Friday, September 30, 2011

Coaching Changes for 2011-2012: Who Made the Best Moves?

With every summer comes a new game of musical chairs as coaches and programs sort out new relationships for the coming season. This year, there were very few moves on the men's side, with only a couple of assistant coaches shifting programs, such as William Boyce moving to Harvard to take over the Freshmen squad, as Bill Manning was elevated to the position of Associate Head Coach in order to help Harry Parker with the varsity squad while Harry battles illness. Ed Golding was another notable move leaving the Columbia Lightweight Freshman position to work for Greg Myhr at Penn, filling the vacancy created by Tom Paradiso, who has come out of retirement to train for next year's Olympics.

On the women's side, however, there was plenty of movement, and it's time to take a look at some of the biggest coaching moves of the off-season:

Top three moves in NCAA coaching this year - 
The West Coast Conference: Stronger Than Ever
With NCAA automatic qualification set to come into play starting in the Spring of 2013, the WCC saw a dramatic shift in coaching talent. A conference that went from having very little competitive depth and parity saw some highly experienced coaches take head coaching positions in the WCC for the 2011-2012 season. Most surprising was Glen Putyrae's decision to return to Gonzaga where he coached from 1997-2007 before leaving to take the Georgetown head coaching position. Also moving into the WCC are Bill Zack, who takes the reigns at the University of Portland in the first year of their program's existence, and Vaclav Kacir, who becomes the Head Coach at Loyola Marymount University. Surely the introduction of NCAA Conference Automatic Qualification was the draw that led these gentlemen to join what has been a struggling conference to date. It will be interesting to see if any of these three coaches can unseat defending WCC champion USD. It certainly appears that Putyrae at Gonzaga has the easiest road to achieving that goal, while Kacir and Zack will have a much tougher time preparing their programs to take on a more competitive edge.

Clemson Tigers Add New Talent
Clemson seemed to be headed for a tough season when first year assistant Lincoln Laroe bolted for the Cal job, but we have got to tip our cap to Robbie Tenenbaum, who had yet another trick up his sleeve when he manage to lure Melanie Onufrieff to South Carolina as an Assistant Coach after spending the previous seven years as the Head Coach at Columbia before resigning last Spring. Onufrieff has an impressive resume and will certainly be a valuable asset to the Clemson program.

After a strong career as an assistant coach at several top NCAA programs, Robbie Tenenbaum landed his first big time head coaching job, only have that relationship come to an end in his second year. He then managed to get an even better coaching job just a year later when Rich Ruggieri parted ways with Clemson. We don't know how Tenenbaum does it, but just when it looks like he has been dealt a tough blow, he recovers in amazing fashion and finds himself in an even better position than he was in before.

Ephs Looking to Stay Dominant
Williams made a great offseason move when they hired former Yale and Junior National Team assistant coach, and Olympian, Kate Maloney. Obviously, Williams is a program used to great success (having won six straight NCAA Championships), and this is a great move for the Division III power to try to maintain its stranglehold on the competition. Kate has worked hard to build her resume and is quite accomplished as both an oarswoman and coach. She has a history of working with former Ephs Head Coach Justin Moore with the U.S. Junior National Team. One would presume that relationship will give her an inside tract on what it takes to win there and a familiarity with the challenge. We will be interested to see if Kate can continue to build on the dynasty that was put in place before her arrival.

Three moves to keep an eye on this year -
Columbia Scuffling?
Columbia seemed poised to make a significant move this offseason in the wake of Melanie Onufrieff's resignation. However, when Columbia announced several months later that Scott Ramsey would be taking over we must say we were puzzled. When Ramsey was at Columbia previously as an assistant coach with the women in 2009 he is listed as having coached the varsity four, which finished 12th at Eastern Sprints that year. At Iowa, his novice eight placed last in his first year, and sixth (of eight) this past year. Also, he is (re)entering a very competitive conference -- there is no denying that it is much more daunting to win the Ivy League to get an automatic bid to the Championships than to win the WCC or even the MAAC. Perhaps Columbia thought that it was making a wise move in hiring a guy who had been at Columbia before, and who will be aware of the landscape and the challenges inherent in the Columbia program. But we are still surprised that Ramsey was handed the keys to what we view as one of the top 30 women's head coaching jobs in America. We acknowledge the fact that it is a unique job in that it requires someone to be willing to live and work in New York City, and the Harlem River is certainly not the most ideal place to row, but it also has significant upside from a recruiting point of view in that it is in New York City, and is one of the top academic institutions in the U.S. We will be eager to see if he can prove us wrong and find some success in New York.

Huskies Will Miss Minett
Washington lost a tremendous asset when assistant coach Nicole Minett announced that she was leaving the program to focus on her family as she prepared for her second child. Minett was the perfect fit for the Husky program -- one steeped in tradition, with a great history of alumni serving as leaders and role models in the coaching ranks. As a Husky alum and accomplished oarswoman, Minett was the perfect fit, not only attracting the top athletes to Conibear Shellhouse on a yearly basis, but also arming them with the tools to succeed and pushing them to achieve at a high level.

