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Olympic rowers gather to support their fired coach

Oct 05 2012
Mike Spracklen farewell at Elk Lake from the many Olympic and high level rowers he has trained and coached. 

Mike Spracklen farewell at Elk Lake from the many Olympic and high level rowers he has trained and coached.

Photograph by: Bruce Stotesbury , Times Colonist

The late afternoon sun glanced off the water Thursday as many of Canada’s Olympic and world championship-medallist rowers gathered for a bittersweet last row on Elk Lake with legendary coach Mike Spracklen.

Spracklen’s contract was not renewed by Rowing Canada in a controversial move this week that many past and present national team rowers vehemently disagree with. They are, however, becoming resigned to the fact and gathered for a final row with their old coach.

“It’s emotional, no question,” said Barney Williams, 2004 Athens Olympics silver medallist in the Spracklen-coached Canadian men’s four.

“I would not be standing here if not for all Mike did for me. His legacy has infused these waters with excellence.”

Kyle Hamilton, now a Victoria lawyer who captained Spracklen’s Canadian 2008 Beijing Olympic men’s eight crew, has stepped down as the athlete representative on the Rowing Canada board in protest.

“Mike has meant a lot to every one of us,” said Hamilton.

“He’s a legend in the sport.”

Nobody at the lake Thursday disagreed.

“Our crew would not have realized our dreams without Mike. It’s as simple as that,” said John Wallace, captain of Spracklen’s 1992 Barcelona Olympic Canadian gold-medallist eight.

Silken Laumann, who won a lauded comeback-from-injury medal at the Barcelona Games while coached by Spracklen, tried to hold back her emotions.

“If everyone was wearing their medals today, the deck would sink,” she said.

“This lake is Mike’s home. This was our home.”

Spracklen spent his last day on the lake doing what he does best — helping coach a junior development women’s team. The usually stoic 75-year-old Brit was clearly overcome with feeling as his former rowers surprised him by coming down to the lake for a final row with him.

“It’s emotional, and emotions are important,” he said.

“It’s great to see all these people here.”

Dominic Seiterle, one of Spracklen’s Beijing 2008 gold-medallist rowers, said: “When I give talks on leadership and team work, Mike is the example I cite. This [firing] is a flawed decision and short-sighted.”

Rowing Canada gave no reason for its decision not to renew Spracklen’s contract.

“There are a lot of guys on the fence right now about Rio 2016. This will certainly affect some of their decisions,” said Andrew Byrnes, a member of the Spracklen-coached Beijing 2008 gold-medallist and London 2012 silver- medallist Canadian Olympic eights.

Even in the final time out on Elk Lake, some things didn’t change.

“When you go out with Mike, you know you’re going to sweat,” said London 2012 silver-medallist Jerry Brown, as the shells came into the dock Thursday for the last time with Spracklen at the helm.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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