Saint John Times Globe - Monday, April 1, 1996

He’s not giving up on a dream

East Riverside’s Ed Winchester won’t be at the Atlanta Olympics but he firmly believes he’ll be in Australia for the Games in 2000


Sports Week

Click here to see full size. Ed Winchester, front, and pairs partner Kevin McDonnell, won the lightweight gold at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in 1994.

Click here to see full size. Ed Winchester, right, and partner Kevin McConnell of the Kennebecasis Rowing and Canoe Club show off their hardware from the 1994 Royal Canadian Henley Regatta.

"There were times when I thought I had a shot at the team. But when it came down to it, the veterans rose to the occasion and I may have faltered a bit just because of nerves."

Ed Winchester

Aspiring Olympic rower.

SAINT JOHN - Every day, three times a day, for the next four years, Ed Winchester will have to climb into the ergometer and sweat for two hours at a stretch.

We're not talking a spaceship simulator here. An ergometer is just a $5 word for what we ordinarily refer to as a rowing machine. But to an athlete of Winchester's calibre, who spends so much time rowing on one, the ergometer takes on mysterious qualities, including a very scientific-sounding name.

Six hours a day of rowing is what it'll take for the 25-year-old East Riverside oarsman to prepare for the next Olympic tryouts four years down the road.

He missed going to the Atlanta Olympics this year by three spots with a ninth- place finish at Canadian Olympic Rowing trials last November in Victoria, B.C. The top six scullers won a spot on the Olympic training camp from which the final Olympic team will be chosen.

"There were times when I thought I had a shot at the team. But when it came down to it, the veterans rose to the occasion and I may have faltered a bit just because of nerves," said Winchester, munching on an apple in between workouts at his mother's East Riverside home where he has returned for winter training.

Most summers he spends in St. Catharines, training under former Canadian Olympic sculling coach Jack Nicholson, who led Canada's 1985 quadruple sculls team to its first world championship.

"It was disappointing," said Winchester of the Olympic trials. "But I knew it wasn't my year to do it. You know these things deep down."

Winchester had only been training full-time for about a year while most Olympic qualifying rowers have four years competitive experience under their belts.

The Saint John High School graduate began rowing 10 years ago with the Kennebecasis Rowing and Canoe Club and was a provincial team member based out of Fredericton from 1991 to '93.

There's no question the former cross- country runner and recreational hockey player shows promise as a world-class rower.

At 6-feet, 162 pounds, he's got the long, lean build of the world's best rowers. Doug Hamilton, Paul Dourna, Bob Mills and Mel Laforme - the four-man team, coached by Nicholson, which beat a strong East German crew in 1985 for the world championship, all have strong, sinewy bodies. Ditto for every male and female on the present national team.

The most recognized rower, Silken Laumann, who made headlines last year when she was stripped of the quad gold at the Pan-American Games after testing positive for the banned drug ephedrine which is commonly found in cold medicines, stands at 5-feet-11.

Height is an advantage in a sculling or racing shell because long limbs mean a long stroke.

During the power phase of the rowing motion, when the athlete is coming out of the crouched position, a long leg extension which propels the oars pushes the boat that much further and faster along its 2,000-metre course.

For a lightweight, however, Winchester is about as tall as they come.

"You can't be much more than 6- foot-1 when you have to weigh in at 162 pounds on race day," quipped New Brunswick's top rower.

Coming from a province steeped in rowing history, the young man has big shoes to fill, including those of the reknowned Paris Crew. George Price, Elijah Ross, Samuel Hutton and Robert Fulton - Saint Johners all - were the four oarsmen who captured Canada's first world championship on July 7, 1867 in Paris, France.

The big first stands as quite a claim to fame for a province often overshadowed by the accomplishments of British Columbian or Ontarian rowers.

But the unquestioned dominance of B.C. and Ontario is changing. The Dickison brothers, Don and Dave, of Fredericton, forged the way for New Brunswick rowers in the international arena.

Don went to the 1988 and 1992 Olympics while Dave raced at the 1991 Pan- American Games. And Frederictonian Jill Blois, on the women's side, captured the world championship in 1990 and a bronze in the quad event a year later to become New Brunswick's most decorated rower.

"We've built quite a tradition down here. National-level coaches are taking notice of our athletes. They show a lot more respect for us now and are even trying to recruit some of our young rowers," said Chris Flood, technical vice president of Rowing New Brunswick.

The historical image of young upper-crust Englishmen getting their exercise while rowing on the Thames River leaves quite a romantic impression. And still today, television and magazine images of a single shell slicing cleanly through a glass-top lake or eight oarsmen rowing in unison to the quiet encouragement of the coxswain conjurs peace and tranquility.

Nothing, insists Winchester, is more agonizingly painful.

"I know it looks very graceful and serene but it isn't at all. In fact, it's difficult for you to conceive how tough it is.

"I've experienced few other sports that cause that much pain in the span of, seven minutes. It's a real burn all over your body and it's fast. After about two minutes your lungs feel like they're going to explode. Then the lactic acid starts accumulating and you have to push through that burn."

But nothing beats the rush of winning after such a physically and mentally gruelling performance.

Winchester knows.

It was the fall of 1994 and the masters student at the University of New Brunswick had just come off a lacklustre summer of rowing. Winchester and sculling partner Kevin McDonnell, also of the Kennebecasis Rowing and Canoe Club, entered the world's largest regatta held every year in St. Catharines, Ont.

The lightweight pair raced to a gold medal that year in the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, the premier North American regatta attracting upwards of 2,000 athletes a year.

The win proved to be a defining moment in Winchester's rowing career. He took a leave of absence from his history studies at UNB and set out to devote himself full-time to the sport. A job or any other demanding activity is out of the question for athletes at this level. It's all or nothing.

"It's an extremely demanding sport that pretty much consumes your life," agreed Flood.

A former world-class rower himself, Flood is intimately familiar with the level of commitment required to achieve success.

Flood finished fourth at 1992 worlds, seventh in a four-man boat at 1991 worlds and raced to a silver and bronze medal with Wayne MacFarlane at the 1987 Pan-American Games.

Winchester posses the uncommon combination of mental stamina, physical strength and cardiovascular endurance necessary to compete in this gruelling at the international level, said Flood.

"He has that determination, grit really, and independence toward rowing. Ed's really shown he's got tenacity by sticking with the tough training program."

In fact, although Winchester is not on the national team, he follows the same rigorous training schedule as its members. And he does it here by himself. Just plops down on his rowing machine four hours a day with his walkman blaring and rows. After that, he works out on weights. He'll up his training schedule to six hours a day in preparation for the next Olympic tryouts.

He has miles and miles to go, says Flood.

"Ed's a bit of a late bloomer. Usually, athletes show signs of his level of skill a lot sooner. But he's made a lot of progress. He just needs more miles under his belt and more race experience."

Winchester will get plenty of that this week.

The Olympic-hopeful is back in St. Catharines where he'll be racing against 30 national-level rowers vying for a spot on the eight-man Canadian development team that will tour Europe and have a shot at qualifying for the lightweight world championships to be held in Scotland this summer.

"His chances of making the team are excellent and there's a good possibility it'll go to world championships," said Flood.

As for Winchester, he's chomping at the bit to go.

"I've basically been ready to go for six weeks. I've never been more ready for anything. And for the first time, I don't feel like I'm lagging behind."