Frandsen ready for Olympic encore

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After winning a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Scott Frandsen had his mind made up.

It was time to leave competitive rowing behind once for all, to retire from the sport and carry on with the rest of his life.

Or was it ?

Frandsen spent two years in the "real world" as he describes it, pursuing a career and trying to live a more domestic life than he had known in all his years as a world-class athlete.

But, in the end, the allure of the physical challenges and the thrill of elite level competition that accompanied rowing for his country was simply too much to resist for the Kelowna native.

"I really thought I was done," Frandsen said of his retirement in 2008. "I had an Olympic medal, and the feeling for a lot of amateur athletes is that you get to compete at a high level for a while, but at some point you have to move on and get on with your life. I had a good education, I really felt like I was ready to leave rowing behind."

But between the urging of his rowing partner, Dave Calder, and a highly persuasive voice inside, Frandsen knew he had an itch that still needed scratching.

"Dave had been whispering at me about it, and I also got thinking again about how much I enjoyed getting ready, the preparation, and the need to compete.

"I realized how much I missed the lifestyle and the routine. I decided at that point, that the rest of life can wait for a little bit longer."

By the end of 2010, Frandsen had committed himself to a comeback and moved from Vancouver back to the national training centre in Victoria. By the summer of 2011, it was apparent to Frandsen he'd made the right decision.

Frandsen and Calder re-established themselves as legitimate contenders at the world level by winning a bronze medal in pairs at the 2011 World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Then a year later, last month in Lucerne, the pair grabbed the silver medal, finishing just 2.7 seconds behind the heavily-favoured New Zealand team.

Now, four years after retiring for the first time, the competitive juices are flowing as freely as ever for 31-year-old Frandsen who, along with Calder, will row for Olympic glory in the pairs event next month at the 2012 Games in London.

And once again, the Canadian duo will be chasing the Kiwis, Eric Murray and Hamish Bond, who haven't lost a race since 2009.

"I'm very happy about the position Dave and I are in," said Frandsen. "We've closed the gap significantly over the last year. We have areas we still need to improve on, we have work to do and (the Kiwis) are still the favourites. They were able to kick away on us in the last half in Lucerne, but we were right there. We showed ourselves something that day and maybe we can make them worry a little bit, getting them squeezing their oars a bit little tighter. To win will be tough, but we're a contender, and that's exciting."

Frandsen knows a thing or two about the pressure and expectations of the Olympic Games.

In his previous two trips to the Olympics, the world's ultimate athletic stage, Frandsen had been pulled through every conceivable range of emotion.

In 2004 in Athens he was a member of the Canadian men's eights crew which was, by all accounts, in a class of its own and a shoo-in to win the gold medal.

The Canadian men fell well short of expectations, finishing a disappointing fifth.

"In '04, according to us and the Canadian press, we were just supposed to go in and pick up the gold medal and that was all there was to it," he said. "But crazy things happen in sports, especially when the pressure is on. We had a terrible race. Not only did it not happen for us, it fell apart, it was a complete disaster. That's something you don't forget."

Still, the crushing defeat did nothing to quell Frandsen's competitive desire and he would continue to train and compete with Canada's national program.

He made the transition to pairs with Calder and, after winning gold at a World Cup in the summer of 2008, the pair followed up with a silver at the Olympics, Canada's first medal of the Beijing Games. Only the veteran and favoured Australian crew was better on that August day in China.

"I remember the overwhelming feeling of satisfaction, not because it was retribution for Athens, but because Dave and I went out and produced our best," Frandsen recalled. "Obviously to win would have been the ultimate, but when everything was on the line, we showed up and did everything we could. When you walk away knowing that, it's satisfying. Not getting gold still eats at me a little, but that's just what being competitive is all about."

And that competitive blood has been pumping through Frandsen's veins as long as his mom, Linda, can remember.

Even as a golfer, hockey and lacrosse player in Kelowna before he took up rowing, Linda recalls Scott's distaste for the concept of being second best.

That demeanor didn't change much when he moved to Victoria and began rowing at Brentwood College, or two years later when he joined the University of California Berkeley Golden Bears rowing team.

"I remember when he was a freshman at Berkeley and his team came in second in a big race, and it just burned him," said Linda Frandsen. "By 10 o'clock that night the rest of the guys were getting over it, and Scott couldn't believe it wasn't just killing everyone to have lost. For a long time after that he wore a rubber band on his wrist and every once in a while he would snap it just to feel the pain, a reminder of what it was like to lose. He wanted to maintain that feeling. He's certainly matured over the years, but he's never taking losing lightly."

Considering his passion for competition and his drive to succeed, Canadian pairs coach Terry Paul says it's no great surprise that Frandsen has thrived over the years in a rowing environment.

"Scott is intensely competitive and that's what drives him," said Paul, a gold medal winner with the Canadian men's eights at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. "He's passionate about everything he does, everything has to be done to the absolute best of his ability, even getting down to the lake to train.

"Everything in his life is a race," added Paul. "He has that kind of intense personality that rubs off, he's been instrumental in helping lead our small boat group, they see the incredibly high level he operates at. On top of it all, he's one of the most skilled athletes I've ever worked with."

When it comes to their preparations and expectations for London, Paul believes experience, desire and skill will all work in Frandsen's and Calder's favour.

"These two guys have been through the ringer together and have developed this partnership," Paul said. "Having gone through experiences both in positive and negative ways, it's helped Scott to mature and has given him the ability to filter out the things that are distractions.

"They've established themselves as the next crew after New Zealand and I think they've rattled those guys a little bit. (Scott and Dave) have confidence in what they're able to do, they've been at this level a long time, and given all the right factors, anything is possible. I like where they're at right now."

As for Frandsen's expectations, the Kelowna-born rower plans on leaving London with no regrets.

"Of course our goal is not just to go, we want to come away from there as two-time Olympic medalists," said Frandsen. "Above all, if we can walk away from the Olympics and know that we raced the best we could, then nothing matters more than that. Under that spotlight and pressure, if we can get the most out of ourselves, then we can take pride in the result, whatever it is."

In early July, Fransden, Calder and the rest of the Canadian team will head to Italy for a pre-Olympic training camp.

The first heats in London are set for July 28, with the rowing finals to be run on Aug. 3.

So will the 2012 Games be Frandsen's last hurrah in the sport, much like he expected it would be back in 2008 ?

"I wasn't leaving it open after Beijing. I am now. I appreciate this lifestyle too much. I can't honestly say I'll be ready to leave it behind. We'll see."



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