Friday, October 29, 2010

Honeymoon Over for Tim McLaren -- Results Please

As the US men take to the water in Karapiro, the looming questions about current Head Coach Tim McLaren are: can he have the same success in the US 'system' (really a euphemism for a random selection of clubs and athletes all over the country who come together, usually at the last minute, and are thrown into lineups largely based on erg scores) that he had in the much more structured Australian one? Can he impose that same kind of structure on the truly amateur sport in the US? How will the US Team fair in the second year of his coaching regime? What are acceptable results?

Last year's performance at the World Championships did not make a sterling impression on his adopted home, as none of the camp boats medaled -- in fact, the only boats that took home any hardware at all were the victorious Coxed Pair (Henrik Rummel and Troy Kepper), and the second-place Lightweight VIII. Neither is an Olympic event, and the Lightweight VIII had only 9 entries (though, to be fair, it's a larger showing than the 2005 Gifu World Championships). More troubling than this is that outside of the two aforementioned boats, only one other US entry even so much as made the A Final (the 2- of David Banks and Charlie Cole). Naturally, this boat has been broken up and inserted into the VIII (?), and the pair will be OKC Training Center's Ryan Monaghan and Deaglan McEachern -- certainly very experienced (both having raced for the Light Blues in the Boat Race), but as yet untested on the international scene in this combination (though McEachern has raced internationally as a sculler). I just have trouble understanding why the one successful Olympic-class boat from last year was abandoned.

This is also true of the 4-, which only has one remaining member from the combination that had success earlier in the season (Giuseppe Lanzone), and is also as yet untested on the international stage. Again, I take nothing away from the potential of this crew to succeed. The thing is, most of the European and World crews they will be racing have been in their lineups much longer, and have a track record of success leading up to this appearance at the World Championships. There are some intangibles that take time to develop, and sometimes the fastest guys don't always make the fastest combination (remember 1997, 1998, 1999, followed by 2000?).

Being on the outside looking in, I am not privy to much of the information that has gone into the creation of these lineups. But that's just the problem. There doesn't seem to be any of that 'transparency' that the current political regime is so fond of, and what little data there is outside Princeton doesn't seem to align perfectly with the decisions being made. In the grand scheme of things, I understand that my opinion means little, and that if everything goes swimmingly in Karapiro, McLaren may just turn out to be a genius. However, if what we are seeing is a restructuring of the US system for the 2012 games, I've no idea where things are headed, and there seems to be even less cohesion on the part of US Rowing than ever before (especially now that it's spread somewhere between Princeton, Chula Vista, OKC and Berkeley). At the moment, the momentum seems to be with OKC, as I wrote two weeks ago. But what does that mean? Two years ago, the place to be was CRC -- now coachless and stagnant.

Perhaps we are also seeing how the long-term, unanticipated results of Title IX are affecting US Rowing. The women's team has a highly structured system, and a great deal of results on the international circuit. It can draw from a huge intercollegiate pool of athletes, many of whom get their start in junior programs with an eye toward being recruited to college. Opportunities abound. The men's team, on the other hand, has a dwindling number of varsity programs from which to draw athletes (and so is more dependent on the less-stable club system), little-to-no financial incentive (outside of pure love of the sport) for its athletes to make a cross-country move in order to be considered, and declining results on the international stage. To make matters worse, the few remaining men's varsity programs in the US have increased their international recruiting, leaving even fewer spots to develop future prospects for the US on the men's side.

There doesn't seem to be any over-arching structure, which could guide all the training centers popping up here and there toward some kind of common goal or technique, and the result is what we have now: a new 'elite' training center emerging every couple of years or so, sending a new batch of athletes out to Worlds, few if any of whom return to that same system or continue to be developed. Case in point: the Coxed Pairs race from trials this year. The result was a 0.2 second margin with the victorious combination from OKC going to Worlds, while the second-place crew (which clearly could have been on the other side of that result on any given day), made up of Steve Kasprzyk and Troy Kepper, must watch from home. Both Kasprzyk and Kepper were on the Worlds team last year, and Kepper was one of only two Americans to come home with a gold medal. But, apparently, he is not worth developing.

I truly hope that this is not the case this year, as I wish them nothing but success, and I'll be excitedly watching the results. One of the things I love most about the sport is that it is still largely amateur (at least in the US), and that causes some of the very problems I've discussed. Still, I think we can do better in creating a more organized, if not more centralized, training system that doesn't let people who have proven they can be successful on the international stage fall through the cracks.

