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Monday, September 18, 2000

Choppy waters lie ahead for Canada
 PENRITH LAKES, Australia -- The rowers were complaining about the wind and the choppy water here at the Sydney International Reggata Centre.

 There's more rough water ahead for Canada's rowers.

 The heats concluded Tuesday and the bottom line is from the nine Canadian boats on the water, only one - Derek Porter in the men's single sculls - won a heat over two days.

 The men's lightweight coxless fours had a promising result Tuesday, finishing second in their heat and advancing to the semifinal, but both the men's and women's eights as well as the women's lightweight double sculls will all have to go through the repechage route to keep alive their chances at medals or personal bests.

 That means Emma Robinson of Winnipeg and Theresa Luke of 100 Milehouse, B.C., who row in two boats expected to contend for medals, will have to row six out of eight days. They were already forced to go the repechage route in the women's pair and now they'll have to do the same in the women's eights.

 That boat finished second to the Netherlands in their heat.

 Canada's rowers, after strong performances in the last two Olympics, have always been regarded as the leaders of the Canadian charge to the podium. They won six of Canada's 22 medals at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

 Now only Porter stands as a dominating force.

 With so many boats forced to go the repechage route, one mistake at this point sends their chances to bottom of the lake.

 "It's not like we are in unchartered territory," said Canadian head coach Al Morrow. "In Atlanta our (women's) eight went through the repechage and the semi and came second.

 "This is not the preferred situation...it would have been nice to be able to rest for four days. There are no semifinals in the women's pair, so (Robinson and Luke) will have Thursday and Friday off. That will be good for us."

 So what's happened to our rowers? For sure the retirement of a Silken Laumann and the injury to Marnie McBean hurt the team. But Laumann wasn't going to row forever and injuries, unfortunately, are inevitable.

 The fact of the matter, said Morrow, is the rest of the world has caught up to us.

 "Things have changed. We're still really competitive, but now there are other competitive boats. There's a deeper field. Anybody can win on any day."

 He pointed to the South African women's pair which decisively beat Robinson and Luke in their heat Sunday.

 "They were ranked ninth in the world," said Morrow. "They had to go through the European qualifying to get here and now they're beating us. That never would have happened in Barcelona. The pecking order was established then and there was a big difference (in the field).

 "You never would have seen that in '91 or'92. The depths of fields have really close up. It's like the 100-metre dash final. You know Maurice Green is going to win and Bruny Surin could come second or he might not make the final. What's happened in rowing, especially women's rowing, is the playing field is really changed."

 The women's eights were holding their own against the boat from the Netherlands until the 1000m mark when it pulled away and the Canadians couldn't respond to the challenge.

 "We did what we could," said Heather McDermid of Calgary. "We look at it as another chance to get it right. We would have liked to have won, but if you don't you have another chance to win." But each time on the water, each pull of the oar,extracts a price, especially for the likes of Robinson and Luke who must now row in two more races.

 Two more races steal a little bit more from the tank.

 In those crucial moments when something else is needed, will it be there?

 Canada now has to scrape and battle for whatever it can get on the water. Scrape and battle and now, hope.

 "You have to hope you come up big on the right day," said Morrow. "In Barcelona (in 1992), you could make mistakes and still win."

 So what can be done, what needs to be done, to keep Canada on top?

 "That's really hard. I don't have a quick answer," said Morrow.

 "Ask the minister of sport. What are we going to do for the next eight years?"