Canadian rowers ponder future after coach's controversial departure
Members of Canada's men's eights rowing team are contemplating their future in the sport following coach Mike Spracklen's controversial departure.
The rowers, who won silver at the London Olympics this summer, made the comments Thursday after participating in a tribute for the 75-year-old Spracklen, who lost his job earlier this week.
Rowing Canada announced Spracklen's departure on its website but did not describe the move as either a firing or a resignation.
No reasons were given, but Spracklen has had a fractious relationship with the governing body for a number of years.
"All along (since the Olympics), I've been on the fence about whether I want to (leave) or not," said two-time Olympian Andrew Burns of Toronto, who also won gold under Spracklen in 2008 at the Beijing Games. "This plays a role and who they hire plays a role in determining what I decide to do with the team.
"I'm here to win. I want to be on a team that's successful and I'm going to (want to) feel going into Rio that this team has that chance at success. That depends on the organization, the coaches, and the other athletes around there. Those are all things that will factor into my decision."
As part of Thursday's tribute for Spracklen on a lake in suburban Victoria, supporters put their boats in the water and staged a mass start as he rode alongside in a motorized boat. The event was held after Spracklen finished training a group of junior rowers at a local club, helping a coach who is recuperating from a neck injury suffered in a boating accident.
Burns said several other members of the men's eights team are in the same position as he is, adding that Spracklen's departure and eventual replacement will affect their decisions.
"There's no substitute for hard work for winning Olympic medals," said Burns, 29, who has been a member of the team since 2006. "It's going to take a lot out of the next four years. You need a good coach, for sure."
Burns, a dual Canadian-American citizen, said Spracklen's presence influenced his decision to row for Canada when he was trying to choose between the two countries.
Spracklen's many successes during two stints with the Canadian program included silver in the men's eights this summer and Olympic gold in the same event in 1992, 2000 and 2008.
Jerry Brown, a member of the 2012 silver-medal crew, said he is also contemplating his future. The 26-year-old from Cobourg, Ont., said his decision will be "highly personal," but that Spracklen's departure will also play a role.
"I am very disappointed, because I know Mike wanted to continue to coach, and I haven't been coached by some of the others," said Brown, a former McMaster University football player who started training under Spracklen some 20 months ago.
"I know in my heart that, if I wanted to do it again at a high level and I wanted to win a medal, Mike's the only guy I know — right now — that can take me there."
Spracklen, who is expected to coach in another country, only spoke briefly with reporters on Thursday.
"It's nice to see these people down here," he said.
Silken Laumann blasts Rowing Canada
Members of the 1992, 2002, 2008 and 2008 eights crews were among the supporters at the tribute, along with three-time Olympic medallist Silken Laumann, who has blasted Rowing Canada's decision to part ways with Spracklen.
"This is where I know him most deeply — on the lake," said Laumann, standing on a dock beside the water before she rowed. "This is his home. This is our home."
Laumann — who has contended the move was based on politics rather than Spracklen's track record — said the tribute was also a protest.
"Athletes have spoken so clearly and so loudly over what has happened to Mike and what's happening in the system right now," she said.
Laumann, who trained under Spracklen between 1990 and 1996, said she would not have the success she had if it were not for the coach.
A native of Marlow, England, Spracklen helped her win bronze in 1992 when she overcame a broken leg suffered just 10 weeks before the Barcelona Games.
Laumann praised Spracklen for having the courage to go back on the water after being ousted by Rowing Canada.
"Here's a guy who's just been fired by Rowing Canada, and he's not home licking his wounds," said Laumann.
The tribute was organized by Kevin Light, a member of Canada's 2008 gold-medal eights crew and the 2011 silver-medal squad.
Light only made the team after he won a race-off with fellow rower Scott Frandsen, who has criticized Spracklen's methods and pushed for his dismissal. Spracklen has claimed that Frandsen had a "vendetta" against him because, after losing the row-off, he was forced to settle for silver in pairs in Beijing and missed a chance at gold.
Spracklen declined to discuss the issue Thursday.
"Do you really want to go down that road?" he asked. "There's nothing to be gained from it. There's nothing for me to gain. I'm going. End of story."