Immediately after announcing Minett's resignation, Ernst stated that the Huskies would conduct a nationwide search to bring in her successor. It then took almost four months for Ernst to announce that they had hired an up and coming coach from their own backyard. Taking nothing away from Conor Bullis, who appears poised to continue to build what has already been a strong start to his coaching career, but is this what Ernst envisioned when he announced that Washington would begin a national search for the perfect fit?

Depth is a hallmark of the Husky program, and it will be interesting to see if the current arrangement of three men will be successful in continuing to foster an environment in which a host of young women on the fringes of the program will be driven to continue to play a role and push those above them. We are sure Bob Ernst is wise enough to have at least one or two Husky women working as volunteer coaches to serve as role models for the young women, but this is the only all-male coaching staff that we are aware of in the Division I NCAA ranks.

Hoyas Have Battle on Their Hands 
Georgetown lost Glen Putyrae who returned to the WCC (as discussed above) and, in a similar move to Columbia, replaced an experienced coach with a young one. Again, we think this is evidence that it is unappealing to the top assistant coaches in the country to go to a relatively underfunded program in a major conference, in which they would have to compete against strongly supported programs. What this year seems to show us is that it is more appealing to go to a less prestigious conference and less prestigious program in the NCAA AQ era. Although Georgetown is a great university that can attract top recruits nationally, it must compete in the Big East with very well-funded programs at Notre Dame, Louisville and Syracuse. Without the same resources as those three schools, Miranda Paris will have an uphill battle. However, we do want to give her kudos for her hire of a young assistant coach Steve Full, who coached the remarkably talented Mia Croonquist and the Vashon Island Girl's Junior Rowing Program to a 2nd place finish in the 4x at USRowing Youth Nationals this past June finishing just behind a loaded and well-coached GMS JW4x.

-The RR Team

Thursday, September 29, 2011

100,000 and Counting: Thank You from Everyone at RowingRelated

Yesterday, RowingRelated reached another milestone: our pageview counter ticked over 100,000. When I first started this web site just under a year ago (RR's first anniversary is coming up on October 11) with a 'Statement of Purpose,' I hoped that it would be a forum for exploration and discussion, with a healthy dose of opinionated content thrown into the mix. Since then, it has grown into just that, and all of us here at RR can't thank you, the reader, enough, for helping it grow. Even if it is as simple as reading an article or two here and there, it has made a huge difference for us in our efforts to bring a new kind of analysis to the sport of rowing, and a milestone like this one seems a good place to express our gratitude.

We've got a host of new ideas and topics for discussion coming up this Fall, and look forward to sharing our opinions on a variety of subjects in the coming weeks and months. Now, as always, the goal is to generate discussion that will lead to the betterment of our sport, and the experience of our sport, for athletes and coaches alike, both within the US, and abroad.

-Bryan and the RR Team

Monday, September 26, 2011

Double-Feature VOTW: Men's and Women's Lightweight Doubles in Bled and Plovdiv



Okay, we know we've been on a tear recently with the Worlds videos, but it's time to give the lightweights some love. The GB 'dynamic duo' of Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase had an absolute cracker of a race against Peter Taylor and Storm Uru of New Zealand, making a move a just the right time to earn their margin, and holding onto it well through a blazing sprint from the Kiwis (as usual). "It was a fist fight at the end, and we came out on top," said Hunter (click here to view the Rowing News video interview).



The Greek LW2x of Alexandra Tsiavou (winner of the RoRy for Best Female Athlete in 2011 at the Elite level) and Christina Giazitzidou dominated in Bled, and it was no different at the European Championships two weeks later in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The added benefit of the above video is that the lanes were redrawn, placing the Greeks nearest the camera and allowing the viewer to get a sense for both the power and precision that has placed them at the top of the World podium two of the last three years.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

Friday, September 23, 2011

2011 RoRys, Part Three - The Best of the Best in World Rowing


Today marks the final day of the 2011 RoRys, with our awards for the most impressive performances in international rowing be handed out to some outstanding athletes, coaches and programs. There is certainly no shortage of deserving candidates, and congratulations to all those who competed at the World level this year. And now, the 'Elite' RoRys go to...

RoRy for 'Programme' of the Year

Great Britain, Jurgen Gröbler, David Tanner
Phenomenal performance from the entire squad, across men's and women's open and lightweight events, 14 total medals, on pace for an unparalleled level of success in London next year. The women's eight has made significant improvements, moving past the Romanians and the Dutch to take the bronze medal this year (as we predicted), the women's pair continues to battle it out with New Zealand for the top spot on the podium, and the women's double of Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins is looking nearly unbeatable going into London. Add to this the excellent performances from the M8+, M4-, M2-, and the lightweights (Hunter and Purchase proving that they have what it takes once again, Hosking and Goodsell on the podium in the LW2x, and a bronze medal from the LM4-), and you have the most dominant program top-to-bottom of any country in the world. Also, Team GB would likely have had a shot at 15 medals had the M2x of Marcus Bateman and Matt Wells not come down with a stomach virus during the regatta in Bled.

