RR Interview: John Graves on Rio Training, Selection, and Shifting Focus to Tokyo 2020
|John Graves with USRowing (Photo courtesy Carlos Dinares)|
Among the top sculling athletes in the U.S., John Graves has plenty of experience racing at the international level. Here, we catch up with Graves on his thoughts about the last quadrennium, racing at Henley Royal Regatta, and tackling the next chapter as we shift our focus to the Tokyo Olympics.
RR: Last quadrennium, you worked with the Green Racing Project at Craftsbury to build a crew for trials in the quad. What was that experience like, and how did you feel about the build-up to trials?
John Graves: At Craftsbury we were given a blank canvas to create a boat that we thought could compete for medals at the Olympics. A will never be able to thank Dick Dreissigacker and Judy Geer enough for that amazing opportunity. There are definitely things that we might do slightly differently but all things considered I'm so proud of the boat we ultimately produced in 2016. Although we didn't make the Olympic team, that boat was Olympic caliber and the speed we were going was exactly what we were shooting for—we just came up a little short. When I think back to 2012 and dreaming of making a heavyweight boat that could run with the best, we really did accomplish that. The only thing we didn't take in to account was how much more competitive the field got over this quadrennial.
RR: After a narrow miss in Europe that spelled the end of qualification for Rio, what were your initial thoughts? Were you immediately inspired to take up oars again? Or were you contemplating hanging up the sculls? Who and what influenced your decision?
JG: I was very disappointed, but I always knew that I would train for Tokyo. I knew that no matter what we did, I could be faster over the next four years. I felt like I was just starting to get my feet under me internationally and that if I persisted I could make another jump in speed. Especially seeing the way that Gevvie methodically improved in her late twenties really inspired me. I don't like this idea of taking a bunch of time off. I totally understand some people need to rest their bodies but I just feel like all of this is so fleeting and I've waited a long time and trained so hard to have the opportunity to compete at this level and try to get to the top, so I don't want to waste a second of it.
RR: What do you feel is different about the new journey, looking ahead at the work to be done before Tokyo?
JG: You always hear how important experience is and this year I've started to feel how valuable going through everything last quadrennial was to informing the next four years. Knowing what to expect a little bit more, knowing my body much better, and having a better understanding of what really is important. I think I have a better appreciation for the rhythm of the quadrennial and that everything early on is just preparation and learning for Olympic qualification. Things get so much harder the year before the Olympics and I just want to be as ready as I can to qualify. Last quadrennial I was very naive. I was in Olympic class boats and doing decently but just had no idea what was coming.
RR: If you could design a system of selection, what would that look like?
JG: I would have people train with their clubs for the majority of the year and then come together for a race where every rower regardless of sweep or scull competes in the single. Based off the results, a group of coaches would put together lineups in all boat classes depending on what the priority boat is. But everything would be based off of single speed. If our country did that, I think we would win a lot of medals.
RR: Getting back to the present, how has your recent training been going, and what is it about Henley Royal Regatta that makes it such an unusual and special racing experience for you?
JG: Training has been going well and I'm excited to give Henley my best. I think I'm drawn to the prestige of Henley and how it's totally unique in its own right and predates Olympic rowing. I grew up idolizing the single scullers winning the Diamonds and it's always been my dream to win it.
RR: Earlier this year, you worked with Carlos Dinares—what about his approach and coaching style makes him so effective?
JG: Carlos was not afraid to tell me what I'm bad at and what I'm good at at. He tells it like it is and that is the most helpful thing for improvement.
RR: You've been working with The Frynge to help fund your training—how did you discover them and how have they supported your campaign so far?
JG: Dominic [Costanzo] got in touch with me a couple months ago about potentially doing one of their campaigns and I would have been stupid to turn them down! I really enjoyed this talking with him and immediately bought in to what they were about and I think we both agreed it was a great fit for both of us.
I think their ethos is wonderful and I hope it can continue to grow.
Thanks very much to John for taking the time to speak with us! You can listen to his 2013 podcast interview with us here, to get a better understanding of his approach to the Rio quadrennium.
World Rowing Cup III is coming up shortly in Lucerne—you can keep tabs on all the action there via our Instagram account, which we're handing off once again to Australian Olympian David Watts. And as always, keep an eye on the hashtag #rowingrelated for the best rowing posts on the 'gram.