Rough waters don't dampen rower’s spirit

Masters Games led rower to Toronto — in Australia

Richard MacFarlane’s passion for rowing steered him into Sydney, Australia for the 2009 World Masters Games.

The 55-year-old oarsman traveled with eight other members of the Hanlan Boat Club to compete against the world in competitive regattas from Oct. 14 to 18.

For MacFarlane, the son of famed Canadian journalist J. Douglas MacFarlane, it was his third time at the games.

Racing for 36 years, starting at Brock University in 1973, he took part in his first Masters competition in Toronto in 1985.

Twenty years later he was back at the games in Edmonton.

But visiting Sydney in October was a wonderful opportunity for him.

“It was a great country to see,” he said. “The people are very friendly and outgoing and just very exciting to be on an Olympic course.”

It’s also place that holds sentimental value for him.

A history buff, he uncovered a source of Canadian pride in a small Aussie town he had visited named after Hogtown.

“I went to Toronto, New South Wales, and that was a city that was renamed in 1884 in honour of Ned Hanlan who was the great sculler of Toronto, (Canada).”

The world champion oarsman from 1880 to 1884, who tallied 300 single match victories with only six losses according to MacFarlane, was out-rowed by Australian blacksmith William Beach.

“Australians were so honoured with this Hanlan guy, they renamed the city.”

Though the spirit of Hanlan didn’t boost MacFarlane’s ranking in the five competitions he rowed in (he failed to qualify for the second round in any of them) the Forest Hiller had a boatload of fun.

“I think the overall reaction is I had a lot of fun, and I made the most of opportunities I had,” he said, adding his partner for the two double races, Colin Hughes was fantastic.

“We did very, very well for training only a dozen times and Colin had only been rowing for a year,” he said. “He’s younger and I’m the old guy — he’s making me feel young.”

Rough winds put the kibosh on the last two days of racing in suburban Sydney, which disappointed MacFarlane.

“You could barely make your way down the course,” he recalled. “In fact it took me over seven minutes to get down the course that would normally take four or five minutes.

“There were six or seven boats that dumped that day, and people rescued out of the lake. It was insane.”

With his years of experience, MacFarlane has noticed the changing tide within sculling, especially when it comes to gender politics.

“When I started, women in Canada just started rowing,” he said. “The officials said women couldn’t race more than a thousand metres.”

But respected scullers like Silken Laumann and Emma Robinson proved them wrong, as they revived Canada’s reputation as rowers, MacFarlane said.

“They have built Canadian rowing back to where it was in a very short space of time,” he said. “At the turn of century we were already there with the male single scullers but the doldrums came along and it was the women who picked it up, and we’re kicking ass everywhere.

“We’re not to be taken lightly anymore.”

About this article:

By: Brian Baker
Posted: Dec 4 2009 2:48 pm
Filed in: Sports
Edition: Toronto