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US Rowing is in trouble – here’s a remedy

The mud has flown around the internet as the US Rowing board resigned, got reinstated, they fired their … read more

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The mud has flown around the internet as the US Rowing board resigned, got reinstated, they fired their High performance Director and complaints and demeanours were aired in public.

Whatever governance issues US Rowing has (and we hope they get sorted out), there is a bigger more visible problem.  The US Rowing mens team won NO MEDALS at the Rio Olympics.  This is a serious low-point.

US rowing men Olympic medals US rowing men Olympic medals

The book is written by Carlos Zezza – who has no axe to grind except that as a supporter of US Rowing he wants to see them winning.

His thesis is this

  • The count of mens medals at the Olympics is dropping every 4 years and hit zero in Rio
  • USA tends to do well in sweep events
  • The IOC is reducing the number of sweep events, therefore US Rowing should start doing well in sculling
  • PROBLEM is that no US Universities do sculling races (their national championships only offers sweep events)
  • So few Americans are good at sculling and it take too long to learn – athletes retire before they get proficient
  • Other countries have been in this place (GB Rowing in 1970s) and recovered, and so US Rowing can recover
  • But change is needed
  • The changes he sets out are 1) sculling 2) fewer foreigners in the US universities top crews 3) a strategic plan

Read the Boys in The Box for yourself.

Page 73 gives contact details for the author and how to send him suggestions.

Past and Future Olympic boat classes Past and Future Olympic boat classes reducing sweep events

A nice comparison graph with the British Rowing “drought” of Olympic medals and their recovery – which took 3 Oympiads to get a gold medal again .

British Rowing "drought" of Olympic medals British Rowing “drought” of Olympic medals

[Another large issue is that each athlete is paid $1,300 a month.  For the 12 rowers at Princeton, that is a total of $186,000.  Or slightly less than one of the three men’s coaches wages!!  With two coaches at $190,000 each to coach just 6 rowers , one can understand the frustration of the athletes. Add to that the High Performance Director, hired specifically to assist the dearth of men’s performance, then is another $160,000 layered on top.]

Extracts from The Boys In the Box

As a practical matter, our elite rowers need enough money to train full time and be able to make ends meet. (p28)

Clear path – no competing goals

Coaches elsewhere see themselves as part of a national development process aimed at international success. To quote from the Germans, “Nur gemeinsam sind wir schlagkraftig” (“Only together are we powerful”)

This contrasts with the USA. In the USA, scholastic and collegiate regattas define coaches’ and athletes’ success. Regional school competition may conflict with national junior regattas. College rowers need to complete their sweeps season before turning to national selections.

p32 mentions the big versus small boat experience

Because most of our young rowers row in big boats where technique is hard to appreciate, erg scores are often taken as a proxy for potential speed on the water. Maybe for this reason, American crews are sometimes criticized for poor technique compared to overseas rivals.

p33 Putting the best rowers in the smaller boats [as practiced in Europe] is 180 degrees opposite from historical USA practice, where the best rowers are seated in eights.

p35 But a shift to favor small boat competition, with a team point structure to encourage putting the best rowers into the smaller boats, would change the picture.

Can we wait for the best college rowers to graduate before we prepare them to compete in the international boat classes? As noted in Chapter Three, it is most likely too late.

p45 Offers a solution for domestic competition. To fulfill its obligations as NGB, USRowing needs to address the entire talent development process from initiation, with standards to measure progress at each level. USRowing needs to influence, as best it can, talent development outside its control.

About Rebecca Caroe
Rebecca is the host of RowingChat podcast and is a masters athlete and coach. Passionate about helping others enjoy the sport as much as she does. View all posts from Rebecca Caroe

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