Mon, September 23, 2013

Rowers have proud tradition to maintain

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Members of the Canadian Men's 8 rowing team train for the London Olympics in Burnaby, B.C. on July 5, 2012. (Andy Clark/Reuters)


High-level athletes generally are well motivated, and Canada's Olympic rowing team is no different.

But as Rowing Canada's high performance director Peter Cookson tells it, there's a little extra motivation for the team heading into this summer's London Olympics.

Cookson said it's important to the rowers to maintain the sport's place in Olympic sport -- that is, continue to be the best Canadian team at the Summer Games. According to Cookson, since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, rowers have produced 19% of all the medals won by Canadian athletes at Summer Olympics -- with the next closest sport fewer than 9%.

"We're proud of that and we're determined to keep that going," Cookson said. "We want to continue to be the top producer."

Seven Canadian crews have qualified for the London Games and Cookson is optimistic the team at least will match and hopefully exceed the performance from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the red and white took home a gold, a silver and two bronze. The Canadian crews have been staying the course in the build-up toward London, although one crew, the lightweight women's double, has gone through a recent change with the retirement of veteran Tracy Cameron.

Cameron won the 2008 Olympic bronze medal with Melanie Kok and teamed up with Lindsay Jennerich to win the worlds in 2010, but she missed the 2011 season with injuries. Earlier this year, Cameron and rising star Patricia Obee went face-to-face in a row-off to determine Jennerich's partner this season, with the veteran Cameron winning out. However, the chemistry between the 37-year-old Cameron and Jennerich hasn't been there -- Cameron described it as "pretty toxic" -- and they didn't even make it to the final at the recent World Cup in Lucerne. Cameron then announced her retirement and Obee will now step in. Despite the last-minute change, Cookson is confident that Obee and Jennerich will challenge for a podium spot.

Overall, the teams to beat in London will be Germany and the host side, Great Britain. In fact, British rowing legend Steve Redgrave predicted that the Brits could win the most medals in their history. Great Britain's best showing at an Olympics was back in 1908, also at home, where it won eight medals, four gold.

Perhaps the most intriguing event for Canada in London will be the men's eight. Canada, with largely a new team, will be attempting to defend the gold won in Beijing, and will its their hands full. Germany and Great Britain are the favourites, with the Germans the defending world champions and recent Lucerne World Cup champs.

This year's Canadian men's eight crew has only three returnees (coxswain Brian Price, Malcolm Howard, Andrew Byrnes) from the 2008 Olympic gold medal team but it's a talented group. In Lucerne, Canada finished third after setting a world-best time in the heats but was beaten in the final by the Germans and Brits.

"They are extraordinarily motivated," Cookson said. "And they saw in Lucerne what it takes to win after they set that world best."

Price believes as many as seven sides could capture the gold in the men's eight, although the Germans are the team to beat. As for Canada, it's a matter of rising to the occasion, and the 35-year-old Price will use all the means in his power to help guide the young crew to the top.

"In the '08 boat there were only two rookies, so we all had different times when we led," said the Belleville, Ont., native. "In this boat, we don't have as many of those guys, so I have to pick my spots where I know when it's time for me to step into the lead."

The Canadian women's eight could also be in the mix for the gold in London. Second in the worlds last year, the Canadians recently lost to the defending world champion Americans in Lucerne by .03 seconds.

David Calder and Scott Frandsen are back for another go in the men's coxless pair -- in which they won silver in Beijing. But it will be a formidable task to defeat New Zealand's Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, who have not lost a race since early 2009.

"They're all quality teams, from the women's eight, to the men's doubles, they're all high-quality boats," Cookson said.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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