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Canada’s women’s eight rows strongly into Olympic final; men’s eight looking for answers

The Canadian women's eight in the Olympic 1500 m heat, on Sunday. (Reuters)

A tale of two eights, when it comes to Canada's fortunes in the Eton rowing basin at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

While the men struggled mightily in their qualifying heat, finishing last and being forced to row in a repechage, Monday, for a place in the finals, the women were all oars in the water in their qualifier on Sunday, easily winning their heat and earning a berth in Thursday's final.

It will be another chapter in what has become a serious rivalry with the American women. Just a few weeks ago, at the World Cup, the Canadians were nipped at the wire by the U.S. by 3/100ths of a second.

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Based on time alone, the Canadians were faster than the Americans today, clocking a 1500 metre time of just under 6 minutes and 14 seconds. The U.S. time was about 3/4 of a second off the Canadian mark, in a separate heat. However, the Americans may just have eased up a little more than Canada, as they blasted the field in their qualifier, cruising to a margin of more than 6 seconds over the runners-up.

Leaving little doubt from the first strokes, when they jumped out to an immediately lead, the Canadian women rowed to an easy win, leaving Romania nearly 3 seconds back, in second, followed by the third place Netherlands.

While the women seem poised for the podium, there is concern over the Canadian men, a young crew that may just have felt the pressure of Olympic competition.

Canada is the defending Olympic champion in men's eight, but this is a very different team, carrying 6 first time Olympians. Even so, it was thought to be a decent bet to become the first nation to repeat as a gold medallist in the event since 1980. Setting a world - best time in their performance at the World Cup just a few weeks ago, they seemed ready to add another chapter to Canada's sterling rowing record. They may yet turn the trick, it's just that the challenge is a little more difficult, with another qualifying race being their reward for finishing well back in Saturday's heat against the Germans, Brits and Dutch.

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Monday, at the Eton rowing basin, the Canucks can earn a spot in the final by finishing anywhere in the top four in the repechage.

But, if they make Wednesday's final, they'll need a much better performance to duel with the likes of the Germans, who left the Canadians well back on Saturday.

Saturday's failure seems to be a bit of a mystery to the Canadian connections. Coxswain Brian Price told Postmedia:

"I know what we have because I train with these guys every day. I know we have the ability. There's so much psychology that comes into performing in a big race. That's the barrier we have to overcome. We have to bust that down."

No such troubles for the women, it seems. They might be ready to pull off the upset and beat the powerful American team in Wednesday's gold medal final. At the very least, a place on the podium seems a good bet, after a big performance today.

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What to watch, Sunday, July 29th
Photos: Day one of Canada at the Olympics
Video: Despatie says he's lucky to be in London

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