SPORTS

London coxswain Thompson-Willie adds to Olympic legacy, collects fifth medal

08/02/2012 01:46 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT
WINDSOR, England - It's back to the classroom for Lesley Thompson-Willie, with a fifth Olympic medal in tow.

The 52-year-old high school teacher/librarian from London, Ont., helped guide the Canadian women's eight to a silver medal in the Olympic regatta on Thursday.

Thompson-Willie is the first Canadian athlete to win medals in five different Olympic Games.

"She's amazing," said teammate Janine Hanson of Winnipeg. "She just has an unbelievable feel for the boat and we trust everything she says and just do what she says, and when she tells you to touch your nose, we're all going to do it.

"She's just a driving force behind this crew and has been since what '79? What a phenomenal career she's had. Five medals."

Added Regina's Rachelle Viinberg: "It's an honour to work with her. She is a matriarch of rowing. She is the best coxswain in the world, hands down. We love her."

The U.S., unbeaten in six years, won the women's eight gold, calmly holding off a late Canadian charge for a convincing win. The Dutch were third.

London organizers said Thompson-Willie, at 52 years 317 days, is the second oldest Olympian to win a rowing medal. Ladislau Lovrenski of Romania was 56 when he won a silver in the men's coxed four.

The fifth medal is also a record for a Canadian rower.

London is Thompson-Willie's seventh Olympics — it would have been eight had it not been for the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Games. 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.

"We went to win and didn't do it, but sure are enjoying the silver. No regrets, great race," she added.

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

Thompson-Willie, who has been involved in rowing for 35 years, says she knew after the Beijing Games in 2008 that she would be back. The cycle fitted in with her husband's doctorate studies.

"Now we're just going to enjoy some family time," she said.

"We've got a good program going," she added. "Where I fit into it, if at all, I don't know."

But crew member Andreanne 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 Quebec City's 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."

Whatever happens, Thompson-Willie is looking forward to school starting again.,

"I like my job. I like my school board," she said with a laugh.

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