RoRy for Coach of the Year

Dick Tonks, Rowing New Zealand
New Zealand once again dominated the small boats, winning gold in the M1x, M2x, M2-, and W2-, with silver in the LM2x, and bronze in the LM1x, W1x, W2x, and W4x – an incredible tally for a small country and with most of the results coming in Olympic events. The Kiwis also proved that they are racers, winning come-from-behind victories in the M1x, M2x, and W2- in Bled, with perfectly timed moves and blistering sprints in each case. Clearly, these athletes are being prepared well for optimum performance on the day, and their training is instilling them with the belief that they can always give more when it counts most.


RoRy for Race of the Year

Rebecca Scown and Juliette Haigh of Rowing New Zealand
Scown and Haigh were trailing through 1500m in Bled, but were table to reverse the result from Lucerne and capture their second straight World title by just 0.08 seconds over the young duo of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning of Great Britain (click here to watch this race). This marks the second year in a row that the Kiwis and Brits have had a close battle, coming down to the line, and we look forward to seeing these two crews battle it out in Eton next summer.


RoRy for Breakthrough Performance of the Year

Mirka Knapkova, Czech Republic
Knapkova had a fantastic season, managing to edge the perennially competitive Ekaterina Karsten into second place at the World Championships in Bled, following a second straight Henley victory in the Princess Royal Challenge Cup and a bronze medal finish in Lucerne. Knapkova then went on to dominate the European Championships, winning the W1x at the event in Plovidv, Bulgaria by roughly eight seconds over the field.

RoRys for Athletes of the Year

Female Athlete of the Year: Alexandra Tsiavou, Greece
Alexandra Tsiavou has had a truly outstanding run, winning the LW2x with partner Christina Giazitzidou in runaway fashion in Bled in one of the most competitive events at the regatta, having found herself on the podium in every international competition she has entered since 2009 (this includes both LW2x and LW1x races). Tsiavou began the 2011 campaign by winning the Munich World Rowing Cup in the LW1x, and later backed this up with a second win in the LW1x in Lucerne. Following their win in Bled, Tsiavou and Giazitzidou dominated the field once again in Plovdiv, winning the European Championships by roughly five seconds.

Male Athlete(s) of the Year: Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, New Zealand
Yes, we know. But we don't think anyone is going to be separating these two for some time, and, let's face it, along with the German men's eight, they were the most untouchable combination out there on the international circuit this season. Beginning their season with a 14 second victory in Hamburg, Bond and Murray then won Lucerne by some seven seconds over the very talented duo from Great Britain, and then backed it up with a victory by roughly two seconds in Bled for their third consecutive World Championship title.

Congratulations to all 2011 RoRy winners for a fantastic year, and we look forward to seeing much more from all our RoRy recipients in the 2011-2012 season and beyond. Only 308 days until the Games begin in London!

-RR

Thursday, September 22, 2011

2011 RoRys, Part Two - The Top Programs, Coaches and Athletes at the College Level


It's day two of the 2011 RoRys, and we're very pleased and excited to be handing out our awards for the most outstanding performances at the college level during the 2010-2011 season. And so, without further ado, the RoRys go to...

RoRys for Programs of the Year

Washington Men
Michael Callahan and Luke McGee are running the deepest program in the US at the moment, and they've proven that emphatically over the past few years. From top to bottom, they do it with the best American and international talent. They medaled in every event at the 2011 IRA Regatta, and won everything except for the Frosh 8+, in which they finished second behind an undefeated Cal crew. The Huskies won the Ten Eyck trophy in dominant fashion for the fifth consecutive time, and won the MV8 for the second time in Callahan's four years as head coach (the Huskies having won the silver medal in the other two years).

Stanford Women
The 2010-2011 Stanford Cardinal probably had the most raw talent of any team in the country. Incredible depth with a Junior World Champion Rebeca Felix in the Varsity 4+ at NCCAs. Although they didn't win the NCAA Championship in 2011, they lost by the narrowest of margins (.06 seconds in the V8 which means they lost the tiebreaker). However, because they were so very close in the V8, dominated the 2V8, and finished a spot higher in the Varsity 4+, we are picking them as our program of the year. Elle Logan, Anna Dawson, Christina Bax, Lindsay Meyer, Grace Luczak, Michelle Vezie, Claire Grover and the rest of the high-end talent in Palo Alto were 2011's strongest team and they came oh-so-close to winning it all. Despite missing Brown in the end by a narrow margin, the overall balance of the team weighs in favor of Stanford in our minds.


RoRys for Coaches of the Year

Chris Clark – Wisconsin Men
Though he enters the fray with fewer internationals than any of the other top varsity programs, Clark was once again less than a second away from silver in the MV8 at IRAs this year. Clark is an excellent coach who has a great system in place, and knows how to do what it takes in Madison to battle Cal, Washington and the Ivies on a yearly basis. Also, Clark is almost always reliable for a good soundbite. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this year's result was that the Frosh classes in the three years preceding this year had never done better than fifth at the IRA, and were in the Petite Final in two of those three years. As Freshmen the Wisconsin crews are comparatively much slower than their counterparts at Harvard, Washington and Cal, yet they were right in the thick of it this year in both the MV8 and 2V8 races.

