Thursday, March 31, 2011

San Diego Crew Classic 2011 Preview: RR Picks and Predictions

Crew Classic is here! Spring season officially begins in San Diego, and the weather predictions look just right for another year of great racing in warmer climes. Here are our picks for the premier events in San Diego this weekend, on both the men's and women's sides:

Women's Events: NCAA Teams

The Jessop-Whittier Cup for the Women's Varsity 8 is going to be, by far, the deepest event at this year's Crew Classic. We are picking Cal to win it all after looking very sharp in their opening season victories this past weekend at Redwood Shores. Not only are they very talented and well coached, but they are rowing this season in memory of Jill Costello and had an ESPN film crew following them last weekend to capture Jill's story. Look for their Varsity 8+ shell, 'Beat Lung Cancer' to cross the line first on Sunday.

Stanford will also look to be in the hunt. Although they are loaded with talent in their Varsity 8+, Lindsay Meyer (2008 Olympian) sat out this past weekend's racing at Redwood Shores, so it will be interesting to see whether she will be back in the boat this weekend for the Cardinal. If so, it will give them a huge boost and will allow them to challenge the Cal Bears for the win on Sunday.

USC is another team to look out for as they always have lots of foreign talent in their NCAA boats. Zenon Babraj seems to think they are going to have one of their best years ever this season, but we are skeptical. We expect them to finish third in the Jessop Whittier Cup. They tend to show up at San Diego ready to go fast early having been on the water all Winter long and never seem to gain much speed throughout the season. Although we expect them to row sharply in their brand new Empacher this weekend, we think the top end speed of Cal and Stanford may be a little too hot for the Trojans to handle.

We are picking Washington to finish fourth as Bob Ernst struggles to reach the same success he achieved during his first stint coaching the Husky women in the pre-NCAA era which lacked the depth of the current NCAA landscape. He has been busy loading up on foreign talent and breeding the local Northwest talent to row the Husky way, but we just don't think they are going to have the top end speed in the Varsity 8 to compete with the big dogs.

Washington State and UCLA will be duking it out for the third qualifying spot in the first heat, as will Wisconsin and Oregon State in the other heat.

We are picking the Washington women to win the Second Varsity 8, USC to win the Varsity 4+, and Washington to win the Novice 8. Washington's depth is definitely their strength and we think they will showcase that depth this weekend. Intra-squad competition is a hallmark of the Husky program, and that depth, combined with the fact they are not bringing their Varsity 4, will allow them to win the Novice 8 as well as the 2V.

Men's Events: IRA Teams

The Cal men will be the class of the field in the Copley Cup, the Second Varsity 8 and the Freshman 8. Stanford will be the closest competition, but we just don't see any drama in it. One big question with Stanford will be whether Craig Amerkhanian sticks all-star Freshman Austin Hack in the Varsity 8 as he did with Mark Murphy in 2006. Austin is a huge talent and stroked the Stanford Varsity at the Newport Autumn Rowing Festival in the Fall. Alex Syverson, Dane McFadden and Sebastian Peterlin will lead the Cardinal Varsity against a talented Cal Varsity that will be led by 2008 Dutch Olympian Olivier Siegelaar, veteran Nick Lucey, Spencer Crowley, Samuel Walker, Calum Wright, Goran Todorovic and Chris Yeager. Cal will be looking to make an early statement against not only their Northern California rivals, but also to the UW men who have opted to stay home this weekend to continue training. We expect the Cal men to win the Second Varsity by open water, and we expect the same of their Freshman in a very weak Frosh field.

We will be very interested to see what kind of fire power the Cal Frosh have this year. We think this is a year that the Washington frosh are a bit vulnerable as compared to recent year's in which Washington has held the upper hand with an embarrassment of riches in their frosh ranks. We think this is the year the tide will turn in favor of Cal in the Frosh ranks, so look for them to come out on fire this weekend. Stanford has not entered an 8 into the Frosh event, so it will be interesting to see whether they stick their Frosh in the JV or the Open. Cal has a B entry in the Second Varsity 8 event. We are wondering whether they will stick their top frosh in that event with their second Frosh in the Frosh 8+ event since the Freshmen field is so weak this year.

The close racing in the Copley Cup is going to come between Northeastern, Oregon State and Michigan. We are picking Northeastern to finish third followed by Michigan who we think will have what it takes to defeat Oregon State. We expect Temple to defeat UCSD and Jacksonville to gain the final spot in the Grand Final.

Men's Events: Small Programs/ACRA Teams

In what will be a hotly contested event this year, we are picking Oklahoma City University to win the Cal Cup. They seem to have just too much talent to screw this one up. Led by Freshman stud Matthew Maddamma who finished third in the Junior World Championship 1x in 2010, talented scullers Drew McNichols (6:08.2 erg), Jimmy Von Peters (6:09.4 erg), Edgars Boitmanis (6:13.7 erg) and Jared Hooley (6:15.3) will be making the trip to San Diego to leave their mark on the Cal Cup field. Although they are a Varsity program with a beautiful boathouse, scholarships and great financial support, they seem to have flown under the radar. Their coach Cameron Brown is bringing them to San Diego this year for a reason: they have talent and they want to showcase it. We are picking a strong British Columbia crew to finish second after a strong performance earlier this Spring in which they finished just four seconds behind the Oregon State Varsity 8+. We are picking Notre Dame and Sacramento State to round out the top four, with Orange Coast College and Purdue racing for the second spot in the final in the first heat. USD and Drexel will fight it out for the last Grand Final spot in the third heat. While many have been picking Washington State to have a good year after great success last year, their results from the Fall seem to indicate that the learning curve will be steep this Spring. Of course, they will get the chance to prove us wrong this weekend, as Arthur Ericsson indicates in his upcoming RR Interview.

Junior Teams: Men

The Marin boys will be the class of the field as Graham Willoughby has something very good going out of the Marin boathouse. Marin had a very strong group last year that ended up coming up just short at nationals. That loss has no doubt served as motivation for them this year as they came out guns-blazing in the Fall, winning the Head of the Charles by eight seconds and sending a warning shot for what is to come this Spring. We expect a very good challenge from a strong Everett crew who will be coming down from Washington to show the Southwest region a little speed and preview of what they hope to bring to Nationals later this Spring. We expect Oakland, Los Gatos, Long Beach and Newport to round out the field in that order.

Junior Teams: Women

We are picking Connecticut Boat Club to win the girl's Varsity 8 and Second Varsity 8 again this year, although Marin and Oakland will be close. Connecticut Boat Club is very well coached by newly appointed women's Junior National Team Head Coach Liz Trond and has a bevy of talent, most notably the Grinalds sisters Lucy and Rosie who were both on the Junior National Team last Summer. Although we are picking CBC to win it, expect Marin to make a run at them. marin is loaded with talented and is also very well coached by Sandy Armstrong. The Derek Byrnes coached Oakland Strokes will be looking to get their bow toward the front as well, especially after suffering an early season loss to Marin just a couple weeks ago. Although they will be motivated, we expect them to finish third behind CBC and Marin.

National Team Exhibition Event in Honor of Hart Perry

It will also be very good to see the Men's Senior national team exhibition event on Sunday in which it looks like they will field two eights that will compete against each other. After disappointing results that last two World Championships under Tim McLaren, we have been impressed with the current level and depth of talent in Chula Vista, and will be very interested to see these crews on display on the Mission Bay course.

-The RR Editorial Staff

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The 'Other' Boat Races -- Oxford and Cambridge Square off at Henley



After Oxford upset favo(u)rites Cambridge in the Boat Race on Saturday afternoon, the stage was set for the Henley Boat Races, which featured match-ups between the Cambridge and Oxford women, lightweight women, and lightweight men, and took place on Sunday, March 27th. These races are rowed at Henley-on-Thames, and go with the stream ('from the Royal Regatta finish to the mid-point on the Temple Island' -- the opposite direction to Henley Royal Regatta). The course is just over 2,000m in length, rather than the 4 miles 374 yards of the Tideway course (from Putney to Chiswick in London) on which the Cambridge and Oxford heavyweight men's squads currently race.

The Henley Boat Races began in 1975, as a contest between men's lightweight crews from Oxford and Cambridge. The women's race was added in 1977, followed shortly thereafter by the women's reserve race. In parallel fashion to Goldie v. Isis on the men's side, the women's reserve crews are called 'Blondie' (Cambridge) and 'Osiris' (Oxford). The women's lightweight event was added in 1984, creating the four-race standard event that is the heart of the regatta to this day.

