Island athletes top 10 olympic moments

The tears were both of joy and despair in London, as they are in any Games. With today being the last day, a day that features mountain bikers Geoff Kabush of Courtenay and Max Plaxton of Victoria, here are the good, the bad and the ugly top-10 moments that featured Island athletes in the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

1Man of silver. It took an almost-scary world-record time of 14: 31.00 by Sun Yang of China to shunt Victoria swimmer Ryan Cochrane into the silver-medal position in the men's 1,500-metre freestyle. With his bronze from Beijing in 2008, Cochrane can hit for the medal cycle with gold at Rio in 2016. Don't bet against him.

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2Boat of silver. Following in the wake of the heralded Beijing Olympicchampion Canadian men's rowing eight, and six retirements, wasn't easy. But the boys from Elk Lake dug deep and found something in them to win silver in London behind Germany.

"There is not another coach in the world who could have lost six rowers and return to the Olympics to again almost win gold," said Victoria rowing legend Silken Laumann, of the crew's accomplishment in London under Mike Spracklen of Sidney.

"Mike Spracklen has done so much for rowing in this country."

3A bolt to bronze. No, not that Bolt on the stadium track, but another on the velodrome track. It's hard to believe 20-year-old Gillian Carleton of Victoria only took up track cycling last summer on the Commonwealth Games Juan de Fuca Velodrome because she was still road shy after being involved in a car collision. Or that just last November, she was lying in a Kazakhstan hospital with a broken pelvis following a crash in a World Cup track race.

But Carleton rallied to win Olympic bronze at London in the women's team pursuit with Tara Whitten of Edmonton and Germany-raised new-Canadian Jasmin Glaesser.

4A long swim to bronze. Really long. Ten kilometres, to be exact, through the mucky waters of the Serpentine in Hyde Park. But Olympic rookie Richard Weinberger of Victoria showed he is made of stern stuff by churning to the bronze medal in the men's open-water 10K. His results throughout the year were intriguing and piqued interest and we had a gut feeling this guy could pop one when it counted most. And he did.

5Silver for ring road. University of Victoria Vikes rowing graduates Darcy Marquardt and Rachelle Viinberg [nee De Jong] credit their years in the Vikes program with helping get them on the podium at London with the silver-medallist Canadian women's rowing eight.

"I began rowing in my first year at UVic. Having never participated in an endurance sport before, I found rowing to be challenging but also a lot of fun after [softball, hockey, rugby]," said Marquardt.

"I had such great role models in my first couple of years at UVic because the girls in the varsity eight were all trying out for the national team and so I thought that was just what you did in rowing. My UVic coach, Rick Crawley, was the first to encourage me to try out for the national team. I guess he saw something in me. This journey hasn't really been all about medals, but it is what we strive to achieve in rowing as it's tangible evidence of all the years, miles and sweat equity that went into being an amateur athlete." Nicely put.

6Triathlon trouble. For sheer human drama, nothing Island-related in London could quite match what unfolded in the men's and women's triathlon races. Watching two-time Olympic medallist, Canadian opening ceremony flag-bearer and all-round triathlon legend Simon Whitfield of Victoria wobble on his bike and then crash hard out of the London men's Olympic race was almost a surreal experience.

Victoria-based Paula Findlay spent much of 2011 as the world No. 1 female triathlete before a troublesome and vexing injury. It took an emotional toll, as well as physical, as Findlay crossed the London finish line 52nd and in tears.

7 Just along for the ride. For Island Olympian quirkiness, we like these two stories. Victoria basketball coaching legend Ken Shields was assistant coach for the host Great Britain women's Olympic hoops team.

Meanwhile, Richard Clarke of Saltspring Island and the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, who says he has seawater in his veins, finished 12th in London in his career fifth Olympics with Star Class partner Tyler Bjorn of Montreal at the Games sailing venue at Weymouth. Coming along for the Olympic ride with Clarke and Bjorn were hundreds of monetary donors, many from the Island, whose names were written on the Clarke-Bjorn Canadian boat.

8A fine line. That's exactly what it can be in the Summer Olympic Games. You don't have to tell high jumper Mike Mason of Nanoose Bay or soccer player Emily Zurrer of Crofton.

Mason appeared to have a medal assured at Olympic Stadium when he cleared 2.33 metres and was on his back in the pit. But he clipped the bar with his back heel by the most tender of touches.

Depending on how the high-jumping gods are feeling that day, sometimes the bar trembles and stays put. Other times, fate blows an ever-so-slight metaphorical gust of wind, or something. Those few milliseconds must have seemed like an eternity for Mason, lying on his back in the foam pit only to see the bar fall at the last agonizing moment. It is on such whims of fate that Olympic medals can be won or lost.

The women's soccer team turned into one of the most compelling stories of the London Games as it won the first Canadian medal in a team sport in the Summer Olympics since the men's basketball team - which included Victoria players Doug Peden and Art and Chuck Chapman - at Berlin in 1936.

But Zurrer, an able veteran of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2011 World Cup, injured her hamstring early in the London Games and did not receive a bronze medal with her Canadian soccer teammates.

9A podium too far. These are the medals that could have, maybe should have, been. Based on every pre-Games form chart that you could find, Victoria rowers Lindsay Jennerich, Patricia Obee, David Calder and Scott Frandsen - in the women's lightweight double and men's pair, respectively - were favoured for medals in London.

But the retiring Calder and Frandsen will have to be content with their Olympic silver from Beijing while the more youthful Jennerich and Obee can get 'em at Rio in 2016.

10A bolt from Black Creek. In terms of depth of field, nothing in world sport compares with track and field. This isn't women's ice hockey, where Canada gets a medal just by showing up. It is by that standard that Cam Levins' respective 11th-and 14th-place finishes against killer fields in the men's 10,000 and 5,000 metres must be judged. Not bad for an unheralded young runner from the tiny Island community of Black Creek, who ran the 5,000 metres while ill and with little reserves of energy.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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