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Will Crothers, left, Tim Schrijver, Kai Langerfeld and Conlin McCabe celebrate after winning gold in the the men's coxless four final at the 2015 Pan Am Games in St. Catharines, Ont., on July 13, 2015.

Peter Power/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Will Crothers and the rest of Canada's men's four rowing crew were driving home from a regatta in the spring of 2014 when someone blurted out they needed to develop an identity.

As Crothers, Conlin McCabe, Kal Langerfeld and Tim Schrijver brainstormed on the trip back to Victoria, talk turned to the Toronto Raptors and how the club had grabbed the country's attention in the NBA playoffs with its 'We The North' slogan.

Not long after, the 'True North Four' were born.

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"The four of us were just spitting stuff around," Crothers recalled in June. "It was off the cuff and kind of catchy."

The moniker has been the crew's rallying cry since that ride in Crothers' truck and will no doubt be on their minds when they hit water at Lagoa Stadium on Sunday for the first heats of the men's four at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"'True North Four' came off the tongue pretty nicely," McCabe said. "It's part of us building confidence in ourselves as a four and representing Canada proudly in this event."

The road to Rio for Rowing Canada has been a difficult one on the men's side after the national program killed the men's eight – which won gold in 1984, 1992 and 2008 before capturing silver in 2012 – in favour of the four and the quadruple sculls.

The idea was to double the medals and subsequent funding from Own The Podium with the same number of athletes.

But things didn't go according to plan ahead of Brazil. The men's four improved from 14th in the world in 2013 to fourth in 2015, but has yet to meet expectations.

"There's always road bumps along the way, but how you bounce back from those is a true testament of a crew's character," said McCabe, a silver medallist with the eight in London and a native of Brockville, Ont. "A crew with a really strong character is the one that's going to be able to succeed."

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Crothers, who also won silver in London, said there has been an adjustment in switching from the powerful eight.

"It definitely took a little bit of finesse," said the Kingston product. "The eight is very much a drag race event. You flip the switch or pull the pin and see what happens."

And while the four booked a spot in Rio last year, the men's quad needed a last-chance qualifier just to make it to South America.

"In the eyes of the world, we're the underdogs," Julien Bahain said. "That's perfect for us."

Bahain raced for France at two Olympics, winning a bronze in 2008, but switched countries after 2012 and is competing in red and white this summer thanks to his mother's Canadian heritage.

He believes the quad, which includes teammates Will Dean of Kelowna, B.C., Kingston's Rob Gibson and Pascal Lussier of Saint Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., is in a good place heading into Saturday's heats.

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"[The boat] has what it takes to win," Bahain said. "It's going to be the matter of one race, and anything can happen."

Along with Langerfeld, of North Vancouver, B.C., and Schrijver, of Thedford, Ont., the fours crew is also confident they have what it takes to get on the podium in Rio and make 'Truth North Four' a phrase Canadians remember this summer.

"I think if you look at our trajectory, we've just been improving steadily," McCabe said. "It's really encouraging. The moment is coming."

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