Monday, March 14, 2016

The Future of Lightweight Rowing: A Letter from Jack Carlson and the U.S. Lightweight Men's Eight

Carlson and the USA LM8+ on the podium in Aiguebelette, France (Photo: © USRowing)

We received the following letter, originally submitted to the editor of ROWING Magazine, from 2015 world bronze medalist coxswain Jack Carlson and the U.S. lightweight men's eight. A version of the letter was published in the March 2016 issue of the magazine.

From Jack:

Dear Editor,

We write in response to the editor's note in the most recent edition of ROWING Magazine and hope to correct a few of your well-intentioned points.

The elimination of the lightweight eight from the World Championships program has not been met with the universal indifference you suggest. The German federation, for their part, stated within days of the FISA announcement that they would ask FISA to retain the event in 2016, treating this as a transitional year, and will introduce a motion to reinstate the event at the 2017 extraordinary FISA Congress. It is our sincere hope that USRowing will act in its own interests and support Germany's efforts on this front.

For the lightweight eight—in spite of your claim that it is "no longer viewed as a credible development tool for the Olympic boat classes"—is actually a crucial Olympic development tool for the United States (and indeed a development tool that costs USRowing nothing). The proof is in the pudding: at the 2012 Olympics, three out of four US lightweight athletes came through the lightweight men's eight; in 2008, it was four out of four. In 2004, three out four in the LM4- and one in the LM2x came through the eight. And in the current U.S. lightweight men's four—the crew that qualified the boat for the United States at the 2015 World Championships, that is—three out of the four athletes cut their teeth in the lightweight eight.

You're absolutely right to bemoan the small number of crews in the event in recent years. But may we point out that the number of entries is not necessarily a reflection of the calibre of these entries. Indeed, if there were ever a year to demonstrate the high standard of racing in the lightweight men's eight—and its important role in bridging the vast chasm between the standards of racing at the U23 level and the senior Olympic classes—it is 2015: for let us not forget that the 2015 Italian lightweight eight, which included all four of the current-year gold medalists in the U23 lightweight four (plus another four senior world champions, including an Olympic medalist), missed the medal podium entirely.

The winning time in the lightweight eight as a percentage of world best time was on par with the other non-Olympic events at the 2015 World Championships (all of which had their finals on the same day within a window of an hour and forty-five minutes): 97.43%. The 2015 winning times in other non-Olympic events were all between 95.61% and 98.35%. The U.S. lightweight eight went 97% of world best time in 2015; while the U.S. entries in the women's four and lightweight women's single had slightly higher percentages (97.18%, 97.77%), the other U.S. non-Olympic entries had lower percentages (between 91.1% and 96.39%).

We might also point out that out of all the non-Olympic events in 2015, the lightweight eight actually had the highest number of athletes participating (more even than the LM1x, where the "E" Final featured a Moroccan entry over a minute slower than the event winner). Given the number of athletes and the high calibre of racing in the lightweight eight, we hope that FISA may even re-consider the criteria on which it eliminates events from the World Championships program—particularly in the "big boat" classes—where basing such a grave decision upon "number of crews" alone seems rather myopic and arbitrary.

The elimination of the lightweight eight from the World Championships, should it become permanent, would be sad news for a sport that should be growing, not shrinking; and sad news for the many lightweight athletes across the country and around the world earnestly training with the hope of one day representing their nations at the Olympics, who will have had an important intermediary step removed beneath them.

Yours faithfully,

The 2015 United States Lightweight Eight

Jack Carlson (Chula Vista, California)
Matthew Lenhart (Oakland, California)
David O. Smith (Seattle, Washington)
Alex Twist (Seattle, Washington)
Phil Henson (San Francisco, California)
Peter Schmidt (Sarasota, Florida)
Chris Lambert (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
Jack Devlin (Washington, D.C.)
Tobin McGee (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

--

-RR

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