Tuesday, October 2, 2012
I now find the courage to write about the Olympics and their aftermath on the day after Rowing Canada coach Mike Spracklen has been let go from the organisation. The reason being is that Mike Spracklen has played a huge role in my rowing career. Although I never managed to go to the line with his name listed as my official coach, Mike has been very much part of every medal I ever earned for Canada. Three under-23 medals, two of which gold, three world university championships, two canadian championship golds, seven world cup medals and two world championship medals. The one that eludes...Olympic. It has yet to happen that someone with decision making power in RCA has come to me and asked why we were such a "failure" at the Olympics this year. No one has yet asked the real questions and I can swear on my life that the reasons we placed an apparent disappointing seventh have little to do with Mike Spracklen, nor Kenny Wu. If it weren't for Mike Spracklen, we risked placing worse than that.
It's hard to describe how at the Olympics you have this seven minute window in the semi final to perform in a way that keeps you in contention for a gold medal in the A-final. Patricia and I placed fourth where we needed to be third and were suddenly at the regatta no longer racing for a medal. Just like that, dreams dashed, happiness squashed and shame setting in. What most don't realize is that seven minutes doesn't define how much you have trained, how fast you were the week before, how fast you could be the next day. All it defines is that you were an athlete that didn't get it right when you needed to. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all about getting it right when it counts and hear me when I say we didn't do that and that's our fault and it's why we didn't belong in that A-final on that day. And that my friends is exactly why Olympic champions are so rare because I guarantee that many that go to the Olympics, on another day, could have won, but that is why it's every four years and that is why it's the pinnacle of sport. However, it also means that if anyone took the time to understand what we had to overcome to make it to that point or how the speed that we showed on that given day didn't reflect the training and coaching we received, they would know how little of a failure that seventh place performance was. We had a former team mate slander us in the media only three weeks prior, we had a treatment session go terribly wrong that caused Obee to need a cortisone shot and miss numerous rows during the training camp, we had a coach who's hands were tied by the administration and we had a message sent to us all year by the management that we were a second rate group of athletes that didn't deserve the best of anything. Quite frankly, all things considered, I'm pretty damned proud of that seventh place. I have won the world championships and numerous other world staged races and the hardest race I have ever raced was that B-final. It would be so easy to sit back and say it's all over, to be absolutely devastated and see four years of training go down a seven minute tube, but we didn't. To then get yourself up to have the race of your life in a B-final is indescribably hard. I'm not saying it's better than medaling. The performance of our men's and women's eights are notable and to be recognized and cherished as the amazing accomplishments that they are. What I am saying is that there are athletes out there that are just as good, who must rise to the most challenging of situations and find a way to still do their best. We did that because we had the support of Mike and Kenny.
I really don't want to come across as a martyr of B-finals here because that is not my goal. What I am trying to say that is that there are athletes out there who have learned great lessons from disappointment and that will have amazing things to offer the team within the next four years, but the fact that these athletes and Mike are not being heard, are not being acknowledged as assets to the organisation is a real shame. Olympic medalists are people that have worked harder than most people will ever dare try to work, they are people who have shown a dedication to one thing in their life like most will never show to anything; they are people that know what is required to win and be the best in the world. Sometimes the ones that didn't quite get there the first time around are still those people.
My hope for the future rowers of Canada is that one day they find themselves in the presence of greatness as I was lucky enough to experience. Greatness, not only in a coach that leads them, but the greatness of team mates that surround them. What I have learned from this journey and from Mike Spracklen is that winning is important. Winning is important because without the intention of winning, you will never push yourself, you will never believe, you will never fight for the best and most importantly, without the intention winning, you will never expect the best from those around you. It takes not only a team to win medals, it takes a team of people who are willing to put themselves out there at their absolute best to win medals. There is nothing wrong with expecting the best of everyone: Mike Spracklen got fired for expecting that, but he has also guided Canadian men to three separate Olympic medals, two of which are gold and taught us all life lessons that will help us be champions in other parts of our lives.
So this is the challenge I leave you all with. For seven minutes of your day, every day, be the best you can be at something. It doesn't matter what, just strive for seven minutes of perfection in something. Honor those that tried and didn't get to have a medal around their neck to prove that they did all they could.