Lessons Learned from a Disappointing Olympics

Since the London Olympics came to a close, I’ve had a lingering feeling of an opportunity lost.
I find myself going through waves of overwhelming disappointment mixed with an appreciation for the uniqueness of the overall experience. We didn’t get the result that we knew we were capable of (we finished sixth in the men’s pair ), but the journey has been incredibly rewarding and another reminder of how much I love training for and competing in the Olympics.

We had a great race in our opening heat, edging out to a comfortable lead in the middle 1,000 meters and controlling the race from out in front. It was a good start to the regatta. We drew New Zealand (the clear favourites in our event) in the semifinal but knew that with a solid race we would be able to finish in the top three and advance to the final.

We didn’t have a bad race, but the ease and flow that we normally have wasn’t quite there and we found ourselves working a lot harder for our speed. As a result, we had to dig incredibly deep in the sprint to the line to qualify for the final. It was a mediocre performance that knocked our confidence slightly and set us up poorly for the lane draw in the final.

We got a bit lucky in the draw, though, and ended up in lane 6, which was the favoured lane in the persistent crosswind that the London rowing course is known for. That went a long way to “righting the ship” and getting us back on track mentally. It hadn’t all gone to plan up to that point, but we had a good lane and we were excited to go out and race for a medal.

On the morning of the final, the rowing organizing body decided to re-draw the lanes to give priority to the crews that had won the semifinals. There were three steps that should have happened first, but they jumped straight to step four. Not ideal for us. Rather than be in lane 6 as originally drawn, we were out in lane 2. We went on the water with nothing to lose - we just wanted to have our best race and be in the hunt with 500m to go, and then empty ourselves to get on that podium.

We got off the line well and into a quick, efficient rhythm. We were high (40 strokes per minutes) but it didn’t feel too high. We were firing well together and it felt fast. I had gotten too distracted by the other boats in our semi, so I forced myself to not look out of the boat at all. Just concentrate on our rhythm and our boat. It felt like things were going really well.

When we took a quick look around at 500m to go, it was surprising and disheartening to see that we weren’t really in the race. The wind gods didn’t smile on us that day, but even with that, we should have been able to rise above everything and achieve what we had set out to do. It was a difficult pill to swallow and those six minutes of racing left us disappointed, frustrated and confused.


Disappointed but thankful

While we didn’t get the result that had been expected of us, I want to thank the different organizations that have supported us through the past two years. Own the Podium, the Canadian Olympic Committee, and Sport Canada have provided the funding to allow Dave and I and our group to do all of the different types of training that our coach, Terry Paul, and team of physiologists have outlined for us. We have fought for this program and have been able to do almost everything that we asked for. Part of the disappointment that we feel in all of this is from letting all of these organizations down.

The funding has been there and it has made us much better athletes. Unfortunately, we just didn’t deliver when we needed to. Canada is doing a great job in trying to keep up with other countries like Australia and Great Britain in terms of athletic funding and I think we will continue to see the benefits of these programs in the years to come.

Rather than focus on the final step where we stumbled and didn’t achieve what we could have, I’m choosing to focus on what we did do. We forced the establishment of another training group for athletes against a huge amount of resistance. We created a positive environment that encourages athletes and gave a lot of athletes that would have been or had already been worn down and cast aside, the opportunity to succeed. And they did. We qualified more boats for this Olympics (for heavyweight men) than we have since 1996.

It was exciting and fun and the hardest I’ve ever trained. There is this idea out there that fun and exciting also equal easy. That’s not the case. We worked hard and our scores improved dramatically. We forced the beginning of change, which will hopefully continue into the next quadrennial. It’s time to turn the page and be done with this last chapter.

Legendary Canadian rower Marnie McBean once told me that winning an Olympic medal doesn’t change who you are. Having won a silver in 2008, I totally agree. It’s a great achievement and what we’re all striving for, but it’s who you are in this pursuit of excellence that truly defines you.

Tannis Peterson