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COLUMNISTS

Thu, August 19, 2004

Our eights are united as one


One by one they took the floor and relieved the mounting pressure and frustration from their strapping chests.

Andrew Hoskins of Edmonton said some things he wouldn't necessarily want to repeat.

Kyle Hamilton of Richmond, B.C., talked about the comfortable life he gave up in the name of his golden dream.

INSPIRATION

Brian Price of Belleville recalled his first moment of Olympic inspiration watching on television 16 years ago.

One by one, the members of the world champion men's eight gathered on Tuesday night in the Athens Olympic village to clear the air.

Yesterday, they returned here to the Schinias Rowing and Canoe Centre determined to punctuate that their loss in Sunday's opening heat was an aberration.

Leading from the starting horn to the finish in yesterday's repechage, the Canadian men are back in a big way -- as if there was any doubt.

A decisive win over the strong German crew capped a solid morning for Canada's two biggest gold-medal hopes at this regatta as the men's four also dominated its heat to advance to the final.

But it is the men's eight that had carried the hopes of its country heading to Greece both in power and in profile.

With Canadians struggling for medals at every venue and Sunday's annoying loss to the U.S., yesterday was a chance for the crew to let it be known it is still a big threat.

"It was sort of like an AA meeting," Hoskins said of the team gathering. "It was like, my name is Andrew and I'm here because ... we talked about what we sacrificed and what we put into all of this."

There were even a few surprises as each man learned things about the guys they've lived and rowed in close company with for three years.

There is arguably no other sport that requires such a binding commitment to one's teammates as the glamour division of rowing.

They train year-round in relative obscurity in Victoria, B.C., and travel the world together.

On the water, they must implicitly trust the guy in the seat in front or behind. One bad stroke and the whole team suffers disproportionately.

So just what did Hamilton spill when it was his turn?

"It sounds pretty simple, but I gave up a comfortable life to do this," Hamilton said. "I struggled earlier this year at training camp, but it struck me that at no point had I thought about throwing in the towel.

"As easy as it would have been to go back to the comfortable life, that's not what I wanted. We sacrifice a long list of things -- relationships, school, careers. Not one of us regrets any of that."

Price, the pint-sized coxswain, may not have had a physical stake in the performance, but he is the eyes and ears of the crew. He admitted that at times the summit got emotional but it hammered home one key point -- this is not a run-of-the-mill regatta.

"We've been to so many venues all over the world, at first this just looked like any other one," Price said. "But over the past couple days, I realized that this is not just another venue -- this is the venue and the pinnacle of our careers for a lot of us."

It was clear the loss to the U.S. was still driving this crew, as was the prospect of a renewal of that rivalry on Sunday with a gold medal on the line.

"Heroes are made at the Olympics," Canadian men's coach Mike Spracklen said.

"It helps athletes to raise their games or squash them depending on the individual."

MEAGRE EXISTENCE

Among the individuals on this crew of eight there are future doctors, lawyers and financial whizzes, men who one day will leave the meagre financial existence of being an amateur athlete in Canada.

To a man, they are committed to allowing that to wait.

"Regardless of all the hardships you hear about," Hamilton said. "We would do it again in a second."


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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