This year, not only was the racing quite close, but also the Oxford Women's First VIII (or OUWBC Blue Boat) featured a Redgrave in the 4 seat. Natalie Redgrave picked up right where her father left off, as Oxford defeated Cambridge by one length in a time of 6:24. While the reserve contest went to Cambridge on a disqualification this year, the Cambridge women's lightweights left no doubt, defeating rival Oxford by 1.5 lengths in a time of 6:43. The closest race of the day was between the men's lightweight crews from Cambridge and Oxford, with Oxford taking the contest by a canvas in 5:54. This might have seemed like quite a margin to the two crews, however, as last year the race went to Cambridge by 2 feet.

Thanks very much to Chris Bellamy, CULRC President, for sending us the video featured above, showcasing the Cambridge University Lightweights training in preparation for this year's race.

For more information, check out the Henley Boat Races official website. Congratulations to all crews!

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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

RR Interviews: Kevin Sauer of UVA, and Dave O'Neill of California



During the 2011 Pac-10 Women's Challenge last weekend at Redwood Shores, we were lucky enough to catch up with two of the nation's top coaches. First (above), Kevin Sauer, Head Coach of the CRCA #1 ranked UVA Women's squad, lets us know a little bit about how UVA builds its schedule, as well as how he felt about the weekend's performances across the team. Following the last of the collegiate racing, California Head Coach Dave O'Neill (below) took the time to share his thoughts on the performance of his Varsity and JV8s, and where he feels the team needs to improve moving further into Spring.



Note for FeedBurner subscribers: click the title of the article to view the videos on our website.

Thanks very much to Coach Sauer and Coach O'Neill for granting the interviews!

-RR

Monday, March 28, 2011

VOTW: Pac-10 Women's Challenge, 2011



This week's VOTW comes from Redwood Shores, CA, and features some marquee match-ups between heavy-hitting D1 NCAA women's rowing programs. It's also a step forward for the site, as it is the first such video recorded and produced by RowingRelated. The first dual to come down the course was between California (CRCA ranked #3 in the most recent poll, RR ranked #2) and UCLA (CRCA ranked #14, RR #11) in the Varsity 8. California took an early lead, and continued to build on that lead through the second 1000m of the course. This was followed by Stanford (CRCA #4, RR #3) v. Virginia (CRCA #1, RR #4) -- a race in which the Cardinal built an early lead and were able to hang on despite a charge from UVA in the last 600m. The third race on this windy, rainy morning was between last year's top two Women's Lightweight Varsity 8s -- Stanford and Wisconsin. Again, Stanford built an early lead, and held their advantage through the second 1000m. Princeton raced Stanford the following morning, and showed that they may be the new team to beat this Spring, defeating the Cardinal in both the LWT Varsity and LWT 2V8s.

Sunday brought milder conditions, and even some sunshine to Redwood Shores. The first of the two Sunday races shown here (seen from the finish line) is between the 2V8s from Stanford and UCLA, and the second between the 2V8s from Virginia and California (UVA was borrowing equipment from Cal, so don't let the oars fool you). In addition to the racing, we also caught up with UVA Head Coach Kevin Sauer and California Head Coach Dave O'Neill in two video interviews, which will be published this week.

Congratulations to all the athletes who made this regatta a success, and certainly very fun to watch! We will be expanding our video coverage as the Spring progresses.

Note for FeedBurner subscribers: click the title of the post to view the video on our website.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Send us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com.

Friday, March 25, 2011

157th Boat Race Preview and Prediction: Oxford v. Cambrige 2011



It's finally here. The 157th edition of the Boat Race takes place tomorrow at 1700 GMT, and will be broadcast live in the US by BBC America. The two crews seem fairly evenly matched, but according to the London bookies, the favo(u)rites are Cambridge, as they are the heavier crew (typically considered an advantage in the often-quite-difficult conditions on the Tideway), despite the fact this is newly-appointed CUBC Head Coach Steve Trapmore's first crack at the Boat Race (though he has plenty of experience, having won a gold medal in the VIII in Sydney, among other podium finishes at the World level). RR readers seem to agree, as with just hours left in our Boat Race poll, Cambridge is holding onto 57% of the vote.

The video above, produced by Xchanging, came out just recently and details two fixtures, the first between Oxford and Molesey, and the second between Cambridge and the U23 composite boat -- a fixture that was covered by RR, and featured photographs of the racing courtesy of Iain Weir. In both cases, the University crews performed quite well, though there were tougher tests in later fixtures for both crews.

Given all the data at hand, I am going to agree with the RR readership, and take Cambridge in this year's contest. Oxford has experience and toughness, but one of their most experienced oarsmen, and stroke of the VIII, Simon Hislop, has recently struggled with a back injury that kept him out of the Oxford fixture v. Leander. To their credit, Oxford took the fixture, despite being down early -- they are certainly not lacking in tenacity. Still, there are possible question marks about physiology, and in light of the weather prediction (10-15 knot easterly winds), it could be fairly bumpy out there.

Cambridge has several returning oarsmen from last year's successful campaign, a great deal of international experience, and a significant weight advantage. CUBC President Derek Rasmussen knows just what it takes to win the Boat Race, and backed up by an engine that features Australian Hardy Cubasch and Canadian Geoff Roth, the Light Blues will have plenty of power on their side. I'm expecting Cambridge to be quite quick out of the gates, with Oxford holding well through Hammersmith. Where the race will be won or lost, as is usually the case, is the stretch from the Chiswick Eyot to the Bandstand. If CUBC can move out into clear water at that point, there will be little Oxford can do. However, if Oxford manage to keep it close though the Bandstand, they have shown that they can come back from a deficit.

Time to race!

Note: For FeedBurner Subscribers, click the title of the post to view the video.

For more on the Boat Race, go to the official website, or follow the Boat Race Twitter Feed: @theboatrace. Also, Göran R. Buckhorn of 'Hear the Boat Sing' will have coverage of the event from the Thames, along with Tim Koch.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NCAA Spring 2011 Preview: The RR Top 20

Defending NCAA Champions University of Virginia will be taking on a very tough schedule this Spring in hopes of defending the program's first ever NCAA team championship. In the first CRCA coaches poll of 2011, which was released last week, Virginia debuted at #1. Although Virginia has very good top end speed in the Varsity 8 on a yearly basis, the hallmark of their program is their depth. Last year they were extremely deep, making the grand final at NCAAs in every event and dominating the Varsity 4+, setting a course record in the process. They simply have more quality depth than any other program in the country. At the South-Central Sprints Regatta in 2010, they won every event except the Novice 8 (which they only lost by 6 one-hundredths of a second) and placed 1st and 2nd in the Open 4+. Credit to the coaching staff/duo of Kevin Sauer and Steve Pritzker who have done a tremendous job developing a perennial powerhouse. One thing is for sure, there must be a lot of intense seat racing and intra-squad competition on the Rivanna Reservoir all Fall and Winter and lasting deep into the Spring. They return only three members of last year's Varsity 8 that got third at the NCAA Championships, but with a great recruiting class and great coaching a repeat as team champions is a definite possibility. We certainly are picking them to win the Varsity 4+ at NCAAs again if nothing else.

Pre-season number two ranked Princeton is our pick to win it all in 2011 as a team as well as in the Varsity 8 after a strong 2010 and a great recruiting class, which includes Kelsey Reelick who recently pulled 6:55.9 for 2k. They return six athletes from last year's Varsity 8 that was undefeated last Spring during the regular season. They had a very successful Fall campaign, winning at the Head of the Charles and the Princeton Chase. Watching them race last Spring, this definitely looked like a determined bunch that will only be better with another year of experience under their belts and the motivation of coming up short last year to drive them. We are sure that after a long winter of hard training, the women of Princeton will be laying down some scorching times on Lake Carnegie this Spring. They will be led by Lauren Wilkinson, Michaela Strand, Molly Hamrick, Nicole Bielawski and Ashton Brown in the Varsity 8. Lori Dauphiny will be poised to lead her team to victory come May.

