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Sun, July 25, 2004
Rowers hungry to win medals
Rowing Canada is doing all the right things to reclaim its glory years
By ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun


Jame's Place is your standard fare diner in the northeast end of London, Ont., a joint where the food comes quick, hot and fulfilling. Wander in many summer mornings around 10 a.m. and business picks up, thanks to the invasion of a dozen or more hungry young women.

At this point you find yourself in the unofficial home to the Canadian women's rowing team, complete with a "rower's menu" to help fill the void after a taxing morning workout.

Look closer on the walls at Jame's Place and it's a shrine to the country's proud Olympic past. There are pictures and oars autographed by some of Canada's most storied and decorated medal winning rowers such as Marnie McBean and Silken Laumann.

It is a daily motivational reminder to those who will chase medals next month in Greece, many of whom watched such stars at an impressionable age.

"I got into rowing after watching the '92 Olympics on TV," Burlington native Jacqui Cook said on a recent morning between training sessions at Fanshawe Lake. "It was actually perfect because I had always done tons of different sports and wanted to try something new.

"That team just dominated and it was hugely motivating. Even looking at the pictures at the restaurant gets you a little excited."

Almost a dozen years after picking up an oar, 28-year-old Cook is Athens-bound as a first-time Olympian and member of the rebuilt women's eight, one of three women's boats (and four men's) that have qualified for the Games.

The women are based in London and led by veteran coach Al Morrow, the Hamilton native who was at the helm during the glory years of 1992 (three golds and a bronze) and '96 (one gold, two silver, one bronze).

Past successes offer no guarantees when the boats enter the water at the Schinias Olympic Rowing Centre, of course. but at least the current crop knows what can be done.

"It's always been there so it's something that has motivated me from the beginning," said Pauline Van Roessel of Bow Island, B.C. "At this point, there's a little bit of a sense of something to live up to as well.

"We've taken some slower steps in that process. They are big shoes to fill, but at the same time we have faith in the program, our coach and the whole system."

Morrow has been careful to nurture the past as a coaching tool, using it as a means to show what's possible, not what's expected. If they are in the area, former rowers are encouraged to drop by to talk to the current team -- especially the younger women's eight -- tell stories and most of all show the rowers of today they are not unlike them.

A week ago, Olympic medallists McBean, Emma Robinson and Maria Maunder made a guest appearance at the lake and McBean recently took a spin in the coach's boat to offer a different perspective to the coaching process.

Morrow always welcomes his former pupils because of their interest in the program and what they have to offer.

"You look at (past rowers) and you say, 'they're Canadian women, they're from Winnipeg and Toronto and Newfoundland,' " Morrow said while buzzing around Fanshawe Lake in his coach's boat, keeping a critical eye on his troops. "They're no bigger than us. They're pretty good people and if they can do it, I can do it.'

"I think the success of the past makes a group like this believe it can be done. It's a confidence builder."

With the women's eight in particular, the past is particularly strong. In 2000, they took Canada's only rowing medal, winning bronze. In 1996 at Atlanta, they surged to silver as heavy underdogs and in '92 at Barcelona they captured gold.

This is a brand new boat, however, with not one holdover from Sydney and has been a work in process. The current crew is considered to have an outside shot at a medal but Morrow likes what he has seen the past five weeks.

"We've had an awesome training camp," Morrow said. "There are a lot of indications that we are possibly a crew that's coming on late. Historically, we've always done a great job with our teams in the final weeks of preparations."

BEST MEDAL HOPE

The best medal hope from the women comes from the lightweight double duo of Aurora's Mara Jones and Fiona Milne of Niagara-on-the-Lake,, who are coached by former Olympian Laryssa Biesenthal.

The women's pair boat will be filled by Buffy Williams of St. Catharines and Darcy Marquardt of Richmond, B.C., and are considered solid medal contenders for Morrow.

Williams, who along with Milne are the only Canadian women with Olympic experience, seems to have the past and present placed in perfect perspective.

She sat in the stroke seat of that bronze-winning eight team in Sydney, but now is looking only to Athens.

"To be honest, we think we're focussed on ourselves as selfish as that sounds," said Williams, who is married to men's four Olympian Barney Williams. "What our predecessors have done is motivating and it's pretty incredible.

"But it's amazing how consumed you become at this stage. We want to achieve what we set out to do for ourselves."

ROW-ED TO ATHENS

- Canadian women have qualified three boats for the Summer Games, down in numbers from the glory years, but with medal possibilities nonetheless.

WOMEN'S PAIR

- Buffy Williams (St. Catharines)

- Darcy Marquardt (Richmond, B.C.)

LIGHTWEIGHT WOMEN'S DOUBLE

- Fiona Milne (Niagara-on-the-Lake)

- Mara Jones (Aurora)

WOMEN'S EIGHT

- Sarah Pape (Toronto) -

- Karen Clark (Delta, B.C.)

- Romina Stefancic (Victoria, B.C.)

- Sabrina Kolker (West Vancouver, B.C.)

- Roslyn McLeod (Burlington)

- Andreanne Morin (Montreal)

- Jacqui Cook (Burlington)

- Pauline Van Roessel (Bow Island, Alta.)

- Anna-Marie DeZwager (Victoria, B.C.)

- -- coxwain




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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