John Murphy – Brown University Women
Although Stanford wins the 2011 RoRy for best team, it is Brown who had the best coach in 2011 as somehow John Murphy found a way to get the job done when it counted most. He and his wife, Phoebe, finished the year looking like they have the magic formula as they rebounded from a tough 2010 in which the Varsity 8 finished back in 8th place at the NCAA Championships. This year they came back in a big way after getting swept by Princeton at Sprints just two weeks before the 'Big Dance.' The Bears snuck up West Coast favorites Stanford, Cal, USC and beat the same Princeton team that swept them at Sprints. This was John Murphy's seventh NCAA title in the 15 years that the NCAA Championships have been in existence. He wins the NCAA Championship just under 50% of the time!


RoRy for Race of the Year

Yale Lightweights win IRAs
This may well have been the closest race of the year, and it saw a resurgent Yale LM8 upsetting a previously undefeated Harvard that contained Will Newell, Austin Meyer, and Andrew Campbell, all of whom represented the USA in Bled. The Bulldogs, who were third behind Harvard and Dartmouth at Sprints, edged the Crimson by just 0.02 seconds (less than one foot) to take home the trophy (to watch this race, click here). Needless to say, Andy Card was suitably pleased.


RoRy for Breakthrough Performance of the Year

Virginia Men and Frank Biller
The UVa men had an outstanding year, beginning with their performance at the Mid-Atlantic Erg Sprints, where they posted excellent times for a club level team (in fact, it was then that we published our first article on UVa and their chance to defeat Michigan this year). To win ACRAs, UVa defeated a very talented Michigan crew that won Dad Vails. Until 2011, Michigan had never lost in the MV8 at ACRAs. The UVa men then went on to make the semifinal in the Temple Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, which is no small feat in itself. Add to this that the 2010-2011 season was only Biller's second year with the team, and that UVa's MV8 raced in the C Final at the 2009 ACRA Championship Regatta, and you begin to have some idea of just how far this program has come along. It's a program with a rich tradition that had stumbled in recent years -- Biller has brought it back into contention very quickly.


RoRys for Athletes of the Year

Lauren Wilkinson, Princeton
The Canadian had a very impressive senior year, stroking the Princeton varsity eight to an undefeated season, and helping lead the Tiger varsity eight to 27 consecutive regular season victories over the course of her career. She also won U23 Worlds as a member of the Canadian BW8 in Amsterdam this summer, by roughly three seconds over the field. This marked the first ever victory for Canada at U23 Worlds in that event. In addition to the above, she was the recipient of the 2011 Von Kienbusch award, given to the top female student-athlete at Princeton in across all sports. 2010-2011 year also included a win at the Head of the Charles.

Conlin McCabe, Washington
McCabe had a flat-out great season, beginning with solid performance at the HOCR, then winning Crash-Bs in an impressive 5:48 to become the first Canadian ever to win at the event. McCabe is a powerhouse, who reportedly set several Husky erg records this Winter. He had an impressive, undefeated season in the Washington MV8, and then went on to make the senior national team with Canada. He earned the first medal of his career at the senior world level in Bled this summer, and played a major role in the Canadian men's eight's success. He will be taking the 2011-2012 school year off to train for the Olympics in hopes of winning another medal.

Tomorrow on RR: The RoRys are announced for the top programs and talent at the Elite level -- around the international circuit with a view toward London!

-RR

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2011 RoRys, Part One – Outstanding Programs, Coaches and Athletes at the Junior Level


RR is coming up on its first birthday, but before we get to all that, it's time for the first annual RoRys – our picks for the most outstanding performances and influential people in our sport for the 2010-2011 season. Since we cover three tiers of racing on RR, the RoRys will be a three-day event. We are going to give out RoRys for the Junior, Collegiate, and Elite levels, and today's RoRys go to the top Junior programs, coaches, and athletes, with two special categories for 'Race of the Year,' and 'Breakout Performance of the Year.' And so, the RoRys go to...


RoRys for Programs of the Year

Marin Men
Accomplished goal of winning M8+ and LM8+ in the same year, first time since Newport AC did it in 2009, only the second time it has been done. Undefeated the throughout the entire season, from the Fall through the Spring and sent a couple guys to the Junior National Team. Deep, talented and very well-coached program. Also, we believe that this is the first time that a team has won both the Charles and Youth Nationals in the same season.

Connecticut Boat Club Women  
Undefeated in the W8+ for the last two years, except for the final at the 2011 Youth Nationals, where they picked up a Bronze medal, after the Grinalds sisters had doubled up in the pair -- an event that CBC won for the second year in a row. In addition to the win in the 2- and bronze in the 8+, CBC also finished 8th in the 4+ and finished 9th in the 4x at Youth Nationals to showcase their depth. Though they don't have more people than every other team in the country, they have high quality girls from top to bottom, and they were well represented on Junior National Team. Great coach in Liz Trond who will be sending a large majority of her rowers to top Division I rowing programs.