Pre-season number three ranked Cal should be able to give Princeton and Virginia a run for their money this year although it remains to be seen whether their young talent and women from the 2V last year can step up to fill the big shoes of Iva Obradovic, Shay Seager and the other talented members of the Varsity 8 that graduated in 2010. Cal has one of the most up and coming talents in the country in Sophomore Kara Kohler who was a complete novice as a Freshman last year. In her first year of rowing Kara made Cal's Varsity 8 that won the gold medal at the Pac-10 Championships and finished fourth at the NCAA Championships and more impressively made the 8 that won a gold medal in dominant fashion at the U23 World Championships last Summer. They will also rely on the talent of Mary Jeghers and Elise Etem as well as international oarswomen Kristina Lofman, Papa Hipango, Sam Sartor and Bridget Moran. The Bears are another team with outstanding depth that will allow them to vie for the team title at the NCAA Championships as they have the talent to be in the mix in all three NCAA boat categories.

Pre-season number four ranked Stanford has without a doubt the most top-end speed and talent in the country, boasting two Olympians, Elle Logan (gold medal in Beijing) and Lindsay Meyer (finished 5th in the 4x in Beijing before she had even matriculated to Stanford). Both of these athletes plus Grace Luczak competed for the United States this past Fall at the World Championships in New Zealand. They also have Erika Roddy and Michelle Vezie who medaled at the 2009 U23 World Championships for the United States and Great Britain, respectively. Add to this a Freshman class which features former U.S. Junior National Team gold medalists in the 8, Kristy Wentzel and Rebecca Felix, and you have not only some serious horsepower, but a very experienced group who knows how to race at a very high level. With two Olympians, two senior national team members and a U23 medalist in the Varsity 8, it is difficult to imagine that this boat would lose to anyone in the collegiate ranks. However, they did manage only 5th in the Varsity 8 at last year's NCAA Championships after winning NCAA team title in 2009.

Brown, ranked number five in the preseason coach's poll, will be a bit of a question mark this Spring. We don't expect them to win it all this year, but we think they have the potential to be in the top three as a team at NCAAs. John and Phoebe Murphy are a talented and experienced coaching duo that always seem to get the most out of their athletes. After having a down year in 2010, Brown had a very successful Fall, finishing third and twelfth in the Championship Eight and second in the Championship Four at the Head of the Charles. They will be eager to get the bad taste of 2010 out of their mouths with a strong 2011 campaign.

Sixth ranked Yale will be interesting. They won the Varsity 8 last year and had a solid showing at the Head of the Charles this past Fall. However, they lost some superb talent from last year's Varsity 8, most notably Taylor Ritzel, Tess Gerrand, Alice Henly and Catherine Hart. They too brought in a very strong Freshmen class that may allow them to remain in the mix at the end of the season, but we don't expect them to have nearly the same speed in the Varsity 8 as they did in 2010 as they just don't have the same level of talent, power and experience.

Look for the Pac-10 to again showcase its depth as a conference by sending more teams to the NCAAs than any other conference. They had six out of seven teams invited to NCAAs last year and we see no reason to believe the Pac-10 will not get 5-6 teams to NCAAs again this year. Each of the teams did quite well at the NCAAs last year. Only Oregon State was left out from the Pac-10 in 2010, and they will be doing everything they can to get back to the NCAAs. The Big Ten will be the second deepest conference with at least four teams who we think will be invited to NCAAs: Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Ivy League is definitely the next strongest conference, and although they only sent three teams to the NCAAs last year, we believe they will get a fourth team in this year in addition to Princeton, Brown and Yale. Radcliffe will be looking to make amends for a rare disappointing season in 2010, while Cornell, Columbia and Dartmouth will all be looking to get to the big dance as well. Finally, the ACC will likely get just two teams into the NCAA field with Virginia and Clemson, although it remains to be seen whether first year Clemson Head Coach Robbie Tenenbaum will be able to guide Clemson to the same success it has become accustom to in the last couple of years under former head coach Rich Ruggieri. We think Tennessee and everyone else in the newly formed Conference USA will miss out on NCAAs in 2011.

Based on all of the above, here are our team rankings heading into the 2011 season:

1. Princeton
2. Cal
3. Stanford
4. Virginia
5. Brown
6. Washington
7. Yale
8. Michigan State
9. USC
10. Michigan
11. UCLA
12. Ohio State
13. Washington State
14. Wisconsin
15. Clemson
16. Radcliffe
17. Cornell
18. Dartmouth
19. Minnesota
20. Tennessee

-The RR Editorial Staff

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tideway News: Fast Times and Strange Margins at the Women's Head of the River

Leander take the 2011 WeHoRR (Photo: © Iain Weir)
The Women's Head of the River Race (WeHoRR, as it is affectionately known in the UK) took place last Saturday, with some surprising results. Nearly 300 crews raced down the Thames, from Chiswick to Putney (in the opposite direction to the Boat Race, which is coming up this Saturday at 17:00 GMT). The two top crews came from predictable places -- the first from Leander Club, home to many national team members, and with a very favorable starting position (first), and the second a composite crew made up of internationals (aka GB National Team members) from several different clubs (Durham, Marlow, Reading, London, Thames, Wallingford, and Gloucester), which had to cope with a starting position of 214.

Gloucester/Durham/London/Marlow/Reading/Wallingford (Photo: © Iain Weir)
Evidently, the crew from Leander made the most of the clear water, taking the event in a time of 18:06.57 (just over one tenth of a second from matching the course record of 18:06.40, set in 2000) in flat, warm conditions. This finish put them nearly 35 seconds in front of the field, with the second place composite crew crossing the line in 18:40.60. While that is quite a gap, it's clear that starting behind over 200 other entries will have an effect on your speed over the course -- just how much of an effect will no doubt be a matter of some discussion, as Göran R. Buckhorn of HTBS indicates. Reading University BC took third place overall, and did so in a new course record for their event (Intermediate 1), of 18:53.69.

Thanks to Iain Weir of www.iainweir.info and www.rowingphotography.co.uk for the great shots of the racing, and we look forward to working with Iain much more this Spring.

Tomorrow: RR selects it's own Top 20 in NCAA Women's Rowing.

Friday, March 18, 2011

RR Interview: UVA Men's Head Coach Frank Biller

The UVA Men's Varsity VIII training on home water
Frank Biller has been involved in the sport of rowing as an athlete, businessman, and coach, with great success in all three aspects. His current project is coaching the University of Virginia Men's Rowing team -- a club program that has posted better and better results, both on the erg and on the water, since he took over the squad in 2009. Last Autumn, the UVA men placed fourth at the Head of the Charles in the Men's Collegiate Eights division, behind only varsity programs, and most recently the UVA men put on a show at the Mid-Atlantic Erg Sprints, with the exclamation point coming from Matt Miller, who took first place at the event in a time of 5:54.7 -- a time that would have earned him a bronze medal at Crash-B's a month later. Here, RR asks Frank about his background and experience, coaching in club sports, the approach that he brings to UVA, and their outlook for Spring 2011, which includes a trip to Henley this July.

RR: You have experienced several different rowing cultures during your career in the sport—as a native of Switzerland, what adjustments did you make when you took on a coaching role in the United States? How does your experience of different approaches to the sport inform your coaching today?

FB: I’ve been involved in rowing since 1988, both coaching and competing. When I arrived in Philadelphia for graduate school, I rowed at Fairmount. I was recruited aggressively by Mike McKenna —varsity coach for Mount St. Joseph’s—to help out. Being in graduate school, I had spare time. Coaching high school girls was an interesting experience. I learned that my accent alone could be very effective! I did not make any conscious adjustments, though. I just kept learning. I have always been a student of the sport.

When I worked for Nielsen-Kellerman, I focused almost exclusively on the physics of the sport: how to measure speed, biomechanics, etc. That’s when Volker Nolte took me under his wing and we became close friends. He is my most important mentor. He taught me to constantly analyze and test, to try out new stuff. Whenever I get wings, he brings me down to earth with his German realism.

Science plays a very important role in our program at Virginia, and we apply it daily. We strive to apply the best practices from each system and culture. In addition I bring in ideas from the military, as well as from the business world, that are applicable to rowing.

One of my most defining coaching experiences was helping coach the first Paralympic rowing team in Beijing and helping with the two-year build-up beforehand. The medals were nice, but the price I paid was huge. It didn’t occur to me until later how much I got out of it. It put everything into perspective. It was by far the most difficult and most demanding coaching I had ever done. I wouldn’t be who I am today without that experience.

UVA VIIIs training on Rivanna Course
RR: The landscape of men's rowing in the United States has changed, and the club model is becoming an increasingly important paradigm. How have you set about creating a culture of success in a club system?

FB: I think the basics of successful coaching are the same whether you work with Olympians or novice walk-ons in a small club. The rowing stroke is the rowing stroke—simple and fluid. And people are people—there is always drama. The key is to get each athlete to reach his potential, which requires a lot of work and care from the coaches. If the athletes are intrinsically motivated, then the culture of success will happen by itself. We see ourselves as mentors to the athletes, but it’s their job to realize their potential.

