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.