SPORTS

Canadian women's eight wins silver, celebrates Olympic journey together

08/02/2012 07:43 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT
WINDSOR, England - Andreanne Morin clutched her Olympic silver medal, as if remembering every early morning training session and aching muscle that preceded it.

"For me this is the culmination of my 12 years of rowing," said the 30-year-old from Quebec City after Canada's second-place finish in the women's eight Thursday. "I'm talking to you and holding onto this (medal) quite tightly, because it's the proof, the material proof of what I've done.

"It's a lot about the journey and what you live with these teammates. That's how I look at it today. It was an exceptional race, it really was."

The Canadian women lost to an exceptional team. The U.S., champions in Beijing, have not been beaten in six years.

But it was a photo finish in May when the two met at a World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland, where the U.S. won by just 0.03 seconds.

On Thursday, the powerful Americans led all the way to win in six minutes 10.59 seconds. The Canadians charged at them down the stretch, posting the fastest splits in the final 1,000 metres, but could not peg them back and finished in 6:12.06 ahead of the Dutch in 6:13.12.

"I have to take my hat off to the U.S. crew," said Peter Cookson, Rowing Canada's high performance director. "We literally did everything we could to try to win the race.

"When you look at all the training we did and all the physiology work we did, all the recovery work we did with that group. And they're an unbelievably great group of women in our Canadian boat. And for them to get beat, that must take a really great crew to beat them."

Cookson noted the women's eight had come from "not a great place in 2009," when they barely made the final at the world championships. Now they are the team keeping the U.S. on their toes.

To a woman, the Canadians were beaming after the race. They were also emotional, knowing a changing of the guard is inevitable after the Olympic quadrennial.

But there were no regrets. The women clambered over the fence in front of the friends and family section to hug loved ones and show off their medals under the sun at Eton Dorney.

"We went to win and didn't do it, but sure are enjoying the silver," said 52-year-old coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie, who becomes the first Canadian athlete to win medals in five different Olympic Games.

"No regrets, great race."

Lauren Wilkinson of North Vancouver said the Canadians had given it their all.

"Obviously we wish that our bow had been in front but we just gave it our everything," said Wilkinson. "I don't think a single person in that boat had anything left in the tank. So we have no regrets even though it wasn't necessarily the colour of medal we had hoped for."

Added Winnipeg's Janine Hanson: "Silver's great. We can't be disappointed with that at all."

The medal was the second for Canadian rowers here. The men's eight won silver behind Germany on Wednesday.

The men's pair of Dave Calder and Scott Frandsen, silver medallists in Bejing, represents Canada's only other medal hope out of the seven boats entered. They race Friday.

Rowing Canada's medal hopes took a dent earlier Thursday when Victoria's Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee, world silver medallists last year, failed to advance to the final of the lightweight women's double sculls.

Canadian rowers won a gold, a silver and two bronze in Beijing.

The women's eight was a two-horse race here with Canada and the six-time world champion Americans.

"We've been on their heels for a really long time," said Morin. "Of course, I wanted to be on the other side of that duel, that rivalry. But it's sport and they've got a really, really strong sports system with all the universities and colleges that feed into the national team. I respect what they've got. They beat us today."

Added Hanson: "They're a great crew and have been for years and have quite a few returning from past seasons. We knew it was going to be a tight race."

The U.S. boat, which consigned Canada to silver at the last two world championships, featured six veterans of the 2008 Olympic champion crew. Two also won silver in Athens.

The London boat features four Beijing veterans: Thompson-Willie, Morin, Ashley Brzozowicz of London, Ont., and Darcy Marquardt of Richmond, B.C.

London is Thompson-Willie's seventh Olympics — she was also named to the 1980 team that was part of the Moscow boycott. She won silver with the four in 1984 and gold with the eight in 1992, silver in 1996 and bronze in 2000.

"Every crew is special but this one, they worked so hard," said Thompson-Willie, who returns this fall to her job as a high school teacher/librarian.

