Monday, February 28, 2011

Video of the Week: 2008 Cal-Stanford Dual

This week's video is from Captured Speed Productions, and features a fantastic dual from Redwood Shores, with several current US National Team members going head to head on the narrow course. The race is quite close, and the rowing is of a very high quality. Both crews battle with the intensity one expects from such a rivalry as Cal v. Stanford, and the result is an excellent example of varsity-level collegiate racing.

In the Stanford boat are Mark Murphy (7 seat), who rowed in the US Men's VIII in Karapiro, Silas Stafford (6 seat), stroke of the US Men's 4- in Karapiro and RR interviewee, and Alex Osborne (4 seat), who raced in the Men's VIII at Worlds in 2009. In the Cal boat, Nareg Guregian (5 seat) most recently raced in the Men's 2+ in Karapiro, and was in the 2009 U23 Men's VIII, in addition to being named the 2010 Pac-10 Rowing Athlete of the Year. Guregian also stroked the Cal Men's VIII to an IRA Championship last June, coming from behind to defeat rival Washington in the final 100 meters.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

University of Virginia Men's Rowing Poised to Make Waves this Spring

UVA Men at the Head of the Charles (Photo credit:

With all the indoor championships going on over the past few weeks, it might have been easy to miss the Mid-Atlantic Erg Sprints. However, here at RR we like to have our ear to the ground. While Greg Flood of Notre Dame was turning heads in Boston with a spectacular performance in the Men's Lightweight category, the UVA men's squad was busy taking names in Alexandria. Coach Frank Biller must be doing something right. Or maybe there's something in the water out there?

Clearly, the UVA men are on a mission: to battle down the proud (aka Michigan) at ACRAs this Spring. Their erg scores from the event show that the physiology is in place for what could be a serious upset. In addition to Matt Miller going 5:54.7 in the Open category (a result that would have earned him 3rd place overall at Crash-Bs), UVA has no less than four more varsity rowers under 6:20, and eleven rowers under 6:30 (two of whom are freshmen). Keep in mind that this event was held in late January. That is some serious horse-power for an ACRA team (hell, 5:54.7 is plenty of horse-power for any team), and our eyes will be fixed on UVA as the season progresses.

The ACRA final promises to be an interesting one this year, with strong performances last Fall from Michigan (as usual), Notre Dame, Bucknell, UVA, and Grand Valley State. Washington State performed remarkably well last season, and as they only graduated three athletes from last year's squad, we can expect them to compete at a high level. As of right now, those are the teams we'll be looking for in the Grand Final, with UVA and Michigan duking it out for the top spot.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Announcements: Update from RR

I'm still ironing out the kinks in our upcoming RR interview with Jason Read, but it will be published as soon as we nail down the final copy. In addition to our interview with JR, I'm currently at work on another with Greg Flood of Notre Dame, 2010 and 2011 Crash-B Champion in the Collegiate Lightweight division.

RowingRelated has been growing, and that is all thanks to you, the reader. In keeping with that idea, we'd like to know more about what you, the reader, would like to see. If you have any comments or suggestions, or there's a particular kind of content you'd like to see more of, send us an email at rowingrelated[at] In the meantime, we hope you've been enjoying the articles and interviews to date, and we're looking forward to all that Spring racing season has to offer.

Thanks very much,

Bryan and the RR Editorial Staff

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Crash-Bs 2011: Some Familiar Surprises

This past Sunday marked the 30th annual Crash-B Indoor Rowing World Championships, and there were some very familiar faces mixed in with a host of new ones in Boston. The University of Washington men dominated the Open event, with two elite level finishes from Conlin McCabe (overall winner in 5:48.0) and Hans Struzyna (second place overall in 5:52.6 -- he managed this while standing only 6'2" tall and weighing in at 185 lbs, according to the UW website). Is it just me, or is this maybe a statement about UW's intentions after last year's narrow defeat at the IRA?

New York Athletic Club member and World Champion Jamie Koven showed that he still has much rowing ahead of him, crushing the Men's Masters (30-39) event in a time of 5:57 flat. This would be quite an achievement at any age, and is especially outstanding given the constraints his career places on his schedule. Outside of Koven, there was a noticeable lack of current men's US National Team members at the 'ergatta,' which is likely due to their recent move(s) to OKC and San Diego, though the lack of international representation in the Open event is difficult to understand.

Last year's Men's Collegiate Lightweight winner, Greg Flood, repeated as champion and was again the top American finisher in the Lightweight category. Perhaps the most impressive part of this accomplishment is the level of improvement. Last year, Flood won the event in a time of 6:19.2, just ahead of Harvard lightweight Austin Meyer, who crossed the line in 6:19.9. This year, however, Flood left no doubt. The Notre Dame lightweight improved his winning time from last season by nearly seven seconds, taking 4th overall, 2nd in the U23 category, and winning the collegiate event in a time of 6:12.8, ahead of current US National Team member Nick LaCava (6:13.1), and Italian Olympian Marcello Miani (6:13.5). Not only this, but 6:12.8 would have won the Oklahoma City Riversport Erg Race (home to the US NT lightweight men's program) by over six seconds. Harvard Freshman lightweight Andrew Campbell turned in a fantastic performance as well, coming across the line in 6:19.4, and Will Newell (also of Harvard) took second in the collegiate event, finishing in a very impressive 6:15 flat. All this ought to make this year's Princeton v. Harvard showdown one to watch this Spring.

Congrats to all who participated -- certainly a great showing and much to look forward to in the coming months! Now, we can anticipate seeing some of these same names at the NSRs, selection camps, and international regattas this summer.

Official Results from Crash-Bs, and the Oklahoma Riversport Erg Race.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Video of the Week: The University of Cape Town Men's VIII

This week's video comes to us from Cape Town, South Africa, and features some epic music along with some very nice technical rowing from the University men's team, both on the water as well as on the erg(o). The style is very British, with a nice, upright posture through the finish and release. While there are some interesting rigs through the film (note the switching back and fort between a standard and a bucketed 5-4 lineup), the crew seem to handle things quite well, and make most of what is apparently a fairly demanding training regimen. The video features some feedback from the coaches and the athletes, as well as a number of extended shots of the rowing -- certainly a quality production and one that showcases the program at UCT very well.

Want to suggest the next Video of the Week? Send us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com.

Friday, February 18, 2011

RR Interview: 10 Questions with Peter Graves

Pete (bow) and Tom (stroke) in the 2x, Newport, CA
(Photo credit: Val Stepanchuk)
Peter Graves, 2008, 2009, and 2010 winner of the Championship 2x at the Charles along with his brother Tom, talks with RR about his rowing family, winning Henley with Trinity College, racing the Head of the Charles, US Trials, Worlds, and more.

RR: Your family has a tradition of great rowing -- at what age did you start in the sport, and when did it first take hold as a passion of yours?

PG: My earliest rowing memory was when I was very young. I remember walking up and down a course searching for my Dad. It seemed like I was by myself all day asking people if they had seen him. Then finally someone said that they knew where he was and pointed to the river. Sure enough there he was... racing by. So I walked to our car and just waited. So that's a pretty boring memory that I just dug up right there. Since that point I have grown to like rowing more and more.