I also know that Tim McLaren is an excellent coach for individual boats, as he has proven time and time again on the international scene, most recently with his success with the Men's 2x from CRC, which qualified for the Beijing Olympics, finishing 9th in only their second season together. But he made have bitten off more than he can chew coming into the highly disorganized, high-pressure situation, plagued by low athlete retention, in which he now finds himself. That being said, if he can show significant improvement this year in Karapiro (Olympic-class boats making A Finals, at least 3-5 podium appearances overall), I think he has earned a full Olympic cycle. If the team falters once again, missing finals and coming home empty-handed, as, given the overall lack of international racing experience on this year's squad (outside of Jason Read), I'm afraid it might do, then something has to give.

Prove me wrong, please, Tim.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"I Row Crew" — Rowing in 'The Social Network'



Like many of the rowing faithful, I've been keeping up with the saga penned by Dan Boyne about the filming of the rowing scenes in David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network, and I must say I had high hopes going into the film. The first problem I encountered: the phrase, "I row crew." It was uttered so many times before anyone "rowed crew" on the water that I had trouble buying any of it later. It's understandable that the character of Mark Zuckerberg makes that mistake, since he has no idea about the sport. But when the Winklevoss twins themselves utter the phrase several times, one begins to wonder where Boyne was when these lines were not being chopped or changed. Seriously, who says that?

As far as the actual rowing goes, the first scene, which has the twins out training in a pair along with the rest of the Harvard squad, is not all bad. It just ends that way. The line, "Those guys are freakin' fast" is certainly every bit as cringe-worthy as Boyne indicated, and it's followed by a sudden, dramatic increase in stroke-rating by the Winklevi, which lasts until they are off camera (it's almost as if they too are embarrassed).

The heart of the matter is the Henley scene, where Harvard is pitted against the Dutch in a reenactment of the final of the Grand Challenge Cup in 2004. The rowing is not terrible, and they shot this scene at the actual venue during the HRR in 2009, so no complaints there. The trouble is, it is shot with an edge-blur, and in slow motion. The slow-motion is supposed to disguise the fact that the two crews are at impossibly low stroke-rates coming through the enclosures, and, coupled with the edge-blur (which makes the rate of motion of the environs -- close-to-normal -- less obvious), it almost works. To a rower's eye, however, it looks like they are doing a piece at a 22 in the Henley Final. Also, it's paired with close-ups of the Dutch making 'pain faces' and looking nervously over at the competition -- they are ever-so-scared of those dynamic Harvard boys!

The outcome, of course, follows history. However, the half-a-length loss is subsequently discussed as one of the closest races ever. Really? What about the Boat Race from 2003 (which takes place on the Thames and covers just over 4 miles), which came down to 1 foot? I suppose it's just a bit of fluff to make the twins look good in losing (actually, much of the movie is that way).

I know that the amount of people who actually know anything about the sport makes up quite a small percentage of the population, so ultimately, it's up to the Hollywood execs, who know what sells to the everyday moviegoer. However, given the amount of hype this movie has gotten in the rowing community, I expected more rowing than most people would be interested in seeing, and more accuracy (if not in the rowing itself, then at least in the dialogue about it). Still, it's probably the most accurate depiction of rowing in a major motion picture to date, and for that, Boyne and the gang are to be commended. And hey -- at the very least, it's better than Take That's new video, featuring a 'quintuple.'

Head of the Charles Recap

The 46th running of the Head of the Charles is now over and done, and it's time to take another look at some of the predictions I made prior to the race. First -- let's look at the Men's Championship 1x:

Marcel Hacker, as I expected, didn't really commit to this piece and ended up just getting pipped out of first place by Michael Sivigny. The rehabilitation from injury has Hacker slightly lighter than usual, and he was bothered more by the wind, especially coming through Eliot Bridge, than he might have been if he were racing at full strength. A very strong showing, as I predicted, from Mike Perry of the Dolphin Club, who I know has been training quite a bit for this race. Jamie Koven, my predicted winner, finished 6th.

In the Championship 2x, not only did my predicted winner, the Graves brothers, repeat their feat of last year, they did it in dominant fashion, destroying the event this year by 45 seconds (yes, it was 45 seconds back to second place). I'm not surprised, just impressed.

