Western represents at Beijing Olympics

Sylvester has disappointing finish after promising start

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Cam Sylvester and teammate Douglas Vandor rowing

Courtesy of Cam Sylvester

YOU FART, I'M GOING TO KILL YOU. Mustang rower Cam Sylvester recently spent some time with The Gazette to discuss his Olympic experience.

It’s no secret that Western boasts a reputation for athletic prestige. One might even consider the school a breeding ground for elite-level athletes, so it comes as no surprise that varsity rower Cameron Sylvester competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics this past August.

The native of Caledon, Ontario, who started rowing with his high school’s rowing program back in grade nine, admits it was love at first ‘stroke.’

“Their resources were really primitive, but getting in the boat and taking my first strokes was enough to get me hooked,” Sylvester said.

Although his budding career has already taken him across the world, getting there has not been an easy task. He described his demanding training regimen as instrumental to his success.

“At the National team training centre in Victoria, we train one to two times a day, seven days a week,” he said. “It works out to about 25-30 hours of training a week.”

Western rowing head coach Volker Nolte attributes Sylvester’s international achievement to his dedication and commitment.

“Cam took advantage of the opportunities that were presented to him, went out every year to the National training centre and always came back as a better person and athlete,” Nolte said.

Sylvester’s athleticism was acknowledged by flocks of Olympic fans that greeted him at the airport upon his arrival in Beijing.

“The initial arrival at the airport was a little crazy,” he said. “Chinese [people] were flocking chaotically trying to get pictures and autographs. It was a funny feeling because we knew that none of them recognized us.”

In an attempt to avoid the distraction of the crowds, Sylvester sought refuge in a hotel to remain focused.

“The opening ceremonies were a day and a half before our first race and didn’t finish until the early hours, so like many of the athletes, we chose to stay at our hotel and stay well prepared for racing.”

This proved to be an effective strategy as Sylvester and his partner Douglas Vandor finished with the fifth fastest preliminary time and qualified for the semi-finals.

As Nolte sat transfixed by his television watching Sylvester compete, he was overcome with memories of a much younger Sylvester struggling to make varsity.

“I remembered the young athlete Cam when he showed up for the first time in our Western camp,” he said. “I remembered when I watched him in his first kilometres on Fanshawe Lake.”

Nolte acknowledged that Sylvester’s preliminary performance proved just how far he’s come.

“I saw the tremendous improvements in his skill, technique and physical power,” he said. “It was rowing at its best. They were, as we say, flying.”

“After finishing the first race, Doug and I both knew that we had a great shot of making the A final and that we were somewhat in the hunt,” Sylvester said. He went on to describe the misfortune that eventually resulted in a sub-par semi-final race.

“Unfortunately Doug picked up some kind of viral infection that made him quite ill,” Sylvester said. “He was so sick for the final that the replacement athlete John Sas had to sub in.

Cam Sylvester and Douglas Vandor after the race

“John and I had never rowed together before, so this led to a poor performance.”

Disappointment aside, Sylvester soaked up the Olympic experience in the Village.

“On our third day in the Village, we saw Roger Federer, Yao Ming and a couple of the top 100-metre sprinters.”

With such prominent athletes kicking around, it’s no wonder the media was overwhelming.

“Everywhere you look, there’s cameras,” he said. “There’s actually a designated ‘media dock’ that you have to stop at after racing before putting your boat away.”

Fellow varsity rower Paul Hammond commented on the impact that Sylvester’s success has had on the team.

“It’s great having someone on the team who has accomplished so much,” Hammond said.

“For a lot of the guys it’s a goal to compete at that level and having him here sets a benchmark. It helps to make the team better,” Nolte agreed.

“He will be an inspiration for this year’s rowers and those to come in the next years,” he said. “Cam showed that you can successfully do your university work and prepare to perform on the very best level in the world.”

Despite a disappointing result, Sylvester regards his Olympic experience as a stepping-stone in his promising rowing career.

“It’s not the final product of the race that determines the experience, it’s about the process,” he said. “When I look back, our result wasn’t outstanding. Doug ended up getting sick, and we didn’t place as well as we’d hoped.

“But in a mere four months, we established enough boat speed to qualify and compete in the Olympics. That alone is enough to keep me smiling.”

Sharing a laugh with Cam Sylvester after the Beijing Olympic Games

What was the most memorable aspect of the culture in Beijing?
I got to try some neat foods, like marinated pig knuckle and ox tail. Dog was on my wish list but apparently that was taken off the restaurant menus during the Olympics.

On the morning of your preliminary race, what did you eat for breakfast?
A concoction of sheep and cow blood, mixed with bat guano. Just kidding. Toast with jam.

Did you show your Mustang roots and party hard in Beijing?
I am sure anyone in the position where they can’t remember the last time they had three consecutive beers in a row would do the same...

Who were the hardest partying athletes?
Definitely the Kiwis. They would usually show up downtown in other team outfits. A couple of the rowers I met showed up in either a New Zealand triathlon suit or a New Zealand swimming suit. That always sets the standard for a good night of debauchery.

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