When I was 10 years old, my family lived in Marlow, England -- 8 miles down the river from Henley-on-Thames. My dad took my brothers and I out in a double, one by one. That was the first time I sculled. In high school, I played soccer, basketball, and rowed in the spring for our high school, Cincinnati Country Day School. I enjoyed my soccer and basketball seasons and was quite successful in both sports. In the spring of my freshman year, we went on the water for the first time after school and that was it, I was sold. It really didn't matter how good or bad my boat was, I absolutely loved being on the water.Rowing practice was amazing. When I went to school the next day, I felt like I knew a secret that not many other people in the school knew about. I was having a two hour adventure on the water everyday after school. It was exciting and exactly what I wanted to do. I soon realized that I already had a ton of knowledge about the sport from my father and so the rowing was second nature to me. I think I was lucky that the sport was only available in the spring. I was able to have a nicely balanced athletic career in high school, more importantly, I was not introduced to winter training until after I got hooked on rowing.

I believe that our rowing tradition has just started. My dad was the first rower in our family, a walk on rower at Trinity in 1975. Now there are four of us: My younger brother John who was the U-23 LM1X 2010 and M2- the year before. My cousin Brian DeRegt U-23 LM4X Silver Medal, LM4- and 2010 LM2X. Then of course Tom and myself. There is a lot of rowing in the family these days.... A "Family 4x" is in the works.

RR: You and your brother Tom have accomplished some pretty amazing things together thus far, including a (nearly) undefeated season at Trinity that you capped off with a win at Henley in the Temple. What was your experience of Henley, and how did you feel as you crossed the finish line first in the final?

PG: Rowing at Trinity was a dream experience for me. I am very thankful for it, and thankful to everyone that was a part of it. I was very fortunate to row with a special group of guys under the guidance of a great coach. When I and the rest of my class arrived at Trinity, the Trinity Varsity program had never won ECAC's, had not won New England's for a few years, and was defeated in the first round of Henley in its last attempt in 2001. The stage was set for a rise to the top.

In 2004, my freshmen eight was undefeated and had a great year. The varsity boat which Tom was in struggled. It was very tough to see my brother in a boat that was not as successful as I know they all would have liked. It killed me when we raced in practice and our freshmen boat would win. It didn't happen all the time, but enough times to make me think that Tom deserved better. During the 2005 season I thought we were going to be something special and I was on a mission to give Tom the college rowing season he had deserved all along. I had three of my sophomore buddies in the top boat with me to get job done. We won the Head of the Charles, the San Diego Crew Classic twice [in two events], New England's, and I was ready to win ECAC's. I knew that we could do it. Then we lost. Its important to note that we were not undefeated in 2005. I will never forget Michigan rowing through us 5 lanes to our starboard in the final of ECAC's. We lost by 0.8 seconds and I will never forget that. I was crushed.

We recommitted ourselves and when into a serious training camp for 7 weeks, leaving no stone unturned. We arrived at Henley as a new crew with something to prove. All 9 guys in the boat were very focused and tuned-in to each other. The boat felt more powerful, smoother, and much more composed than ever before. A lot of hard work was paying off. We had won our first two races by comfortable margins before we were seriously tested. The race against the Cal Freshmen on Friday really sticks out in my mind as a turning point. We were up by about 1 length at the 3/4 mile, and then they started coming back...3/4 of a length, 1/2 length, 1/4 length, 2 seats, 1 seat, and as we approached the grandstands (roughly 500m to go) we were even. I remember taking a huge breath as we entered our thoroughly trained last 40 strokes at a 40 spm, and then I began to pull absolutely as hard as I could. I could feel our boat respond with power. It was a serious slugfest, an entire minute of bowball to bow ball racing. Fortunately, we were able to come out on top. After the race, our 3 seat (fastest 2k in the boat) comes up to me and says, "Good job... it was seven on eight out there." I wondered what the heck he was talking about. Later in the day, I saw video of our race which illustrated exactly what he was talking about. He had had a massive issue with his back and was just hanging on for dear life. It is a miracle that he was able to get his blade in and out of the water without catching a crab. He was able to recover over the next two days and told me that he was ready to go 100% against Yale, promising me our boat would be a few seconds faster than before. As we lined up against Yale in the final, it was a familiar cast of characters just a different setting.

We had scrimmaged the IRA Champion Yale LWTS twice that year and we had lost both times. They would take about 6-7 seats in the first 400 meters and then over the next 1600 meters they would only move about a 1/2 length. Needless to say, we had raced them twice and had only seen their stroke seat at the start of each race, which was pretty intimidating. Right before the start of the race, I looked down the boat at everyone. They were all smirking -- wanting to smile but too focused to actually smile -- and in the bow giving me a thumbs up was Tom. We were ready and I was more focused than ever.

We had a clean start and we made a point focusing on our boat and not "racing" them until a couple minutes into the race. We were locked in at a nice 35.5 spm. After the Quarter Mile mark, I looked over to starboard. We were down... but only by 3 seats this time. Just before the Barrier we took a move and gained a seat or two, but we were still down. I noticed that they were over-stroking us. We took another push. We were up by a seat or two. I could see the stroke seat and the coxswain for the first time ever. I could feel the excitement in the boat, we were just doing our thing and we were ahead of them for the first time all year. We took another move about 20 strokes later. I don't know where all that power came, but it felt amazing. I think the guys were just sick and tired of losing to Yale. We surged ahead and just kept going. As we came into the grandstands we had about a 1/2 length of open water. When we took it up to a 40, we were full of power and drew away from Yale, winning by 3 lengths. I felt my body change during the sprint. We were rowing at a 40 and I simultaneously had shivers down my spine. I had total consciousness and knew that I wanted to remember this moment for the rest of my life. My dad had won the Henley Royal Regatta with Trinity for the first time ever in 1976 and this was going to be the second time in school history. I was very proud of our crew. Right when we crossed the line I was overflowing with positive energy. Without any hesitation I stood up immediately and saluted my crew and my brother. I knew that this was the perfect ending to his college rowing career and I wanted to tell him that he deserved it. Through all of the ups and downs, Tom never stopped leading the charge in his quiet, hardworking way. It was a very special time for everyone involved. The guys in that crew were really something special.

RR: You and Tom also raced at Henley in the 2x, and did quite well in one of the toughest events of the regatta. Did you start sculling first? When did you and Tom decide to row the double together?

PG: We first raced the double in the summer of 2002. I was a junior in high school and Tom was a freshmen in college. I remember not making the final of any races that we entered... except for one final only race in Ann Arbor Michigan, haha. You've got to start somewhere! We had fun traveling to regattas by ourselves and racing. It was a fun time. We rowed the double a little bit each summer, 2003, 2004, 2005 and seemed to get a little bit faster each time. Tom and I always had this crazy idea (definitely incited by my dad) that we would try to train for the Olympics after college if we were good enough. That was back in 2002. We followed up on the crazy idea when I graduated in 2007. We moved in together and began doing a lot of sculling. It was a real gamble and we probably had no right to attempt the Olympics trials, but what the hell you only live once!