In the Champ VIII, Cal, my predicted winner, finished a very close 3rd, behind Washington and a surprisingly fast Harvard crew racing on home waters. Penn AC finished 13th, as they had some issues with another VIII coming through Eliot Bridge, as was the story for many crews over the weekend. The US Rowing VIII, which finished just behind Cal, had to drop out their bow man for two strokes to make the turn properly, and it's things that like that make it clear that this is a nine-person race -- the coxswain really makes a difference on the Charles.

In the Lightweight 1x, things were unpredictable as usual. Rich Montgomery made an impressive reappearance on the racing circuit with a close 2nd place finish behind Christopher Storm, but Rob Zechmann, one of my favorites to win, finished a distant 13th, with Tim Larsen coming in 9th.

In the Lightweight VIII, Princeton University surprised everyone with an impressive performance. It's not that people don't expect that kind of thing from the Princeton Lightweight Men, it's just that no one expected to see the course record shattered by 12 seconds, from a crew that had to pass up a very quick and well-qualified entry from the NYAC (my predicted winner, who finished 5th, and featured Olympians Andrew Bolton and Pat Todd in their lineup) to get the job done. A very impressive win for Princeton, and certainly a statement about the year to come. Will we see another undefeated season from the Tigers, as we did in 2008 (capped off by a defeat of the Brown Frosh in the Temple Cup at Henley)? Tough to tell with lightweight rowing, but Princeton and Cornell look to be in a very good place going into winter training.

Harvard's program looks to be in great shape at the moment, as they fielded extremely competitive entries in the Club VIII, the Champ VIII, and the Lightweight VIII -- all crews winning or medaling in their events. Where is Gladstone in all this? Looks like Parker is coming out with guns blazing.

As far as my own results go, check out my web page at www.bryankitch.com for a detailed description of the race.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New Publication: Rowing Artwork for 2011

The new 'Rowing Related' calendar for 2011 is hot off the press, with paintings, drawings, and block prints depicting the sport we all know and love. The calendar is complete with both US and UK Holidays, and there is a preview available on the 'Publications' page. The images come from my own rowing experience, throughout the US, Europe and beyond, and reflect my interest in both the sport itself and the expression of its visual beauty in a variety of media. To see more of my artwork, and read more about my own athletic career, visit me online at www.bryankitch.com.

To visit my store front at lulu.com, click here.

To purchase this calendar, click 'Buy Now' below:

Support independent publishing: Buy this calendar on Lulu.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brooks Brothers HOCR Ad: Um, Rowing Consultant Needed?


The sport of rowing is certainly on the 'preppy' side, and God love Brooks Brothers for sponsoring a rowing event -- it's also a sport that could be described, in financial terms, as a 'money hole.' But if you are going to run a rowing-centered ad campaign at perhaps the most well-attended rowing event in the world, at least take the time to talk to someone who knows something about the sport, so that your poster doesn't come out looking like this.

It's certainly understandable that the models were only allowed to use a 15 year old Filippi (look at the wings), which is probably soldered to the dock to prevent the adolescent with the 'steely gaze' from falling in and becoming hopelessly entangled in the massive vest he has chosen for his morning outing. Not only that, but it appears that he is wearing jeans, all of which combine to further confirm the misconceptions of the general public regarding the sport already so ingrained by movies like The Skulls and others. Next time, before giving me Ashton Kutcher wearing a parka, maybe hang out at the river for a while and get a sense for why rowers have such a love for all things spandex.

Then again, I guess they're not trying to sell unisuits.

It's undoubtedly more financially viable for them to appeal to a non-rowing audience, which begs the question, why buy ad space in Rowing News? Don't get me wrong, I'm happy they did, but any rower who sees the ad will have a laugh at the final product.

As I said, bless them for sponsoring such a great event, and I think the rowing community should appreciate the exposure. And speaking of rowing in the media, I need to take a look at the rowing scenes in The Social Network -- I've heard good things...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Head of the Charles Picks

It's just over a week until the Head of the Charles, and looking through the entries, there are very many events that are wide open this year with Worlds being held down in Karapiro. That said, there are a few events where the front-runners seem clear. Let's take a look.

