They don’t wear gloves, the women of Fanshawe Lake. You want to feel every nuance of oar and water, veteran rower Darcy Marquardt, a natural leader in the women’s eight, explained over breakfast at James Place, a London, Ont., restaurant near their training centre. If it costs you pain, well, you get over it. Lauren Wilkinson, a rookie powerhouse in the eight, nods in agreement. It’s her hands we’re looking at: bandaged and battered and beautiful. She holds in those hands, in every callus and blister, the story of the quest for the other London—the 2012 Summer Games.
They’re all business, these women in the eight. Four of them were in Beijing in 2008 when they were edged out of a bronze medal by a last-ditch sprint by the Dutch. “It’s not going to happen again,” says Marquardt. “It’s just down to business,” says Wilkinson. “It’s about getting on that podium, and getting to the middle of the podium,” says Ashley Brzozowicz.
So, yeah, there’s pain and purpose every day in every boat. The Associated Press predicts the Canadian women’s eight will win silver, behind the U.S. The women of Fanshawe Lake beg to differ. They came second in the world championships in 2010—3.7 seconds behind the U.S. In 2011, the margin was 0.7 of a second. This May it was a photo finish, the Americans ahead by just 0.03 of a second. What does it take to overcome the blink of an eye? More work. More pain.This spring, the women had a first row in the racing shell they’ll use on the Eton Dorney course. A beaver watched from the shore of Fanshawe Lake: an omen, they like to think.
You only control the outcome of your boat; Canada’s boat. The plan is to deliver an Olympic race, every stroke of the two kilometres. The gloves are off.