Friday, November 11, 2011

2011 Fall Speed Orders, and Issues with 2012 Selection



The 2011 Fall Speed Orders are underway, with rumors of 6k times flying around on the Rowing Illustrated boards already (according to these rumors, Warren Anderson and Glenn Ochal posted the top two times, both of them in the 18:30s). (For some footage, courtesy of CRC Head Coach Bernhard Stomprowski, see above.) There are a number of issues to discuss regarding speed orders, but perhaps nothing so grave as the flaws inherent in the selection procedures approved for the men's eight and men's four camps in 2012. While it is obviously an attempt to make the best of a complex situation, it fails in terms of generating clear guidelines for the country's best athletes, for reasons to be discussed below.

The interesting items at the speed order in Chula Vista include Glenn Ochal and Jamie Koven making the switch from sculling (which they have been doing throughout this quadrennium) to sweep, choosing to race in pair combinations (Ochal is paired with Josh Inman, and Koven with Silas Stafford). The broadest interpretation of this move might be that the two scullers feel they have a better chance at a medal next year if they are part of the sweep group, which is a natural conclusion, based on the current situation. Fewer athletes will be selected in the sculling group, and given the job that Mike Teti has done in the past when given the opportunity, he may just be able to pull it off again in London with the men's eight. It seems to me, as an outsider, that the athletes have faith in Teti's ability, and feel that they stand a greater chance at a 'fair shake' in Teti's camp. However, this is speculation on my part.

Getting down to more serious issues, the 2012 selection procedures have some clear flaws that no one seems to be discussing. According to the literature, which has also been posted to the Rowing Illustrated boards, the selection for the M4- will be conducted as follows:
Eight athletes will be invited to a M4- camp in Chula Vista; two athletes will be cut from this camp by January 30th; the final selection will take place in Chula and the four will be named by June 22nd. 
On its face, this seems reasonable. However, now read the selection procedures for the eight (which must be compressed due to the eight's failure to qualify for Olympics):
12 athletes will be invited to final selection camp by January 2nd; Camp may include up to 18 athletes, depending on coaches' discretion; final selection and naming of the eight by April 30th (for Olympic qualification regatta on May 20th).
See any problems with this overarching structure? The athletes that are invited to the fours camp (which will presumably be given 'top priority,' as it is a boat that is already qualified, and the head coach of the men's national team will be running the camp) should be the top athletes in the U.S. going out for sweep boats. The first cuts (Jan 30th) will allow time for those athletes to make the move north to try to break into the eight camp before the boat must be selected, but the final cuts will not be made until June 22nd. This is after the M2- Olympic Trials take place (set for June 11th-15th), so the men from the fours camp would have to take time away from their selection for the four to race the M2- at Trials (it is manageable, however, and should one of the Chula pairs win, they could always turn down the spot, but it would spell an unnecessary training disadvantage for athletes in a boat that is already qualified). There is speculation that Justin Stangel and Tom Peszek have elected to train in the M2- in OKC all year with the goal of winning Trials (and who are moving the boat quite well), though they are racing this weekend in Princeton. Should the two elect to stay in the pair, there would be risks involved, as USRowing literature states that athletes training specifically for the M2- (one of the U.S. men's boats that qualified in Bled) will not be allowed to train in Chula Vista, presumably because it is a Trials event (though this is not stated specifically).

If the four is the priority boat, it simply has to be selected before the eight–if the eight qualifies at the regatta on May 20th, it qualifies the athletes in the eight as well as the boat, not just the boat class (i.e. it must be the exact same lineup that races in London). If you select the 'priority' boat after having chosen the eight, then clearly you are risking losing two of the best athletes in the entire system, as the final group in Chula is cut from six to four, and the M4- is named.

Does this seem like the best possible way to attract the best talent to your 'top priority' selection camp? How is it that none of this is being discussed or addressed anywhere? Thinking from the perspective of the athletes, I would prefer the eight camp, where the selection would be conducted early enough for me to put something else together if need be, and I'd not be at risk of being the fifth-fastest rower in the U.S., sitting at home on my couch and tuning into the television broadcast from London next July. But, then again, that's just me.

As we've stated before, the good news is that there is a great deal of talent in the mix. Here's hoping that the best talent is given the greatest opportunity to succeed at the Olympic Games next year–the real reason for asking the above-posed questions.

-Bryan and the RR Team

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