Beijing Brief: Men’s Eight Proves They Are the Best

The world’s fastest crew, the Canadian men’s eight, lived up to its billing on Sunday by capturing the country’s second gold medal of these Games.

From start to finish the men’s eight led the highly anticipated 2,000 m race, dominating the Olympic field with a time of 5:23.89. Four years of training culminated in the gold medal for the crew, which finished fifth at the 2004 Olympic Games – well back of their goal that year.

There can be no question this men’s eight boat is the world’s best – for two years, they have not lost a race. The team: Kyle Hamilton of Richmond, B.C., Ben Rutledge of Cranbrook, B.C., Kevin Light of Sidney, B.C., Malcolm Howard of Victoria, Dominic Seiterle of Victoria, Andrew Byrnes of Toronto, Jake Wetzel of Saskatoon and Adam Kreek of London, Ont.

“I had an idea at one point in the race that it would take a lot for someone to make a move and to catch us,” Rutledge said. “And then we crossed the line and it was just a feeling of exuberance and joy. It hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s hard to describe – it’s a joy that overrides the pain of the race. It’s amazing.”

Earlier in the day, more Canadian rowers came through in their podium pursuit. The lightweight women’s double, pulled by Melanie Kok (St. Catharines, Ont.) and Tracy Cameron (Shubenacadie, N.S.), held off a German crew by 0.04 seconds to snatch the bronze medal.

Not long after, the lightweight men’s four put their boat in the water and raced to a bronze medal. Propelled by a late surge, the crew of Jon Beare (Toronto), Iain Brambell (Brentwood Bay, B.C.), Mike Lewis (Victoria) and Liam Parsons (Thunder Bay, Ont.) nearly overtook Poland for the silver.

Said Brambell: “Every race we laid down as much as we could, but today was just our day and we couldn’t have done it without our families. This was absolutely, no doubt worth the wait. But truthfully, it hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Cochrane Wins Bronze

Swimmer Ryan Cochrane was in danger of slipping into fourth place on the last leg of the 1,500m freestyle. But the Victoria native closed out the gruelling swim with a powerful finish to stay in third place and win the bronze medal – an unexpected podium appearance for the Canadian swim team.

“I’m so happy with this race,” said Cochrane. “It was really close all the way through. I gave everything I had to hold on. It was a hard race. I’m so proud to be part of this great team; it’s been an amazing experience.”

His was Canada’s first medal in the pool since Curtis Myden won bronze at the 2000 Olympic Games. And you would have to trace back to the 1920 Olympic Games to find Canada’s last medal in the men’s 1,500 m freestyle. That year, George Vernot won silver.

Cochrane, well-coached by Randy Bennett, was able to help the swim team reach its goal of at least one medal in 2008. The team broke 26 Canadian records in Beijing and swam in 10 finals.

A Whisker Away From the Podium

Many Canadians on day nine came very close to reaching the podium, adding to the near-misses previously catalogued by shot putter Dylan Armstrong and swimmer Mike Brown.

On the 3 m springboard, Vancouver’s Blythe Hartley was in medal contention the entire day, but was overtaken late to finish fourth. For five dives she had 374.6 points, about 15 points from the bronze medal. She was, accurately, ranked fourth in the world coming into competition. This was her third Olympic Games, and Hartley says she plans to retire from diving after these Games.

“This competition was very emotional to me; I shed a few tears before to step on the board,” Hartley said. “I never dove being so emotional! Winning a medal is the ultimate goal, but I knew it would be difficult, there are incredible divers in this final. I really give my best tonight and I am really proud of what I’ve done.”

In rowing, the Canadian women’s eight closed our their finals in fourth place. They too were tantalizingly close to a bronze medal. This effort included: Jane Rumball of Fredericton, N.B., Darcy Marquardt of Richmond, B.C., Buffy Williams of St. Catharines, Ont., Romina Stefancic of Victoria, Ashley Brzozowicz of Toronto, Sarah Bonikowsky of Orangeville, Ont., Andreanne Morin of Montreal, Heather Mandoli of Kelowna, B.C., and cox Lesley Thompson-Willie of London, Ont. (who was after her fifth Olympic medal).

