We're used to hearing athletes in Canada complain that they just don't get enough money to adequately prepare themselves for the world stage. But, is it possible Rowing Canada has too much money? Has that prosperity led to problems?
Perhaps it was just frustration talking, but long time Rowing Canada coach Dave Mike Spracklen sounded off on the way the organization he works for does things after the men's eight finished last in its heat on Saturday, forcing them to qualify for Wednesday's gold medal row with a successful repechage showing this morning at Eton- Dorney rowing basin.
Spracklen's crew is into the final and will get another crack at the Germans (who finished far ahead of the Canucks in Saturday's heat) and everybody else on Wednesday, with medals hanging in the balance. Canada is trying to be the first nation to repeat in the men's eight since 1980.
Are things all square after this morning's repechage success? Or will Spracklen still be frosted by high expectations, too many cooks and not enough central commanding at Rowing Canada?
Talking with the Toronto Star's Dave Feschuk, Spracklen indicated the weight of Rowing Canada's spectacular funding as well as past success, leads people to a wrong impression:
"The problem is that people think it's easy to win."
Canada's past successes in this discipline, of which Spracklen has been a big part, seems a double-edged sword, after the decision was made to give healthier funding to organizations overseeing sports in which Canadians had the best chance of scoring medals.
Rowing, a traditonal boon for Canada at World Championships and Olympics alike, got 7 million dollars (according to The Star article) from the "Own The Podium" program in the four years between the Olympics of Beijing and these London Games.
While groups like Rowing Canada are robustly funded, athletes like Toronto's Donna Vakalis, are left scrambling to fill the sometimes sizeable cash gaps by raising money themselves. Trakalis, competing in the modern pentathalon, recently cobbled together enough money to by the laser-sighted gun she needed for the shooting portion of the competition, but remains well in the fundraising hole, according to her website.
All that cabbage should be a good thing, for Rowing Canada, right? Shouldn't money cure all ailments? Better to be rolling in it than begging for it, no?
Not according to Spracklen. Not when all those loonies are used to spread the work out in a decentralized fashion, which is precisely the way Rowing Canada went in 2010. Again, from the Star:
"Why was the team divided into smaller teams? … To win more medals, right? We're finding out that doesn't work. If you divide your resources, if you divide your athletes, your chances are smaller, not bigger."
Spracklen's not alone in feeling Rowing Canada may have outsmarted itself in figuring out how to divvy up all that cash. The Director of High Performance for Rowing Canada, Peter Cookson, reveals that he's grudgingly in agreement with Spracklen:
"We believe in a centralized system. But we believe we can create good boats out of (the current situation)."
Again, not all is lost with the Canadian rowing team. Far from it.
While there has been no shortage of disappointments so far, the women's eight had a spectacular showing in their heat on Sunday, propelling themselves to an easy win and a gold medal showdown with their arch rivals, the Americans, Thursday. That crew is coached, not by Spracklen, but by John Keogh and Al Morrow. Spracklen's 8 man crew, as mentioned, rebounded from a terrible heat on Saturday, in which they finished last, to finish second in their repechage on Monday. If they've recaptured their form, there's every chance they can hit the podium on Wednesday, if not repeat their gold medal showing at Beijing.
Then, everything may just be okey dokey.
If it all falls apart, perhaps "Own The Podium" and Rowing Canada would be good enough, in future, to spread the wealth around. The problem of how to spend so much money is one Olympians like Donna Vakalis would love to have. Recently, her friends and supporters fired up an email campaign in an attempt to bolster her fundraising.
By the way, if you'd like to help Donna out, you can donate to her through her website.