Fri, September 20, 2013

Canadian women's eight reflect on final race

By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency


Canada's women's eight rowing team celebrates winning silver at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Aug. 1, 2012. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)


ETON DORNEY, ENGLAND - They have sat across from each other for the last few years, forged a relationship where just a look, even a glance, can convey a conversation.

Andreanne Morin sat in the stroke seat of Canada's women's eight Thursday, rowing in her last race for Canada, staring into the face of coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie, 35 years deep into rowing and likely in her last race as well.

"Going out in this race today, I was like, 'this is her last one, she's been at this for 35 years, I'm going to do it for her.' I gave it my all. That last 500 metres was all heart and it was for Lesley," said Morin, who helped power the women to a silver medal -- the second for Canada's rowers and second for Canada in these Games.

The Canadians beat out the Netherlands, who had stolen the bronze from Canada in Beijing four years ago, and finished behind the powerhouse Americans, who have not lost in six years.

Morin stood there as the sun dodged in and out of the clouds that scuttled over the Eton College Rowing Centre on Lake Dorney and the whole time she spoke, she kept the silver medal that hung from her neck clutched tightly in her left hand.

After wrestling with the decision, she quit rowing for two years after that bitter day in Beijing -- they say there is not much worse in the Olympics than finishing fourth -- and got her studies towards a law degree at the University of Montreal underway. She ran half-marathons and went to the gym almost every day, but the lure of her rowing experience, that sharing of time and pain and disappointment and success with eight other women, persisted.

She came back in early 2010 and within three weeks she had the callouses back.

"I realized the fire was still burning in me to do this. I was still the racer that I was then. I said, 'let's give this a crack. It's not something that comes around often.' Thinking back to that decision and how difficult it was then, I realize, man, I made the right one and I'm really happy for it today."

A large part of her experience with the national team was sitting in that seat across from Thompson-Willie who won her fifth Olympic medal Thursday, just one less than Canada's most successful Olympians, Clara Hughes and Cindey Klassen.

"Oh, Lesley. There's so much to say about her," said Morin, her voice quivering with the emotion of it all. "I sit across from her and I draw so much inspiration. She has such confidence in us and I, of course, in her. She and I can communicate just looking at one another. I can see in her eyes what she's thinking. She can sense what I'm thinking. The bond that we share together is something really special that I will always cherish."

Thompson-Willie had words for the crew Thursday.

"She talked about fire in the heart, which we all have," said Morin, "and we put it all out there. We left it all out there."

Thompson-Willie shoved aside talk of her future Thursday.

"Thirty-five years, you know? It's been part of my life. I don't know where (I will go) from here. I'm just going to enjoy today. We've got a good program and where I fit into it, if at all, I don't know."

If she has done, she went out with a crew she has called the best with which she has worked.

"This is a special crew. Every crew is special, but they worked so hard. I think that was a great race. My hat is off to the U.S. They had to work really hard to beat us," she said. "No regrets. Great race."

For Morin, there is no indecision. She will be back at school in a few weeks.

"For me, this is the culmination of my 12 years of rowing. I'm talking to you and I'm holding onto this quite tightly because it's the material proof of what I've done. It's a lot about the journey and what you live through with your teammates. That's how I look at it today. It was an exceptional race, it really was."

An exceptional race for a lot of reasons

"This is my last race," she said, her eyes shining. "Here in this place, England, the legends of rowing have come from here. It's a nice way to finish it off here, to cap it off."

She clutched the gleaming medal tightly.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

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