RoRys for Coaches of the Year

Women's Coach of the Year: Sandy Armstrong, MRA
The Marin W8+ was excellent -- managed racing and regatta very well at Youth Nationals. Armstrong is running a fantastic program. Though they didn't win against CBC in San Diego or in the heat on the first day of Youth Nationals, they won when it counted most, proving that what matters is not who wins most, but who wins last. Very impressive performance and showed great preparation by the coach. Clearly a very driven, focused, technically sound crew. Sandy also went on to coach the Junior National Team W8+ this Summer in Eton.

Men's Coach of the Year: Graham Willoughby, MRA
First time Marin has won the M8+, and only the second time on record that the same program has won both the heavy and lightweight eights at Youth Nationals. Marin absolutely dominated the entire season and proved they were on a mission to after coming up short in 2010.


RoRy for Race of the Year

Marin Men – Head of the Charles 2010 
Yes, Marin again. The Marin youth men's eight started in 69th place, and took first in the event by eight seconds, ahead of two-time defending champion Eton College and Everett, who started 1st and 3rd respectively. Marin also set a new course record in the process. Fantastic performance from a talented young coxswain to navigate the narrow river, making a key move going through Eliot Bridge, where he dropped out stroke and six to better his angle in order to overtake an opposing crew and provide his rowers with the best line possible through to the finish.


RoRy for Breakthrough Performance of the Year

James Madison, Paul Allbright
James Madison High School Girl's Varsity 8+ led by 23 year old coach Paul Allbright, in just the 9th year of the program's existence. What may be most impressive is that this was only the 4th 2000 meter race this scholastic program had ever undertaken, having raced 1500 meters all year on the scholastic circuit. After finishing only 5th at Scholastic Nationals, it was a huge breakthrough for this young program, whose most talented rowers were just Freshmen and Sophomores. Look out for big things from James Madison in the next two years as we expect them to be in serious contention to win it all in 2012 after only graduating stroke seat Katie Lawless from the 2011 boat.


RoRys for Athletes of the Year

Female Athlete of the Year: Mia Croonquist, Vashon Island
Immense talent in only her 2nd year of rowing after starting as an 8th grader. She finished 2nd in the JW4x at the 2011 Youth Nationals and then went on to become a Junior World Champion in JW4- in Eton. She has gone 7:07 on the erg for 2k, is 6 feet tall and is only 14 years old! She will be taking this year away from rowing and will be attending boarding school in Kona, Hawaii. Kudos to former Washington National Champion oarsman Steve Full, who was Mia's high school coach at Vashon Island Rowing Club for developing such a top talent. Full is now the women's frosh coach at Georgetown.

Male Athlete of the Year: Zach Hershberger, Los Gatos
Massive talent from Los Gatos, CA who became a Junior World Champion in his first year rowing (2010), winning a gold medal at the JM8+ at World's and rowed in a Los Gatos 8 that placed 3rd at Youth Nationals in 2010. This year he went under 6:10 for 2k on the erg and finished 5th at the Junior World Championships in the JM8+. He will be 'taking his talents' up north to Seattle to row for Mike Callahan and Luke McGee's Washington Huskies.

Congratulations to all the RoRy winners at the Junior level. Tomorrow we will hand out the RoRys for intercollegiate rowing, with the RoRys for elite rowing to come on Friday -- check back to see who takes home top honors!

-RR

Monday, September 19, 2011

VOTW: Mirka Knapkova Golden in 2011



Women's single sculler Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic had quite a summer in 2011, winning Henley, and building on a solid third place finish in Lucerne to find herself atop the medal stand in Bled, and once again in Plovdiv, where she took the title in the W1x by roughly six seconds at the European Rowing Championships over the weekend (full results from World Rowing). Knapkova began the 2011 campaign with a fifth place finish in Munich. She then opted to compete at Henley Royal Regatta rather than at the second World Cup, and won the event, setting a tone for the rest of the year. Now, like the men's field, there appears to be a group at the top of women's sculling, all of whom could win on any given day, given their level of talent and experience. The W1x A Final in Bled will likely be very similar to that in London next year, and right now there appear to be five athletes (Xiuyun Zhang of China, Emma Twigg of NZ, Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus, Frida Svensson of Sweden, and, of course, Mirka Knapkova) all within reach of the top spot in Eton Dorney.

Watching this race, perhaps the most impressive things that emerge are the power per stroke from both Karsten and Knapkova, and their ability to change speeds -- Knapkova spends much of the first 100m out of medal contention.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Friday, September 16, 2011

Greek Rowing Continues to Impress Entering 2011 European Rowing Championships



Granted, the Greeks have been at it for a long time (harkening back to the Battle of Salamis and beyond), but the squad from Hellas is looking deeper than ever on both the men's and women's sides this year, with the European Championships rolling and London looming on the horizon.

