Al Morrow is apologizing now, because he’s talking about wind and that is a topic very close to his heart.
“Me and my freaking wind,” the long-time Canadian rowing coach and member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame says with a laugh. He studies wind. He knows wind. Along with the sheep that dot the fields around the Olympic rowing venue, he watches how the airplanes take off from Heathrow.
“We had a training camp here in 2010, and all of us noticed that the planes leaving Heathrow all left in a certain way,” Morrow said, Sunday. “And planes use the wind. This place is all about crosswinds.”
While several events on Day 2 were hampered by torrential downpours, rain, wind and warnings of hail, Canada’s rowers managed to get in their work before the heavy weather set in. The women’s eights, much-fancied as medalists, had just finished their warm-down when a crack of thunder and lightning struck.
It’s easy to take shots at organizing committees for this cock-up or that misstep, but weather really ought to be out of bounds, no? Here at Eton Dorney it was hot enough for shirtsleeves, cool enough for a jacket. It was bright sunshine. Thunder, lightning, sun, and then a downpour.
Sunday was the day weather replaces security, transportation and tickets as a talking point, with inclement conditions playing havoc with archery (India’s archers were left muttering about gusts at Lords Cricket Grounds) tennis (matches at Wimbledon were delayed or washed out) cycling (fourth-place finisher Ina Teutenberg of Germany was prescient when she told broadcasters that “rain is going to make this a nervous race”) to equestrian events, where wind pulled down a roof covering judges and downpours caused delays.
Lesley Thompson-Willie, a 53-year-old, seven-time Olympian and coxswain on the Canadian eights, said the rowers, who train on Fanshawe Lake near London, Ont., have experienced it all.
“Sleet, hail, snow, thunder, blazing heat … massive swells,” she said with a chuckle. Morrow agreed. “Fanshawe is shaped like a big banana, so there’s always wind. We’ll go through a section and say: ‘this is the head wind; this is what you have to think about technically or psychologically.”
Rowing is a serious sport here and Eton Dorney is anticipated to be a treasure trove of medals for the home team, so it’s no wonder the BBC gives it special attention during morning weather updates. Crosswinds were mentioned often on Sunday morning.
“It’s kind of like driving down the 401 or the QEW when you go by a big truck,” Morrow, a native of Hamilton, explained. “There’s a feel aspect to this. You loosen up your hands and play with the oar, you don’t let your body get thrown around. You change your grip, your hand height. In this sport we talk about how you ‘feather’ the paddle off the water. So, you might feather higher off the water. It’s an irregular pattern almost like a boat wake.”
The eights will barge right through a headwind. Small boats are more tippy. In coxless boats, it is the bow-seat rower who calls out gusts. In the eights, it is Thompson-Willie who keeps an eagle-eye out.
“She’ll tell us whether to lower or raise our hands, or sit up taller, depending on the wind,” said Janine Hanson of Winnipeg, one of Canada’s eights. “Lesley … she’s pretty much omnipresent.” Much like the English weather.