RR: In 2008, you and Tom narrowly missed the Beijing Olympics. While this must have been extremely difficult, it seems also to have motivated you to pursue international racing with even more intensity. What's your advice for people bouncing back from a tough loss?

PG: Like I said before, it was a big gamble to commit all of this time, energy, and resources to something that may be out of our reach. So I would say that I was actually quite relieved with the result. I remember after our heat at Trials thinking to myself, "Holy smokes, this is sweet. We are actually in the game!" There was about a 2-3 day period when I actually believed that we could make the Olympic Team. That was wild and yes it was a big let down when we lost. Though, when I look at the big picture its not so bad. I was definitely a novice in terms of learning how to train on my own and the learning process was quite difficult. Tom had been injured for most of the year with countless injuries including three fractured ribs. He was only able to train for about 3 weeks on the water before Trials. He had been on the stationary bike for months. So it was a relief that he was able to compete and the cherry on top was that we actually had some speed!

I think when you have a loss that really hurts and is a huge let down, the emotions involved are incredibly powerful. Those emotions are motivation for me. When I am training for the next race and I think its too windy to go out or I am too tired to finish my workout or I want to stop with 2 reps to go during a weight session, that emotional scar from the last race drives me to the next level. After a loss, I can more easily find the "crazy switch" to do things that I normally wouldn't. If you truly have something to prove, a loss is only fuel for the fire and ultimately more guidance on your path to future success.

RR: Not only did you two bounce back, but you went on to represent the US at the World Championships in 2009, how did it feel to win Trials after dealing with the narrow miss the year before?

PG: At the 2009 Trials, we found ourselves in a very similar position to 2008. We had made the final and there was one boat that was in the driver's seat having raced at a World Cup and fairly well. We had raced Sivigny and Whelpley a month prior a U.S. Elite nationals and had lost by a couple seconds. In 2008 and at 2009 Elite Nationals, we had been behind the entire race. We were slow in the first 500 and were trying to catch up the entire race. In final one of 2009 Trials, we were down again. We hung on to Mike and Steve during the body of the race. They had kept about a length lead most of the way. I could still see their stern in the corner of my eye. With 500m to go, I think our emotions took over. We were sick and tired of this scenario and something had to change. We threw everything we knew about technique and "good rowing" out the window and went balls to the wall. Tom shifted gears and drove the rate up to 40, and then to 42. It felt like we were breaking through a mental barrier of always being behind and never being able to move through. We won that race by about a 1/2 length which gave us a lot of confidence.

In final two, we went out with the intention of getting the lead as quickly as possible, because we liked the feeling of being ahead. We did just that, rowing very fast to the 1000m mark and then hanging on for the win. It ended up being our fastest time to date, 6:17. I guess sometimes you need to just bite off more than you think you can handle, then try to chew it.

RR: What was your experience of the 2009 World Championships? How was the venue, and how did it feel to don the colors?

PG: 2009 Worlds were definitely a disappointment, but a great experience nonetheless. There were many different factors at play, but to summarize: I don't think we rowed to our potential. It's one thing to not place well, but to lose while not rowing your best is a tough pill to swallow. I felt we let a lot of people down, mostly Mike, Steve, and ourselves. There were many things that went wrong. Back injuries and rigging issues snowballed into a slew of problems. Ultimately, the blame for our mishaps rests on our shoulders. I think we have learned quite a bit from this experience. If we earn an opportunity like this again, I know we will not waste it.

RR: You and Tom have spent a great deal of time training at Craftsbury. What is it that makes it such a good place to train?

PG: Craftsbury has been a special place for us. The center has some great qualities that allow athletes to get the most out of their training. The first thing that comes to mind is the lack of noise. When you step out of the car, it is dead silent outside. This is wonderful. I always feel a sense of focus and purpose. There are almost no distractions. The food is outstanding and healthy. After a month of training up there, I always experience what I like to call "the vacuum effect." It is a combination of eating healthy food and doing work around the center to pay for our room and board (chopping wood, painting, picking berries, planting grass) that leads to a dramatic tightening of the skin to the body. The third thing is that the water is very calm making it perfect for measuring your speed during final preparations. I am very grateful for having the chance to train there and cannot thank Judy and Dick Dreissigacker and Larry enough.

RR: You and Tom have now won the Champ 2x at the Head of the Charles two years in a row -- by a considerable margin. What was it like to race in a field along with Mahe Drysdale and Marcel Hacker in 2009? How was your experience in 2010?

Pete and Tom at the Head of the Charles,
2010 (Photo: Val Stepanchuk)
PG: In 2009 we raced a German double and then a few "super doubles" including Tim Mayens/Ondrej Synek, Hacker/Alan Campbell, and Warren/Iztok Chop. That was a very fun race. I remember paddling to the start laughing because I was so excited. We were starting first and we had a group of world famous scullers behind us. We had a terrible warm-up due to windy conditions in the basin and Tom was pissed. Once we were lined up, I yelled at the doubles behind us,"HEY! WELCOME TO AMERICA!", thinking I might as well have some fun before they pass me ... probably around Riverside. I got a couple smiles and I was cracking up. I thought that if we were going to race thess guys, we should at least have some fun doing it! So Tom and I went off at 35-36. Tom was filled with rage (big puddles, high rating, no talking) because our crappy warm up and I was steering the bucking bronco down the course, having the ride of my life. We kept this rating the whole way. We could see that we were moving away from the German 2x that started in 2nd, this definitely boosted our energy all the way down the course. I can't say we steered a perfect line, but it was pretty good and we didn't miss any buoys. Going by Belmont Hill, I knew we had moved away from all the doubles in view and tacking on a last 2 minutes at 38-40 would definitely seal the deal. So we did. I think we rowed in disbelief the whole time, which made it extra fun.

2010 was a lot different. There certainly wasn't the same amount of excitement leading up to the race. We knew the formula for success so we went out there and did it again. I would say the piece was a little less on edge than the previous year, not to mention the slow conditions. It was a great feeling going around the last turn with nobody in sight.

RR: This past year, you and Tom attended the NSR in the 2x, and managed 4th, despite the fact that you were training on opposite sides of the country for most of the year. How were you able to put things together so fast?

PG: NSR 3 was a disappointing regatta for us. Yes, we had trained on separate sides of the country for most year, but to be honest I think we did a poor job of putting it together. I expected that we were going to be able to row well together like we had done in the past. Two years of training separately showed in our performance. We were in a very good position around the 1500m mark. I thought we were able to have a good sprint and come away with a good result. During the sprint our rowing came apart. We ended going significantly slower in the last 500m than the other doubles ahead of us and behind us. Sometimes reality hurts. I felt as though I really let Tom down. After all, its my job to match him. This year I am doing everything I can to make sure that doesn't happen ever again.

RR: You've recently moved back to Newport, CA. in order to train with Tom full-time. How has your training been going and when can we expect to see you two this Spring?

PG: Training as been going very well. It is great to be back in Newport Beach. We are enjoying our morning cruises (aka Harbor Burns) in the double and most importantly we are working well together as a team. We are building up in preparation for NSR 2 in May, but we'll see you at San Diego Crew Classic first!

