The process of finding athletes who can survive in this sort of environment is not an easy task and is the reason we have an “open camp”. Basically any rower who has at least shown a basic level of skill or potential is allowed to train alongside the best rowers in Canada.
The top rowers/athletes are given Mikes full attention and the best equipment. These rowers then received the opportunity to represent Canada at the World Championships or Olympic Games. Newcomers often think that incumbents are protective or territorial to their positions. In fact, the opposite was true, my teammates and I were always excited if a new or good athlete came into the mix that had potential. We saw them as having something to offer the program that could elevate all of our end games.
“Newcomers often think that incumbents are protective or territorial to their positions. In fact, the opposite was true, my teammates and I were always excited if a new or good athlete came into the mix that had potential. We saw them as having something to offer the program that could elevate all of our end games.”
In 2007 this athlete was Jake Wetzel, he was a 2004 Olympic Silver medallist who had taken the past two years off to sort out an injury and work on his PhD. Jake was a talented athlete who had demonstrated in the past he had the capabilities to be the best in the world, his team missed a gold medal by only .08 of a second at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Our training group at the time was filled with strong and talented athletes, but had not had a top performance in two years. In addition we had some new young talent in the group that had yet to reach their full potential. This was an opportunity for all of us to come together and start making something gel. In January Jake arrived, three months after the camp had opened and we were gearing up for our Olympic qualifying year. Competition was fierce to get into the top boats, which would have the best chance at a medal at the world championships and Olympic qualification.
Jake was a threat to many of the athletes including myself since he rowed out starboard side. In sweep rowing we each only have one oar and it takes time to develop a specific side, similar to hockey and golf. However we knew if we could harness Jake’s power and expertise we would all be better off, even the athletes not selected for the crew. I will try to explain this; we are all now going to try harder to ensure we are not the last guys selected to the crew so if and when Jake gets back up to speed we would not get ousted from the boat. In effect, allowing all of us to push harder than would have been achieved prior to Jakes arrival.
Now I can imagine that this might be intuitive in most teams selections; bring in the good out with the bad, overall everyone seems better. However, rowing is one of a few unique team events in that is timed. No goals, no referees, no special teams, no power-play, less random chance is involved, just pure performance. So for those of the team who perhaps saw their opportunity for rowing in the men’s 8+ slipping away with Jakes arrival, they were still given the opportunity to grow in the open camp. They would then try for another boat and with the opportunity to prove that if he was good enough to win a gold medal in the eight man boat he was also good enough to win a medal in the four man or two man boat.
No farm teams, no minor leagues, just a different position on the lake to fine tune your abilities.
By March our eight man team was doing well, it had just won the first world cup of the season. And our boat was an early contender for the gold at the world championships four months away. Jake had only been training for four months at this point, and was not exactly in top form, but our coach recommended the team accept him due to his past performances and athletic talent. Now for some this meant they were going to be taken out of the boat and possibly their chances of becoming a World Champion had been lost. But, for others left in the boat this meant they had a chance at reviving a proven performer who could add to the performance of a crew.
In the end, Jake lived up to his past performances and was selected for the team. He was later able to step into a leadership position within the team. That year we won the world championships by the largest margin in the men’s 8 in over 20 years. Our size of victory is comparable to the margin that sprinter, and fellow Gold Medalist, Husain Bolt takes over his field.
“We sat on the start line in Beijing believing we were ready to perform at our best only because the combined beliefs within ourselves, teammates, coach and training program allowed us to do so.”
Nothing stopped our team from looking at ways to improve, even if it meant putting our own spot on the team at risk. We were dedicated to our team’s success and if there was an individual that was going to elevate us we would explore it. We sat on the start line in Beijing believing we were ready to perform at our best only because the combined beliefs within ourselves, teammates, coach and training program allowed us to do so. This came from a unique program that made us accept responsibility for our own performances and give respect to others. And with that we claimed the top position at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, even if it meant a few bowels coming loose along the way.
Thanks again so much for that Ben. To me this attitude shows incredible perspective. It all comes down to this in terms of attitude: ”We sat on the start line in Beijing believing we were ready to perform at our best only because the combined beliefs within ourselves, teammates, coach and training program allowed us to do so.” Nobody on that boat wanted anything other than the best for the team. In the words of a friend of mine, athletes all too often want to win by default and not because they earned it. In the end, everyone on this boat deserved to be there, and the boat was better because of it – in fact, it was the best in the world. Again, positive attitude, values, sportsmanship – these things aren’t just compatible with winning, they cause it too.
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