The men's team has built momentum since the Athens Olympics, where an outstanding performance (and fantastic sprint) from Nikolaos Skiathitis and Vasileios Polymeros resulted in a bronze medal in the LM2x. Next came the Gkountoulas brothers -- identical twins from Servia (northern Greece), who began their international rowing careers as lightweights, winning the LM2- at the 2008 non Olympic World Championships, and followed that up with a bronze medal in the heavyweight men's pair the next year in Poznan, and a silver as part of the M4- last year in Karapiro. This year in Bled, the Gkountoulas brothers placed fourth, just outside the medals in the M2-, as Italy's Niccolo Mornati and Lorenzo Carboncini, who have moved up in the event. The M4- once again took silver, with Under 23 standout Stergios Papachristos in the bow (having taken fourth in the BM1x in Amsterdam earlier this summer), 2008 U23 World Champion in the BM2- Ioannis Tsilis in the two seat, and last year's bronze medalists in the M2- in Karapiro Georgios Tziallas and Ioannis Christou in the stern pair (Christou also won Worlds in the M2x in 2007, and placed 10th in the M1x in Beijing).



Over the past few years, the Greek women's lightweights have stormed onto the scene, and Alexandra Tsiavou and Christina Giazitzidou made this year's LW2x a race for second place in Bled, having won the same event together in 2009, and having taken third in Karapiro. Over the past several years, Tsiavou has been nothing short of phenomenal. Tsiavou took third in LW2x with Chrysi Bizkitzi at Eton Dorney in 2006, while just 21 years of age, and following her gold medal performance in the BLW1x in Hazelwinkel earlier that summer (she also won the BLW1x in 2007 in Strathclyde). Tsiavou and Bizkitzi would later place sixth overall in Beijing. Giazitzidou is also a former U23 World Champion, winning the BLW2x in 2009 just before jumping into the senior LW2x with Tsiavou and winning gold in Poznan.

All this from a country of 12 million people. The results are proof of the progress of the Greek Rowing Federation, and it will be very interesting to see the combinations that come through internal trials for London next year, though, in light of the above, there are a number of names that appear to be stamped on seats for 2012.

For more video from the Greek national team, check out their YouTube Channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/GreekRowers

-RR

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Notes from Across the Pond: E.ON Hanse Canal Cup, and Sir Steve Celebrates



The Thames has been the 'centre' of attention of late, but more for what's been going on in the water than on it. David Walliams completed an amazing 140 swim down the Thames, and raising roughly £1 million for charity in the process. Sir Steve Redgrave was in attendance for the celebration along the banks of the river, and, unlucky for him, the boys from Imperial College Boat Club caught up with him during the festivities (see above). More on David Walliams' feat from The Guardian.

In other news, the 2011 E.ON Hanse Canal Cup took place over the weekend, and saw four international crews taking part in the 12.7k race in Rendsburg, Germany. Crews from the Dutch, Australian, German and USA rowing federations raced over the lengthy course on the Kiel Canal, with many of the same athletes from the recent World Rowing Championships taking part in the competition. The USA men's eight featured seven of the eight that placed eighth in Bled, with the one switch being Brett Newlin (who placed fourth in the M4- in Bled) in for Henrik Rummel. The Germans won the distance event, which was held on 11 September, in 35:43.36 with the USA M8+ finishing second some 45 seconds back of the reigning World Champions, with Australia and The Netherlands trailing. The distance event followed prior festivities, which included a team-based 500m erg challenge, and sprint-distance racing in eights.

For more information on the USA perspective, check out the article by Allison Frederick on the USRowing website, and click here for the official site of the E.ON Hanse Canal Cup.

-RR

Monday, September 12, 2011

Men's and Women's Eights Race in Bled

Two of the tightest fields battled it out in the A Finals at the 2011 World Rowing Championships. On the men's side, the German 'Achter' is looking very solid -- though the last three-peat prior to the Olympics didn't guarantee gold at the subsequent Games, as Team USA fans will no doubt remember (also the case with Canada in 2002, 2003 and the Athens Games). It will be very interesting to see if the rest of the world catches up to the Germans next year, but so far they have been dominant. It was a fairly tight race, yes, but the winner was never really in doubt in Bled.

The field in the women's eight continues to draw closer together, and despite increasing challenges from an excellent Canadian crew, the USA entry (perhaps unrivaled in terms of experience and prior success) just keeps finding ways to get it done. Bled marked the second regatta of the summer where Canada asked the question, and once again the US crew had the answer coming into the final 500m. For some inside analysis of the race from the Canadian coxswain, Lesley Thompson-Willie, and coach of the CAN W8+ John Keogh, check out our interviews from Rowing News' coverage of the 2011 World Championships.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Op-Ed from the RR Editorial Staff: Reflecting on the 2011 World Rowing Championships

All right, so there is good news, and there is bad news. We all know the bad news, which is that the US men's squad has just competed at its second straight World Championship regatta without bringing home a single medal, leaving the tally for the three years since Beijing at 1 (the coxed pair in 2009). That's a pretty startling statistic, but it's not a true reflection of the talent that is latent within the system, which leads me to the discussion of the good news, and the true focus of this article.