Thanks very much to Pete for taking the time.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Op-Ed: Rowing Small Boats Does Not Make You Fast

An Op-Ed from the RR Editorial Staff:

One of rowing's universally-held, deeply-seated beliefs is the idea that rowing small boats makes you a more technical oarsman. Often, coaches spend the whole of their Fall training (after doing some head racing in the 8 or the 4+) in small boats, because of this known truth. On account of the stability of the 8 and the 4+, small boats are seen as the best way to acquire boat feel and develop the skills necessary for top-notch speed in the larger boat categories when it's time to line up for the Spring season. While it may not be far from the truth, this strongly held belief is wrong.

Here is the truth: rowing small boats well makes you a more skilled technical rower. Rowing small boats poorly causes your skills to deteriorate. If you spend all your time rowing poorly in a pair, you'll be ingraining physical adjustments to bad rowing, which will become bad habits, and can actually hurt your ability to move the eight. There are two obvious ways to avoid this. The first has to do with coaching: if you send your guys out in small boats, then the training session must have an exceedingly technical focus, to start. It is natural for rowers more accustomed to the comfort of the eight to be uncomfortable in the pair, and this can lead to some pretty ugly rowing. Too often, there is an all-too-cavalier attitude among coaches, who allow their athletes to simply "figure it out." While it is true that the athletes must be able to make the adjustment on their own, in part, it is up to the coach to get them up and running to the point where logging meters up and down the course won't actually be making them worse.

Reading the title of this article, I'm sure that many athletes and coaches were ready to disagree. The problem with universally-accepted truths is that too often they go untested. Aristotle knew that when you dropped a relatively lightweight object from a great height, it would not fall to the ground as fast as a comparatively heavy object. It took roughly 2,000 years for Galileo to come along and actually try it. The idea that rowing small boats can be beneficial is a logical one -- it makes the individual more accountable for the speed and set of the boat -- but the true benefits lie in the quality of the execution.

Never hurts to watch these guys either.

-The RR Team

Monday, February 14, 2011

Video of the Week: Drew Ginn -- Back on the Water

Drew Ginn, whose last major feat on the water was winning gold in Beijing, has spent a great deal of time away from the sport over the past two years, focusing on cycling, and having a great deal of success (as I've discussed). Lately, however, it seems that Ginn is deciding that his rowing career may not, in fact, be over. This week's video comes from Ginn's blog (, and features the multiple-time Olympic champion rowing in a 4-, with the usual style and grace. The technique here is very much worth watching -- the upper-bodies are wonderfully quiet as the legs pick up the catch (this is due to the quick, but very relaxed extension of the arms from the release, ensuring that the motion at the front end will be an uncomplicated one).

Ginn raced on Saturday, and has updated his blog regarding the result. He's also posted a picture of his hand (ouch) -- all part of the reintroduction to rowing, even if you've won the Olympics.

Thanks to Nick Trojann for the heads up on this video.

Note: FeedBurner subscribers -- click the title of this post to view the video.

Friday, February 11, 2011

RR Interview: Warren Anderson of the US Men's 2x

Warren Anderson, who began his rowing career in Southern California, is ready to make waves in London. Since his outstanding performance at Crash-B's in 2006 (where he won the men's collegiate event with a time of 5:54.3), Anderson has dedicated much of his time to sculling, and has produced some of the US National Team's best results in the 1x since Jamie Koven in the late 90s. In 2008, he was named as an alternate to the US Olympic Team. Most recently, Anderson and new partner Glenn Ochal  (from CRC and PTC respectively) put their names on the map in the 2x, taking 7th in Karapiro after narrowly missing a shot at the medal round in their first World Championships together. Here, Warren tells us what is was like to come from a small program on the West Coast and find yourself a member of the 2008 Olympic squad, as well as what may be in the cards for the coming year.

RR: You began rowing for the Loyola Marymount University Lions, a small program in Marina Del Rey, California. At what point did it become clear to you that you might be able to take your rowing to the next level?

WA: I wasn't exactly what you would have called athletic, before starting to row at LMU. But towards the end of my first year rowing I was already one of our strongest guys. And by my Junior year I had broken 6 minutes on the erg, and just kept going. By then I started to think that I had the back for it, so I would just keep pushing and see what I could do. And after another five years that attitude hasn't really changed, I'm still just out to see how far I can go in the sport.

RR: After three years of racing at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, you came out to Crash-B's in 2006 and picked up a hammer. What was it like going from the small-scale, Southern California racing community to the big stage? How long did it take you to decide to move out to Princeton and take a shot at the National Team?

WA: Going to CRASH-B's was definitely a bit of an eye opener. At LMU we didn't really know too much about the sport other than the small world that we raced in. Guys that raced for Ivy League schools were like a different species than me and my teammates. I still remember the rumors that we would pass around about the guys who rowed at Cal, it all seems funny now that I know they are just normal college kids, but usually as a rule really good rowers too. It was no different when I went out to Princeton to start training with the national team. A good amount of time thinking that I was a gold fish in the ocean, but a stubborn and curious attitude helped me to start becoming competitive and making some teams.

RR: When you came out to Princeton, were you hoping to row, or scull? Do you enjoy sculling more than rowing at this point?

WA: Like most of America's collegiate rowers I went out there hoping to be in the eight, because really that was what we did. But after a bit of time Kris Korzeniowski showed interest in teaching me to scull. Believing that any day could be my last in Princeton I went about learning the single and other sculling boats without any whining (at least not in front of the coaches), and after a while sweep lost interest to me as I watched in awe the efforts of the world's best single scullers, and dreamed of how great it would be to have an American on that podium with those titans.

RR: In 2008, you were named to the US Olympic rowing team as an alternate. What was the experience like? Did it make you hungrier still for the next round in London?

WA: Being an Olympic alternate was a mixed blessing for sure. Don't get me wrong, it was one of the biggest honors of my life and I will never regret the opportunity, but it is hard to be in the excitement of the Olympics, and know that all that fan fair and energy is not for you. You are a part of it, but not at the same time. It all feels like you are a part of the normal team, but once the warm up is over on race day and boat you are sparing for pushes off the dock, you don't get to do what you were training for, just wish them the best and keep your fingers crossed. When it was all over I could think of nothing but the next Olympics and how I vowed to myself that the next time I would do something great, but as time went on I had my imagination grounded back in the more immediate challenge of the world championships, as my best way to prepare and improve for that next Olympic Games. And now as the time is drawing nearer the hunger is not quite the same as it was, it is a more refined feeling of enthusiasm tempered by the knowledge of how much improvement I need to make with the time left. London now strikes me as the feeling of impending graduation from college, an event on the horizon that you work and strive for, but worry about the best way to prepare for it to ensure the best possible outcome.

RR: I felt like your entry performed quite well at Worlds this year, and the RR readers agreed, voting you and the 4- as the boats most deserving of another round on the international circuit. What were your expectations going in, and how did you feel about your performance in Karapiro?

