Argonaut Olympian Issue #3
We are honouring our past and present Olympians by documenting their achievements and establishing a permanent archive. An Argonaut Olympian is an athlete who has been a competitive member of the club prior to competing at the Olympic games. Until 1972, athletes represented their club as well as their country at the Olympics. In 1976 a national team system was developed in Canada, thus ending club representation at the games. Other than footnoting this difference, there is no other discrepancy between the two systems for the purpose of this exercise.
The Argonaut Rowing Club has produced more Olympic crews than any other club in North America while that system existed fielding a total of thirteen entries. Many more members have competed in National Team programs and have been winning gold medals at the Olympics and World Championships with consistency for nearly three decades. This is the third of the series, compiled non-chronologically, of our athletes that have donned the double blue and gone on to compete in the Olympic Games.
Part 3 – Shannon Crawford – 1992 Barcelona Olympics
Games of the XXVth Olympiad
On this, the 20th anniversary of the Barcelona Olympics, we celebrate that golden year, the year Canadian National Team programs pulled together and joined the world rowing order. In 1992 we won more gold medals in rowing than in every other sport combined and tied Germany in total wins despite injuries to several of our best rowers including Silken Laumann (single sculls) and Jenny Walinga (stroke of Women’s Eight).
Two of these wins were the big races - the men’s and women’s eights. A total of three Argonauts rowed in these crews and Shannon Crawford was one of them. A bastion of calm and strength in the engine room, her unforeseen last-minute addition to the eight proved to be a winning choice as they stole the lead and didn’t look back.
Little did she suspect in 1992 that 20 years later she would still be competing despite the challenges of a busy career and raising a family. With the Olympics mere weeks away, 2012 is a great time to look back and forward. The women’s eight is again threatening to win gold at the London Olympics. They have been second at the World Championships two years running and are now within a second of catching the powerful American crew.
Shannon is an excellent example of one who leads by example. She rose from taking the Argonaut LTR program to accepting every challenge presented to her and within six years was representing Canada at the Olympic games. This is her story.
The hook, seeds of Argos LTR program
In its infancy, the Argonaut Learn to Row Program scored some major talent with Marnie McBean in 1984 and then future Olympic teammate Shannon Crawford in 1986. Having moved to Toronto from her hometown of Norval, Ontario, water sports were a possibility and sister Kelly convinced her of just that. Not having competed in high school Shannon was simply looking for a physical outlet and decided to give rowing a go.
She took to the sport quickly in that first year under coach Manny Medeiros and teammates Jill and Clair Duff. Other coaches soon recognized her potential and she joined the women’s program coached by Michelle Boyes(Kerr) in 1987. In her first full year of competition she won Canadian Henley, North America’s largest crew regatta, in the Intermediate Women Coxed Four with teammates Jane Shepherd, Alison Turner, Anne Maenhaul and Barry Shaw coxswain. Some specs of memory from 25 years ago still linger. Shannon remembers wanting to ‘throttle’ Barry Shaw for yelling at her to ‘put in on those big legs’. She also remembers vowing never to row again after all that pain, a vow she would repeat and repeal each race thereafter. Others in that boat remember that day as well. Jane Shepherd explained the brief victory celebration in the cold and rain after the race was cut short as she had to prepare for her pairs race going off in less than an hour. She didn’t notice Shannon slip away and return minutes later with a steaming coffee to warm her up for that race. Shannon might not remember this 25 years later, but Jane (who won that race as well) still does.
In 1988 she rowed in the double with Lise Klassen aka Queen of Denmark (something about wearing pearls while rowing) and was coached by Jim Ingram and Olympian Steve Sandor. “Jim said we didn’t row well; we should just get it going like a bicycle and pull hard” Shannon said. Shannon was coached the next two years by Peter Cookson - recent High Performance Director at RCA. She rowed in the coxed four in ’89 with Julia Tremain, Debbie Stiles and Kathryn Barr with Francine Raymond coxie and in 1990 with Julia, Debbie, Mario Fabbro and Francine. In these years she picked up two more Henley gold medals, in pairs and the coxed four.
Peter Cookson describes her as a ‘superb athlete, very committed to the program’ and goes on to say:
“she was tremendously strong, probably the strongest woman in the program at that time. She was pretty new to the sport at that time but what struck me was her level of dedication… what she lacked in skill in the beginning was made up for by her commitment to every stroke of every training session. She loved to race and was always game to see what she could do in a race”.
