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Rower Andrew Byrnes '05 and Canada win gold medal in men's eights

Bates College graduate Andrew Byrnes and the Canada men’s eight captured the gold medal on Sunday at the Shunyi Rowing–Canoeing Park, Canada’s first medal in the event since 1992.

Byrnes, a Toronto native and resident who graduated from Bates in 2005, becomes the first former Bates athlete to earn an Olympic medal. He and his crewmates become the first world champion crew to follow up with Olympic gold in 35 years.

“I am extremely lucky to have been able to win gold in my first Olympics,” Byrnes said via e-mail. “We were confident going into the regatta, and winning was justification for the long hours of work we had put in over the last four years.”

A second-year veteran of the Canadian men’s eight, Byrnes is also the newest member of the boat. Byrnes’ ascendance to the country’s top eight has coincided with an impressive run of success, including a gold medal in the 2007 FISA World Championships and three World Cup gold medals since 2007.

Canada led wire-to-wire and finished in 5:23.89. Taking the silver was Great Britain, while the United States, winners of the gold in 2004, took the bronze.

“Before the race, I was calm,” said Byrnes. “This was our 10th 2K race together, so we knew we needed to just execute one more top performance. The one thought that did flash into my mind while we were in the blocks was, ‘Well, this next 2000m is the point. This is the point of everything we have done up to now.’”

For Byrnes, there was little mystery as to what made Canada, the odds-on favorite to win gold, the superior boat in the Olympic final.

“We work harder in practice than any other crew out there,” he said. “It’s not just that our coach writes a hard training program, but guys commit to it.”

The Canadian eight hasn’t lost a race over the past two years, and it dominated its opening heat Monday, defeating second-place Poland by seven seconds. Canada’s semifinal time of five minutes, 27.69 seconds in that race advanced it straight to Sunday’s final.

Byrnes, who was a standout rower at Bates, joins the list of former Bobcat athletes who have competed in the Olympics, and the second rower, after Mike Ferry ’97, who competed in the double sculls at Sydney in 2000.

“Although Bates is a Division III school, it has a very strong athletics program, and the rowing team has the attitude and rigor that is characteristic of the top rowing programs in the country,” said Byrnes.

The Bates Olympians list includes Justin Freeman ’98, a Nordic skier for the U.S. at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, and Nordic skier Nancy Ingersoll Fiddler ’78, who competed at Calgary in 1988. Harlan Holden, a member of the Class of 1913 who attended Bates for two years, competed in the half mile at the 1912 Summer Games in Stockholm (Read the article about him in the August 10, 2008 Worcester Telegram & Gazette), while his Bates teammate Vaughn Blanchard ’12 competed in the 110-meter hurdles at Stockholm. Runner Arnold Adams ’33 was a member of the U.S. team at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics but did not compete due to a foot injury.

Material from the Canadian Broadcasting Company and The Associated Press was used in this story.

Read the story about Andrew Byrnes in the Aug. 12 Portland Press Herald

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