WA: It was a tough one for me in Karapiro. I went in believing that anything outside of medals would not be worthy of celebration, because at our very best Glenn and I could do it, and we didn't achieve that. The Semi-Final was one of the hardest races that I have ever had to cope with, because going through the last five hundred I truly believed that we were going to make it, and by the time we crossed I thought we had, but the results board thought differently. It took me a few days to deep down accept the outcome, and it is still a bit difficult for me in that I think back to what Glenn and I could have done differently or better, and although some people think they know where we went wrong I still can't decide on what our missing step was except for time. So the world better look out for us in the future.

RR: Following Worlds, do you think the lineup will stay the same? Or are things being shaken up this Winter for new combinations in the Spring?

WA: Really I would like to keep the boat the same and try again (stubborn mentality), but part of being a member of a team means that I have to be open to the possibility of different boats. We've already rowed together again some this year and things are going pretty well, but two years ago I told Tim McLaren that I had faith in his thoughts and decisions and that is still true. So we will have to see what happens in the next few months.

RR: You raced in the 'Great VIII' at the Head of the Charles in 2009, along with some of the best scullers in the world. Not only was it an intense race (with some dramatic conditions), but it also served as an opportunity for you to get to know these Olympic and World Champion scullers on a friendly basis. What have you learned from these top performers, and how has that helped you in your own racing?

WA: That race was one of the coolest things I have ever done and I still can't believe I got to take part in something so special. And once again getting to know those guys served to help me see that even though these guys are amazing athletes they are just normal guys. There is no reason you can't beat them, there is nothing magical about them, they just work exceptionally hard and are very gifted athletes, but still human. And one of the most refreshing things to discover is just how friendly they all were. Near countless international medals, multiple cultures, and languages, and no pretension. They are all impressively humble and welcoming. And really this realization helped me to realize the true nature of Olympic competition, it is not about beating the other guy, but using him to push yourself to better and better feats, and you don't have to fear your competition, just what lies inside you.

RR: The coming year may be the most challenging yet for the US men's team, as you and your squad mates are making the move across from Princeton and starting anew in San Diego and Oklahoma City. As a native of California, are you looking forward to moving back to the West Coast? What challenges will this major move present to the team?

WA: I actually have been living and training at the CRC in San Francisco since Beijing ended, so this isn't going to be as hard on me. But from what I am hearing from my teammates the change, although initially a little unwelcome, is for the better. Keeping the squad split has proved more difficult for us to manage under the American rowing system than we would have liked. So hopefully it yields good results in overall improvement of the team, but it does make personal lives of the athletes very hard, or at least very turbulent for a time, as they have to pack and move three thousand miles, most will have to quit their jobs, find new homes, and say goodbye to their wives and girlfriends for an unknown amount of time.

RR: The NSR regattas are still to be held in New Jersey. Do you feel that this may present an added level of difficulty during qualification? Or, will it help you to prepare for traveling and racing internationally in the coming season?

WA: Traveling to Princeton isn't that difficult anymore. It takes a couple of times doing it, but like so many things athletes do, we work out a routine for traveling for races. And while the races are good for tune ups and help to shock us out of our distance training , but as a lot of us are starting to understand, an NSR is not an international regatta. There is a level of intensity and desperation at the international level that is hard to replicate.

RR: This past year saw a marked improvement from the previous year in terms of overall performance for the US men's team, though this improvement did not result in any medals. What are the goals for the coming year? Having made said improvements, are you looking to land on the podium in Bled?

WA: The goal is to keep on with where we are going. There is an air of excitement and determination that you can feel among the rest of the men, that I believe help us move forward in all events again. If this results in Medals that will be great (and a bit of a relief truthfully), but it won't matter. There is so much work to be done, that we can't get caught up in what we have done, only focus on what we are going to do. Myself included.

Thanks very much to Warren for taking the time.

Next week: RR Interviews Henley winner, 2008, 2009 and 2010 Champ 2x winner at the Head of the Charles, and 2009 US National Team member Peter Graves about his rowing family, experience, and goals for 2011. 


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Great Ones, Part 6: Opportunity Knocks

Grobler at the 2010 Crash-B World Indoor
Rowing Championships
(Photo credit:
Every great athlete was lucky enough to find the sport for which they were best suited. This takes a little bit of luck, the proper attitude, and decisive nature. Although pure chance or happenstance is often a large part of the discovery of one's natural talent or prowess for a certain sport, there are other elements that play a role determining opportunity. You must be smart enough to first look for and be open to opportunity, if you are going to discover the sport at which you'll become most successful. This requires not only an open mind, but also awareness and perspective, so that opportunities are noticed and interpreted as such. Secondly, the athlete must have the wherewithal to take advantage of the opportunity when it is presented. This often requires risk and the unknown, including the risk of failure and dealing with not being great immediately (increasingly problematic in today's 'instant-gratification' oriented culture). I'm sure many people who could have been highly successful at one sport or another missed out on their chance because they either didn't notice the opportunity when it was presented, or didn't take advantage of the opportunity because they weren't willing to take the risk and deal with the initial difficulties.

Sometimes, opportunity comes from a singular discovery. This means finding a great program and a great coach with good facilities, etc. Ursula (pronounced 'Er-sha-la') Grobler is a great example of this. Grobler, who had no aspirations of competing at the 2012 Olympics when she moved from her home in South Africa to Seattle in 2005, now holds the world record for lightweight women on the ergometer, took home a silver medal from Karapiro, and will likely represent her adopted home on Dorney Lake. That is not to say that Ursula did not have an athletic background (she was a competitive triathlete), but when she moved over to the US, she was fresh out of school and working as a nanny. She happened to see an advertisement for a 'learn to row' program, and, after a relatively short time, Carlos Dinares took note of her potential. Full credit to both of them, as she has made the most of her physiological and technical development thus far, placing herself on the right track heading into London.

What are the odds that those best suited for rowing, like Ursula, will discover it as their sport? In places like China and Russia, they realize the role this plays in determining how great one can be at a given sport, so they work to identify those with the natural gifts/talents for certain sports and get them going from a young age ( In the United States, this is much less common. Sure, people might tell a tall child he should play basketball, or a fast child that he should run track, but how many people who would be great at one sport never discover their talent at that sport because they never try it, or never get the right opportunity? We can only wonder how many great potential rowers there are out there who never have and never will pick up an oar or sit on an erg. This is a significant disadvantage for a sport like rowing, situated so far (excusing the pun) from the mainstream.

How many high schools in this country have rowing? Not many, especially when compared with the number of high schools that have more mainstream sports such as football, basketball, track, soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball, etc. How many areas have junior rowing clubs and what percentage of high school athletes will end up discovering these teams? Probably not the best high school athletes, even in those relatively few areas of the country that have high school and junior rowing. The best athletes in those areas are probably often going to be found on the soccer, basketball, swim, volleyball or track teams and will never even think about the sport of rowing. For those that do discover a junior rowing club in or near their city and aren't more attracted to another sport, how many will be discouraged or unable to participate because of the distance required to travel to the nearest boathouse or the high costs that can be associated with junior rowing?