One might think that creating a culture of success is more challenging in a club system than in a varsity program. But anyone who shows up every weekday at 6 AM is sufficiently motivated. The rest is up to the coaching staff—and they are key. You get what you pay for. We got an outstanding novice coach in Erich Shuler, and an experienced assistant coach in Mike Blanchette. The three of us have been around the block and complement each other in many ways.

But two much-more-important elements are organization and structure! In order for a club to be really successful, it should never be run solely by the students! Student-athletes should play an important role in training and competition decisions, and they should fill managerial positions. The board of directors, however, has to be in charge of strategy, as well as of financial and hiring decisions.

Varsity programs are guided by athletic departments, usually in a more bureaucratic than dynamic way. Clubs can tap into great resources too. Here at Virginia, for example, the board consists mostly of alums, most of whom are successful entrepreneurs, lawyers, and professionals who bring a lot of knowledge, as well as high expectations, to the table. In addition we include people with academic and rowing backgrounds from the local community. This structure attracts donations. But make no mistake, as the “CEO,” I’ll be fired not long after missing goals and targets—unlike many varsity coaches. And I love that aspect. It makes this a real job!

RR: In a recent article about Gregg Hartsuff and the Michigan men's rowing team, the reporter perpetuates the common misconception that success in a club program will lead to the club being 'reinstated' as a varsity sport at the university. In some of your published writings, you mention that the goal has nothing to do with varsity or club status -- the goal is simply to compete at the highest level possible. While this is a strong mantra, how can club programs go about building a tradition of success that is not wholly dependent on the head coach's talent?

FB: Men’s rowing was never a varsity sport at Virginia, so there’s no reinstating to be done. At Virginia, the men’s team doesn’t spend one minute hoping that we’ll be granted varsity status. Our job is to create the best program we can.

Getting a good head coach is not a matter of status; it’s a matter of potential, infrastructure, and the overall bottom line that a program has to offer. The best thing a club can do is build a sound program so that even after a few not-so-successful years, the program isn’t broken. Then it’s easy to attract good coaches.

Over the years, Virginia has been able to attract good coaches. The best known, of course, is Kevin Sauer, who is like a godfather around here (although he will deny it). His work in creating today’s structure, in my view, has been the single most important factor in the program’s success. The synergy between the men’s and women’s teams is important to the coaches. And it’s simply fun to work together. It is no doubt beneficial for the women’s team to share the boathouse with a good men’s team. That’s why we refer to both teams as “Virginia Rowing.”

RR: One of the most important aspects of club rowing is for the current coaches, team members, and support staff to develop a connection with the alumni network. How have you facilitated ongoing alumni involvement, and what advice do you have for other club programs?

FB: We have a large alumni database. We have good communication with our alumni (and they with us). We host regular reunions and other events. It is important to demonstrate continuity of excellence. The collection and maintenance of alumni records is key for fundraising. Convince your school that donations will come, because the alumni fundraiser person will get excited about it. Donations will be credited to the alumnus but will be available to you. Everyone wins.

RR: Since taking over the University of Virginia's men's rowing team, you have made steady progress, and have done very well developing the physiology of your athletes. Recently, one of your athletes (Matt Miller) managed a 5:54.7 2k -- a score that would have taken 3rd place overall at the 2011 Crash-B Indoor Rowing World Championships. How do you balance your training plan in order to produce such outstanding results?

FB: It’s all about helping the athletes be the best they can be. They bring their intrinsic motivation, and our job as coaches is to mentor them. There is no silver bullet, just smart work and, of course, highly individualized training programs. The only comment I hear is that we don’t train particularly hard. There is nothing special about Matt Miller either (although he is a nice guy). He will graduate this spring, and others are lined up to take his spot.

The base work starts at the novice level and continues thereafter. Avoiding injuries is a key component. Rehabbing is not the solution; prehabbing is. We apply anything we can (land workouts, technique, biomechanics, rigging, etc.), and we are almost completely injury free. Lost training days are a significant threat to a successful training program. A good coach will know if an athlete’s injury is the result of his training program, and he’ll modify the program quickly.

UVA Second Varsity VIII
RR: Your Varsity 8 took fourth in the Collegiate Eights category at the Head of the Charles last October, and was the first-place club team in the event. What kind of performance were you looking for in Boston, and how did you feel about the result?

FB: The guys were disappointed. They wanted to be in the top three since we had bow number 6, preferably beating Williams and Trinity. They were held up by Bucknell — bow number 5 — pretty badly, but that’s part of racing on the Charles. An already good rivalry just got better!

RR: In addition to Matt Miller, you have a number of rowers who have developed good speed on the erg, including Alan Kush, Jon Furlong, and Steven Lee-Kramer (6:13.3, 6:17.3 and 6:18.0 respectively), who took 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in the Collegiate Division at the Mid-Atlantic Erg Sprints. Is there a sense of urgency this year? What are you hoping to see in your first encounter with Michigan this April?

FB: We want to do well this spring, but there is no urgency for erg scores. They are just a by-product. Mid-Atlantics is a great showcase for us to the northern Virginia high school rowers. So instead of pulling a 2K at home, we took a short trip north.

In April it will be interesting to see how our boats fare against Michigan’s. The highlight is the “Battle of the People’s Eights,” as we call the 2Vs. Michigan’s 1V will be at the San Diego Crew Classic. Our 1V, of course, will have their hands full against Brock, Grand Valley, Michigan State, etc. These results won’t be any indication for the later spring, though.

RR: How do you feel about your team's commitment and progress thus far, and what are you looking to accomplish at ACRAs this May?

FB: The commitment is outstanding, and the progress is as planned. However, the cards will be dealt fresh every weekend. It’s the athletes’ decision what they want to accomplish at ACRA. I think they have it all in place to do very well, certainly better than last year. Gainesville is a championship-worthy location, and the weekend doesn’t conflict with graduation this year, so we will bring a large squad. It will be a big rowing party. But it’s the athletes’ thing. We coaches just drive the trailer and watch some rowing. After ACRA, we’ll get busy selecting the team for the Henley Royal Regatta.

Thanks very much to Coach Biller for taking the time. Photos courtesy of Frank Biller.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Future of Men's Rowing: Varsity v. Club Sports

As a former collegiate club rower, I've grown weary of hearing the drone from out-of-touch alumni and journalists who are interested in the idea of club rowing programs being restored to their former grandeur by being reinstated into the athletic department. Here's the deal: it's not going to happen.

To talk about having club programs reinstated is worse than a waste of time -- it's insulting to the current members of the squad, and takes away from what should be the main objective of any program: to be as competitive as possible. Whining about funding that is not going to appear (where is it going to come from?) is destructive, and is just another form of making excuses. Universities have been paring down their athletic departments for years, and men's rowing was one of the first items on the chopping block following Title IX (more on this below). Now many universities are facing financial difficulties due to the current economic climate -- why would they want to reinstate a varsity program for men's rowing, when in the mind of the university, participation is all that matters? As long as there is a team in some form, the university club sports department will be happy, regardless of results. If you are a good coach, and you run a program that fosters competition, then you will be able to make it work in a club environment. This week's RR interviewee (coming Friday), Frank Biller of Virginia Men's Rowing, is a great example of this idea. So is Gregg Hartsuff. The key is to make sure that the main objective remains the same, regardless of funding or status at the university.

The most famous Varsity programs in the US are not going anywhere. Harvard's alumni, and Princeton's, and Cal's (backed by T. Gary Rogers), et al. will make sure of that. Even if the university were to cut funding to these programs, the endowments are such that there will be money to run them at an extremely high level. The only scenario in which programs like these could run into problems would be if the university wanted to siphon money from the rowing endowment for other purposes.

The only new men's varsity rowing programs that we're likely to see are at smaller colleges, without football teams or aspirations for building football teams. Some schools, like Oklahoma City University, have opted for men's rowing, being newly established, and having a vested interest in making use of the new facilities that OKC has to offer. Such examples are fairly few and far between, but they remain a possibility. Athletic departments, understandably, place a high value on what they feel to be high profile sports, which they hope will increase alumni participation and donation, and which will give the institutions that they represent more prestige, or fame, at least. If an AD decides that it isn't in the university's best interest financially to fund a men's rowing team, then that is his/her prerogative. The simple breakdown is usually this: 'revenue' v. 'non-revenue,' or Olympic, sports.

