Canada's men's eights celebrate after crossing the finish line to win the silver medal Wednesday.

Canada's men's eights celebrate after crossing the finish line to win the silver medal Wednesday.

When Canada won the gold medal in the men’s eights in 2008, Doug Csima was watching from Beacon Hill Villa, a residential care facility in Victoria, B.C. where he works as a nurse.

It had been five years since he started rowing and, in fact, it was the opportunity to train with the national team that had lured the Oakville native to Victoria. Having trained alongside the men who were standing on the podium, he could fully appreciate what it took for them to achieve their goal — the hours of repetitious practice, the time away from family.

“It was amazing what they put into it,” he said.

But just five hours after helping propel Canada across the Olympic finish line to earn a silver medal, Csima was still trying to come to grips with the fact that it was now himself standing on the podium.

“It’s just so hard to believe,” he said. “I was looking at the grandstand and I kept looking at the London 2012 logo and the (Olympic) rings. I had to keep reminding myself that, yeah, I’m at the Olympics and I’m standing on the podium with a medal.”

Never mind what he and his teammates had overcome in the last four years, they had fight through the doubts that had surfaced in the last four days.

Due to its past success, Canada’s men’s eights have become the country’s highest profile summer Olympic team. Since 1984, no sport has produced more gold medals (seven) or total medals (23) for Canada than rowing. And the men’s eights is Canada’s most decorated crew. It’s not quite hockey in the winter Olympics, but there are heightened expections for the eights — witness Canada’s fifth-place finish in Athens that was viewed as a huge disappointment coming off back-to-back world championship victories.

Even with six first-time Olympians in this year’s eights, there were hopes for a medal. Csima had been a member of the crews that had won bronze at the 2011 world championships and a silver in 2009 as well as the Olympic crew that set a world record in the heats at a World Cup earlier this year.

But matched against a powerhouse German crew that has gone undefeated since 2009, Canada had a disasterous outing in the heats as the Olympic competition got underway Saturday. It finished fourth — last by nine seconds — behind Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands.

“I’d be lying if I said we weren’t nervous after the heats. There was huge anxiety,” the Iroquois Ridge grad said. “We got a little too excited. We wanted to show the Germans how fast we were and put a stamp on the regatta. We went off a little fast, and with only two guys back (from the last Olympics), we showed our inexperience. We were a little shell shocked.”

With a day off between the heats and Monday’s repechage, the crew worked on its change of pace, finding a sustainable stroke rate and rebuilding its confidence. They came out looking like an entirely different crew, finishing second less than six-tenths of a second behind Great Britain to secure their place in Wednesday’s final. It turned out to be exactly the kind of race the Canadians needed.

“We knew the Brits were a fast crew,” Csima said of the silver medalists from the last two world championships. “They’ve been pushing the Germans so we knew that if we were close to the Brits, we had a chance to get on the podium.”

Canada was third throughout the race and was still a second back of Great Britain as they hit three-quarter mark on the 2,000-metre course. Over the final 250 metres, Canada surged past the British crew, which wasn’t able to meet their challenge, finishing 1.2 seconds behind the Canadians while Germany took the gold.

As they crossed the line, an exhausted Csima fell back into the lap of teammate Gabriel Bergen.

“It’s pretty hard to describe,” Csima said of the finish. “It was just a huge weight taken off our shoulders. I feel so good for the guys and how we all came together. And now we have a silver medal to share with our family and our friends who have given us so much support.”

And Csima was certainly in the mood to share.

“It’s definitely been working its way around,” he said of the medal. “A couple of times I’ve had to ask, ‘Have you seen my medal?’”

Csima will have a lifetime to have a closer look at it, but even though it had only been hours since it was first hung around his neck, he already likes what he sees.

“This medal is big and it’s heavy, but that’s great,” he said. “It reflects the work that it took to get it.”