WINDSOR, England -- What a difference four years makes in the Olympian life of Winnipeg's Janine Hanson.
In Beijing in 2008, she was a member of the quadruple sculls crew that finished dead last.
Fast forward to the 2012 London Games and she'll be bringing a shiny new silver medal back to Winnipeg, hard-earned as a vital cog in the flagship women's eight squad.
"It's pretty sweet," said the beaming 29-year-old, shortly after the medal ceremony. "In Beijing, we came last, and so now having the feeling of getting a silver medal at the Olympics, it's something very few people ever accomplish."
Hanson was involved in a dramatic race that nearly saw the Canadian team break a U.S. stranglehold on the event. The Americans have not lost an international race in the eights since 2006. They got out to a sizeable lead in Thursday's clash, with Canada in third place behind the Netherlands at the 500-metre mark.
But Canada had overtaken the Dutch at 1,000 metres and closed hard over the final 500, shaving about a second off the U.S. lead, before just coming up just shy of the Americans, who clocked in at 6:10.59, with at Canada at 6:12.06. The Netherlands took the bronze in 6:13.12.
Hanson is the quarterback of the boat from the bow seat. She sits just in front of legendary coxen Lesley Thompson-Willie, who has been in the Canadian boat at every Olympics since 1984. Thompson-Willie described the Winnipegger as one of the best she has ever seen in that position.
When asked about the race, Hanson felt the key to the Canadians' strong performance was "just making sure we were all moving together," before she paused and reflected on the long journey that she said was more instrumental than any particular specifics on race day.
"Every day, we took steps forward, all year long, nine months out from the Olympics," said Hanson, who proudly represents the Winnipeg Rowing Club. "It seems like such a long way and all of a sudden here we are August 2nd and it's over and I feel like it was a blink of an eye, but at the same time knowing how much we put into this and how many hours of training and how many sessions we had, it's the other way to look at it you know, it was a long time, and we did have a lot of hours on the water and a lot of hours together and here we are. It's a great feeling."
She described representing Canada as one of the most emotional experiences of her life.
"It's just such an honour to be able to represent your country at something like this," said the St. Mary's Academy alum, who had plenty of family support at the rowing venue, including her immediate family and fiancée. "I told my family when I was pushing off the dock and rowing past them in the warm-up zone, I said 'I don't want to hear your voices because I'll just start crying', just with that amount of pride. I get really emotional because it's such a phenomenal experience."
It'll also be the last time she experiences it because she's now retiring from the sport after 12 years. She'll head to London, Ont., after the Games -- where the women's national team is based -- to pack up her things and head home.
"My plan is to move back to Winnipeg, probably January, and then find a job and see what else life has to offer," she said. "I think it'll hit me when I go back to London and I don't see my rowing family anymore."
When she does return to Winnipeg, she said she "can't wait" to share her medal with "anyone who wants to see it," explaining that she was thrilled to be overwhelmed with phone calls and social media interactions this past week -- everyone letting her know they're cheering for her.
"It's so nice to hear from so many people and I know many of them were getting up early (to watch the race)," she said.
-- Special to the Free Press
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