Marnie McBean’s 1992 dual-gold performance showed her focus

Marnie McBean shows off one of her two gold medals from Barcelona …The 1992 Barcelona Olympics had plenty of memorable moments for Canadians, from Sylvie Frechette’s perseverance following the death of her fiancée and a judging mistake during the Games to Silken Laumann’s incredible comeback from injury, but Marnie McBean came away with more medals than either. McBean, a rower from Vancouver who went to school at Western, managed to earn two gold medals in Barcelona through incredible focus.

She triumphed as part of the women’s coxless pair (with Kathleen Heddle) and as part of the women’s eight. It was a remarkable showing from McBean, and when she and Heddle earned gold in the double scull in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, they became the first Canadians to win three Summer Olympic gold medals. It was the 1992 Games that catapulted McBean to stardom, though, and paved the way for her remarkable career as a champion rower, author, and mentor.

McBean tried to go for a fourth gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but wound up withdrawing from competition thanks to a back injury. That didn’t slow her down much, though. She went on to become a popular Olympic commentator for CBC, and then took a job with the Canadian Olympic Committee, mentoring athletes through the last three Games and helping to prepare athletes emotionally and psychologically for competition in London this summer. That led to her writing a book about her experiences in 2010, realizing that she had insights to share with the world rather than just athletes. In that book, “The Power of More,” one of the more memorable passages is on how the Barcelona Games taught her to ignore distractions:

“When it was McBean's turn to talk during "Olympic Athlete Night," the three-time Olympic rowing champion pulled out her Canadian uniform from the opening ceremonies at the 1992 Games. The outfit, in her words, was horrendous — technicolour puke. But it remains a valuable teaching tool two decades later. Coach Al Morrow reminded his disappointed rowers that ugly uniforms and spartan accommodations were not at the heart of their Olympic journey to Barcelona. "Our rowing was the only thing we needed to worry about," McBean writes in her new book "The Power of More." "Everything else was just filler." The anecdote comes under the subhead "Remember What Matters."

That focus and motivation defined McBean’s 1992 Olympic performance. She and Heddle fought a tough duel with Germany’s Ingeburg Schwerzmann and Stefani Werremeier in the coxless pair, but eventually pulled out a victory, finishing with a time of 7 minutes, six seconds and 22 milliseconds to the Germans’ 7:07.96. It was in the eight where McBean and the Canadian team really dominated, putting up a time of 6:02.62 to the second-place Romanians’ 6:06.26, the second-largest gap from first to second in the women’s 1992 Olympic rowing events and the third-largest gap in all 1992 Olympic rowing events.

That remarkable showing helped demonstrate what a talented rower McBean was, but it was far from all she accomplished. She earned a silver medal in the single scull at the 1993 world championships (one of 12 world championship medals she’d claim overall), and then came through with a gold in the double sculls in Atlanta in 1996, plus a bronze medal in the quadruple sculls during those Games. She became the first woman to claim a world championship or Olympic medal in every boat class, demonstrating her remarkable versatility, and she was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1997; she was also honoured with the Thomas Keller Medal by the International Rowing Federation (FISA) in 2002, recognizing her long and impressive career. McBean did well in the lead-up to the 2000 Olympics, too, and was set to represent Canada again in the single scull before her back injury intervened.

That led to her impressive second career as a commentator, motivator and coach, though, and she’s continued to make an impact on that stage since. She’s also been involved in countless charitable causes, such as this year’s Ride For Heart and the Because I Am A Girl movement. Still, it’s the double golds she picked up in 1992 that stand out most; they show that with the right focus, dominance is very possible, no matter how ugly your uniform may be.

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