While some of finding one's sport requires chance or luck, it is not completely out of the athlete's control. Luck often comes to those who put themselves in a position to be lucky. This means doing things that will place you in a position to have opportunities. For example, if you are a college freshman that has never tried rowing before, but love athletics and have a strong athletic background, it might do you some good to keep your eyes and ears open for athletic opportunities in rowing. Collegiate rowing in particular often presents a unique opportunity for college students to learn a new sport and become a member of a high level team and receive high level coaching, which may lead them to a level of success in sport that they had only dreamed of previously. We only need to look as far as the last Olympic team to discover a number of U.S. Olympians that discovered the sport as walk-ons in college, such as Bryan Volpenhein who discovered rowing at the Ohio State University, or Susan Francia who didn't begin rowing until her Sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania. If they were not aware, or not open to the opportunity, or if they hadn't the wherewithal to take advantage of the opportunity, they would never have made it to the Olympics, where each has won a gold medal.

The bottom line is, if you are open to finding the sport you are best suited for, you will find it. It may be in a place where you least expect it, but that's often how things happen in life. Some of the most important, life changing opportunities occur when we least expect them. By being open and placing yourself in a position to be successful and find opportunity, it will find you. Just make sure you capture it -- don't miss it when it comes. This is something the great ones never do. When a golden opportunity comes along, they seize it, and run with it.

-The RR Editorial Staff

Part 6 concludes our first RR series on the 'Great Ones' -- an in-depth look at what goes into becoming a great athlete, making use of examples in the sport of rowing as well as the greater world of sport. To view the series as a whole, click on the 'Great Ones' label, located in the label cloud on the right side of the page.

Links to Ursula Grobler's websites are posted below:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Video of the Week: CUBC and OUBC Winter Training

This video marks the first reader-submitted RR Video of the Week, and is another fantastic, insider look at the training and preparation that goes on during the build up to the Boat Race (now just six weeks away). Here, we get a look at the Winter Training and overseas camps for both squads (Cambridge in Spain, and Oxford in Southwest France). Xchanging has done very well with this series -- production values are great, as is the level of content. In addition to a number of high-quality shots of rowing, there are interviews with both chief coaches, as well as athletes of both squads, including American Derek Rasmussen (formerly of the University of Wisconsin, and a member of the US U23 VIII that won gold in 2008, along with RR interviewee Silas Stafford).

Thanks very much to Mark for submitting the video! If you'd like to submit a video for the site, send us an email at

Note: For FeedBurner subscribers, click the title of the article to view the video.

Friday, February 4, 2011

RR Interview: Ryan Monaghan of the US Men's 2-

Monaghan (left) and McEachern (right), racing NSR III last Spring
(Photo Credit: Oklahoma City National High Performance Center)
Ryan Monaghan has built himself an impressive résumé in rowing over the past few years. After graduating from Cornell with a degree in Physics (yeah, he's pretty quick in the classroom too), he moved on to Cambridge, where he was in the stern pair of the Blue Boat in both 2008 and 2009 (the 2009 CUBC VIII had a stern pair made up of two current US National Team members, in Monaghan and Stafford -- coincidentally the first two RR interviewees). Since coming back to the US, Ryan made the move to Oklahoma City, and has taken full advantage of the new facilities developing there. This year, he and another American veteran of Cambridge, Deaglan McEachern, combined to form the US Men's 2-, which battled through a great deal of adversity to place a very respectable 9th in one of the fastest fields in Karapiro this year (remember, this category had the famous combinations of Bond and Murray from NZ, and Triggs-Hodge and Reed of GB). Here, Ryan answers a few questions about his experience of the Boat Race, as well as training for his first trip to the World Championships.

RR: You participated in the Boat Race twice, stroking the CUBC Blue Boat in 2008 and sitting in the seven seat in 2009, when you raced with current US teammate Silas Stafford. How did you find training and racing in the UK?

RPM: Rowing for CUBC is something I'll always remember. The challenge of taking a full course load at one of the best universities in the world while training full time was beyond difficult, yet one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Racing for CUBC was unique. I trained with a Kiwi coach, and Australian, Canadian, British, Polish and American senior team rowers. Where else do you get that kind of diversity in rowing styles at such a high level? British rowers do like to talk a lot about rowing and the tasks at hand – or as Chris Nilsson would put it, they spend a lot of time faffing – as opposed to the American way of just doing it and getting on with things. And racing on the tideway in London is unique. You’ll have over-your-head waves in one part of the river, and then calm flat water on another part, it’s crazy.

RR: The 2011 Boat Race is coming up on March 26th -- do you have any predictions?

RPM: I am surprisingly removed from the current team. Those guys training at CUBC are so busy that they never return an email. I can’t be too mad though because the same goes for me. None of us are good at keeping in touch during this time of year... and most of the year really. But you always have to hope that good overcomes evil and all will be right in the world with the Light Blues crossing the finish line first. (I mean, the last time Oxford won the world went tumbling down into a global recession… coincidence?)

RR: How would you describe the difference between the Cambridge system and your experience training for the US National Team thus far? Is one more intense than the other?

RPM: The obvious is the main difference is in the non-rowing activities. When you're doing a full time job, it is more about completing tasks, it's very concrete... done or not done. There is still a degree of quality to that work, but at Cambridge you're studying and studying and studying and you can never study enough because you can never learn enough and you can never learn it well enough. I would say the outside pressures were higher at Cambridge. You spent more time hunched over a book at a desk. This is not ideal for recovery. While at work a few days a week I can take a long lunch break if my work is all done and go for an hour run to get in a third session for the day, you rarely have that luxury at Cambridge.

When Chris Nilsson arrived at Cambridge he had us doing a modified NZ training program… we fell to pieces. Injuries and illnesses surmounted and there were days when only two people from the blue boat could erg in the morning. In order to train a full time training schedule you need to be able to recover from your sessions and ideal recovery is not several hours in the library.

RR: You recently raced along with former CUBC teammate Deaglan McEachern in the 2- at the World Championships in Karapiro. How did you feel going into your first Worlds, and how did you feel afterward?

RPM: I had never been on a US team (not a junior team nor a U23 team) before, but I have raced a lot and I’ve never taken a race lightly, so going somewhere to lay out the fastest 2km I can possibly do was nothing new.

It’s actually a great race to just race. All you have to do is row 2000m as fast as you can every time you line up. All the distractions that you’re normally left to deal with were taken care of: plane tickets, bus rides, rides to the course, meals, hotels, etc. It was great; you had a lot less to concern yourself with.This wasn’t the NSRs, we weren’t sleeping on floors and eating at Hoagie Haven when we couldn’t get a ride to a grocery store. And really, once we figured out how to 'acquire' internet access (thanks to Tom Peszek), there was only the rowing to think about.

As for the rowing itself, coming into New Zealand Deaglan and I had been really hit or miss. We had days where we were flying and days where we were going backwards. John Parker, Deaglan and I knew that if we got it right we could be deadly.

There were good things and bad things to take away from our result. The good is that we were in a position to qualify a pair for the Olympics had it been a pre-Olympic year, I think the coaches have confidence that we can qualify the boat if we find ourselves in the pair this year. The bad is the obvious: we were ninth. I think our result was respectable, but it took us a bit before we held our heads back up.