From there, the opportunities kept coming for Shannon. She joined the National Team and won silver later that year at both the US Nationals and the Head of the Charles Regatta. In 1991 she saw Pan Am Games gold and silver in the coxed four and pair before heading to the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 – but as a spare…
Zen and Now, Shannon Crawford celebrates with teammates after their gold medal win at the Barcelona Olympics and again 20 years later at the Row for Gold gala at the Palais Royale in Toronto. Bottom picture from left coach Al Morrow, Shannon Crawford, Kirsten Barnes, Kathleen Heddle, Brenda Taylor, Julie Jespersen, Jenny Walinga, Megan Delehanty, Kay Worthington and cox Lesley Thompson. Absent from the picture is Marnie McBean.
Interview with Shannon Crawford
GS Please explain the genesis of your athletic career and when rowing gained prominence in it.
SC In my youth I never really considered myself to be an athlete. I didn’t excel at high school athletics so it wasn’t until I moved to Toronto and my sister Kelly suggested we do the Learn to Row at the Argonaut Club that I ever considered rowing.
GS After winning Henley Gold three years running in the late ‘80’s in pairs and fours did you start National Team dreaming?
SC No, I have never been that ambitious. I simply went with the flow of things. Often, after finishing a hard race, I remember thinking I’m not going to do this again but I took it one race and one year at a time. Opportunities were presented to me and I took them as they came.
GS Who influenced and helped mentor your development at the Argonaut Club?
SC Over the years I worked with several coaches at Argos including Jim Ingram, Brian Holland, Peter Cookson and Xavier Macia. There was however one person who knew a lot about how the club worked and provided me with lots of support in my early years rowing.
After my first year, when I didn’t have anyone to row with after turning senior, some guy with a moustache approached me in the weight room in the winter and said he had a single he didn’t row much and I was welcome to use it. We would just have to coordinate the use of the boat. I had no idea who this guy was but thought people lucky enough to own a single were quite possessive of - and careful with them. He just said he thought it was a shame to have potential but have nothing to do and maybe with a bit of encouragement something might happen for me. That was Larry Marshall, and that is what I love about rowing. I owe a lot to Larry, and to Argos.
GS After tasting success at Henley and US Nationals you went on to win silver and gold at the 1991 Pan Am games in Cuba; how did this affect or change you as an athlete?
SC The Pan Am team was what might have been the B team. The National Team was in Vienna at the Worlds, and the women won. These were women I had seen at the camps, and I knew I didn't belong in that elite group, but thought I would try, just to see. It was intimidating to go to a camp and walk among these God-like beings. I was in awe. In the spring of 1992 all the boats had been selected but the spare pair. I had to seat race Kelly Mahon, who had stroked the eight in Vienna in 1991. That was tough racing.
GS What parts of the gold medal race do you remember most vividly? Did you notice, were fazed or intimidated by the Germans or the Romanians?
SC The four had just won gold two days earlier (Thursday) and although they were relieved and confident that that test was over, I think we were all quietly terrified before the eight race. The anxiety to get the race under way so we could do something about the pressure, but not wanting to race because we know just how much it will hurt. I do remember the start, the Romanians huffing and puffing for minutes before the start performing breathing exercises and the Americans, holding hands and praying. I listened to Lesley's voice, and thought, it's working, we're ahead, and I haven't messed up yet.
GS How does the tension of racing at an Olympic games compare to a World Cup or World Championship race?
SC We were protected from many of the pressures associated with the media at the Olympics as they were banned from the athletes village. Al Morrow put us through the same routine every day to give us a sense of consistency. Race day started like every other day. We were one of the first teams to arrive at the village and this gave us a sense of ownership and confidence as the other teams arrived. When it was time to speak with the media Marnie (McBean) and Silken (Laumann) were more than happy to assume the roles of spokespeople for the team. Silken's story continues to captivate people, and at the time the media couldn't get enough of her. After winning it was completely different. I remember (Cdn Astronaut) Roberta Bondar visiting us in the athlete’s village and her saying “I can’t believe I’m meeting your guys” which stunned us because that is exactly what we were thinking about getting to meet her. The World Championship is very different, much more freedom. There are the usual autograph hounds, but much less media attention.
GS You followed your gold medal performance at the Olympics with a World Championship win in the 4- in 1993 and then retired. Any regrets about not sticking around for three more years?
SC I don’t have regrets about not sticking around for the ’96 games but I regret not going to the Commonwealth Games in 1994. Since I had medalled in the Olympics, Pan Am Games and World Championships, a Commonwealth Games medal would have rounded this off quite nicely. I was still training at the London High Performance Centre late in ’93 but then I met Bruce and suddenly rowing became less important, we ended up moving to Toronto and I retired from that aspect of the sport.
GS You held the rare position of being a spare but actually getting to row in the big race, what was that like?
