Gabe Bergen’s former UCC Sun Demons teammates were a little surprised when he decided to become a competitive rower, but they certainly aren’t surprised that he has had so much success in his new sport.
Bergen, 30, helped Canada’s men’s eight crew to a silver medal at the London Olympics on Wednesday. The Canadian men finished behind the powerful Germans, who haven’t lost since 2009.
It wasn’t that long ago when Bergen moved from 100 Mile House to Kamloops to play guard for the UCC Sun Demons men’s basketball team’s 2003-04 B.C. Colleges Athletic Association season.
Although he played only one season with the Sun Demons — the program that would become the TRU WolfPack — the 6-foot-2 Bergen made an impression on his teammates.
And they were a little surprised when he headed to the U of Victoria and took up rowing in 2005.
“That did catch us off guard,” said former Sun Demons/WolfPack forward Jeff Friesen, who was in his first season in 2003-04. “But working out came very easy to him and he could put on muscle easily.
“He was definitely suited for (rowing).”
According to Friesen, Bergen was suited to do pretty much anything physical, based on his genetics.
Bergen’s father, Bob, competed in the men’s coxed pairs at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, finishing 13th.
And his two brothers — Rob and Karel — are both athletic. Rob played also played a season of men’s basketball at UCC before playing for the UVic Vikes. Karel currently is enjoying a successful mixed-martial arts career on Vancouver Island.
Rob Bergen, Friesen said, used to jump over players as part of his go-to slam-dunk contest routine — one time, he cleared former Sun Demons teammate Greg Stewart, who stands 7-foot-2. In another contest, Bergen used the 6-foot-7 Friesen as his prop.
“(Gabe’s) dad was an Olympic rower and his brothers are freaks athletically,” Friesen said. “They were all just natural athletes.”
Friesen said he has kept in touch with Gabe, and also remains close with Rob, who now is a firefighter. Friesen and Rob will be a part of the same team at the Centre of Gravity 4-on-4 basketball tournament that runs this weekend in Kelowna.
Gabe began rowing while at UVic, and won gold at his first world championships in 2006, when he, James Dunaway and cox Mark Laidlaw won the coxed pair event.
Since joining the eights crew in 2009, Bergen has won a world silver medal (2009) and world bronze (2011), pretty good considering how the Germans have dominated the event.
He joined Douglas Csima, Rob Gibson, Conlin McCabe, Malcolm Howard, Andrew Byrnes, Jeremiah Brown, Will Crothers and cox Brian Price in the boat that finished second in the men’s eight final on Wednesday.
The boat had a rough start to its Olympic experience, finishing last in its heat. It was forced to go through a repechage, where it finished second and advanced to the final.
Friesen has kept a close eye on his former teammate over the past few years, and was glad to see him get an Olympic medal.
“He was super-friendly, hilarious,” Friesen said. “He was easy to get along with and never really took anything too seriously.
“It’s nice to see him do well.”