of the 2,000-metre race, the Canucks lost in an international regatta for the first time in more than two years.

It took a world-best time to do it from a boatload of super-sized Americans determined to fight for gold. This won't quite be Canada-U.S. in hockey, but in the five minutes 19.85 seconds it took to blaze down the choppy Schinias course, a rivalry on unfrozen water was born.

"I'm sure there's a lot of anger and angst going down," Edmonton native Andrew Hoskins said. "I think in the next couple of days, we'll all deal with it in different ways."

Prior to yesterday's defeat, the men's heavyweights hadn't lost since July of 2002. They have captured two world championships in the interim and came to Greece as the clear favourites for Olympic gold.

Yesterday, however, the Canadians met a U.S. squad stacked for this event. Like many countries, the Americans load up for the eight, considered the marquee event in rowing.

They even went so far as to disband a men's four team that defeated Canada this summer in Lucerne and put them back in the eight.

"They do that because it's the event to win," Canadian men's coach Mike Spracklen said.

"The Americans are big strong guys and they pull very hard. When they get it right, they are hard to beat."

The Canadians held the lead for much of the race but started to surrender inside 250 metres. At the finish, the U.S. was just .61 seconds in front but never a threat to lose.

GET THROUGH REPECHAGES

"We're not so naive enough to think that everybody's rowed their best race," U.S. coach Mike Teti said.

With the win, the Americans advance to Sunday's final. Canada must got get there through tomorrow's repechages, but need little more than to keep their boat afloat to do that.

"It's just the first round of a three-round fight" Richardson said. "In a way, it's good (the streak) has been broken now because they can get on with the job of winning the gold medal."

Richardson can relate. In 2000, the Aussie eights he coached won their heat, only to be overturned by the British in the final.

He had a sick feeling after the heats that year and almost a better vibe this time.

"Everything changes in the Olympic final and now maybe the pressure's a little bit on them," said men's eight member and Victoria native Kyle Hamilton.

"It's who wins the regatta, it's not who wins the heat."

Meanwhile, Canada's lightweight men's four team -- which came to Greece tucked well below the radar -- made a splash as bold as the wind-whipped water at Schinias.

Clear winners in their heat, the foursome was clocked in 5:51.18 over the 2,000-metre course, finishing almost a boat-length in front of the runner-up Danes.

"We like being the sleeper," Victoria native Jon Mandick said. "We would much rather focus on the rowing than getting the attention.

"At the final World Cup event we came in a little underdone. The plan was to peak for Greece."

In other Canadian action yesterday, the women's lightweight doubles team of Aurora's Mara Jones and Niagara-on-the-Lake's Fiona Milne finished second in their heat, losing to the powerhouse duo of Sally Newmarch and Amber Halliday.

The Aussies set a world-best time of 6:49.90.

The rebuilding women's eight struggled technically in their heat and finished a disappointing third.

Olympic regatta organizers cancelled today's repechages schedule because of expected high winds. The entire repechages program will be raced tomorrow.


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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