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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The crowd goes crazy

Winnipeg Rowing Club cheers Hanson on

Posted: 08/3/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Losing the video feed felt like forever. In the end, the glitch built the tension. Then the excitement broke.

And there was a fever running through the Winnipeg Rowing Club on Thursday as Canada's women's eights rowing team, with Winnipegger Janine Hanson pulling one of the oars, raced for Olympic glory in London.

They won silver.

Close to 70 rowers gathered at the St. Boniface club on the Red River to watch Hanson and the women's eights' big race at 6:30 a.m.

This is Hanson's home club, and everyone there either knew her, rowed with her or coached her. They all cheered her.

There was a huge groan when the video feed was lost midway through the race and cheers of relief when it reappeared before the race ended.

In London, Hanson's feelings were a mix of elation and exhaustion, the silver hanging from her neck at the medals ceremony a testament to tough training.

Adam Hanson, Janine's brother, was in London to cheer her on during Canada's silver medal showing.

"I'm incredibly proud of my sister," he wrote via email. "To win a medal for Manitoba was certainly a thrill for her and us. She worked at this six hours a day for 10 years."

On the docks in Winnipeg, a few rowers silently slipped their boats into the river for victory runs of their own.

Inside the clubhouse, veteran coach Ralph Penner cradled his 11-week old granddaughter in his arms and summed Hanson up in a single word: "Competitive."

For anyone who knows Penner, that's high praise from the intense coach. He puts novices through their paces year after year.

"She was on our team for the Canada Games in '07 and I was coaching at the time," Penner said. "She was always ready to go, ready to race," Penner recalled.

The Winnipeg crowd roared anew when they watched the replay; every 500 metres, the club thundered the boat on. It was hard to judge when the race ended for all the cheering.

The defending champion United States won gold in six minutes 10.59 seconds, leading throughout and resisting a late Canadian charge to maintain their stranglehold on the event. Canada, which had hoped to finally dethrone the U.S. boat, which hasn't lost in six years, finished in 6:12.06, ahead of the Netherlands in 6:13.12.

The close finish left spectators at the Winnipeg Rowing Club close to breathless.

"You sort of feel like you know all the girls on the team," said former club executive director Dolores Young, in Winnipeg for a visit from her home in New Brunswick. "Every stroke, you could feel the acceleration," she said. Her words punctuated the palpable tension that climbed with every metre of the 2,000-metre race.

If Young could speak directly to Hanson, her message would be, "The biggest congratulations from your hometown. We're so proud of you," she said.

Later Thursday, Mayor Sam Katz said he called Hanson and congratulated her.

"I told Janine that all of Winnipeg is proud of her achievement," Katz said. "Watching athletes who grew up in Winnipeg compete in these Olympic Games is a thrill. I hope these athletes are encouraged knowing that we're all cheering for them back home."

Among those back home cheering were a group of four women in their 20s quietly watching the race from the back of the packed clubhouse.

Melodie Bedona, Kelly Malcolmson, Renee Argo and Allison Schultz all rowed with Hanson back at the beginning.

The five women bonded; every Christmas they still get together. "She's worked so hard. It's great," Schultz said, as the final cheers died down.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2012 C4

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