Sports

Mark Oldershaw wins bronze medal 0

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
Canada's Mark Oldershaw competes in the canoe single (C1) 1000m men's semifinals during the London 2012 Olympic Games, at Eton Dorney Rowing Centre in Eton, west of London, on August 6, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/DAMIEN MEYER)

Canada's Mark Oldershaw competes in the canoe single (C1) 1000m men's semifinals during the London 2012 Olympic Games, at Eton Dorney Rowing Centre in Eton, west of London, on August 6, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/DAMIEN MEYER)

ETON-DORNEY, England - 

In his hotel room here, Mark Oldershaw has the wooden paddle his late grandfather Bert used 64 years go to make the family's Olympic debut not far away in Henley.

He brought it as a motivational tool and emotional reminder of where he comes from.

As his muscles reached the searing pain stage in the closing strokes of Wednesday's C1, 1,000-metre final, his eyes fixed on the front of his boat, fuel for the mind when it was needed most.

"I'm just so happy to represent Canada," he would say after getting his family name on an Olympic podium two generations after his grandfather started it all . "The whole race I was just staring at the nose of my boat - there's a big Maple Leaf on it. It's just such a good feeling." The smile never left his face as he shared what it meant to be an Oldershaw and an Olympic bronze medallist.

The story of the Oldershaw clan is an important one to canoe-kayak in Canada and a big reason it is one of the country's most productive medal sports at the Summer Games. The Burloak Canoe Club near where Sixteen Mile Creek spills into Lake Ontario, has spawned many an Olympian, five of them named Oldershaw.

Prior to Wednesday, Bert was the only previous one to get into an Olympic final, finishing fifth in the C2 10,000-metre event. Since then, the family has been involved at every level. Mark Oldershaw's father Scott is his coach and a former Olympian as are two of his uncles.

But it was grandfather, Bert, that might have had the biggest influence on Mark, taking the youngster under his wing and providing inspiration.

After he won gold at the world junior championships in 2001, Bert gave his grandson the paddle he brought here with him, one signed by all the other competitors in the 1948 Olympic regatta.

"I think if I took one stroke it might break," Oldershaw said. "I'm going to get everyone here to sign it just like my grandfather did in 1948 and maybe give it to my grandson one day."

While Oldershaw wasn't born with a paddle in his hand, he may as well have been. His parents had him at Burloak before he could walk and soon he was splashing around in the water almost before he could walk.

He took his shots at other sports, excelling in hockey, but eventually the bloodlines kicked in and it always came back to a canoe and paddle.

"We haven't had a whole lot of time to reflect on it but it obviously means a lot to Mark," his dad, Scott Oldershaw said. "(The family signficance) will become more and more of a factor after the initial joy of winning a medal sinks in.

"A bronze medal means almost as much as gold to some and this one is way up there. This is special for him."

It was especially so given the rough waters Mark negotiated to get here. In 2003 he had the first of two surgeries to remove a cancerous growth on his hand, a near death sentence for a paddler. He persevered and somehow managed to train through the pain and even qualifying for the national team while recovering.

"I think what stuck with me is I was still making the national team and I was at maybe 70%," Oldershaw said in a 2008 interview at the Canadian teams winter training base in Melbourne, Fla. "I kept thinking 'imagine if I'm at 100% ... these guys don't even know what I can do.'

"I think that's what kept me going."

He certainly kept going on Wednesday, saving his best for the crucial final 200 metres. For awhile, it looked like he might outgun Spaniard David Cal Figueroa for silver before the latter found a final surge as well. Both were well back of winner Sebastien Brendel of Germany.

"The last 20 years I've been putting so much work into this, I asked myself 'If I don't go for it now, what have I been doing,' " Oldershaw said of the final push. "I just put my head down and went for it."

They were cheering for him in the stands here and at a packed Burloak club back home that opened its doors for one and all in the middle of the night.

"I'm so proud to canoe for Canada because it's such a Canadian thing to do," Oldershaw said. "There's so much emotion for me right now.

"I have tons of family here watching and cheering. Every year at holidays and at Christmas, they've been giving me gifts - pictures of my grandfather and everything. It's super special and it hasn't been any pressure at all.

"I've been enjoying the whole moment and experience. I rub my name "Oldershaw" on my boat before races for good luck and I guess it worked."

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

Twitter @longleysunsport


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