Road To The Olympic Games

McBean withdraws from Olympics

For Marnie McBean, Sydney was supposed to be something truly special. A final ride in the global spotlight for the Canadian rowing star. In what she promised would be her last Olympics, McBean had a chance at a fourth Olympic gold.

But on Tuesday, McBean, fighting back tears, announced she was withdrawing from the Sydney Games because of back pain.

"This is so hard," said the three-time Olympic gold medallist.

"I don't want to give up and stop hoping because my spirit is not about that but I am not going to be foolish and row in great pain because that's not what rowing is about to me."

McBean began experiencing severe lower back pain and spasms in her hamstring when she arrived at the Canadian Rowing Teams training center in Rockhampton, Australia. MacBean, never one to quit early, was in such pain out on the water that she was unable to return to shore.

"When I was in my boat on that fateful afternoon and I had to tell Al (coach Morrow) that I could not physically row in (to the shore), I've never had to say anything more difficult. I could barely breathe, I knew then it was bad."

An MRI test showed a disc protrusion in her spine.

"When he (the doctor in Rockhampton) asked if I wanted the bad news or the really bad news, I knew then that this part of my Olympic dream was over."

The injury may in fact take its toll well past the Olympics. Though a spokesman for IMG, the sports management company that represent McBean, said it too early to tell what the long-term effects of the injury will be, McBean herself spoke reflectively on the matter, almost as if she was looking back on a career that is about to end.

"I love rowing. It's always been fun for me. It's always been a challenge, dream, a game," said McBean.

"I want to be able to enjoy my sport again, maybe not at the elite level but I want to compete and to play a rowing for the rest of my life."

According to long-time sculls partner Kathleen Heddle, going out with an injury was not the way McBean wanted her competitive career to end.

Heddle said her former partner knew she was a podium long shot, but still wanted to go to Sydney and race a strong race.

"I think her goal going into Sydney was to just have a good race and go out with something she could feel good about because she has been struggling a little bit over the summer."

Heddle, who teamed with McBean to win four Olympic medals, said she's unsure whether the retirement will last.

"I think she probably hasn't decided. I'm sure she hasn't made that call yet because it's all so new."

McBean is the only rower to win a medal in every Olympic and World Championship crew boat class. She has 12 Olympic and world championship medals, including gold medals in the sweep oar pairs and the eight from the 1992 Olympics and in the double sculls from the 1996 Games.

McBean was scheduled to compete in the single sculls event in Sydney.

Rowing Canada can replace her, most likely with a reserve rower from the eight squad. But the eight remains the priority.

"Being on the sidelines is not something I'm accustomed to," said McBean, "but I will be in Sydney to offer whatever support I can to my team mates."