When we found ourselves out of the A final and racing in the B final, we aimed to finish strong and win that. South Africa had their best race of the regatta and they moved out ahead of us. Serbia (a pair that was fourth in Munich) was a pair we felt we were faster than and we were able to sprint through them in the last 600 meters. We were disappointed about losing to Spain (who were in the much-less-windy lane 2). We left it all out there on the course and ninth was where we ended up, so we can only prepare ourselves to be faster next year.

RR: What were the major similarities and differences between Chris Nilsson and John Parker?

RPM: Chris had been a US coach previously and worked closely with Mike Teti, and John Parker and Teti were pair partners back in the day and remain close friends to this day. Having worked with the same people, there are many similarities in their style. Both of them will drive along side you while rowing and tell you to fix something while continuously saying, "Nope, Nope, not good enough, almost, nope..." for every stroke you take down the whole course. I owe a whole lot to both of these guys for everything they have done for me. I consider myself fortunate to have always been under the guidance of skilled coaches.

RR: Did you and Deaglan continue to row in a manner stylistically reflective of your time at CUBC? Or did John Parker have you both adapt your approach to that of Tim McLaren and the current US National Team?

RPM: I'd say we are both continuously trying to get better and going through different coaches is like being passed through different sieves. Chris, John, and Tim have their fortes so we benefited from exposure to multiple coaches, I should add that Chris Korzeniowski also gave us pointers and helped us gel together better. The styles of Tim, John, and Chris Nilsson are very similar in that they’re all about good rowing and moving the boat.

All of the coaches coach the whole stroke, but they have slightly different focuses. Chris emphasized blade work a lot; he’d be on you all day to have perfect catches, perfect drive depth and clean finishes. John emphasizes power application and drive mechanics. Tim is renowned for fine tuning your stroke’s subtle imperfections. He is great at ironing out bad habits, enforcing what moves a boat and what slows it down. As for who was coaching us, John was our main coach. However, we could be seen by any coach on any day and they'd have more than enough for us to work on.

RR: How long were you in your lineup before Trials?

RPM: We did NSR II and III together, and from that we knew we had a reasonably quick combination to work with. Deaglan came over from Cambridge, actually missing some classes to race NSR II with me. Although, most regrettably, he missed a free trip to go race with CUBC in Croatia -- not an easy choice for him.

NSR II ended and Deaglan had to return to school. Finals finished up in June for him but with his commitment to race with CUBC at Henley, it was a long while before we rowed together again. After Henley it was another two weeks before we were reunited as a pair. We re-learned how to race together and ended up with a 5th place finish. It wasn’t easy though, there was a day we were headed to the dock after the most miserable row we’ve ever had. Had we reached the dock we instantly would have sought after new partners to race with. Tim and Korzo stopped us, Korzo had us row some circles and then another 500 meters. The next day we had the fastest piece we’ve ever had. We were maybe 30 meters from docking and giving up on that combo – glad we didn’t! Our finish put us in the mix for seat racing, which when all was said and done left us with a week of training before the trials began. We have only rowed once together in the pair since worlds and if we were to race together again there is certainly a lot more room for improvement.

RR: Did you feel that the experience of going through the US Trials system helped you as you prepared for the World Championships?

RPM: It was good preparation in that we practiced our routine leading into the race, but there isn’t much you can do to prepare to race against the top level pairs in the world, outside of actually racing them, like at the World Cups. We had never raced any of these crews, Charlie and Jake had mixed results in the world cups, and many of the combinations were new. South Africa had a new combo, as did France, Spain was new, etc. The top pairs are just out of this world fast… or rather out of this country fast, but we’re working on that.

As for nerves, the World Championships just seemed like another race, in that you wanted to do as best as possible. There were heats, reps, semis, and then the finals. So you had a chance to find your stride and get used to the surroundings. Even on the last day when everyone came to watch, the starting line was still quiet and you hear the typical roar as you close in to the end. If anything prepared us well for racing I’d say it was the Boat Race. There you spend the whole year preparing for a one-off race. No heats, no reps, no second chances. You have no idea the speed of your opponent. There are so many more unknowns.

The build up to the BR is unmatched in the way that you have interviews, photo sessions, reporters at the boat house before and after you launch you, press boats following your practices, news paper articles, commercials, banners, billboards, etc. You can’t escape that race in the build up to it. I couldn’t open my email account or Facebook without being inundated with wishful words from friends, family, alumni, long lost acquaintances and strangers. And even during the race itself, you get a chance to deal with more distractions than other races can offer. You’ve got hundreds of thousands of people along the entire bank (a significant portion are drunk and yelling obscenities at you), TV cameras in the boat, millions of television viewers, protest demonstrations at the start (as in 2009), multiple helicopters, a flotilla of following boats, an umpire’s launch dictating where the imaginary race line is (as stroke in 2008 this was something I had to be keyed into), a current that sways the boats in the stake boats, and one other competitor. In many ways this makes other races seem, to a degree, more predictable and much more distant from the outside world. I have no idea how many people, if any other than my parents, watched my heat, semi, or final. Going into the race I knew I could expect NZ, GB, Greece and Italy to be really fast. So really not that stressful of a race. If you’re confident your training program has prepared you for a good performance and you’re confident in your crew mates, it's not that big a deal really.

RR: The 'Boathouse District' being developed in Oklahoma looks like a major operation, but many athletes seem reluctant about picking up stakes and moving to a satellite training center. What has your experience of Oklahoma City been like up to this point?

RPM: Oklahoma City has been great. The city is incredibly supportive and the local employers are willing to put up with our odd schedule (a big thank you to my employer, Chesapeake Energy). I came back from three months of selection and racing at Worlds and they were incredibly supportive and I was grateful for their flexibility. And sure people are reluctant to move here from Princeton, it’s tough to establish a brand new satellite training center mid quadrennial. OKC was able to pick up those of us stragglers who had nowhere to call home. Most of these athletes are younger and they’re entrenching their lives here now. Many of these guys might not make 2012, but they’ll be major players come 2016.

John Parker has helped Mike Knopp (the brainchild of the Boat House district here in OKC) steer the training center to fill the gaps that John himself saw as an athlete. By providing rowers with flexible jobs that are actual careers, not just 'rent-a-rower' type odd jobs, they can have a balanced life of work and training. This allows for better athlete retention. Rowers can only sacrifice a career and dig into debt for so long. If we can keep rowers for an additional quadrennial it will have the equivalent effect as increasing the talent pool of elite rowers, and that can’t hurt.

Thanks very much to Ryan for taking the time.

Check out the OKC High Performance Center's blog at

Next week: RR Interviews Warren Anderson, US Men's 2x


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Great Ones, Part 5: Consistency

Spracklen (Illustration: B. Kitch)
Many athletes and coaches want to know what workouts an elite level rower has completed before a major breakthrough in training, or a major success in competition. They want to how the athlete got to where they are by finding a special workout or a special formula for success in terms of the best training plan. The problem with this is that they are often looking in the wrong places. No successful endurance athlete became successful by doing one or two "special workouts" repeatedly, yet people are often trying to find such magic training sessions in an attempt to take their own performance to the next level.