SC It’s tricky being a spare, you have to be physically and mentally prepared to race but also mentally prepared not to race knowing that you won't get that outlet of racing. I trained a lot in the pair preparing for, but not expecting to get that chance. The hazard of being a spare is that if you are used and the boat wins, you are the spare that got lucky in a boat that would win anyhow. If the boat didn't win, it would be all your fault. The function of the spare is to be ready to go. Never did I think I would get used. You would never wish an injury to a crewmate, and I had such guilt. Jenny Walinga was a highly respected member of the rowing community, not just in Canada. If anyone deserved the gold medal, it was Jenny. Jenny was in the stands doing the commentary, and came down on to the dock when we received our medals. Brenda Taylor, who had won in the 4-, gave Jenny her medal then and there. So even though I replaced Jenny for the race, Jenny was a huge part of the boat. In many ways it was surreal, I had no family at the event as I only found out I was racing a few days in advance. I wasn’t really emotional after our win until I finally saw a familiar face outside of the crew - that of Maria Fabbro - near the exit of the venue, she gave me a hug. Seeing her, after our years of training at Argo's together, I knew it was over and the pressure was off.
GS In Europe, nearly half of Masters rowers previously competed on National Teams, not so much in North America. Is it any less rewarding winning the Head of the Charles in the Masters Category vs Club or Championship?
SC Nothing is as rewarding as winning at the highest level of competition, having trained at that level and at that intensity. Having said that the effort it takes to win any event at the Head of the Charles Regatta is a huge accomplishment. As a Masters rower balancing a life with family, work and training presents many new challenges, not all of which are physical, that need to be considered.
GS You have three sons approaching the age where they could potentially take up the sport. Doing some quick math there are probably no more than a hundred boys on the entire planet that have a Mom who has won rowing Gold at the Olympics, how cool is that? Has your love and dedication to the sport influenced their focus on their own dreams?
SC I’d like to think so. At 15, 14 and 11 they are approaching the age where they could take up the sport. My oldest two, both of whom are taller than me, took Camp Argo last summer and may well do so again this year.
The After (rowing) Life
Shannon Crawford (now Corley) has walked the tightrope of life and has found that elusive balance -enjoying a good life with husband Bruce and their three boys in Toronto, working downtown dispatching her calm confidence as an OR Nurse relieving stress filled situations. Oh and yes of course rowing and winning races. I’m not sure who first said “I’m not done yet” but I do know who said “I’ll never race again” but that was 25 years ago and promises made to oneself -when lactic induced -don’t count…
The big question
How many medals will Canadian rowers win at the 2012 games?
SC (after careful consideration) 4!
Shannon Crawford - Rowing Biography, Notable Achievements
- 1963 - Born and raised in Norval, ON.
- 1986 –Enrolled in Argonaut RC Learn to Row Program
- 1987 – Joined ARC Women’s program under Michelle Boyes (Kerr)
- 1987- Won first of three consecutive Henley Golds for Argos
- 1989- Attended Speed Orders, rowed pair with Maria Fabbro, Peter Cookson coach
- 1990 – Carded for National Team, competed at US Nationals, Al Morrow Coach
- 1991 – Competed at the Havana Pan Am Games
- 1992 – Competed at the Barcelona Olympic Games
- 1993 – Competed at Prague World Rowing Championships
- 1993 – Retired from National Team, moved to Toronto, rejoined Argos
- 2005 – Returned to racing, competed in HOCR regatta
- Current – OR Nurse in Toronto, mother of three, rower
- 1987 – Henley Gold Sr. Womens 4+ Argos
- 1988 – Henley Gold Sr. Womens 2x Argos
- 1988 – ARC Oarswoman of the Year
- 1989 – Henley Gold Sr. Womens 4+ Argos
- 1989 – Head of the Charles 2nd Women’s 4+ Argos
- 1990 – Head of the Charles 2nd Women’s 4+ Argos
- 1990 – US National Rowing Championships Silver Women’s 4+ Canada
- 1991 – Head of the Charles 2nd Women’s 4+ Argos
- 1991 – Pan American Games Cuba Gold Women’s 4+ Canada
- 1991 – Pan American Games Cuba Silver Women’s 2- Canada
- 1992 – Inductee, Brampton Sports Hall of Fame
- 1992 – Olympic Games Barcelona Gold Women’s 8+ Canada
- 1993 – FISA World Rowing Championships Prague Bronze Women’s 4- Canada
- 1993 – Henley Gold Sr. Womens 8+ Western Rowing Club
- 2005 – Head of the Charles 2nd Women’s 4+ TSC
- 2009 – Head of the Charles Gold Women’s 8+ TSC
- 2010 – Head of the Charles 2nd Women’s 8+ TSC
- 2011 – Head of the Charles Gold Women’s 8+ TSC
Medal Count - Rowing Events – Games of the XXVth Olympiad – Barcelona, SP
Grant Sommers 2012