Inevitably in these sorts of discussions, Title IX comes into the equation. Despite the negative spin that many former male collegiate rowers might place on Title IX, it is easy to argue that it has, in fact, led to a net gain in rowing in the United States, though it may have led to a net loss for men's varsity programs. Even still, without Title IX, and women's rowing being seen as a way for AD's to balance the books with football on the other side, most men's programs would probably have been cut anyway, given their non-revenue nature (if you don't believe me, maybe you should check in on Cal's baseball team). Because of the proliferation of women's rowing programs, men's club rowing has been allowed to grow in many places where rowing programs were previously never considered, often shares boathouses and equipment with women's varsity programs, and is protected in that sense from worrying about being cut or needing aid from the university to maintain the very expensive facilities required to run a rowing team. This is not to say that there is always a perfect harmony between a women's varsity program and a men's club team, but that there can be, and there should be.

The latter two examples -- established varsity programs and newly created varsity programs at institutions without football teams -- differ greatly from the idea of 'reinstatement.' Again, no AD is sitting in his/her office, reclining in a leather chair, thinking, "You know what would really put us on the map? Making our existing club rowing team a varsity program again, and funding their 100k + budget." If the team exists, then club sports will be happy. First, it is up to the alumni to make sure that the program has a good coach, and here any leverage with club sports to fund a head coach's salary is extremely beneficial. It is then up to the head coach and the alumni to make sure the team has the best possible equipment, and makes proper use of the resources at hand, in order to be as competitive as possible. Period.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Video of the Week: The '99 Dutch Men's VIII, and Dutch Roeitechniek



The video above is part of a rowing technical guide from The Netherlands, and includes a great deal of footage of the men's VIII that won gold at the 1996 Olympic Games.Though my great grandfather might have been appalled to hear it, I don't speak any Dutch (well, outside of the word 'roeitechniek,' anyway). However, it is still possible to get a great deal out of watching this video, which breaks down the technique into sections, makes use of freeze-frame, and highlights specific rowers to point out the minutia of Nederlandse Roeitechniek. There is a second video in the series (Deel 2), which deals with the biomechanics of the rowing stroke -- that one might be a bit more of a challenge unless you are familiar with the language.

Thanks to Padraic for suggesting the video!

Want to suggest the next Video of the Week? Send us an email:

rowingrelated[at]gmail[dot]com.

-RR

Friday, March 11, 2011

RR Interview: Greg Flood, ACRA Winner and Back-to-Back Crash-B Champion

Flood on the podium
If you haven't heard the name Greg Flood yet, you will. Soon. Having started rowing as a college freshman at Notre Dame, Flood began his rowing career with a win in the Novice VIII at the ARCA Championship regatta in 2008, and has since racked up hardware of a different, perhaps more utilitarian kind. This past February, Flood won the Collegiate Lightweight division at Crash-B's for the second time in as many years, taking home the hammer in 6:12.8 -- still the fastest time of any US lightweight so far this season. In the U23 category, he placed second, behind only Steffen Jensen of Denmark. Here, Greg talks with RR about how he got started, what motivates him, and where he hopes to go with the sport he has taken to so quickly.

RR: How did you get started rowing? What was your athletic background prior to college?

GF: I, like many club rowers, took my first strokes when I got to college. However, I had already developed an interest in the sport before starting at Notre Dame thanks to a random waiter at a restaurant. I was eating dinner with my girlfriend her favorite Mexican place when a waiter came up to me and asked if I was a rower. I had no idea what he was talking about and was confused why he was asking me this. I told him no, and he said "I was just curious because of your shirt; you look like you would be a pretty good rower." I looked down at my shirt and realized it said the word 'crew' on it, and then just sort of went on with my meal. I guess the waiter sparked my girlfriend's interest because she went home and looked at the Notre Dame rowing club's website. When I saw her the next day, I think the first thing she said to me was that she really thought I should check the sport out when I got to school, so I did.

Prior to rowing, my athletic focus centered around baseball. I played baseball from a very young age and continued to play the sport through high school. Baseball really taught me a lot about preparation and the connection between the work you put in and your level of success. My freshman year of high school, I didn't make the team and I was completely devastated. So at that point I made the commitment that I would put in more work than anyone else and be on the team next spring. I started lifting weights, working on my swing and doing sprints to get a little faster. By the time the next set of tryouts rolled around, there was no question that I belonged on the team. I think that failure still drives me to this day, especially in rowing. I always feel like I have something to prove.

RR: What advice can you give to club programs looking to recruit athletes like yourself? What kind of atmosphere did the ND coaching staff create that made such an impression on you, and that eventually led to an ACRA Championship?

GF: I would say the most important thing when it comes to recruiting talent at the club level is just to create an atmosphere of competition. Here at ND, you get a lot of guys coming from other sports in high school who want competition and aren't satisfied with intramurals. My novice coach, Justin Price, did a great job of showing how high a level of competition collegiate rowing can be. Right from the start, all the guys in my novice class felt like there was a lot at stake; like we weren't just playing around but actually competing for our University. This feeling made everyone really commit to the sport and being able to draw that type of commitment from college freshmen was what made our novice boat so successful that year. He really lit a fire in all of us. I think Coach Price has been the person who has made the biggest impact on me as far as rowing goes and I think most of the guys whom he has coached would probably say the same.

RR: In the final race of your freshman year, you crossed the line first. Ending your season with a win is greatly satisfying, as you alluded to in the interview you recently did with the Observer (Notre Dame & St. Mary's). Not only that, but you did it in exciting fashion, taking the lead in the final 500 meters. How did it feel to accomplish that goal, and how has it shaped your experience of rowing thus far?

GF: Its hard to describe how great it felt to win that race. Winning ACRA was our goal the whole year and was what we worked for every practice. There is no better feeling in the world than to accomplish your goals, especially ones that you set from the very beginning of the season. That race definitely set the standard pretty high for my time here at ND. My goal (and everyone on the team, really) since then has been to match that level of success. It is great when you can come out of a year on top, and just being able to experience that once is enough to make you put in any amount of work to experience it again.

RR: Since stepping up to the Varsity level, you have continued to make great physiological improvements. To achieve your recent win at Crash-Bs in the Collegiate Lightweight category, you improved on your winning time from last year by nearly seven seconds. How have you structured your training plan to make such major leaps?

I really have Coach Price to thank for the effective training plan; he is a man who definitely does not fear the erg. In the fall of 2009 I decided that I wanted to try to hit the concept 2 Crash-B qualifying standards so I could score a free trip to Boston. Prior to that decision, I had just been sort of training at the status quo. I was doing well on test pieces relative to other rowers on the team, but the qualifying standard gave me a definite time to shoot for. So I talked to Coach Price and he wrote up an incredibly detailed training plan for me over winter break. I put in an enormous number of meters that winter break and watched as my splits (along with my weight) dropped from piece to piece. Since that first winter break, I have been extremely consistent with my training. I followed Coach Price's plan again this past winter break and saw even greater improvements. Consistency is key.

RR: At Crash-Bs this year, you managed 4th place overall in the Lightweight Category, behind only the World Record holder Henrik Stephansen, his teammate from Denmark Steffen Jensen, and Hungarian lightweight Tamas Varga. The names that appeared on the screen immediately after yours included Italian Olympian Marcello Miani. How did it feel, coming from a relatively small program, to be competing on the same level as Olympic athletes, and how has this experience further motivated you to train at the elite level?

GF: Honestly, the competition was not something I was thinking about before or during my race. I was just trying to execute my race plan and not pay attention to anything else that was going on. When the race finished and my brain got enough oxygen to process the results, it was pretty shocking to see my name right there with accomplished, elite rowers. Most of the year I am more focused on names like Michigan and Grand Valley State; I don't usually deal with world champions like Miani or world record holders like Stephansen. But it was awesome to get to compete with those guys, many of whom have accomplished things I hope to accomplish in my rowing career. It also motivates me to continue training at an elite level. It proves to me that I have the potential. I have only been rowing about 3 and a half years, and really only training seriously for a year and a half. My 2k time has dropped more over the last year than it has between any two years prior to that. I don't feel like I am in any danger of reaching my maximum potential, I just have to stay consistent and see how high my name can move up that list.

RR: This year, Notre Dame posted a great result at the Head of the Charles, taking 5th in the Collegiate Eights category. How have you been building on the Fall results through Winter training, and what are the goals for the team this Spring?