Disclaimer/Warning: There are many rowers/readers out there who took issue with the piece that we published here on RR prior to Worlds, which indicated that selection procedures might not be geared correctly to produce satisfactory results on the US men's team. Some of the many comments on the discussion board on Rowing Illustrated cited the fact that I did not interview athletes or coaches and include their thoughts in the article. This is because an opinion piece/editorial does not typically include interviews or quotes, but rather presents an argument, citing data where necessary/relevant. This will again be the case here. If it's interviews you're after, please check out the over 40 interviews with athletes and coaches that I put together for Rowing News' online coverage of the 2011 World Championships. Also, for those who suggested that everything wait until after Worlds -- well, in my opinion, that doesn't make for very interesting reading. Anyone can look at what just happened and tell you that it just happened.

Okay, now that we're all on the same page, here is the good news: there is enough talent already within the US system to medal in at least two events on the men's side at next year's Olympic Games.

Feeling better?

The same 'Compare and Contrast' principle that we applied to the last article can again be used, looking at the way that USA women's head coach Tom Terhaar goes about manipulating the existing system to produce results across multiple boat classes versus the way that Tim McLaren has attempted to do so. And, once again, the key is talent identification.

USA women's head coach Tom Terhaar appears to be very aware of who are his top athletes, and which athletes have what it takes to medal at the Olympics or World Championships. He makes sure the right people are in the right boats, based on that awareness, which comes from his involvement at various levels of development. And the results speak for themselves -- he wins medals at the World Championships and Olympics. This goes all the way down to collegiate development camps, freshman camps and U23 National Team camps. Terhaar is heavily involved in not only the selection of those athletes and who can go, but also in monitoring their training program and preparation very closely, so that it mirrors what he does with the Senior National Team. It is a very systematic and consistent approach, which always puts the top talent in the important seats when it counts.

This differs from what McLaren has done over the past three seasons, as McLaren's ability to identify talent appears to be constantly challenged by a misplaced egalitarian notion (generated by the atmosphere surrounding the men's team) that every move must be justified by objective data, rather than an eye for athleticism -- so much so that I can't even discuss how good an eye for talent McLaren has. He is not blameless here, as he has allowed himself to be dominated by the system, rather than the other way around. Also, it is difficult to discern any consistency in selection methods, which would limit the amount of flux from year to year (indeed, the rate of turnover in the top boats from year to year may be unparalleled internationally, as I discussed in the original article).

Yes, we live in the land of the free, and there is no more important right than freedom, in my opinion, but athletics are akin to the military, not to civilian society. In order for any team to be successful, there must be someone who makes the decisions and leads the way, without being second-guessed at every turn. In order to appear transparent and even blameless when it comes to selection, the men's coaching staff has carefully constructed complex data measurement systems and matrices, comparing crews to one another in training too often and too early, resulting in what we've seen yet again in Bled. Here's the deal: if you are going to pay a guy $150,000 to coach, then let him coach. That is why he is in the position. Let the coach make the decisions, which can be, but do not necessarily have to be justified by objective criteria, so that he can operate at his full capacity and not be forced to be on the defensive throughout the process. By kowtowing to the idea that every decision must be based on objective data, the coaching staff is failing both itself and the athletes.

Not only does it weaken any coach's ability to manage the team, it also weakens the team as a whole. We've seen this for three years now, and many people on the outside still don't understand what is happening. Each year, McLaren seems to collect a group that is talented and have them training together. Then, some of the boats underperform early in the season, because certain athletes are closer to their physiological peak than others, and decisions about lineups are made based on seat races in March and April, which mean very little if you are preparing for an event in August. Mark Hunter is clearly one of the most talented lightweights in the world, but earlier this year he placed fourth at the April 16-17th GB Rowing Team Trials at Eton/Dorney, and Zac Purchase missed Lucerne entirely with an illness, yet the two were once again placed in the LM2x for the 2011 World Rowing Championships. And, of course, they won, in one of the deepest, most competitive fields in all of world rowing. If these two were in the current US system, they may have been at risk of not making the team, as they were defeated by their teammates when they were not peaked for top performance. Early season results cannot be the barometer for the entire year, whether they are inside training camp or on the World Cup circuit.

This is how we got into trouble following Lucerne. Taking a fourth place finish in the M8+ in Lucerne as a solid result, we were reluctant to make any changes to the lineup, and ended up finishing eighth at Worlds, less than one second ahead of the Czech U23 boat (the exact same lineup) that the USA BM8+ defeated in Amsterdam earlier this summer by two seconds in very fast conditions. None of the athletes in the USA BM8+ made the senior team this year. What can we take away from this? First, that Mike Teti is an excellent coach, and second, that results in Lucerne mean very little.