There is no magical workout or training plan that makes Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase the fastest lightweight double in the world. Consistency is the key. They have trained well over a long period of time and allowed their bodies to adapt to the training. Gradually, they have become stronger and fitter, handling more training each and every year. When the duo came together in 2007, they had a great deal of work to do in order to catch the dominant LM2x of Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist of Denmark, who had narrowly missed the medals in Athens. Given time, Hunter and Purchase gelled, and were able to put it all together at just the right time, taking gold in Beijing. Now, Hunter and Purchase are looking to repeat that performance in what is Hunter's home town (indeed, the Olympic Village will be located quite close to Hunter's childhood home).

In endurance sports, especially ones in which aerobic capacity and strength are key, the only way to significantly develop and improve these systems is over time. If we look at the best endurance athletes in the world, whether it's Haile Gebrselassie and his Olympic medals and world records in distance running, or Michael Phelps in the pool, there is one common theme in their ability to be at their current physical potential: consistency.

In an instant gratification, me-driven society, rowing and other endurance sports require a sense of delayed gratification and the discipline to log consistent work with long term goals in mind. Sadly, many people don't stay in our sport long enough to reach their potential. The physical peak for rowers is around 26-28 years old and requires about 10 years in the sport ( Indeed, the average age for the U.S. Olympic rowing team in Beijing was 26 and the average level of experience was 10 years in the sport ( You can't possibly reach your potential until you have taken a certain number of strokes or performed a certain number of repetitions of a given motion. This is from both a skill perspective and endurance perspective. It's the old cliché, "practice makes perfect." Building muscle memory simply takes time and repetition.

Like Mike Spracklen says in the above video, the program is always increasing the intensity. As the athletes get better, you step up the load accordingly. The training doesn't increase just because it is an Olympic year, it increases because it is what the athletes can handle. As the athlete is able to handle more, so the training plan changes and morphs over time.

There are two primary problems with non-elite athletes looking to the training of elite athletes looking for a training plan they can mimic, thinking it will lead them to the same success. First, if you are not at an elite level athlete, you probably shouldn't even be trying to do the same workouts in terms of volume and intensity as a more experienced, stronger athlete, because what works for them, is likely not what will work for you unless you are at the same stage in your strength and aerobic development. Second, and more important for purposes of this discussion, there is no magic formula in terms of a training plan that allows the great ones to be great! Sure there are better or worse training programs, and workouts need to be structured in a systematic way to complement each other by giving the athlete appropriate doses of the proper intensity levels balanced with the right amount of rest, but there is not just one best training plan. Just like there are a million ways to skin a cat, there are a million ways to structure a successful training program.

Now that doesn't mean any training works. Obviously, it must follow common principles of training that allow the body to become stronger and fitter over time through a successful combination of work and rest. There are many ways this can be done. Consistency is key. Stay injury free by means of well thought out, quality training. If you push too hard, you'll get hurt. There is no magic to it. Consistent application of energy an focus within workouts and from workout to workout, day to day, stroke to stroke will allow you to develop both technically and physiologically all the nuances and all the muscle memory required to be your very best. This is true whether your best is Olympic champion-level or average age-group rower. In many ways, this is the hardest part of training, but perhaps the most important. Let's face it -- one, kick-ass workout a month ain't going to hack it, no matter how hard you attack that training session. As an elite Danish rower once said, "The athlete who will win is the one who is willing to deal with the most repetition and boredom." In other words, not necessarily the one who works the hardest when he or she shows up at a training session, but rather the one who never misses a practice.

-The RR Editorial Staff

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Erg and Injury: A Response

Smooth sculling on the Schuylkill (Photo: B. Kitch)
As I've discussed quite recently, the RR article, 'Why do Rowers Fear the Erg?' has attracted some attention, and was posted to the Rowperfect UK site. This resulted in a number of comments, one of which came from a former international lightweight and world champion from the Netherlands (and inventor of the Rowperfect) Frans Göbel, MD, who contributed to the discussion by posting a study from the Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, St James’s Hospital, Dublin, Ireland. With this, he included his own comment, "Injuries are related with the amount of work (training) and with ergometer training."

I am by no means a former world champion, nor have I rowed as a member of my country's national team, nor am I a doctor. Frans Göbel can boast far more credentials than I, and I have nothing but respect for his accomplishments and opinions. However, I must disagree with this assessment of the data.

It means that rowing well on the erg is slightly different from rowing well on the water, so there are some adjustments that have to be made.What I am reacting to is this notion that the problem is the machine. It's like hurting yourself while weight-lifting and then claiming that there's an issue with the dumbbell. If you row well, the sport, whether it is on the water or on the erg, should be beneficial for your back, since it helps to strengthen your core and promotes flexibility. Does any machine perfectly simulate the experience of rowing on the water? Of course not. It means that rowing well on the erg is slightly different from rowing well on the water, so there are some adjustments that have to be made. That doesn't mean that the machine is bad. It has its own technique, just as rowing a single is different from rowing an eight. You must be able to make the adjustment. Is there anyone who is going to argue that rowing the single damages your ability to row the eight? I know there are plenty of people who will claim that using the erg damages your ability to row. These people must have had a hard time understanding the success of the 'Great Eight' at the Head of the Charles in 2009. Oh, and by the way, those guys are all beasts on the erg.

Sure, if your technique is poor, you'll hurt yourself, especially when doing a very high volume of work on the erg. Also, if you row the erg, particularly a stationary erg, at cadences below 20 s/m for very long stretches, you'll be putting yourself more at risk because you are allowing the fan wheel to slow down too much between strokes, and therefore lifting a heavier weight regardless of the drag-factor setting. But this should be obvious to a novice. I'd love to see the training plan used on the erg that produced the results in Trinity's study. I'd be willing to bet there are many, many meters logged at rates 18-20 at medium to high pressure.

Rowing is a repetitive sport, so, naturally, it pays to get the motion you are repeating right.Again, if your technique is poor, you're putting yourself at risk. You also put yourself at risk when you over-train (if your training load is not properly balanced or too aggressive), which is likely another issue with the Trinity study. But when (in what sport?) is that ever not the case? Rowing is a repetitive sport, so, naturally, it pays to get the motion you are repeating right. The problem is, people write off teaching technique on the erg, and place too much emphasis on numbers alone rather than rowing well, resulting in injury. This is particularly deadly when all the work is done at low stroke ratings.

What frustrates me the most is that I know, being an American, this will simply be written off as another example of how the US is 'in love' with the erg, and doesn't really know how to row well on the water. Yet, somehow the Danish lightweight squad seems to stay afloat, despite their dominance on the ergometer. Or the Canadian men's eight in Beijing. They seemed to have found the erg a(n) useful training tool. Somehow, they battled through, posted great erg scores, and won the Olympics. Just lucky I guess.

I'm sure that this study by the Trinity Centre for Health Sciences was well-intentioned, and carried out by very intelligent, capable people. However, the results do not, as has been suggested, indicate a direct correlation between using an indoor rowing machine and back injury. What they tell you is that poor technique and/or a poorly structured training plan can cause injuries in sports involving repetitive movements.