GF: Our 5th place finish at the head of the Charles proved to our guys that we have some speed and will be competitive come springtime.  We have been putting in solid work all winter break and a lot of guys are making some huge improvements.  Our head Coach Kurt Butler has done a great job with our training plan and keeping everyone focused on the spring season  The goal this season is to win every race and we train with that in mind.  There are a lot of schools that we will be racing with some pretty ridiculous speed, so it should make for an exciting season.

RR: In addition to rowing and training at such a high level, you are currently pursuing a course in chemical engineering. As a club rower, you receive no assistance from the school in terms of academics, and yet you have achieved to a high level in the classroom as well. How do you balance the commitments? Do you find that, during the course of the day, one focus serves as a release from the other?

GF: Balancing rowing with academics is probably the biggest challenge of being a club rower (and probably the biggest challenge of being a varsity rower too). We don't get excused absences if we have to miss class for competition, so being on top of your work is extremely important. It is sad that sometimes I find myself doing homework at regattas, but that is really the only way to get everything done. Its also hard to find time to get good rest and proper sleep with the amount of work I have, but that is mostly my own fault; I definitely could have picked a more "rowing-friendly" major than Chemical Engineering.

Notre Dame training on the water
RR: As one of the Team Captains for the Irish, how has your role changed from your early days on the squad, and what legacy do you hope to leave when you graduate this Spring?

GF: I have definitely become a lot more vocal about things since I have become captain. I have always been the "lead by example" type of guy and I still try to do that. The only difference is that now I feel much more responsible for everyone else. Now I feel like I need to put in the work not just to make myself go faster, but also put in the work to ensure that other guys do the same. That means bringing energy and focus to every single practice, and making everyone feel the responsibility to your teammates that comes with rowing an 8. As far as legacy goes, I hope that is determined by the results this spring. I would rather be remembered as part of a good crew with all my teammates than as an individual. All the seniors in my boat - Michael Maggart, Michael Wagner, and Sean Gibbons- I have known as long as I have known the sport of rowing. I can't imagine rowing without those guys in my boat and they deserve an equal share of whatever legacy we leave behind.

RR: What are your plans for this summer? Will you make the move to Oklahoma City in order to join the US men's lightweight program?

GF: I plan on going to the U23 lightweight 4- selection camp in Oklahoma City. After that, I would like to continue training with the National team in OKC. I am from Tulsa, Oklahoma, so the location is really convenient.

RR: At this point, given your physiological improvement, London should not be ruled out as a possibility, despite the fact that we are only 550 or so days from the Games. Is London in the back of your mind right now? Or are you thinking about Rio as your primary goal in terms of making an Olympic team?

GF: Right now my goal is to keep improving and help Notre Dame win some races this spring. Ultimately I would like to go to the Olympics; preferably sooner rather than later. But that is all in the long term. I know that I have the potential and I am going to continue putting in the work every day so that I can reach it. I said before that I always feel like I have something to prove; this is one of those things.

Thanks very much to Greg for taking the time. 

-RR

Thursday, March 10, 2011

News from the Tideway: Toughest Test Yet for CUBC, and LRC Take Boustead Honors

Molesey v. CUBC, Tideway Fixture 8 March 2011 (Photo: Iain Weir)
The past week has been a busy one on the Thames, with Tideway crews out training, fixtures and club racing, and the Oxford v. Cambridge Boat Race and Eights Head of the River just around the corner. After the Boat Race crews were announced and addressed by Mayor Boris Johnson at London's City Hall, Cambridge made their way back to Putney in order to race another fixture, this time against a very experienced crew from Molesey BC. Coxing for MBC was none other than Acer Nethercott (winner of the Boat Race in 2003 and 2005, and Olympic silver medalist from the GB Men's VIII in Beijing), who is accustomed to extremely close margins on the Tideway (having won the Boat Race -- a 4.5 mile event -- by 1 foot in 2003) and who certainly put CUBC's coxswain Liz Box through her paces throughout the event.

Acer urges on Molesey (Photo: Iain Weir)
The crews raced three pieces. The first, from Putney to Hammersmith (roughly the first 1/3 of the Boat Race course), saw an early push by Cambridge that was answered by Molesey through the second half, and was called a dead heat. The second piece was from Harrods Furniture Depository to the Bandstand (the middle part of the Boat Race course), saw the crews battling through some very tough conditions (wind and whitecaps), with Cambridge coming out on top by 3/4 length. The final piece, from the Bandstand to Chiswick, was taken by Molesey, who surged through the second half after being down early, and edged out Cambridge (on the outside of the bend) by just under 1 foot. Interestingly enough, there were only two changes between this Molesey crew and the one that raced Oxford just over two weeks ago -- a fixture that featured quite a bit of clashing as well as close margins once again, but with Oxford winning the first piece of the event by 1 and 1/2 lengths. When asked which of the two opponents they faced were stronger, Molesey Coach Ben Lewis said that he felt CUBC would have the advantage at the start, but that Oxford "may be stronger."

MBC and CUBC race to a dead-heat (Photo: Iain Weir)
For full coverage of the events and all things Oxford v. Cambridge, check out the official website of the Boat Race (www.theboatrace.org).

LRC 1st VIII approaches Barnes (Photo: Iain Weir)
In other news, London Rowing Club reclaimed the Boustead Cup from Thames RC on Saturday, albeit in very unusual fashion. The match-up was looking to be quite close this year, but due to several injuries among members of the Thames 1st VIII, the two top crews never got the chance to duke it out, as rescheduling the race was not an option so late in the game. The event became a row-over for the LRC 1st VIII, with Thames having to forfeit. The races between the 2nd and 3rd VIIIs were still held, however, and saw Thames winning a 'decisive' victory in the 2nd VIII, with LRC taking the contest between the 3rd VIIIs by nearly a minute. For complete coverage of this event, please visit the London RC homepage (londonrc.org.uk).

Many thanks again to LRC teammate Iain Weir of iainweir.info and rowingphotography.co.uk for the great shots of the racing, and we look forward to working with him in the near future. All images copyright Iain Weir.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The ACRA All-Star Camp: Who Should Go, and Who Shouldn't

There has been a ton of back-and-forth lately on the Rowing Illustrated boards about a new feature of the ACRA -- that being an 'All-Star' camp this coming summer under the guidance of none other than Gregg Hartsuff of Michigan, arguably the most recognizable club rowing coach in the US, and certainly one of the best. The idea is that club athletes who have a great deal of potential, but who fear that they will be given short shrift by the USRowing camp system due to their non-varsity backgrounds, will have the chance to develop their talent and be appreciated based on what will (hopefully) be some positive results at U23 Trials. While the idea in and of itself is a compelling one, it raises a number of issues that could further widen the rift between club and varsity sports, as well as between American collegiate rowing and our own National Team.

(Note for non-US readers: US collegiate rowing is essentially split into two categories. While it is in reality slightly more complicated, at the most basic level, the breakdown looks like this: varsity = funded by the university, club = independently funded. In both cases, athletes represent their university in competition. Because of this division, there are also two sets of 'National Championships' in US men's collegiate rowing: The IRA for varsity programs, and the ACRA for clubs.)

The 'NTT' (National Team Testing) system under Mike Teti was reasonably clear, as Jason Read alluded to in his RR interview: if you can pull a good erg, you'll at least get a look. You might pull a great erg, and not get as much of a look as you feel you deserved, but the fact is, you probably weren't fast enough yet. The Teti National Team brought home a great deal of hardware, and the head coaches were certainly not trying to go any slower. They seem to have made some pretty solid choices, and there were a number of club athletes in the mix, the most famous of whom, Bryan Volpenhein, stroked the US Men's VIII to a gold medal in 2004.

While we no longer see the 'NTT' page on USRowing's website, there is still a similar attitude -- if you can produce an international-level result on the erg, you will be given a chance to prove yourself on the water, and develop within the US National Team system. What does this mean? It means that if you are a club athlete who pulls a phenomenal erg (like Matt Miller of UVA or Greg Flood of Notre Dame), then you should still opt for the US National Team Selection Camp, in order to place yourself in the midst of the toughest possible competition and make the most of your athletic potential. Sure, you might not make it the first time around. But look at Warren Anderson (before anyone runs off and 'uses the google machine' to show me that LMU is technically a varsity program -- please). He came from a small program, had no idea how to scull when he showed up in Princeton, and is now likely going to represent the US in a sculling event in London. The point is, if you are a phenomenal athlete, you need to put yourself in the most competitive possible situation, and go to work.

