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Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Rowers happy with 'strategic second'

 Canadian women's pairs rowers Emma Robinson and Theresa Luke shook off the growing doubts about their ability to challenge for an Olympic medal yesterday with a controlled second-place finish in their repechage.

 While many are questioning the world champions' chances of continuing the tradition of Canadian Olympic success established by Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle, the pair maintained an even keel after taking a strategic second to Americans Krissie Ryan and Karen Kraft.

 "The goal is to make the final, not look good," Luke, of 100 Mile House, B.C., said after a race in which the two boats broke away to advance to Saturday's final.

 Luke and Winnipeg's Robinson, who has been part of the world championship pair the past three years, plan to study tape with coach Al Morrow of London as part of their preparation. The two train on Fanshawe Lake in London.

 Canada didn't fare well in two other qualifiers. Todd Hallett of Dartmouth, N.S., and Dominic Seiterle of Montreal finished fourth and last in the double sculls repechage.

 Kristen Wall, who was filling in for the injured McBean, finished third and was eliminated from the women's singles competition.

 But Canadian attention was focused on the women's pair -- an event Canadians had dominated until this summer.

 With Robinson calling the shots, the Canadian boat went stroke-for-stroke with the Americans through midpoint of the race. By that time, the two boats had distanced themselves substantially from pairs representing Britain and the Ukraine, so Robinson slowed the pace.

 "We have a pre-race plan in which we decide what we'll do under certain circumstances," said Robinson, who will continue her medical studies at the University of Toronto after the Olympics. "We came to the decision that (continuing to gut it out) was not valuable," Robinson said.

 Expectations for the pair, undefeated last year, came into question this summer. They were beaten by the Australians and Romanians and were relegated to last night's repechage after finishing third in a heat Saturday behind Australia and South Africa.

 Neither agreed with a suggestion they may be overworked by also rowing in the women's eights crew -- bronze medallists at the 1999 world championships, but relegated to the repechage at these Olympics.

 "I've doubled up for six years," Robinson said. "If a decision was made at a higher level to change that, I would accept it."

 The Canadian rowers are saddled with great expectations after winning five of Canada's 18 medals in 1992 at Barcelona and six of the country's 22 in Atlanta four years later.

 "The competition has become a lot tougher," Robinson said.

 "We're not slower, the field has got faster."

 Robinson and Luke will study videos of their performance, checking their blade unity, rowing rates and other fine points of their style against that of others in the final.

 From it, they hope to establish the race plan that will cover all contingencies.

 It won't be easy, as the American women know.

 "We didn't want to go to the repechage but it was good to have that second race," Ryan said.

 "We're going to have to be pretty perfect to win (a gold)."

 All eyes are on the Romanians at the moment for that one.