Biographies » Silken Suzette Laumann - 1964-


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Silken Laumann was born in Mississauga on November 14, 1964. She grew up in a family that was and still is an athletic one. Silken began rowing in 1982 after giving up a career in competitive running. She had injured her back and was looking for a safe alternative to running while she was recuperating. She has been rowing ever since.

Two years after her start in rowing, she teamed with her sister Danielle to win an Olympic bronze medal in Los Angeles. That first taste of Olympic fever led to a career in rowing spanning twelve more years full of highs and lows.

Young Silken
Young Silken

The non-rowing community in Canada first started hearing of Silken with some regularity in 1991, when she won the World Championships in Tazmania. Silken had already developed into a powerhouse in international sculling by this time. Among her main rivals were Elisabeta Lipa of Romania, Annelies Bredael of Belgium, Maria Brandin of Sweden, and Anne Marden of the USA. Silken had decided to move out west to train in the more favourable winter conditions in Victoria. There she could also train alongside the men's team, for there were very few women on the national team that were at her level. She felt that training with the men would psychologically push her to a level that would keep her competitve edge sharp.

The international circuit is not an easy route for a Canadian sculler, or for any of the members of the Canadian team. Most have to raise funds to compete in regattas held in Europe or elsewhere. The funds for an A-carded athlete in Canada are quite meagre. Most need to supplement their bursary with donations from family, friends or the community. Silken was a contender in 1991 for the World Cup, and needed to raise enough money just to travel to the minimum number of World Cup races in order to qualify. She eventually did raise the funds, and won the prestigious World Cup. That year she was also presented with the Lou Marsh Award and was 5 times named as the Athlete of the Month by the Sports Federation of Canada.

Silken in Tazmania
Silken in Tazmania

Silken became one of Canada's premiere medal hopes leading up to the 1992 Olympics, in Barcelona, Spain. With 8 weeks to go before the Olympics, she was in a nearly fatal collision with a German pair while warming up for a regatta in Essen, Germany. Her injuries were severe. She required a skin graft and five operations in ten days. She did not allow this accident to draw a shadow on her dream. She pursued her comeback with such fierce desire and determination that she captured the hearts of people around the world.

For all those who watched the singles final that year, most were impressed that she had simply made it that far. When Silken dropped to fourth behind Anne Marden of the USA, Canadians all over felt that she had tried her best and would unfortunately not finish in the medals. When interviewed later, Silken said that she simply could not accept a fourth place finish after having come so far.

"I was already up for a completely committed effort." [What pushed me], "was the feeling that I'd come so far and if I could commit just a little more energy I could win a medal."

Viewers were awed by the sight of Silken pushing, seemingly beyond human means to pass Marden and finish third, behind Bradael and winner Lipa.

Silken took a full year off of the water following the Olympics. During this time she married a fellow national team member John Wallace. The years following Barcelona were slightly less financially difficult for Silken, after acquiring some sponsors, such as IDA, Subaru, Nike and McDonald's. Her sports superstatus in Canada made these sponsorhips possible, and were certainly not the norm for the National team.

Fully committed for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Silken began the three year trek by winning her first International competition since Barcelona. That was the Holland Beker Regatta in Amsterdam. Following that she redeemed her position as Canada's top single sculler by winning the Rotsee Regatta in Lucerne with a course record of 7:17.09.

Silken at Speedorders
Silken at Speedorders

An unfortunate double false start in the final of the World Championships in 1994 disqualified her from that event. Silken trained hard over the winter and started the 1995 season with an impressive win in the single sculls at the Pan American Games in Argentina. This was not a completely happy event for Silken however. After competing in and winning the quad event, the drug test results came back positive for Silken. There was evidence of a banned performance-enhancing substance in her body. To Silken and anyone that knew her, this was shocking news. Silken has always been the most ardent supporter of drug testing and drug-free sport. She felt so strongly about this that during her leg operations she requested that she be given a minimum amount of pain-killers. In the event that she would be able to row in Barcelona, she did not want any residual effects of any drugs. During her recuperation, she relied only on ASA tablets. The source of the banned substance in 1995 was from a cold remedy. She had been suffering tremendously from flu-like symptoms, and asked the team doctor to recommend something for relief. Either through miscommunication or misunderstanding, Silken took a form of a common cold medicine that contained the banned substance. The consequences were quick and dramatic. The quad members were stripped of their gold medals. More important to Silken was that the public and the young athletes that saw her as a role model might believe that she knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs. Probably, this more than anything weighed heavily on Silken's mind.

To put this unfortunate incident out of her mind and concentrate on the next year of training was most important for Silken. The year went by without much incident. Silken raced at the regatta in Essen, and could not help but think of the accident in 1992. She remained positive and focused on the racing at hand; the regatta went by and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

The Olympics in Atlanta were soon upon the National Team. Again, Silken was favoured for a medal, as were several other national team members. No one expected to see the gargantuan athlete from Belarus. Ekaterina Khodotova was a relatively new athlete in the field. She had been competing for several years, in limited international venues. Silken was able to keep pace with Khodotova for the first half of the race, but it was clear by the end that Khodotova was stronger. Silken finished second, good enough for the silver medal. Not the colour that she was hoping for, and certainly not the colour she deserved. Silken is no ordinary athlete. Not physically large by international standards, her sheer power and strength has made Silken one of the fastest rowers in the world.

Silken retired from the National Team shortly after the 1996 Olympics. She has since had a son, William, and remains involved in the rowing community in Victoria. We are proud to have Silken as one of our more distinguished members.

Silken at Tops and Bottoms
Silken at Tops and Bottoms
Bryan and Silken
Bryan and Silken
Silken and Kay
Silken and Kay