Silken’s Olympic triumph: true grit in the True North

Richard HelmĀ  (Edmonton Journal)

June 23, 1996


Cynics to the rear, please. Golden Will is not another of those cagey Canadian film productions aimed at a target audience — in this instance that huge sculling crowd out there.
Rather, it’s a triumph-of-will story, Canuck-style, recounting the determination of Silken Laumann, the mop-topped dynamo who came back from horrific leg injuries to snag a bronze medal for rowing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Viewers can determine for themselves Monday night at 8 on CFRN (Cable 2) whether Laumann’s life story is worthy of a two-hour, $2-million biopic.
The producers insist the film stands on its own merits, regardless of the nice lead-in afforded by the Atlanta Games in July, where Laumann will compete. This reviewer thought it dragged all too frequently, that the Olympian re-enactments rarely seemed Olympian, and the storyline paddled treacherously far afield in filling the time. Case in point, revisiting Silken’s trip to the vet to have the family pooch put down.
Still, the lead portrayal is a nice piece of work by Nancy Sakovich, whom viewers will recall from her days as warden biologist Julie Fryman on Destiny Ridge, the CTV series cancelled last season. Sakovich certainly fondly remembers Alberta, after a full season of shooting Destiny in Jasper.
“It’s a province where I’d like to live,” says Sakovich, now trying her hand in Los Angeles. “My plan is to get a ranch in the foothills.
“Destiny Ridge was a pretty life-altering experience for me, all in all.”
So too, it turns out, was the frenetic shooting schedule for Golden Will.
Twenty days of filming began in Ontario last October, already a late start to what is supposed to be a summer movie. And this year, winter came early.
“There were some days that we woke up and there were six inches of snow on the ground for a scene that wasn’t suppose to have anything to do with snow. But you have to work around that when you’re shooting in a tight schedule,” Sakovich said in a recent interview.
“We were all outside working but I’m the one in the tank top and shorts. We’re right on the water and it’s snowing, and I’m supposed to look warm.”
She was laughing at that point, ruefully.
“There were times when they actually sprayed me with water.”
Filming the testament to Laumann’s remarkable stamina, endurance and indominatable will became a rigorous test for Sakovich as well.
She was given less than three weeks of training to bulk up arms and shoulders to the point where she might pass for an Olympic rower.
During shooting, the numbing cold dulled the sense in her hands, making it difficult to balance the scull. Sakovich completed almost all of the rowing scenes herself, although her dual burden of rowing and acting was eventually eased by a pontoon boat secured to the scull that towed the tiny craft through the water.
Production was supposed to wrap in Victoria but the weather there was so terrible the final scenes were shifted at the last moment to Elberton, Ga., doubling for Barcelona.
Golden Will covers Laumann’s life from age 18 to her comeback at Barcelona and, away from the rowing ponds, depicts a squabbling and uneven home life. Laumann is one of two daughters of strong-willed German immigrants and her mother comes off particularly badly — erratic and depressed, and given to long and sudden absences from home.
The family story is obviously interwoven here to give Laumann’s drive some context. But Sakovich says the film takes no creative licence with reality. She also says playing Laumann was made easier by having the genuine article so closely involved with the film project.
“Silken was involved right from the beginning. She sat with the writer, Joy Fielding, and they interviewed endlessly. So it’s all true,” Sakovich says.
“She and I spoke throughout the filming and I felt I got a pretty good idea of what her essence is.”


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