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Fired Canadian national team rowing coach Spracklen fights back

Mike Spracklen talks to members of Canada’s Olympic men’s eight rowing team during training for the London 2012 Summer Olympics in Burnaby, B.C., last July. Spracklen denies he is an abusive coach.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A day after having been criticized for his "destructive ways" and for creating a "culture of fear," former Canadian national team rowing coach Mike Spracklen had a few words of his own.

From his home in Victoria, B.C., the 75-year-old British coach of the men's eight said he was the subject of a vendetta launched by rower Scott Frandsen, whose blog on CBC.ca supported Rowing Canada's decision not to renew Spracklen's contract and detailed why. According to Frandsen, Spracklen wore out athletes with his relentless training program and demanding attitude then played favourites, allowing certain rowers to be "protected from the impact of his wrath."

Spracklen, who has one of the most successful records in the history of the sport, winning Olympic medals while coaching different countries, dismissed the complaints against him as Frandsen's way to strike back for not being part of the men's eight that won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

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"He wanted to be on the eight and had a race-off with Kevin Light to determine who got in," Spracklen said. "Kevin won and Scott went with David Calder in the pairs. They won a silver and the eight won gold. It's a vendetta. It's all about Frandsen not being in the eight and not getting a gold."

Spracklen added Frandsen "is not a big guy [physically] and he felt I didn't like little guys, which is not true. What better way to go about it than to take it to you [in the media]? It's been said that I'm abusive and it's totally untrue. But people believe it. People love spice."

Sometimes caustic, always calculating, Spracklen has forged a reputation for doing things his way. He's as old-fashioned as a handshake and isn't big on all the new technology. Olympic gold medalist Adam Kreek described Spracklen as an introvert, "a gentle man" who likes to read and write poetry who can also "be brutally honest as a coach."

After the men's eight was relegated to repechages at the London Olympics, Spracklen lit up his crew like never before for not following instructions. The next day, he apologized by saying he didn't know how else to get his point across. The men's eight went on to win the silver medal.

"He does not yell very often," Olympic coxswain Brian Price said of Spracklen. "You could say he can be blunt and sarcastic. He once called out Malcolm Howard in front of the guys. Malcolm is always a slow starter and Mike would say to him, 'How does Will Crothers [who is smaller] beat you off the line, beat you to 1,000 metres in the single [boat]? Why do you continue to do that?' The feeling was if Mike would do that to the captain, he'd do it to the rest of us. We understood what that meant."

Frandsen, currently coaching in California, acknowledged he's been taking heat over his blog and for campaigning to have Spracklen ousted, as members of the 2012 men's eight team have stated. The three-time Olympian said he understood why he's the focus of the Spracklen story but insisted there is more to it than that.

"The common thread, all the way back to 1992 [when Spracklen first coached for Canada], is that there are guys who still can't talk about rowing because it's still too raw for them," Frandsen said of Spracklen's tactics. "You don't get that kind of reaction if you don't just make the team. Mike can shrug it off but the training environment in Victoria was toxic …

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"This is not just for me," Frandsen continued. "It's for some of the young guys coming up who have already experienced being second-class citizens under Mike."

Spracklen, who has been receiving countless phone calls and e-mails from his supporters, isn't sure where he'll coach next. While many wonder how Rowing Canada is going to win more Olympic medals in 2016 without Spracklen's wealth of knowledge, the man himself has a different question – how did his tenure as head coach of the men's eight and national heavyweight program end with an Olympic silver medal and him losing his job?

"You've got one person [Frandsen] and he gets as much publicity as 50 people. It's beyond me how one person can make so much noise and get listened to," Spracklen said.

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About the Author
Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. He joined the Globe and Mail in 1997 with an extensive sports background having covered Stanley Cup finals, the Grey Cup, Summer and Winter Olympics, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the 1989 Super Bowl riot and the 1989 earthquake World Series. More

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