In the Champ Single, the only appearance from the international scene (this year, anyway) is Marcel Hacker, who won't be racing at Worlds due to his recovery period from an injury. Though typically that might put him at the top of the heap, I don't know what kind of form he is in coming back from injury (broken rib), and he can be very unpredictable even when healthy. For these reasons, Jamie Koven is my pick to win the Champ 1x. Hacker is more than capable of winning, depending on the day and his condition, so I would certainly expect him to be in the top 10, along with Mike Perry (Dolphin Club, San Francisco), Michael Sivigny, Geoffrey Hoffman, Jens Robatzek, and possibly Donny Simkin. I'm not familiar with J. Rodriguez from Club España A.C., but he may show some speed as well (though it is a course much like the Thames -- it really helps to know its idiosyncrasies).

In the Championship Double, my pick is a repeat from the Graves brothers. Tom Graves and brother Pete won the Champ 2x at the Charles last season, in a field that included Hacker and Drysdale, among others. They know the course, and they know how to win. I just don't see anyone toppling these two from the podium this year.

In the Lightweight Single, Rich Montgomery is making a comeback, and is a wild card. The other entry from the NYAC is Bill Golden, who has a great engine, and is someone I would definitely expect to see in the top 10. Alex Zosuls should make that group, and I would expect Cody Lowry to be in the mix as well. Based on the results from Trials, however, I would expect it to come down to a fight between Rob Zechmann, Sam Cunningham, Robert Meenk and David Smith. All four just missed the final at Trials, and Zechmann and Smith both have the advantage of home water. As with all things lightweight, it will be a dogfight.

In the Champ VIII, the field will be without the strongest entries from US and foreign national teams this year, so, as indicated in Rowing News, I would lean toward a US Collegiate winner this year. Cal and Washington are the top two, and I'm going to pick the Golden Bears to win the Champ VIII this year. I'm not sure who'll fill out the US Rowing entry, but outside of Cal and Washington, there is one crew that will undoubtedly be very strong as well -- Penn A.C. The boat will have four oarsmen who were very close to going to Karapiro in the coxed pair (Steve Kasprzyk and Troy Kepper were edged out by two tenths of a second at Trials), and a chip on their shoulder because of it. Look for Penn A.C. to be in the top three. Keep an eye on Old Glory Boat Club, and Oxford University Boat Club as well (take a look at a few of the names in that lineup).

In the Lightweight VIII, the final event on the schedule this year, the top contenders look to be Yale, Harvard and Princeton, as you might expect. However, my dark horse to win the event is the entry from the NYAC. They have a great deal of experience, both ivy league and international, and they will be gunning for a title in a field that, for the first time in some time, does not feature an entry from Riverside.

The racing will no doubt be intense and close, and I look forward to seeing how it all turns out -- not to mention doing a bit of racing myself!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

'Video of the Week' Page

Each week, I'll be adding a 'Video of the Week' to the main page, and, depending on its nature, give a technical analysis of the rowing, or explain what it is that motivates me about the video. This week, the VOTW is another race from the 2006 World Championships at Eton -- perhaps it's a combination of missing the UK and anticipating the 2012 Olympics (which are to take place on that course) that has me referencing this particular regatta so much. The race here is the Men's 4-, and the effort is impressive from the Americans, who have been struggling to find a combination outside the VIII for some time. The crew to watch, however, is the British four, who would go on to win the Beijing Olympics, and who make the most of their power by being extremely efficient with their use of energy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Oklahoma City to Replace CRC and Chula Vista as Secondary National Team Training Center?

Just before the term began this Fall, Steve Gladstone and Joel Scrogin, the two coaches-in-residence at California Rowing Club in the wake of Tim McLaren's departure, took off for Yale. Why would Gladstone take the Yale job? That's the subject for an entirely separate debate. But where does all this leave CRC?