Asked about her rowing future, Thompson-Willie said: "I don't know where from here. I'm just going to enjoy today."

Morin offered a little more insight into her coxswain's future.

"The bond that we share together is something really special that I'll always cherish," said Morin, choking up as she spoke. "I thought 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.' And I gave it my all.

"That last 500 was all heart and it was for Lesley."

It was also for absent teammates. The Dutch pipped Canada for bronze in 2008 and Morin, saying she had her former teammates in her mind as the race wound down, said there was no way the Dutch were going to get past them again.

"I was there to take that revenge for them and for us," Morin said.

Morin, a three-time Olympian who was fourth in the eight at the 2008 Games and seventh in 2004, retired after Beijing. She went to law school but put her studies on hold in 2010 to come back to the sport with Marquardt.

In less than three weeks, she returns to that degree at the University of Montreal.

Seven of the nine women in the Canadian boat competed in Beijing. Hanson, Rachelle Viinberg of Regina and Krista Guloien of Port Moody, B.C., rowed in the four in 2008.

The Canadian eight will likely change considerably in the months ahead. But Natalie Mastracci of Thorold, Ont., like Wilkinson a first-time Olympian, said the torch will be carried on.

"These women are titans of rowing," Mastracci said of her teammates at the post-event news conference. "And I think it's going to be just an incredible loss to Canada. But Lauren and I are going to do everything we can to just keep it going and keep their momentum going."

It was only the second race at these Games for the Canadian women, who won their heat Sunday to advance directly to the final. The U.S. won the other heat.

The Canadian women's eight was shut out of the medals in the last two Olympics. Its last gold was in 1992 in Barcelona.

The demise of Jennerich and Obee, meanwhile, was another example of an Olympic regatta that has seen some established crews struggle to retain their world status.

Only the top three in their semifinal moved on and the Canadians finished fourth. They started well but faded quickly and were fifth after 500, 1,000 and 1,500 metres. They posted the fastest last 500 but it was too little, too late.

China won in 7:10.39, ahead of Denmark and Australia. Canada's time was 7:14.83. Britain, Greece and Germany moved out of the other semifinal.

"A tough one to swallow," said Jennerich, fighting to keep her composure behind wraparound sunglasses as she talked to reporters. "It takes a little while to set in. ... I said to Obee, this might capture it well, it's like 'There's seven minutes of your life that suddenly take you out of a shot at an Olympic medal.'"

Jennerich and Obee had a poor start to the Games, finishing fifth in their six-boat heat. But the duo bounced back to finish second to the U.S. in their repechage Tuesday. The semifinal was another disappointment, however, denying Canada a shot at a medal.

Jennerich, who turned 30 on Monday, shared the boat with both 20-year-old Obee and 37-year-old Tracy Cameron of Shubenacadie, N.S., in the lead up to the Games.

In 2010, Jennerich and Cameron teamed up to win the world championship.

Last year they won in Lucerne, a major regatta ahead of the world championships. But when Cameron was sidelined with a stress fracture of a rib, Jennerich joined forces with Obee, the team spare, to win silver at the worlds.

Healthy again, Cameron won a row-off with Obee to see who would join Jennerich this year. But Jennerich and Cameron struggled when they got back in the boat, finishing eighth in May at a key pre-Olympic regatta in Lucerne.

Cameron, who won the lightweight quadruple sculls at the 2005 world championships and Olympic bronze in 2008 in the pair with Melanie Kok, retired in early June, saying rowing was no longer fun.

The men's four of Michael Wilkinson of North Vancouver, Anthony Jacob of Victoria, Dean Will of Kelowna, B.C., and Derek O'Farrell of Montreal finished fifth in their semifinal and failed to make the final.

Michael Braithwaite of Duncan, B.C., and Kevin Kowalyk of Winnipeg were last in a tough double sculls B final that featured 2008 Olympic champion Australia and world bronze medallist France. The Canadians finished the regatta in 12th spot.

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