Swede Burak
4/2/20
Bernie Puchalski, BP Sports Niagara

Canada Games Alumni Spotlight: Swede Burak

As an athlete, Swede Burak experienced the thrills and excitement of the Opening Ceremonies at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, the 1975 Pan Am Games in Mexico and the 1983 Pan Am Games in Venezuela.

Team Ontario’s men’s rowing coach at the 2017 Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg had a chance to relive those experiences at Bell MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg.

“Since I had been to the Olympics and a couple of Pan American Games, it brought back memories when we walked into the Opening Ceremonies,” said the 2019 St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame inductee. “It was the experience, not for myself, but to see these young athletes doing it. You have athletes ranging from 12 to 25 and you’re wondering how many of these athletes are going to be Olympians. It’s quite a few when you look at the record.”

The assistant rowing coach at Brock and former head coach of the South Niagara Rowing Club wasn’t supposed to be part of Ontario’s coaching staff, but stepped in at the team’s training camp in St. Catharines six weeks before the Games started when another coach had to resign for personal reasons.

“Selection was already done and we just had to fine-tune the training,” he said. “I just had to make sure I didn’t slow them down."

It was an easy decision to say yes.

“I hadn’t coached Canada Games before and as an athlete, I had not been able to attend because I was in the age range where I was disallowed.”

The Ontario squad flew into Winnipeg and, following the Opening Ceremonies, took a bus to Kenora, which is located about 200 kilometres from Winnipeg. The rowing was staged at Kenora Rowing Club on Rabbit Lake and the satellite athletes village was two high schools in Kenora. The males stayed in one high school and the females in another. All of the classrooms had been stripped of desks and replaced with cots.

“It was great. Different teams had different classrooms,” Burak said. “We would eat in the cafeteria and every second meal they allowed you to eat at the other high school. I was impressed. It was really good food.”

On the water, the men’s team won six gold and one silver medal in the seven events.

“We dominated,” he said.

Burak’s most memorable on-the-water moment from the Games was watching the Ontario men’s four squad take home a silver medal in the open weight competition, which came a day after that same Ontario foursome won gold in the men’s lightweight event.

“They lost by a metre or two to British Columbia but that was a great highlight to see these young men who were really underweight compete very well against the open weights,” he said.

Local rowers on the men’s team included: Luke Gadsdon, Nicholas Nero and Owen Voelkner from St. Catharines; Ethan McAlpine from Grimsby; Jared Naar from Fonthill; and, Riley Raso from Welland.

Among the local athletes on the women’s squad were: Rebecca Camplin from Fenwick, Emma Dockray from Grimsby; Lauren Kelly from Vineland; Jasmine Leheta, Anna Maloney and Emily Stewart from Niagara Falls; Alicia Piazza from St. Catharines; and, Riley Raso from Welland.

Burak is excited about the 2021 Canada Summer Games coming to Niagara and the rowing events being staged at Henley Island.

“I am hoping that we have good results and I know right now that RowOntario is on top of the game trying to keep it alive,” he said. “The head coach has already been announced and now they are looking for assistant coaches.”

He will be more than just an interested spectator in 2021.

“I won’t be coaching but I will probably be down at the island helping out in some capacity, either during the Games as an official or on the grounds crew.”

He feels all of Niagara should be excited about hosting the Games.

“We are the only country in the world that has a multi-sport Games similar to the Pan Am Games or the Olympics,” he said. “The Canada Games coming to Niagara is huge and that’s exciting. We are going to have not just rowing, which we are used to seeing in this area, but we are going to have a lot of high-profile, young athletes in sports like wrestling, track and field, and canoe/kayak.

This report was filed by BP Sports Niagara, which is owned and operated by Bernie Puchalski and Bill Potrecz.

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