Only two years ago, CRC was an elite sculling training center, much like Pocock has become in the Pacific Northwest, and under the guidance of Tim McLaren, athletes wanting to develop their talents in the post-collegiate rowing atmosphere of California (typically a wasteland when compared to the East Coast) finally had an opportunity to do more than just bash out 1,000 meter pieces in Masters VIIIs. The program was working very well, and produced an Olympic Men's 2x much earlier than originally planned, made up of former Cal oarsman Elliot Hovey and his counterpart Wes Piermarini. Then, in the wake of the Beijing Olympics, Mike Teti decided to take on a new role, as Steve Gladstone stepped aside at Cal in order to help the CRC with its athlete development. Teti's move left a power vacuum on the East Coast, and McLaren, who had already produced an Olympic-caliber boat, took the reigns, though he was initially reluctant to leave his role at CRC entirely. After a lot of behind-the-scenes squabbling, we were left with Gladstone at CRC (along with Scrogin), and McLaren as the US National Team Head Coach, Mike Teti having landed quite successfully at Cal. It seemed for a short while that we had reached a new status quo. Then Gladstone and Scrogin left.

CRC has the capability to be every bit as good as the OKC TC that has sprung up over the past two years (click here for an article on OKC), but there is no one filling the role of Head Coach, and, as a result, not very many athletes getting the experience they'll need to be competitive should they wish to continue their rowing careers at a higher level. There are still athletes present, however, as CRC is next door to one of the most dominant forces in all of collegiate rowing, and perhaps that alone will sustain the remnants of a once-powerful presence until someone finally steps in to develop it once again. I understand that there is currently a search going on for the next man for the role, but in the meantime resources and athletic potential are being wasted. For these reasons, more and more athletes are finding themselves with no option but to move to Oklahoma City -- all one need do is take a look at the results from US Trials to get a sense of the shift.

Why is it that California, with its ideal climate for rowing, year-round sun, and abundance of rowable waterways cannot sustain a training center for elite athletes in the sport? Is it purely that Princeton has traditionally been the seat of rowing in the US? Why is it that the US is unable to sustain a club rowing climate like that of England, despite the growing knowledge of the sport due to the expansion of women's athletic programs over the past 15 years? In my view, it is ridiculous to ask athletes to move cross country for no pay, with no guarantee of making a squad, and then expect to wind up with the most talented pool of oarsmen -- the limiting factors are too great, and until something changes, or places like CRC are rebuilt with a view once again toward development, we will continue to get torched in most boat classes by countries with one tenth the population size of the US. But hey, we sure can row the VIII.

Monday, October 11, 2010

GB Lightweight Men's Double



This video, posted in the lead up to the British victory in the Lightweight Men's 2x in Beijing, is the best rowing training video online. The two scullers involved, Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase, exhibit the consummate British rowing style, with the excellent posture at the back end and a quiet release, while not disturbing the run of the boat as they take the catch. On top of the technical grace demonstrated in the video, there is also a latent intensity, which grows with the music and seems ready to burst forth as they sprint.
Neither one of them were strangers to success in their own right before the pairing was put together, most notably Purchase, who set the Lightweight Men's World Record in the 1x at Dorney Lake in 2006 at the World Championships. The hope again in British rowing is that these two will achieve the same level of success on home waters in 2012, and from the reports in UK newspapers it sounds like they are on their way.

Below is a video of Zac Purchase setting the new World Record in 2006:



After winning in Beijing, the duo split up for a year, with Hunter moving across the pond and taking an assistant coaching position with the UCLA Women's Rowing team for a year -- a sabbatical of sorts -- while Purchase dealt with an unusual illness which causes fatigue. Fortunately, Purchase has emerged from his struggles with the little known virus, and while the two did not row at the world championships last year, they'll be making their mark once again in Karapiro. Click here to go to a listing of the GB National Team roster for the upcoming World Rowing Championships in New Zealand.

Day One: Statement of Purpose

I've been involved in the sport of rowing for about a decade at this point, and my interest continues to broaden as I get older -- there is so much to explore, and so much to know about the physiological, psychological and technological aspects of rowing a boat, and seemingly so little time to acquire that knowledge. Four years of college rowing won't do it. When I finished my final erg test as a senior and put the handle down, I thought I had finished a long journey. Now, as I move further and further away from the intercollegiate experience, I feel more and more like I am still at the outset of a much longer Odyssey.

The goal of this blog is to develop yet another side of that interest in, or rather that fascination with, the sport. As Steve Gladstone famously says in All for One, "There has to be a passion; not a mild interest, but a passion." Perhaps that's the best explanation for the 95-99 year old category of racers at Crash-B's. It's a sport that takes hold, and once it does, there is no letting go. The articles, posts and essays I will include here reflect my own opinions and observations, and I'll welcome any discussion (of a rational nature) that they produce. Attention. Go.