Fri, September 20, 2013

Canada wins silver in men's eight rowing at Olympics

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Team Canada competes in the men's eight repechage at the London 2012 Olympic Games, July 30, 2012. (DAMIEN MEYER/Reuters/Pool)



ETON DORNEY, ENGLAND - In a celebratory moment on the dock after the medal ceremony, the silver-medal winning Canadian men’s eight tossed captain Malcolm Howard into the chilly water.

At 6-foot-6 and 234 pounds, it was a big splash, but not as big as the splash the men’s eight created with a furious finish over the last 500 metres.

In a gutsy performance, the Canadians overtook the second-place boat from Great Britain — which was being spurred on by a deafening roar from 30,000 fans — and pressuring the ultimate gold medal winners, the invincible Germans, right to the line.

After throwing Howard into the water, many of the eights jumped in themselves, an assortment of flips, cannonballs and dives.

One guy who didn’t go in was Jeremiah Brown, the former McMaster University football player who has only been rowing for three years and sweeping for just 18 months.

In his first nationals, just a couple of years ago, he hit the water on a snowy November day on Lake Fanshawe in London, tumbling out of his scull and into the water.

He finished 13th.

Wednesday morning, as his boatmates splashed under a leaden sky, Brown stayed high and dry, an Olympic silver medal around his neck.

The Canadian eight heeded the words of 74-year-old coach Mike Spracklen, who cursed them out after an awful performance in their heat, and followed the veteran coach’s gameplan. They followed up their strong row in Monday’s repechage with, for many of them, the performance of their lives.

“I felt dialed. The boat was on a rail. It’s the first time we have been able to do that back-to-back. It’s just amazing. Right from our start, I just knew it was going to be good. We just had to keep pushing. The boat’s on a rail. Just keep adding to it,” said the 26-year-old Brown, turning to catch the eye of his seven-year-old son, Ethan, who called to him from behind a barricade, the words, “Row, Dad, Row” across the front of his little t-shirt.

“It’s overwhelming for him,” said Brown, who recounted the moment when he embraced his son. “It was just emotion. Just hugging. Hugs and kisses and emotion. Looking at the medal, looking at the picture, reading it. Typical seven-year-old.”

In the face of the German juggernaut — since Canada won the gold at the Beijing Olympics, the Germans have been unbeaten at the World Cup and world championships — the Canadians put up an admirable defence of their title.

There was furious action in the Canadian boat over the last 500 metres, the crowd shrieking, the Canadian crew barely able to hear the instructions of coxswain Brian Price over the in-boat speaker they call the “cox box.”

“He put it to max, as loud as it could possibly go, and we could barely hear him,” said Howard.

“I knew it was tight right across the field coming into that last 250 (metres). I started seeing black spots,” said Brown. “That’s when you just get tunnel vision. I trust Brian Price so much. I’d trust that guy with my life to tell me what to do. He said, ‘boys, we’re down two seats to the Brits. We’re moving!’ I thought, ‘okay, let’s get that bronze.’

“All of a sudden, he said, ‘boys, we’re up a seat on the Brits.’ I thought, ‘holy crap,’ — well, I thought the other version of the word — let’s keep going and see what we can get here. He said, ‘we got the silver!’ and we all just emptied it.

“Then we crossed the line and I still can’t speak. I’m not making sense.”

Spracklen, the quiet coach known for his debilitating methods and tremendous workloads divised a strategy that paid off, laying back and challenging the Germans at 1000m.

“He said just before halfway, fight back and hit them hard. We were ready for that,” said Howard. “It was perfect.”

Spracklen has had his critics and he has been critical of Rowing Canada’s methods. His deal with Rowing Canada is up, but, to a man, the eight said they want him back.

The night before they raced, as he did in Beijing where they won gold, Spracklen left his boys with a few words about each of them and a poem.

“I said — I can’t remember the words word for word — but what I said was, I have one last request and I’ve never asked anyone before, win the race for me,” he said.

They didn’t win, but by the smile on Spracklen’s face, he didn’t seem to mind.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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