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 Sunday, September 24, 2000

Canadian women's eight wins bronze


 SYDNEY (CP) -- Lesley Thompson will be taking a wedding dress and an Olympic bronze medal home to London, Ont.

 The coxswain of the Canadian women's eight bought the dress last week on her 41st birthday -- she's to be wed in January -- and climbed into a racing shell Sunday to steer her crew to third place in its final.

 "I had such a good feeling going into this race," Thompson said. "I knew we could do something special."

 Romania won, the Netherlands was second, and Canada crossed the 2,000-metre course's finish line five seconds after the winners. Nobody was going to catch Romania, which won Olympic gold in 1996 and every world championship since.

 "That's what it takes in women's rowing now," Thompson said after her crew's best performance of the year. "I'm honoured to be in a field with such tough competitors.

 "It makes you really proud to be able to go out and have your best race. We were fortunate to come away with a medal."

 For Thompson, a member of six Olympic teams, the bronze completes a set of medals, She won gold in Barcelona in 1992 and a silver four years ago in Atlanta. Thompson also captured a silver in 1984.

 The effort saved Canada's rowing team from being blanked.

 Canada entered nine of the 14 regatta boat classes, and only three of the entries made it through to finals. Derek Porter of Victoria finished fourth in men's single sculls, and Emma Robinson of Winnipeg and Theresa Luke of 100 Mile House, B.C., were fourth in the women's pairs event they won at the 1999 world championships in St. Catharines, Ont.

 That left the women's eight as Canada's last chance for a rowing medal. The crew was fourth at the 500-metre mark, and took third spot away from Belarus before the 1,000-metre buoy.

 "We just focused on what Lesley was saying," said Laryssa Biesenthal of Walkerton, Ont., who sat in the seventh seat from the bow. "The whole way down (the course) she told us, 'Put your heads down and keep going.'

 "Then we heard, 'You're in third place. Hold onto it.' And that's what we did."

 For many in the crew, it was the last major international race. They'll go their separate ways.

 "Relief and happiness, exhaustion, enjoy," Alison Korn of Nepean, Ont., who sits in the sixth seat from the bow, replied when asked to put her thoughts into words.

 "We felt badly for our friends whose dreams just didn't come true. At the same time, we know that they rowed as hard as they could, and in the other sports (Canadians) have been doing their best, too.

 "I was emotional in the days leading up to this. A few tears here and there. It's funny: you're so strong physically but at the same time you're on this emotional cusp because you are so ready to compete."

 She watched American sprinter Marion Jones win the women's 100-metre dash the night before the eights final.

 "When she won and burst into tears I thought, 'It's OK that I'm weepy, too.' It's been so emotional, maybe because it's the last race (together) for a few of us."

 Heather McDermid of Calgary, Heather Davis of Vancouver, Dorota Urbaniak of Toronto, Luke, Robinson, and stroke Buffy Alexander also earned Olympic medals.

 Britain won the men's eight final, nipping Australia by 8/10ths of a second.

 Germany won the team points title with six medals.

 Romania won three gold, and Germany, Britain and France took two each. Italy, Belarus, New Zealand, Poland and Slovenia each won one event.

 The Canadian dropoff from six medals four years ago to one this time will be assessed when Rowing Canada executives huddle in November.

 "Things have to be looked at, for sure," said Porter. "We have some issues to look at in terms of athlete selection and athlete development.

 "If we really want a better system, I think we have to be a little more centralized than we are now, and have athletes there all the time and really focused on a specific boat.

 "Things could be more focused, with more camaraderie within the group.

 "We have to sit down and figure out what we have to do to get to the next level. We've rested on the laurels of the last eight years. Things have changed and we have to change with them. Maybe we need to put more focus on winning than just qualifying."

Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity

N202 - 801 King Edward Avenue
Ottawa, ON, Canada K1N 6N5
Phone: 613-562-5667 Fax: 613-562-5668