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ROWING

Wed, August 18, 2004
Splash of cold water
Powell takes rowing loss to U.S. personally
By -- Winnipeg Sun

If Winnipegger Jeff Powell and his rowing teammates weren't zoned in on Olympic gold before, they are now. A loss to the rival Yanks in their first heat saw to that.

So did the team meeting they held yesterday.

"Without giving too much away, that was probably what we talked about in the meeting -- how this has really brought it into much sharper focus," Powell told The Sun from the Athletes Village in Athens yesterday. "What was good enough at a World Cup or even the world championships, as far as intensity and focus, doesn't cut it here at the Olympics."

Going into the Summer Games, Powell and the men's eights crew was the boat to beat, a two-year winning streak and back-to-back world championships in its wake.

The loss to the U.S. early this week, sending the Americans straight to the final and forcing the Canucks to race in today's repechage, brought everybody back down to Earth.

Any plans for sightseeing will have to wait. From now until Sunday, it's a bunker mentality.

"The Americans did an excellent job -- I hate to say it, but they did -- of raising their game in the heat," Powell said. "They wanted desperately to beat us and they did. One of the consequences of that is we've got a burr up our saddle. We're ready to go. I think you'll see some of that (today)."

By the time you read this, Powell and Co. should have made it through this morning's race and into the final, setting up a rematch with their most intense rival.

Think Canada-U.S. in hockey, and you've pretty much got it.

HATE LOSING

"We hate losing, but we hate losing to them even more," Powell said. "It stuck with us. And we're not going to let it go, I don't think."

Particularly not Powell.

The 28-year-old, who sits in the stroke position, is taking a huge amount of responsibility for the team's success on his own shoulders.

For example, the key to the American boat is stroker Bryan Volpenheim of Cincinnati, generally regarded one of the top rowers on the planet. Powell figures his job is to not only match his counterpart, but to beat him.

"When I look across at the start line, he's the guy I need to beat. Part of my job is to help give the guys behind me the best opportunity to beat their opposite number, but I know he is the guy that drives that boat. So to beat them, I feel like a lot of the onus falls on me."

Seems like an awful lot of pressure for one guy to take on. But it doesn't faze Powell, in his fourth year with the national team.

It seems psychology and strategy are big parts of this rivalry.

At last year's world championship, for instance, the Yanks put everything they had into their start, hoping to demoralize Team Canada or force it to change its race plan. But Powell's crew stayed the course, conserving enough energy to win.

Powell explains it this way: "If you have 100 units of energy and you can spend it all, where do you want to spend it for the best effect?"

It's almost like a game of cat-and-mouse.

As a result, the Canadians' strategy for Sunday will be only slightly less carefully guarded than the Games security plan.

"I'm sure the Americans have another card up their sleeve, and they probably think the same of us," Powell said. "You learn far, far more from a loss than a win. So it can be valuable as long as you're willing to learn from it. And we have."

So as disappointing as their loss was, it won't mean a thing if Powell and friends are first across that line the next time.

"We're here for one race," he reminded. "And it wasn't last Sunday."


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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