On the mat, wrestler Martine Dugrenier grappled in the bronze medal in the women’s 63 kg event. She led most of the match over American Randi Miller, but Miller managed to score a point late in the third period to steal the bronze.

“It’s hard for me now but I just have to look forward and hopefully do better next time,” said Dugrenier of Montreal. “It’s really tough, but in this sport if there is a tied score 1-1, the last wrestler who scores is the winner; I lost my two matches like this, so it’s disappointing. Overall, it was a great experience, next time I’ll just have to finish the job!”

And in sailing, Chris Cook of Whitby, Ont. competed in the medal final race to finish fifth overall in the Finn class. He sailed hard, battling through two sudden wind shifts that put him at a disadvantage. Still, the result is Canada’s best in Finn since a bronze medal in 1984.

In Athletics Action

Also from Whitby, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep handily reached the semifinals of the women’s 100 m hurdles. She finished second in her heat, easing up at the end. She will be a medal contender in the Bird’s Nest. Fellow hurdler Angela Whyte (Edmonton) finished fifth in her heat and did not advance.

In the final of men’s hammer throw, Jim Steacy of Lethbridge, Alta. Placed 12th. “It was a learning experience,” he said. “My first major international final. I am a little disappointed with my performance today, but 23 other guys did not even make this final. I am taking a lot of positives from this.” (This event was won by Primoz Kozmus, giving Slovenia its first-ever Olympic gold in athletics.)

Kevin Sullivan (Brantford, Ont.) and Nathan Brannen (Cambridge, Ont.) ran the 1,500 m semifinals but were unable to advance to the final. For Sullivan, it was his third Olympic Games and, he has hinted, his last.

In the 400 m semifinals, Carline Muir of Weston, Ont. did not advance to the final but was very happy with her premier Olympic performance. Mike Mason of Nanoose Bay, B.C. competed in high jump and reached 2.25 m despite a strained ligament. He will not advance in competition. Finally, Eric Gillis of Antigonish, N.S., ran the 10,000 m race in a time of 28:07.19, good for 35th place.

Elsewhere on Day Nine:

Canadian sailors remain in action, led by Mike Leigh in Laser who finished 3rd on Sunday to advance to 11th overall. Lisa Ross in Laser Radial finished 9th, good for 12th overall. She needs to make up three points to race for a shot at a medal. Both still have a chance to reach the podium.

In RS:X, Zac Plavsic sits 23rd and Nikola Girke 17th overall. The Tornado duo of Oskar Johansson and Kevin Stittle are currently 6th, just three points out of third spot.

In women’s softball, Canada lost 4-0 to Australia. Coach Lori Sippel said she expects the loss to “sting” a bit for her players but said they played well against a difficult team.

Wrestler Ohenewa Akuffo (Brampton, Ont.) competed in the 72 kg event. She lost to a world champion Bulgarian in the quarter-final before dropping a repechage match to Spain in an attempt to reach the bronze medal match.

“Fighting the world champion right away was kind of a motivation for me,” Akuffo said. “My last fight was close, it was quite a battle! I didn’t win it, but at the end of the day, that’s what sport is all about. This is still great, there are four female weight classes, we got two medals out of that, so we have a lot of potential in female wrestling in Canada!”

Men’s water polo had its best result so far, tying Britain 1-1. The goal was scored by Toronto’s Ken Pereira. They play South Africa next.

In equestrian jumping action, Eric Lamaze leads the way for Canada by finishing second in a qualifier. Ian Millar, in his ninth Olympic Games, was 16th in his qualifier. Malcolm Cone was 30th and Gillian Henselwood 44th. The jumping team, overall, sits in 4th spot after the first round.