Western rowers racing toward Olympics

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Tim Colson and Cam Sylvester

Courtesy Bent Jensen

IF I HEAR ONE MORE JOKE ABOUT MY LOVE OF (H)OARS.... Tim Colson and Cam Sylvester are currently training in Victoria, B.C. in hopes of cracking the Olympic roster.

Western alumnus and rower John Beare had his Olympic debut in 2004 in Athens, Greece, where he competed in the lightweight men’s four and finished fourth overall for Canada.

Current Western students and rowers Tim Colson and Cam Sylvester could soon be following in his wake.

After finishing second and third respectively at the 2007 National Championships regatta, the athletes have put their university careers on hold to train in Victoria, B.C., with hopes of qualifying for the 2008 summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

Sylvester described the atmosphere at the National Training Centre as a dog-eat-dog world.

“No one ever has a safe seat in any boat,” he said. “Essentially you stay in the boat as long as you stay the fastest.”

In order to stay competitive, Colson and Sylvester take part in intense training sessions that occur twice a day Tuesday to Saturday and once a day on Sunday and Monday.

“The whole speed improvement seems to happen on its own, especially when the intensity and volume of training has increased so dramatically,” Sylvester said. “Since being out here I have gotten a lot faster.

“It’s also a lot easier to improve when there aren’t other distractions, like balancing an academic schedule with training.”

Despite having to put an entire semester of school on hold to compete, Colson said he tried to maintain some connection to his academics.

“I am still doing a course online which was initially designed to take my mind off rowing,” he said. “But instead it destroys my much-needed days off.”

Sylvester had no problem leaving Western behind.

“I was given the opportunity to put school on hold to do what I love,” he said. “However, there were quite a few logistics to sort out.”

Colson and Sylvester are among four rowers competing to go to the Olympic trials. Doug Vandor and former Western rower Matt Jensen are also competing to be the fastest.

Out of the four, the two fastest rowers will be paired together and will travel to Poland this June for the World Cup.

Unfortunately, only the top two placing boats at this regatta will be eligible to compete in Beijing this August.

Colson attributes a lot of his success to his training at Western.

“The program that [Western rowing coach Volker Nolte] puts together, particularly during the off-season, really helped me develop to a point where I could try to make the leap to the national team,” he said.

Tim Colson and Cam Sylvester

Given that Colson and Sylvester have been rowing together for a couple of years, they know that the chemistry between two rowers can be a significant aspect of a race.

“Part of the reason that Tim and I have done so well in the double the past three years is because we communicate well with each other during training " ultimately this improves boat speed,” Sylvester said.

“I can think of a lot of crews off the top of my head that don’t have the same crew dynamic through training and racing and consequently never really gel.”

Although rowers have to remain honest and critical of each other in order to succeed, civility is necessary as well, Colson said.

“We are all pretty good at keeping it on the water,” he said. “For me, once this is all over and done with, regardless of how selection pans out, I would be able to say I made, maintained and strengthened some friendships along the way.”

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