Sean Colgan reflects on US Rowing changes


Like many people, I read the Boys in the Box report.  However nobody is going to change the US system in the way the author recommends – we aren’t set up to create Olympians in school – we’ve established to provide kids fun in sport.  For example, many clubs use river rowing – you can’t have kids in singles swept over the dam…. it’s fine for summer programs but not appropriate for most.

US Rowing Rio US Rowing Rio Mens 8

US rowing is so disorganised, ill-directed, ill-led and ill-intentioned.  What I learned from the Boys in the Box report is the USA can out-spend the rest of the world by 5x ($100,000,000 TO $20,000,000) and still come in last at the Olympics.

The new regime is as bad as the previous one – new HP director, new committee, new directors but the same old attitude.

Let me give an example from last week.  The coaches mandated that all Princeton Training Center athletes had to go to Boston for the Crash B event.  But they were given no means of paying to get there – no per diem, no money – even though there was a 15 seater van in the Training Center car park but they weren’t allowed to use it.

And yet all the coaches and support staff got expenses paid.

Most of the athletes are just out of college and have no money.  The US Rowing organization gives them no money and then US Rowing makes it mandatory to travel to an event without paying for travel.  This gives the athletes a clear message – they don’t care about you.  Yet US Rowing is happy to pay an intern to go up and collect their scores which they could pull off the internet anyway. It’s a joke if it was not so serious.

The other 3 big insights from the book are:

  1.  Of all the world rowing organisations’ staffing US Rowing has 60% staff working on on issues and 40% on competitions.  Everyone else in the world has at least the reverse.  This is a clear indication that priorities are not focused on the  Olympic athletes.
  2. To digress on the complaint that USA has too many foreign rowers at university, Swimming and Track Field have the same issue that half of the top university competing athletes at domestic competition are foreigners.  USA Swimming and Athletics are smart enough to take advantage of all that.  USA dominates the Swimming and Athletics Olympic medals.
  3. The national team coaches work 30% of the hours that university team coaches do – they’re lazy.  Charlie Butt spends hours on the phone recruiting, admissions, compliance, discipline and coaching usually around 16-24 athletes each. Currently Princeton has two full time coaches and a high performance director paid over $500,000 to coach 11 rowers total.  Let me do the simple math – 4 rowers for one coach!!!  Some University coaches get bonus payments if they win championships.  There’s no alignment between compensation and performance at US Rowing.  In fact, the opposite.  All their contracts were renewed for 4 more years before Rio.  To start with a $20k bonus from an $180k salary is enough of a motivation to look at what you’re doing and how to improve.

US Rowing does not deliver results with the rowers.

Not a single Rio rower returned to the Princeton Camp.  They do not want to drink from that poison well again.  Well-prepared and motivated rowers will produce medals.  The previous 120 years have proven that.  This is the first Olympic Games the men did not win a medal…. that is a goose egg.  And nobody lost their job.  Almost unbelievable, but with US Rowing, anything is possible.

But this needs change to start at the fundamentals – changing the board is not enough.  Everyone involved needs to be replaced for the culture to change.

Results will follow.

Sean Colgan, February 2017.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Craig Allely

    Its a common problem all over the World lots of money being spent on National Squads and various feeder squads ie Juniors ,U23 University
    Clubs all over the World are dying .Club rowing can not compete at any level except at beginner level .
    Even Masters to be successfull have to be composites
    To be any good in Rowing now you have got to be paid,no money no results
    We have lightweight kicked out of the Olympics for para athletes and to encourage third World countries where Rowing does
    not exist.
    You are dead right Sean Colgan only people like you and I who have been in the sport for a long time can see the problem

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