The bottom line is, if you want to win Olympic medals, then the camp system will defeat the open trials system every time. If you disagree with that, then you don't have much knowledge of what it takes to peak physiologically for a singular event at the height of any given sport. Like it or not, if you want to win, you have to put all your faith in the guy running the show, and allow him to make unilateral decisions. The Romans knew this, which is why, during the time of the Republic, they would elect a temporary dictator during periods of military emergency to expedite decision-making and allow the force to operate at full capacity, for better or worse (in case you're lost, here's a link to the Wikipedia entry on Cincinnatus). The open trials system forces athletes to try to peak twice, as everyone knows, with all the athletes desperate to earn places on the squad doing whatever it takes to make the team. I do not think that it is possible to peak twice in three months and perform to your athletic potential in rowing, but this is what the national team athletes are being asked to do, and the results seem to agree with my viewpoint.

So, it all goes back to talent identification and management of physiological development, which is more than having two guys race each other in singles, or in pairs matrices, and then writing down a number. Should McLaren keep his job? That's not up to anyone but USRowing. But if he does continue as head coach, then we need to accept it and let him lead the way without constant micromanagement. In other words, while there are many reasons to be skeptical, if USRowing decides to continue with McLaren, he needs to be the boss. Who are the best athletes? Whom do you want in the boat when you are down by a seat coming into the last 500m? It is up to the coaching staff to decide, and make further decisions about lineups based on the above. Otherwise, we could just save $149,950, and buy a fancy stopwatch.

-RR

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Worlds 2011 Blog: The Road Home

Downtown Ljubljana, public transportation
On the way back from Ljubljana via Paris CDG, and will be hard at work on some new articles on Worlds 2011 to be posted later this week. Slovenia continues to impress, as both the natural environment and the urban centers offer an interesting combination of experiences -- something between the wonders of the Swiss Alps and a semi-Mediterranean culture, complete with bars and clubs open until all hours lining either side of the Ljubljana River. So positive has the trip been that it's impossible not to contemplate a return.

Just as the elite-level rowing year is taking a few weeks off, the intercollegiate world is just now gearing up for the 2011-2012 season. There are a number of things to look at in the realm of intercollegiate rowing, and we'll be including some early season analysis even as the Fall erg workouts are beginning and crews take to the water for the first time.

More to come from the journey ahead!

-RR

Monday, September 5, 2011

VOTWs: Around the Course in Bled, The GB M8+ Faffing About in Munich



This week's VOTW is a collection of shots from around the course in Bled, with footage of some of the crews, as well as some extra insight on the Canadian racing mentality from Will Crothers. It's put together in no particular order, though it does begin with some scenes from the opening ceremonies, which featured hundred of candles floating in egg shells around the finish line. The goal is to give everyone a look at what the venue here is like, as well as the atmosphere around the course, during racing, training and down time. I've also included a quick video that has gone viral in the UK (and has been featured on the well-known blogs HTBS and Rowing For Pleasure), showing the GB men's eight getting some extra training in at the airport on the way to Ljubljana. Thanks to Phelan Hill for sending it along (see below).



The regatta was run very efficiently, and the town of Bled has been extremely supportive of the rowing community. For me, it's been an incredible experience, and one that I'll continue to draw on time and time again in the future. For now though, it's finally time to relax a little -- speaking with Yaz Farooq this morning about the regatta, she said that it always feels like a marathon. It certainly does, as eight days of racing with finals spread across four of them give the journos plenty to cover. Speaking of, check out all the new video interviews with athletes and coaches from the course on the RowingNews.com Videos page.

Want to suggest the next 'Video of the Week?' Shoot us an email at rowingrelated [at] gmail [dot] com, or send us your suggestion via Twitter (twitter.com/rowingrelated).

-RR

Friday, September 2, 2011

Worlds 2011 Blog: Magic About This Place

Lake Bled from Bled Castle (Photo: B. Kitch)
It's Day Six at Worlds, and I just can't stop taking pictures. Yesterday evening, I made a circuit of the lake, moving around the south side on foot for the first time. I have to include a few photos here, with a disclaimer being that none of them feature any rowing.

The view from the Press Box in the Grandstand (Photo: B. Kitch)
In some ways, this regatta is like Henley Royal, in that it's a relatively small piece of geography that we're talking about, with a huge concentration of athletes (roughly 1200 of them), and all of them walking down the same paths and storing their boats in the same places. It's been thrilling in the same way that my first trip to Henley was, meeting all these people whom I've watched on broadcasts and webcasts and DVDs from previous World Championships and Olympics, and I'm thankful for every minute of the experience. It's also been quite fun reconnecting with people I've met in the past, and relaxing a bit once the racing is done for the day.

The island, from the South (Photo: B. Kitch)
The list of interviews continues to grow, with updates being embedded into the 'Videos' page on the RowingNews.com website.

I've not quite screwed up my courage to the sticking point about swimming to the island, but I've got to get that done before leaving. Before diving in, though, here's a quick video that reveals the secret behind the speed of the Dutch men's eight, thanks to Olivier (see below).



More to come through the weekend as the finals continue in Bled!

-RR