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Canadian Olympians: Win Or Lose, They Play A Good Tune

Canadian rower — and classically trained pianist — Michael Braithwaite hopes for gold Wednesday.
Courtesy of Michael Braithwaite
Canadian rower — and classically trained pianist — Michael Braithwaite hopes for gold Wednesday.

Canadian rower Michael Braithwaite is pumped and probably a little nervous. It's the day before the double sculls (two person team) competition at the London Olympics and the British Columbia native is hoping his strong arms and shoulders will bring him gold.

But before joining the University of Toronto rowing club and pursuing all his Olympic training, the 22-year-old athlete flexed a very different set of muscles.

"It would surprise you to know that I'm a classically trained pianist," Braithwaite writes on his Team Canada web page.

And he's not alone. Out of the 277 Canadian Olympians in London, a surprising 19 are alumni of nationwide music programs based at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. Like Jeremiah Brown. The Ontario native snagged a silver medal today in the men's eight rowing competition along with another musician, Doug Csima. Brown studied piano at a high level and branched out to drums, singing and songwriting. He also built a music studio in his garage, helping other musicians to record their music.

Then there's Heather Steacy from Lethbridge, Alberta. As a kid, she chose her beloved clarinet over sports, eventually giving figure skating and swimming a try. But no one saw the hammer throw coming — except possibly her brother Jim. He's Canada's top hammer thrower and is also competing at the London Games. Heather took first place at the national competition this year and is hoping for Olympic gold Aug. 10.

So far (as of Tuesday morning) Canada has won five medals, with two landing in the hands of trained musicians. Not a bad ratio for what are called "the elite athletes of the small muscles."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.