Rowing Canada is parting ways with the heads of both its men’s and women’s programs in the wake of this summer’s disastrous showing at the Rio Olympics.
Martin McElroy is leaving his post as men’s performance director after 3 1/2 years, while John Keogh, who has been with the women since 2010, is returning home to take a job with Rowing Australia.
The announcements were made on Rowing Canada’s website late Wednesday.
Donna Atkinson, CEO of the sport’s national governing body, told The Canadian Press in a phone interview Thursday that both McElroy and Keogh’s contracts were up at the end of the month and that they had decided to move on.
But the departures don’t come as a surprise following Canada’s disappointing regatta in Brazil that included just one medal — a silver from Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee in the women’s lightweight double sculls.
“Going into Rio we expected a couple of medals. We only came away with one,” said Atkinson. “Rowing Canada has already initiated the review process. We’re not looking to take a knee-jerk reaction that puts us in the same position we’re in now four years from now.”
Rowing Canada disbanded the popular men’s eight boat after finishing second at the 2012 Olympics, splitting those resources between the men’s four and the men’s quadruple sculls in hopes of doubling the country’s chances at a medal and the subsequent funding from the government-backed Own The Podium program.
But the heavily criticized plan backfired spectacularly in Rio as the men’s four finished sixth in its six-boat final, while the men’s quad wound up eighth after failing to even make its medal race.
Atkinson said Rowing Canada’s review process started before the Games following some disappointing results at the world championships, and will include feedback from the athletes.
“Rowing has had a pretty resilient history,” said Atkinson, who is stepping down from her post in January. “We’re pretty determined to be up on the podium again.”
McElroy, who replaced long-time men’s coach Mike Spracklen after the London Games, said in the Rowing Canada statement announcing his departure that the program is on the right track despite this summer’s failure.
“It’s a big challenge to do things differently, needing the same resilience and toughness as we expect from Canadian athletes,” McElroy’s statement read. “I’m proud of many of the changes that we made. Sometimes it takes someone new and a new approach to renew the energy in the fight. I am OK with that — I made my contribution.”
Along with that silver four years ago, the men’s eight won gold in 1984, 1992 and 2008.
The women’s eight, which also grabbed silver in London, made the podium at the last three world championships, but ended up fifth in Rio.
The departures of McElroy and Keogh come during a time of uncertainty at Rowing Canada. Atkinson said a decision on the future of high performance director Peter Cookson, who steered the men’s program away from the eight, will likely be made before her replacement is named.
Funding is also a big question mark. Own The Podium provided Rowing Canada more than $17 million — the most of any summer sport — in the lead up to Rio after those two medals in the eight at the London Olympics.
Atkinson said she expects that number to drop between now and the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
“What all the sports are going to find is there’s more sports competing for dollars in a pot that hasn’t grown,” she said. “We were all looking at the possibility of having to deal with some form of cut.
“Based on performance, I would say that we will be facing some reductions and that’s the way Own The Podium funding works.”
The athletes in Brazil said at the time they were keenly aware a chunk of that money could dry up if they didn’t perform.
“We know what’s at stake when we’re out there,” Conlin McCabe said after the final of the men’s four last month. “We’re trying to row our best race for ourselves as well, but we know that rowing in Canada depends on it, also, because that’s the way sport in Canada works with Own the Podium.
“We know that we have to get medals as a team if we want to keep getting the funding we’ve been getting. I guess, yeah, now I am worried to see what happens with Rowing Canada.”Report Typo/Error