Again, when you arrive, you will likely be at a disadvantage. Not only do varsity programs ge to pick and choose from the best crop of juniors every year, they also have well-paid, professional coaches, who can help to develop the technical side of the equation on a very high level. What this means is that despite your monster erg score, you probably won't be as efficient as elite-level Varsity rowers on the water, yet. This does not mean that you should avoid competing against them or placing yourself in a National Team environment. By rowing with people who are better than you technically, your own technique will improve more rapidly. All it takes is the same commitment, hard work, and no bull attitude that is necessary for any club rower to achieve great erg scores. If you get cut once, who cares? So did Michael Jordan. Attack it with even more tenacity the next time. Coaches like Mike Teti love club athletes, because they know those club athletes have never been given anything -- they've fought for every inch of run and scrap of respect along the way, and they will keep fighting. For these reasons, it's my opinion that the best club athletes -- the ones with truly elite physiology -- need to push themselves to the fullest extent, and take on US National Team Selection camps.

The ACRA All-Star camp, it seems to me, is perfectly suited to developing the kind of talent that can, and often is, overlooked. It seems perfect for the club rower who is 6'2" and 185 lbs., pulling a 6:10 2k. It is exceedingly clear from the information published on the ACRA website that erg scores are weight adjusted, and this works perfectly for the 'midweight' oarsman -- perhaps the most under-appreciated rower of them all (look at JR, Scott Frandsen, Tom and Peter Graves, Troy Kepper, etc. for examples of why these athletes are worthy of development). Ideally, this camp will allow Hartsuff to develop athletes in the following situation: on the cusp of elite numbers, who would greatly benefit from a selection camp kind of environment, but who are not yet physiologically prepared for the next level. It would serve as a complement to the existing USRowing camp system, developing more talent and funneling it in the right direction (i.e. into the USRowing system following suitable development), instead of taking some of the best physiological potential from the National Team and setting up some kind of rivalry. Creating a system in opposition to the existing USRowing system would serve only to dilute the talent pool by spreading it across a host of distinct camps, each one actively recruiting the best athletes, while a camp set up with the idea of complementing the existing system would be mutually beneficial and help to produce better results across the board.

Last time I checked, the goal has been, is, and will always be, to win. Though I, from my comfortable position as armchair quarterback, don't always agree with the decisions that they make, I also don't think that US National Team coaches are out there making decisions with the intention of producing poor results on the world stage. They are trying to put the best talent together and win medals. With that in mind, I think that the best of the best club athletes, if and when they do get cut at a selection camp, need to get back up, brush off the dirt, and climb back on the horse. It's not going to happen overnight -- for that matter, most of the varsity athletes against whom you are competing have been rowing for twice as long, and that does make a difference. But keep moving. Consistency is key. Persistence, much more so than talent, will place you where you should be, and where you need to be.

Upcoming articles: NCAA v. IRA, and Varsity v. Club Sports

Monday, March 7, 2011

Video of the Week: Princeton's Austin Training Trip '11--The Movie



The video for this week comes to us from Princeton University via Texas -- a thorough look at Princeton Rowing's training trip to Austin, complete with some nice production values, great shots of rowing from all of the crews (both men's and women's squads), interviews with the coaches, and an an impressive amount of faffing, including the (disturbing) results of an intense facial hair competition among the members of the men's heavyweight squad -- the theme seems to have followed the cue from Andy Samberg's 'The Creep,' given the preponderance of John Waters-style pencil moustaches.

This past weekend marked the 11th annual 'Crash-P' erg race -- the indoor results are in, and we'll be taking a look this week at the upcoming match-up between Harvard and Princeton this season. Also, with March Madness looming, I thought we might work some rowing 'bracketology' (albeit of a simpler kind) into the mix, so check out the RR poll (top right on the RR homepage), and vote for the crew you think should be the No. 1 seeded men's lightweight varsity VIII going into Spring 2011.

Note for FeedBurner Subscribers: click the title of the article to view the video.

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

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Oxford Victorious over Queens University Belfast in Tideway Fixture

Oxford races Queen's University Belfast (Photo: Iain Weir)
The Dark Blues of Oxford University won two decisive victories over their international opponents from Queen's University Belfast on Saturday, further adding to the drama in the lead-up to the Boat Race, with both Cambridge and Oxford looking to be on top form. The Dark Blues, featuring two members of the very successful British U23 squad from Brest, 2010 (including Constantine Louloudis in the 6 seat, and Karl Hudspith in the 5 seat, both of whom took home hardware from the regatta in the 4- and the VIII respectively), and Henley winners George Whittaker and Simon Hislop, won both of the pieces. The first piece ran from Putney to St. Paul's (roughly halfway through the course), and saw QUB taking an early lead only to find the pace a little hot through the second half, eventually falling by 4 lengths to OUBC. For the second piece (from the Chiswick Eyot to Chiswick Bridge), QUB was given a 6 seat advantage to start, but was still unable to hold off the Dark Blues, who prevailed by over 2 lengths, and who, like their rivals at Cambridge, appear to be peaking at just the right time.

The crew from Queen's University included four members of the VIII that took third at the World University Rowing Championships last year (held in Szeged, Hungary): Abdulrahman Mohamed (2), Eoin MacDonhnaill (5), Colin Williamson (7), and Jonathan Mitchell (stroke). Thanks to Iain Weir once again for the fantastic photo of the racing. For more images of the fixture check out his website, and rowingphotography.co.uk. For complete coverage of the Boat Race, see the official website at theboatrace.org.

Friday, March 4, 2011

RR Interview: 10 Questions with Olympic Champion Jason Read

Jason Read has a lengthy resume of success on the international rowing stage. While he is perhaps best known as the first man to cross the line in the Men's 8 at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Read also had fantastic results on the World Cup circuit earlier that summer, where his 4- defeated both the British as well as the Canadian entries that went on to win gold and silver (respectively) in Athens. Needless to say, Read formed an integral part of a number of Mike Teti National Teams, and he has the hardware to prove it. In this interview, Read discusses his career, the differences between the old regime and the new, his experience of Karapiro, as well as the squad's goals for the coming year with a view toward London.

RR: You've had international success in the 2-, 4- and the 8+ -- is there one boat category that is your favorite? If so, which one, and why?

JR: Not really…I like all boat classes! The pair is special because you have to be exactly on the same page as your partner to move the boat effectively. It requires slightly more skill than larger boats to go fast. Obviously there's nothing like the feeling in an eight when you are going hell-for-leather with eight other men. If you're in the stern, it feels like the boat is going to take off. If you're in the bow, you feel like you're going to get ejected. Though we try our best, that incredibly explosive feeling is hard to fully or accurately articulate; yet it is known and can be generally described by men and women who haven't rowed in decades. They still remember how it feels.

RR: You were the first person across the line in 2004, in a record-setting 8, capping off a very successful year on the international circuit. At what point, and why, did Teti decide to put you guys in the 8 rather than the 4-, which was going very well through the World Cup series?

JR: To make (and win) the eight was always the goal. On the way to achieving that objective we came up with a very special and quite fast straight four. It would have been fun to line up in Athens in that boat, but all of us were happy to be in the Eight as we raced in Marathonas at the Olympic Regatta. What many people might not know is that we had three fours that were all very close to each other on Lake Carnegie in May and June 2004 during final selection. Once the team was officially named, it was common for three fours to go out and have great sessions. The spirit on and off the water was the highest I have ever seen. Positive morale begets boat speed.

RR: In winning the 8, you accomplished one of your life-long dreams. What was it like in the aftermath of the 2004 Olympics? Did you consider retiring, or did you have Beijing in mind at the time?

JR: It was a sublime and totally electric experience. To win an Olympic gold medal in Greece where the Olympics all began more than 2,000 years ago was life changing. Because we were in such an ancient city it was as if we were searching for the Golden Fleece! Team USA's celebrations (not just the rowing team) were commensurate with the overall success and medal haul in Athens. When I returned home I never realized the implications of what we accomplished. Our Athens’ campaign seemed to run well into summer of 2005 when the NYC2012 Olympic bid was determined. There were dozens of events, interviews, dinners, and fundraisers. Chip or Ahrens coined the phrase 'living the dream!' well before the release of Wedding Crashers. We were definitely ‘living the dream’. It certainly did not come easy. Between 8/22/2004 and the Milan World Championships in 2003, we trained about a thousand times.

RR: How is the atmosphere different now from when you first began competing for the National Team? How does the 'culture' of McLaren differ from that of Teti?

