The great Western space wars
Volleyball team ready to impale the competition
Morrow in spotlight, not limelight
The WWF: bigger, better
Morrow in spotlight, not limelight
By Julie Parkins
You won't find him front and centre at medal ceremonies. You won't see him enveloping his athletes in huge bear hugs as they finish their events. You may not even see him at all.
Al Morrow, head coach of Western's women's rowing team, Canada's national women's rowing team and Federation Internationale des Societes D'Aviron rowing coach of the year for 1999, prefers to stay in the shadows, letting his athletes enjoy the limelight.
"If there's a video camera half a kilometre away, I'll watch the [medal] ceremony on TV because that's for the athletes. They're the ones that raced the race and trained really hard and my role, in that context, is to facilitate that," Morrow said.
Naturally, Morrow added he isn't interested in the grandeur and pomp which can surround successful coaches and athletes. "I don't deal with issues of how great someone is. It's just not important in my life."
Unfortunately, greatness just seems to follow him.
Since he began coaching for the national team in 1977, Morrow has coached some of Canada's greatest athletes. In fact, every woman Morrow took to the 1992 or 1996 Olympic Games came away with a medal, providing plenty of opportunities for him to directly receive accolades for his part in their achievements. Yet Morrow's role has always been more elusive, developing both the mind and the body of the athletes he coaches.
"He really seems to care about us as individuals, as human beings, not just as athletes," said Allison Korn, member of the national women's heavy weight boat. "He asks us what our plans are for our time off and wants us to mix hard training with a balanced life and good relationships."
Dafydd Davies, a fifth-year veteran of the men's lightweight rowing team, said although Morrow typically works with the women, he still finds time to help the men with their techniques. Davies added Morrow has personally helped him get his boat moving.
"He's a great coach. In my opinion, one of the best coaches in the world. He has a good working relationship with his athletes he respects them and they respect him back. It's the mutual respect that lets his athletes learn from him," Davies said.
Rowing entered Morrow's life in 1965 when a friend invited him to come down to the Leander rowing club in Hamilton and try it out. From 1970 to 1973 he rowed with the varsity team at Western, while also spending time on the varsity waterpolo team. In 1973, he was awarded the "Purple Blanket," granted to Western athletes who have contributed to varsity teams for many years.
While finishing his political science degree at Western, Morrow also enjoyed a stint on the Canadian national rowing team. "It was a weak period in the national team program and I actually made the team five times between 1970 and 1976. But I was never really an accomplished rower," he said.
Morrow started his coaching career soon after, while at the University of British Columbia, completing a physical education degree. "I was coaching virtually voluntarily. I kind of jumped into it with both feet very early and I really enjoyed it."
The West Coast remained his home until 1988 when Morrow moved to London, Ontario to take the reins as the director of the National Training Centre at Fanshawe Lake.
Since moving to London, Morrow said he has continued to develop his coaching style, philosophy and the strength of the athletes he coaches. At the same time, he has accumulated an impressive array of achievements. In 1998, he was inducted into Western's athletic hall of fame and in 1993, he was awarded a spot in the Canadian Olympic hall of fame. That same year, he received the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General.
So what is it about rowing which has kept him involved in it for so long? "I buy into the principle of sport. If it's managed properly it's a wonderful thing. You're healthy, you meet neat people, you can learn good values and it's a practical learning lab for kids and adults," he said.