Going into the Olympic Games, Jeff Powell wasn't one to run and hide from pressure.
After the most bitter disappointment of his rowing career yesterday, he didn't either. Not even with the perfect alibi at his disposal.
A 28-year-old Winnipegger who learned to row on the Red River, Powell has helped take Canada's men's eights crew to places it hadn't been for years, winning back-to-back world championships and entering the Athens Summer Games as the gold-medal favourite.
Sitting in the stroke position, Powell knew he'd be a key figure in yesterday's final, expected to be a battle between the Canucks and the rival U.S.
Instead, it turned into a rout, with the Americans easily winning gold and Canada finishing a distant fifth -- its first loss in a meaningful event in about two years.
It was a shocking result, only adding to this country's lack of success on the water in Athens.
After the race, word leaked out Powell had been rowing with an injury and may not have been 100%.
Canadian coach Mike Spracklen said Powell had suffered a torn muscle below his shoulder in last week's semifinal and had to have an injection before yesterday's race.
"During the repechage, the muscle went," Spracklen told The Sun from Athens yesterday. "It was quite painful for him. We got through the race, but it caused a bit of anxiety in the crew."
When a crew member goes down, there are spares on standby. But the idea of replacing the stroker for the most important race of them all didn't sit well with Spracklen.
Besides, doctors assured him Powell would be able to compete at his usual high level if they froze the area.
So Powell took his injection yesterday morning, and the men's eights set their sights on a gold-medal performance.
What they delivered instead wasn't even a good practice run.
"They definitely pulled below their normal speed," Spracklen said. "I've not seen them go that slow, even in training."
So what happened?
Either this team pulled the ultimate fold, or Powell's injury slowed it down.
Well, get this: Powell himself says it was the former.
"It (the injury) was a non-issue. I didn't feel a thing," he told The Sun. "It was clearly a mental failure on our part. Whatever it was, we didn't have it. And it's pretty disappointing, because it's something we prided ourselves on, being mentally strong the last couple of years."
Powell says the muscle he hurt wasn't critical to his rowing, calling it a minor annoyance when it first happened.
With that, the key player in one of Canada's biggest Olympic disappointments refused to take the easy way out.
While he didn't have answers, he knew one thing -- the crew never got into its normal rhythm. And he blamed himself.
"That's my job, that's why I sit there," he said, fighting through his emotions as he spoke. "I know some guys have stepped up and said, 'It was me that blew it.' And I can very easily say the same thing. Rhythm is my job, and I didn't do it.
"The pace we got into was not sustainable. I can't tell you what the mental block was to our getting that (rhythm)."
Spracklen said it was possible somebody in the boat expended too much energy too early in the race.
Could it be that loss to the Yanks in their heat last week caused some panic, and that the crew was trying to do too much to make up for it?
"It wouldn't surprise me if there was a kernel of truth there," Powell said. "If it fell apart because we were each trying to do our own thing, it was only because each guy was trying to lift the boat for his teammates."
If Canadians want to vent at the crew, Powell says that's fair enough.
It probably couldn't make him feel any worse.
"We're going to feel terrible about it for a very long time," he said.