JR: The atmosphere now is considerably different; it is significantly less cut throat. Every college rower in the country sought after a coveted invite to the Princeton Training Center. U23 athletes coming back from Henley or U23's would come to the boathouse immediately after returning from competing overseas, hoping, praying, or dreaming of a shot to get in a boat with one of the many World Champions training on the team. Even if these guys were jet-lagged, sick, or beat from having recently raced in England or Europe – they’d be at the boathouse no more than one day after their return. I distinctly remember in 1998 or 1999 Henry Nuzum coming to practice the next morning (a Tuesday) after getting back from Henley. A few rowers from Penn came in on Friday. It didn’t go unnoticed by Mike and the rest of the guys training. It wasn’t surprising that they didn’t make the team. Now, some guys roll in up to a week after they've gotten back with the impractical expectation that they'll be boated and selected immediately. The sense of urgency for some of them is not there.

In the late 1990s, the list of athletes participating in National Team Testing ("NTT") was lengthy. Every month guys couldn't wait to see who Mike might snatch off the list and give an invitation to. Having a big erg was crucial in that ID process.

On the coaching side, Mike pulled together the best collegiate and club coaches and created a posse of talented leadership that yielded an unprecedented World Championship medal haul from 1997 - 1999. It was a system that worked very well and built an unshakable esprit de corps within the group.

Tim is working hard to implement a professional structure that has made his athletes very successful in Australia. Guys are embracing his model of small boat rowing, with many traditional sweep rowers now becoming proficient single scullers.

RR: You were the seven seat of the US men's VIII in Karapiro, which went quite went well as you defeated the Kiwis and Canadians in the rep, knocking the Canadians out of the final. What were your expectations going into the final? Were frustrated by the result?

JR: We had a solid campaign of training leading up to the latest scheduled World Championships in recent history. Tim and Korzo worked us very hard in the run up to our departure. I think the boat was capable of winning a medal. Unfortunately, we did not have our best race in the final and ended up under-performing. The result was frustrating, to say the least, but we are using that 6th place finish as motivation moving forward this year.

RR: Do you have a feeling for whether next year's VIII will have a similar look? Or will things be greatly shaken up through the coming selection process?

JR: Everyone is trying to make the team. I would say it's too early to tell on the sweep team where each athlete might end up.

RR: As a veteran of 12 National Teams and an Olympic Champion, do you feel that your position on the squad has changed? Do you find yourself taking on more of a leadership role?

JR: The guys might be able to answer that question better. I do try and help with organization, logistics, and fundraising as much as possible. I also try and set a positive example by cleaning (very aggressively) the boathouses where we train. Korzo used to yell at me to put the broom down because I usually sweep out the bays of the boathouse as part of my pre-practice warm up. This fall I set up an eating program with the Colonial Club on Princeton’s campus so guys wouldn’t have to worry about scrambling for food following a long/intense training session. The food there is excellent, affordable and very close to the boathouse.

Looking at the value of leadership in broader terms, it may be the most important asset an Olympic athlete or coach can have. I think the best leaders in our sport are men like Teti, Nash, Gavin White, Gladstone, Stan Bergman, and Chris Clark. In terms of athletes, Jason Lezak as the anchor for the 4x100 meter freestyle relay in Beijing showed incredible leadership and tenacity in a come-from-behind victory was epic. He defied all odds and confounded NBC announcer Rowdy Gaines in the most exciting race at the 2008 Olympics. USA Swimming's team veteran, Lezak, is a leader we can learn a lot from. I wrote about this race in The Wall Street Journal’s online coverage of the Beijing Games.

Many of us learned about leadership from training year in and year out under Mike Teti with some of the greatest, most decorated men our sport has ever seen. These guys are all strong leaders who helped elevate the team to great success in the late 90s. In no particular order, teammates like Bob Kaehler, Tom Murray, Jeff Klepacki, Porter Collins, Paul Teti, Bill Carlucci, Marty Crotty, Wolf Moser, Mike Wherley, Chris Kerber, Henry Nuzum, and the men who rowed in our 2004 Athens’ Eight gave me invaluable insight on various leadership styles and on goal execution.

RR: The most surprising thing about the recent move by USRowing to split the men's squad between SD and OKC is that it seems to have been a complete surprise to the athletes as well. Were the athletes given any indication that such a major action was even being considered? What rationale was presented to the athletes regarding the move?

JR: No, the transfer of most Princeton Training Center functions to Chula Vista for almost all of the men came as a crushing surprise. Money.

RR: Since the announcement, how has the atmosphere on the team changed? Are people able to stay positive? Do you feel that the change can work?

JR: The exclusive reason for training as hard as we do, for as long as we do, is to win gold medals at the Olympic Games. Hopefully this directive will help our team achieve that.

RR: What are the goals of the squad for the coming year? Which entries should we keep an eye on in 2011?

JR: Qualify all boat classes for the 2012 London Olympics. All of them; competition is severe and anything can happen.

Thanks very much to JR for taking the time.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

From the Newsroom at RR: Mike Blomquist Making a Comeback?

Or maybe, don't call it a comeback. RR sources say that Harvard alumnus Michael Blomquist, multiple-time US National Team member, World Champion in the Men's VIII in 2005, and winner of the 2005 Boat Race with Oxford, may be on his way back to the States after leaving Molesey Boat Club (for the Americans in the audience, that's pronounced 'Mole-Zee') and the United Kingdom for a shot at representing the Stars and Stripes in 2012. Blomquist has had a number of successes at the World level, most recently placing a close fourth at the 2006 World Championships in Eton in the M4- along with Brett Newlin, Matt Schnobrich, and Josh Inman (to see their race, check out the earliest entry in the RR Video of the Week Archive). He also represented the US in the 4- at the 2001 and 2002 World Championships (Lucerne and Seville), placing sixth in the event on both occasions. Since his last appearance on the World stage in 2006, Blomquist has continued to train and race for Molesey BC, home to other internationals such as Andrew Triggs-Hodge, Mo Sbihi, Greg and Jonny Searle, and Tom Ransley, to name a few.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Boat Race Build-Up: CUBC Triumphant over British U23s in Tideway Fixture

Camrbidge take the lead (Photo: Iain Weir, www.iainweir.info)
With the Boat Race just over three weeks away, the Cambridge Blue Boat showed that they have been making the best of Winter training, racing a crew of British U23 triallists at the weekend and winning both of the pieces in convincing fashion. The President of the Light Blues is American Derek Rasmussen (7 seat), who was a member of the 2008 IRA Champion Wisconsin Varsity VIII, and the 2008 US VIII that won gold at the U23 World Championships. The first piece of the fixture began at the traditional start of the Boat Race (Putney), and saw the Light Blues, racing in their brand new Hudson (having opted for the Canadian manufacturer instead of the traditional Empacher), moving away consistently throughout, until they reached the Chiswick Eyot (just past the half-way point of the course) over fourth lengths in front of the GB crew.

Cambridge approach Hammersmith Bridge (Photo: Iain Weir)
Before the start of the second piece, it was agreed that the U23 crew should be allowed a length at the start, and this made for a much more interesting race. The two crews clashed several times, each coxswain grappling for the tightest line along the course, with Cambridge again finishing in front, but only by 1/2 length this time. This will be very useful experience for CUBC come race day, as the competition is always fierce, and often the crew that manages the clash best takes the race. Cambridge coach Steve Trapmore was suitably pleased with the result, as the day benefited CUBC with respect to their mental toughness as well as their experience on the Tideway.

Cambridge cut into the U23 lead at the outset of the second piece
(Photo: Iain Weir)
The umpire for the fixture was Matt Pinsent. For full coverage of all things Oxford v. Cambridge, check out the official site of the Boat Race. We will have continuing coverage and analysis of the race itself in the weeks to come.

In other racing, Imperial College BC defeated Goldie (Second VIII from Cambridge), and a London Rowing Club men's Lightweight VIII took on Cambridge University Lightweight RC, which featured an as yet unidentified rower (5 seat) donning a Princeton all-in-one. The London crew (with GB internationals James Lindsay-Finn in 7 and Stephen Feeney in the 5 seat, and three-time Henley finalist James Young in 4) won the piece, which ran from Hammersmith Bridge to the LRC flagpole in Putney. While there is no official margin, it appears that LRC won by three to five lengths.

Many thanks to Henley Winner and old LRC teammate, Iain Weir of www.iainweir.info and www.rowingphotography.co.uk for the great shots of the racing. Weir is a professional freelance photographer, and recently had an exhibition at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames, England.