London in sight

Three former Gaels train in Victoria with hopes of making the Summer Olympics

Morgan Jarvis rowed at Queen’s for nine years and is currently in contention for a spot at the London Olympics.
Morgan Jarvis rowed at Queen’s for nine years and is currently in contention for a spot at the London Olympics.
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Former Gael Rares Crisan (left) celebrates his bronze medal in the lightweight men’s pair at the 2010 World Cup in New Zealand.
Former Gael Rares Crisan (left) celebrates his bronze medal in the lightweight men’s pair at the 2010 World Cup in New Zealand.
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Former Queen’s rower Rares Crisan works out three times a day at Rowing Canada’s national training centre in Victoria, B.C.

He starts at 7:30 a.m. He stops to eat breakfast two hours later, then he’s back on the water by 11 a.m. In the afternoon, he returns to the complex to lift weights.

“Your brain starts to slow down,” he said. “It’s harder to function and connect cognitive tasks because the energy just isn’t there and the fatigue is so compounding.

“You just try to not die until the next morning.”

Crisan, who’s been rowing full-time in Victoria since February 2010, is currently vying for a spot at the London 2012 Olympics.

He’s one of three former Queen’s rowers at the training centre — Morgan Jarvis, Artsci ’05, MSc ’08, JD ’10, is looking to make the lightweight double while Mike Wilkinson, Artsci ’08 and Sci’08, can qualify either for the heavyweight double or the heavyweight four.

Jarvis and Wilkinson are competing for spots in boats that have already secured Olympic berths. But if Crisan, Artsci ’09, earns a seat in the lightweight four-man boat, he still needs to get past Olympic qualification in Lucerne, Switzerland from May 20 to 23.

“The boat won’t be decided until the middle of March,” Crisan said. “Our big target is the qualification in Lucerne where the top two qualify for London.”

Crisan said he’s still unsure how the coaching staff will select the lightweight four-man boat.

“What I’m assuming is that there will be a two-week long observational period, where you just move guys around the boats and see which combinations go the fastest,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t necessarily become who’s the strongest, but which group of guys work together.”

The rowing team trains as a group every day, meaning Crisan’s workout partners are also his direct competitors.

“It can get really cutthroat,” he said. “Your teammates can be bigger enemies than your international competition.” In November 2010, Crisan won a bronze medal in the lightweight men’s pair at the world championships in New Zealand — he picked up a silver medal in the same competition a year later in Slovenia. Although he hopes those performances will be considered in the selection process, he said current form matters most.

“I always like to rest on the fact that I’ve had good results in the past two years,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it only matters if I’m on for selection.”

The sheer amount of training hours remaining before selections means rowers can’t treat every session like a tryout. Crisan said he’s learned to row at his body’s capabilities instead of over-doing it, but it took a long time to find that balance.

“For the first four or five months, it was just a black hole,” he said. “You’d wake up exhausted, your head’s all foggy, you can barely keep your eyes open, and you go and repeat that.

“Getting through that is a real perseverance,” he said. “That’s what really makes some of the athletes out here.”

Crisan started at Queen’s in 2005 — rowing head coach John Armitage said Crisan didn’t make the Gaels’ varsity boat as a first-year and had to row in a junior varsity four-man boat instead. But one year later, he had improved enough to be a shoo-in for a varsity seat.

“Rares’ drive and desire set him apart,” Armitage said. “In the winters, in the dungeons of the Physical Education Centre, he’d have a puddle of sweat beneath him after every workout.”

Wilkinson, Crisan’s roommate in Victoria, never had any trouble making the varsity boats — he rowed in the heavyweight eight and the heavyweight four for four years while pursuing a dual degree program at the same time.

“[Wilkinson] was a different bird,” Armitage said. “He would only train once a day instead of twice because of school … but he would go away in the summer and surprise us all by making Canada’s under-23 team.” At November’s world championships in Slovenia, Wilkinson and Fraser Berkhout qualified the heavyweight men’s double boat for the Olympics. But even though Wilkinson’s a frontrunner to secure a spot in that boat, he’s also a contender for the heavyweight four-man group.

Although Crisan and Wilkinson both had exceptional rowing careers in Kingston, Armitage said Jarvis was one of the most exceptional talents he’s ever coached at Queen’s. Jarvis, who earned three degrees from the University, spent nine years rowing for the Gaels.

“Morgan’s a natural racer,” Armitage said. “If you’re behind near the end of a race, Morgan’s the guy you want in the boat.”

When Jarvis graduated from law school in 2010, he expected to stop rowing and take up an articling position at Gowlings, an Ottawa-based law firm. But soon after he started at work in May 2010, the firm told Jarvis he could take some time off to make an Olympic push.

“When I told them I wasn’t rowing anymore, they said ‘go do the Olympics,’” Jarvis said. “They said they could hold off my articling spot for two years.”

Jarvis left for Victoria in May 2010 and has been there ever since. He won a national gold medal in the lightweight men’s single in 2011 and is currently the frontrunner to earn a spot in the light men’s double boat that is already guaranteed a spot in London.

“I just have to hold my position,” he said. “You’re counting down the days for the Olympics with every row.”

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