THE North Shore sent two fistfuls of athletes to the London 2012 Games and it didn't take very long for them to start punching their way through the competition.
North Vancouver rower Lauren Wilkinson made the biggest splash in the early going, helping the Canadian women's eight rowing team lay down the fastest time during their first round of racing on Sunday on Lake Dorney, topping Romania and the Netherlands in their three-team heat. The win advanced the Canadian team to Thursday's final, a race that is being billed as a two-team showdown between Canada and the United States.
The U.S. team also showed their class in the heats, blasting to a huge lead over Australia, Great Britain and Germany to book their spot in the final. Canada's time of 6: 13.91 was more than half a second faster than the time put in by the U.S. team but the Americans were in glide mode for much of the race after blowing the doors off the competition in the first half of the 2,000-m course.
Wilkinson, 22, is the youngest member of the Canadian team and one of only two Olympic rookies in the boat. In a pre-Olympic World Cup race held in Lucerne in May, Canada and the United States battled each other tooth and nail with the Americans eventually winning by just three-hundredths of a second. U.S.A won Olympic gold in the event in 2008 while the Canadians finished a disappointing fourth after being
passed by two boats in the race's final seconds.
This time around the Canadians are doing everything they can to make sure that doesn't happen again.
"(This) is the best eight I've been a part of," said Lesley Thompson-Willie, Canada's cox, after the team's heat. The 52-year-old Thompson-Willie is at her seventh Olympics and has won four medals at previous Games. "In terms of the tools we have and the ability to prepare for this competition, it's far above anything I've ever experienced. The athletes are just faster, stronger and fitter. . . . We're ready."
The final will be held Thursday starting at 4: 30 a.m. PDT (12: 30 p.m. London time).
Lauren wasn't the only Wilkinson making waves at the Games - big brother Mike Wilkinson is competing in the men's fours and his crew is through to the semifinals after a third-place showing in its first heat. The Canadians finished behind Australia and Germany but ahead of New Zealand and Serbia to make the semis and avoid the repechages.
Mike Wilkinson and teammates Anthony Jacob, Derek O'Farrell and Will Dean will shoot for the finals on Thursday, Aug. 2 at 2: 40 a.m. PDT.
While things went well in qualifying for the Wilkinsons, another North Van native wasn't so lucky. Swimmer Blake Worsley, who was born on the North Shore and moved with his family to Colorado when he was 10, experienced both highs and lows in his first Olympic appearance.
Swimming the third heat of the opening round for 200-m freestyle, Worsley made a huge move on his final 50-m length to set a personal best time of 1: 48.14 and win his heat. His time, however, did not hold up as 16 racers in the final three heats passed him by, leaving him 17th, one agonizing place out of the semifinals. Worsley missed moving on by just 17 hundredths of a second.
Worsley got one more dip in the Olympic pool Tuesday when he joined Colin Russell, Alec Page and Tobias Oriwol in the 4x200-m freestyle relay heats. In tough against the powerhouse U.S. team in their heat, the Canadians finished seventh and didn't advance.
Rounding out the North Shore contingent in the opening days was Brittany Rogers, a Coquitlam native who trains with North Vancouver's Flicka Gymnastics. Rogers helped Canada reach new heights in artistic gymnastics as the Canadian women qualified for the team final for the first time ever in a non-boycott Olympic Games.
Rogers, Victoria Moors, Dominique Pegg, Ellie Black and Kristina Vaculik scored 167.696 points to grab the eighth and final spot in the team final.
Rogers described herself as "ecstatic" after the event as she and her teammates celebrated their accomplishments. "We're just . . . so, so excited. No more pacing. As soon as I saw we were sixth I knew we were in. I was sitting with my parents. Then I jumped out of my seat and ran over to hug my teammates. I mean, we're making history. That is so cool.''
In the team final Tuesday the Canadians nailed routine after routine, hitting every skill with only a few wobbles and no falls. With a final score of 170.804, the Canadians finished in fifth spot, an exceptional result for a team that had to fight just to make the final. The powerhouse teams from the United States, Russia and Romania took the medals with China, the 2008 Olympic champs, finishing in fourth.
The 19-year-old Rogers is generating a lot of buzz at the Games - formerly Canada's top gymnast, she suffered a serious ankle injury in 2010 that baffled doctors and kept her from walking for several months. Finally, on the recommendations of her third surgeon, a screw was inserted into her ankle, allowing her to walk again and, eventually, get back into the sport.
She's not done at these Games either - she qualified for the vault individual final and will try to fly for a medal on Sunday starting at 6: 50 a.m. PDT.