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Silken Laumann

Full name: Silken Suzette Laumann (-Wallace)
Gender: Female
Height: 5-10.5 (180 cm)
Weight: 159 lbs (72 kg)
Born: November 14, 1964 in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Affiliations: Don Rowing Club, Mississauga (CAN) / VCRC, Victoria (CAN)
Country: CAN Canada
Sport: Rowing

Related Olympians: Sister of Danièle Laumann; Wife (divorced) of John Wallace.

Medals: 1 Silver, 2 Bronze (3 Total)

Biography

Silken Laumann is the greatest female rower ever produced by Canada. Her brilliant career has lacked only an individual sculling gold medal, but her failure to win gold at the 1992 Olympics may have been her finest moment in sport.

Laumann began her sports career as a runner but at age 17 turned to rowing along with her older sister, Danièle. They quickly advanced to the Canadian national team, and in 1984 at Los Angeles, teamed to win a bronze medal in the Olympic double sculls. After Danielle retired from the sport, Silken Laumann continued with other partners and began to scull a single as well. In 1985, she finished 4th at the World Championships in the single sculls. After a single sculls gold medal at the 1987 Pan-American Games, she returned to the doubles for the 1988 Olympics at Seoul, finishing 7th with Kay Worthington.

After the 1988 Olympics, Silken Laumann focused almost exclusively on the single sculls. She finished 7th at the 1989 World Championships and progressed to 2nd in 1990, before winning the singles World Championship in 1991. She dominated women’s sculling in that year, also winning international titles at Lucerne, San Diego, and Hazelwinkel (BEL) as part of the World Cup. With the 1992 Olympics on the horizon, Silken Laumann was the heavy favorite to win the gold medal in single sculls at Barcelona.

But shortly before the Barcelona Olympics, training at a lake in Essen, Germany on 16 May 1992, her dreams were shattered. Another scull and she collided and the impact drove a piece of the splashboard into Laumann’s leg. She sustained an open tibia fracture, with concurrent nerve damage, which permanently weakened her leg. She also lost skin and soft tissue that required multiple operations. She noted that “The muscles on the outside of my right leg were peeled back and hanging down to the ankle … the doctors thought I would never row again.” Her gold medal plans seemed doomed but she refused to quit. Pushing herself into rehab, she determined to compete at Barcelona, even if she was at less than her previous dominant self, “I will not forget getting back into the shell. I love the sport so much, but I didn’t fully realize it until I got out there. I just sat in the boat for a time, pushed off the dock, then started to cry. It was wonderful.”

Laumann did not win the single sculls at Barcelona, but she did medal, finishing 3rd behind her arch-rival, Romania’s Elisabeta Lipa. Olympic chronicler, Bud Greenspan, said it best, “Canada won four gold medals and one bronze medal in rowing at Lake Banyoles. Let the word go out that on this day the bronze medal shone as brightly in the Barcelona sun as any of the gold.”

Laumann’s career did not end at Barcelona. Still with nerve and muscle damage to her injured leg, she finished 2nd at the Worlds in 1995 in the singles, and repeated that finish for an Olympic silver medal at Atlanta in 1996 before retiring. But it was her courageous performance at Barcelona for which she will always be best remembered.

Results

Games Age City Sport Event Team NOC Rank Medal
1984 Summer 19 Los Angeles Rowing Women's Double Sculls Canada CAN 3 Bronze
1988 Summer 23 Seoul Rowing Women's Double Sculls Canada CAN 7
1992 Summer 27 Barcelona Rowing Women's Single Sculls Canada CAN 3 Bronze
1996 Summer 31 Atlanta Rowing Women's Single Sculls Canada CAN 2 Silver

Women's Single Sculls

Games Age City Sport Team NOC Phase Unit T
1992 Summer 27 Barcelona Rowing Canada CAN Final 7:28.85
1992 Summer 27 Barcelona Rowing Canada CAN Semi-Finals Heat Two 7:30.48
1992 Summer 27 Barcelona Rowing Canada CAN Round One Heat One 7:46.16
1996 Summer 31 Atlanta Rowing Canada CAN Final 7:35.15
1996 Summer 31 Atlanta Rowing Canada CAN Semi-Finals Heat One 7:57.68
1996 Summer 31 Atlanta Rowing Canada CAN Round One Repêchage Heat Three 8:28.88
1996 Summer 31 Atlanta Rowing Canada CAN Round One Heat Three 8:10.57

Women's Double Sculls

Games Age City Sport Team NOC Partner Phase Unit T
1984 Summer 19 Los Angeles Rowing Canada CAN Danièle Laumann Final 3:29.82
1984 Summer 19 Los Angeles Rowing Canada CAN Danièle Laumann Round One Heat One 3:26.72
1988 Summer 23 Seoul Rowing Canada CAN Kay Worthington B Final 8:03.56
1988 Summer 23 Seoul Rowing Canada CAN Kay Worthington Round One Repêchage Heat One 7:36.80
1988 Summer 23 Seoul Rowing Canada CAN Kay Worthington Round One Heat One 7:46.89
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