‘Emperor of Elk Lake’ Al Morrow retires from coaching

Al Morrow, nicknamed the Emperor of Elk Lake, has retired from rowing.

The 68-year-old Morrow, an inducted member of the University of Victoria Sports Hall of Fame, laid the foundation for success at UVic during a remarkable decade-long run as head coach of the Vikes from 1978 to 1986 and UVic assistant coach to 1988.

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It included playing an important role in the men’s eight gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as the Canadian crew included Morrow’s UVic rowers Grant Main, Dean Crawford and Kevin Neufeld. Another UVic rower, Marilyn Campbell, won Olympic silver at L.A. in 1984.

“Al led the resurgence of UVic’s rowing program,” said Ken Shields, who was UVic athletic director at the time.

“Getting Al was fantastic. He jumpstarted the whole thing and it just took off. Al was absolutely passionate about his sport and about coaching.”

Morrow went on to become Canadian national team women’s head coach, based in London, Ont., and guided Canada’s women’s success. It included eight Olympic medals, four of them gold, from Barcelona in 1992 to Beijing in 2008. That run included Olympic double gold medals by Island rowers Brenda Taylor, Jessica Monroe-Gonin and Kirsten Barnes in 1992 at Barcelona.

“We have an unlimited supply of Al Morrow stories — all of which led to valuable crew and life lessons,” said Marnie McBean, who won three Olympic gold medals with Morrow as coach.

It all began at the old boathouse, at the far end of Elk Lake from the current boathouse, and which had only one light bulb to illuminate those rainy winter mornings.

“Seven of my 10 years in Victoria were spent at the old boathouse and few people, even on the Island, have any idea now where it was. It’s overgrown and now just part of the Elk/Beaver trails,” said Morrow.

“But the stars were aligned. I was in the right place at the right time and in the right sporting culture in Victoria. Nineteen of the Canadian rowers at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics were either current UVic rowers or UVic alumni. That’s unbelievable. I was fortunate, both in those years in Victoria and later with the women’s national team in London, to have athletes who were prepared to work hard.”

Morrow’s final national-team coaching assignment was at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He had been doing consulting and coaching education work with Rowing Canada before Tuesday’s retirement announcement.

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