Guiding the Women's Eight Toward London 2012

What Motivates Lesley Thompson-Willie

At the bow of the boat, Lesley Thompson-Willie has navigated one fantastic athletic career for herself. The rowing coxswain is a seven-time Olympian. She has won four Olympic medals. That is more than any Canadian who competes in one event per Games. And for that, she already sits in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. caught up with Thompson-Willie at the “Road to London” event in Toronto this summer. Should she make the trek to London in 2012, it will mark her eighth time as an Olympian – a very rare feat. She keeps roiling the waters with the women’s eight for the camaraderie of exceptional athletes and to see what technical advances will do for the crew in London. “Plus, I want to win,” she added.

Thompson-Willie (London, Ont.) shies away from the word “leader” but her Olympic experience certainly doesn’t hinder the women’s eight. She won gold in the event in 1992, silver in 1996 and bronze in 2000. Back in 1984, she nabbed silver as cox of the women’s four. In Beijing, the women’s eight finished fourth – Thompson-Willie had never been so close to the podium and not climbed on it.

She is excited to see where Canada is headed with Own the Podium and technology advancements. “I came back to see where we could go with the sport,” she said. “I wasn’t going to come back and do the same old thing. We were going new places, with new advances in the sport. I’m excited to see it implemented.”

In the last few years, she has seen changes in Canada’s rowing program, whose scullers have netted 38 Olympic medals. She couldn’t speak to most (they are secretive), but there are new coaches, new video systems, a new training centre, and a renewed focus on nutrition. “We’re definitely seeing support on an individual athlete level,” Thompson-Willie said.

More than anything, the veteran cox is excited. There is a very positive team atmosphere being fostered. She thrives on an environment filled with high performance athletes whose job is to be the best. “It’s exciting to work in an atmosphere where people are striving for excellence.”

She believes the system being set in place – the bar set high with goals, expectations and support – will lead to good things, as competitive athletes challenge themselves to reach any goal.

Thompson-Willie describes the women’s eight in a way that suggests there is minimal conflict. Everyone understands their job, and the younger rowers respect her position as cox and the responsibilities that go with it. “Nobody is questioning, nobody is trying to make things more difficult. It’s like a puzzle where all the pieces fit,” she said.

Though she holds a sparkling Olympic resume, Thompson-Willie looks ahead rather than backward. “Every experience I’ve had has been totally different,” she said. “From one Olympics to the next, it’s not the same. The past is just an experience you move on from to help you in the future.”