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WINDSOR, England -- Credit the Canadian men's eight with a horrendous start and courageous finish to the Olympic regatta.
After finishing last in their opening heat last Saturday, the Canadians did a lot of soul-searching, absorbed a tongue-lashing from veteran coach Mike Spracklen and then got their act together again.
The roller-coaster ride led to a silver medal Wednesday at Eton Dorney, a tribute to hard work, good character and terrific coaching.
The Canadians won rowing's marquee event at the 2008 Games in Beijing but only had three returning members of that crew -- Toronto's Andrew Byrnes, Victoria's Malcolm Howard and coxswain Brian Price of Belleville, Ont. -- in the London boat.
Since Beijing, the German eight has ruled the waves. The Germans are unbeaten in almost four years.
Under an overcast sky not too far from Windsor Castle, Germany was unstoppable again although Britain went after the three-time world champions like a hungry dog after a bone. The British -- runners-up to Germany at the last two worlds -- nosed ahead after 1,000 metres only to be pegged back by Germany, who led by just .27 seconds after 1,500 metres.
In the packed grandstands, the sound billowed along the windswept course as the boats went by and the crowd tried to cheer on the home crew.
But the Brits were done and Canada, whose final 500-metre time was bettered only by Australia, powered past them like a Maple Leaf muscle car for second.
Germany won in five minutes 48.75 seconds ahead of Canada in 5:49.98 and Britain, silver medallists at the last two world championships, staved off a U.S. charge to hang onto third in 5:51.18.
"We knew we'd have to have an amazing race to get on the medal podium," said Conlin McCabe of Brockville, Ont. "Like to get the bronze, even."
They delivered, paying back a debt to 74-year-old coach Mike Spracklen, who addressed the team Sunday after its last-place showing in its opening heat.
Spracklen said he ended the no-holds-barred meeting by making an unusual request.
"I can't remember it word for word, but what I said was 'I have one last request and I've never asked anyone before -- win the race for me,' " said Spracklen.
Once on shore Wednesday, the giddy Canadians celebrated as if they had won. It wasn't quite worst to first, but it was close.
Canada started sluggishly at the regatta, finishing last in its heat behind Germany, Britain and the Netherlands. With only the winner advancing directly to the final, the Canadians shut it down and finished well back.
After the race, the Canadians to a man said they had been too amped up. Price said they rowed "like a bunch of kids."
Spracklen put it all in perspective, said Howard, the Canadian captain.
"He knew exactly what happened -- the psychology. We went into that race to try and run with the Germans and we just spun out our wheels," Howard said. "He just laid it out bare for us."
For a Canadian crew that set a world record of 5:19.35 in a heat in Lucerne in May, it was a disaster.
Or a reality check.
"Truthfully what happened in that heat was the best possible thing that could happen to us," said Howard. "It set our heads straight. It taught us a lesson that most crews have to learn the hard way.
"A lot of those guys that I raced with in Beijing had a difficult experience in Athens in that final (where a top-ranked Canadian crew finished fifth)," said Howard. "And of course it was a heat (here) but the way we got throttled by Germany in that heat it took a lot of focus, it took some incredible coaching by Mike Spracklen to put us back on track and keep us focused."
-- The Canadian Press
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