Mon, September 23, 2013

Canada's rowing underdogs have some Olympic bite

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Brian Price (left) poses with a bronze medal at the men's coxed pair final at the World Rowing Championships in Bled, Sep. 2, 2011. (SRDJAN ZIVULOVIC/Reuters)

TORONTO - Though they’re the defending Olympic champions, the Canadian men’s rowing eight are underdogs heading into the London Olympics.

However, as the team’s long-time coxswain Brian Price pointed out on Monday, his mates on the eight are big dogs with a bite, and they’re not just going to roll over and play dead.

“I would classify us as good underdogs,” said Price, at a press gathering to announce the new Canadian Olympic Committee multi-media campaign ‘Give Your Everything.’

“The Germans have won the worlds three years in a row. They just won the World Cup again. So they’re clearly the top dogs here. But we’ve got to be confident in what we’re doing so we can turn the tide. (And) I do feel they’re beatable. Everyone’s beatable on any given day. You’ve just got to be able to put everything together.”

The 36-year-old Price certainly knows what it takes to win. The Belleville native was on the water calling the shots at the 2004 Athens Games when the Canadian eight finished a disappointing fifth. And he was there four years later in Beijing when Canada captured the gold.

Price plans to use his experience from both of those Olympics — as well as numerous World Cups and world championships — to help guide this year’s crew — a crew with only three rowers from the triumphant 2008 team — to a medal in London, hopefully the gold.

For Price, the Olympics have been the best of times and the worst of times. And while the team’s shocking implosion in Athens was devastating (they were considered the favourites), the personable Olympian takes lessons from that race and applies them to the team’s training now.

“There were lessons learned that day,” Price said of 2004. “And not just the five and a half minutes the race took. I learned lessons that whole week, and they come into the way I execute our training now. There are things I don’t communicate with the guys (verbally), but they’re going through my head (to make sure) it never, ever, ever happens again.”

The primary lesson Price took from Athens is to never allow his team to get complacent at any time of a race. When that happens, he said, your competitors sense it.

But he doesn’t believe complacency will be a problem in London. While this year’s men’s eight may be less experienced than the team that won gold in Beijing, and perhaps less cocky, Price said they’re certainly not lacking in power and drive.

“One of the big differences is the amount of power that these guys have. The Beijing boat wasn’t by any means underpowered, but these guys have more of it,” he said.

“That’s one of the great things about a men’s eight. If you have power in your back pocket, you can always summon more. And that’s what my job is. When these guys get to the point where they don’t think they can pull another stroke. I have to summon that power and get them to do it, and keep doing it.

“These guys want to win just as badly as those guys in Beijing did, and I want to help deliver that for them,” Price added.

At the end of the day, Price said there are about seven boats that could win the gold in London in the men’s eight, one of rowing’s marquee events: Germany, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, the Poles and perhaps the Americans.

“A couple might need to have a perfect race to win — but anybody can win,” Price said. “That said, I give the Germans all the respect in the world. They are the top dogs right now.”

So what would it take for Canada to capture the gold? Not necessarily a perfect race, said Price, but a near-perfect race.

“We all need to have nine brains, nine bodies, doing everything together,” he said. “That will produce a win.”

Though he already has a gold, Price said, personally, he’s just as hungry and motivated as he was in Beijing.

“I may be defending my Olympic medal, but I see (London) as a new thing and I want to get a new medal for these guys,” he said. “I’ve got this bond with eight guys (from the 2008 team) and I want to create another bond forever with these six new guys, new Olympians.

“You don’t have reunions when you have a devastating loss like (Athens),” Price continued.

“But when you win, you’re going to be bonded together forever, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”