Secrets of star fitness: The making of the Silken Laumann Story


It took a lot more than just makeup and a haircut to turn an actress into a world-class rower

By Erin McLaughlin

TV Guide. June 22, 1996.



When Silken Laumann bounced back from a career-threatening injury to win the bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, it seemed to take a superhuman effort. “Golden Will, The Silken Laumann Story,” stars Nancy Anne Sakovich as the rower, who matures from a gawky adolescent into a focused Olympic athlete. Laumann, who’ll be heading to the Atlanta Games in July, shared her thoughts with TV GUIDE on how difficult it was to see a movie made of her life.


The hard part wasn’t having someone play me, it was having a movie made about me. because I’m only 31. I didn’t know how my life would translate into a movie. This movie’s not literal. it’s more a representation of what happened. For example, it’s taken me 13 years to learn how to row, and there’s no way somebody with three weeks training can really know. But for people who don’t know the sport, you can fake it with cutting and body doubles. What the movie does is give a good sense of my life.
“While I’m really happy with the movie, I’m a perfectionist. so there will always be things l would have liked to do differently. But the acting world of make-believe is far from the world of me as an athlete, so when I sit down and watch the movie,I just try to think that I’m watching a story. It just happens to be about me.


as a rower, Laumann’s beauty routine is as simple as it gets- no makeup, but plenty of sunblock to protect her skin from the sun during eight hours of daily rowing. Even so, Sakovich had to do a major makeover to look like the Olympic rower. “They wanted me to look as close to her as possible,” says the 5’foot’9 actress.


THE HAIR: “I call it the ‘trauma cut” Sakovich says of the functional ‘do she wears in the movie,”and to make it even worse, I had to have it cut three times before they would approve that it was short enough.” Next, delicate highlights lightened her hair mimicking Laumann’s baby fine locks.”Now, I’m finally getting to grow it long again,” Sakovich adds, moaning,”but it’s taking so long.”


THE MAKEUP: Though Sakovich is used to wearing a considerable amount of makeup, both as a model and on Destiny Ridge, stage makeup was shunned to achieve Laumann’s natural look. The Toronto actress went through the whole TV movie with only a touch of foundation applied with a wet sponge to smooth out her skin. She also puckered up with MAC spice lip liner and lip gloss.”Sometimes I’d be so fed up with how plain I looked that I’d beg to wear mascara,” she jokes.


Nancy Anne gets in shape


Three weeks of preparation for the role of an Olympic rower resulted In well-toned back, shoulder and arm muscles for Sakovich.


ROWING:  Up at 5:30 a.m.for a half hour on the rowing machine,Sakovich grabbed a quick snack before heading to Toronto’s Bayside Rowing Club. After three hours of rowing with coach Dominic Kahn, she took a quick nap,lunch, then back to rowing for several hours. Because She was a beginner, but in good physical shape, Kahn set up a fairy grueling daily workout.”I rowed so much I dreamt about it” says Sakovich, laughing.


WEIGHTS:  it’s a misconception that rowing is all about the upper body” says Kahn. In reality it’s “all legs and lats.” For her legs,Sakovich did lifts,hamstring exercises, squats,presses and stair climbing. for the upper body, she worked on the lats (those muscles along the outside of the back used for pulling), biceps and triceps. “All of a sudden I had lats,big biceps and these huge-looking shoulder,” Sakovich says proudly.”My shorts became too big for me. while my upper body strength was Just incredible!”


CROSS-TRAINING:  Even when Sakovich thought the agony was over, Kahn kept her going with an hour of daily aerobic exercise (Jogging, biking, StairMaster) to keep her heart working.


STRETCHING: To prevent muscle strain, Sakovich stretched before and after any kind of exercise.


DIET: Sakovich refueled during the intensive training with high-protein, high-carbohydrate food such as pasta, tuna, grains, and water – lots of it.


The making of Golden Will


Her initial three weeks of training done, Sakovich began shooting, last October. Over the next four weeks,she filmed her scenes in King City, Ont. (doubling for Victoria) and Toronto (doubling for Germany), as well as the southern US state of Georgia (doubling for Barcelona). Sakovich endured 12-hour days of acting while rowing in at least 85 per cent of the boating scenes (a professional stood in for tough scenes). “While it’s exhausting,rowing is often more intellectual than physical,” Sakovich says, “You have to imagine balancing on half a log in water.” she also discovered that starring in a major TV movie has its occupational hazards. Besides blistered hands, Sakovich also suffered from a mild case of hypothermia – which caused her body temperature to plummet to a critical level- when she fell into near freezing water wearing only a tank top and shorts during a scene filmed in November. Sakovich was admitted to hospital,also suffering from exhaustion. But two days later,she was back.”The only problem was the bruises from the fall.” she says.”I wore more makeup covering them than I did for the entire movie.” Sakovich sees the experience positively: “Working through my injuries was in a small way what Silken had to do when she was injured.”


Silken’s tips for fitness


Because Laumann sees herself as a role model for young Canadians, she didn’t want to divulge too many details of her workout regimen.”It’s obvious that my training is above and beyond what a lot of people could handle,” says the native of Mississauga, Ont. (For the grueling regimen an Olympic rower, see the sidebar on the next page.)

Part of Laumann’s success can be linked to a healthy attitude about stress, eating and working out -which includes relaxing.”I do take breaks,” she says.”I’m not a machine.”For one month, once a year, Laumann will only train once a day, and she takes a week off every five months.


An average day of training will involve at least five to eight hours of rowing.that intense workout means Laumann burns up more energy, and so her nutritional needs are greater than most people.While an average woman generally consumes about 1,800 calories, according to Canada’s Food Guide, Laumann says she eats more than 4,000 calories a day. She also recently changed from a daily ratio of 70 per cent carbohydrates, 20 per cent protein and 10 per cent fat to a pre-Olympic diet with more fat and protein. Surprisingly laid back about her diet, Laumann admits to occasionally indulging in junk food.”Rowing is different from sports like running because you’re not striving to be lean. Being fit just becomes natural from what you do.”


An Olympic program


It’s hard for non-athletes to imagine the number of hours committed by athletes. Dominic Khan, who has trained Olympic-level rowers,gives TV GUIDE a hint of the arduous Schedule.


ROWING: While runners have one intense work-out per day day,Olympic rowers spread out the pain. Rowing is an aerobic exercise, so they generally row three times a day. twice in the morning, once in the afternoon, for an hour and a half each time.


WEIGHT TRAINING: During competitive season, athletes do higher repetitions with lower weight. See Sakovich’s exercise on page 13.


CROSS-TRAINING: Most go for a run or other aerobic activity for at least an hour before bed.


SPARE TIME: Eat and sleep. Keep that body functioning!


FOOD: Athletes have to fulfill their caloric intake by making sure they eat lots of carbohydrates and protein. Many (as Laumann did) double their caloric intake.



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