And Now It’s Time To Qualify
May 08, 2012
Every athlete that showed up at Mike Teti’s boathouse at the University of California in Oakland knew what they were getting into.
The United States men’s eight had failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London at the world championships in Bled, Slovenia, and what was left to do was find the best eight available men in the country and make them into a crew that could go fast enough to win the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta this month in Lucerne.
The process started as soon as the U.S. team got home from worlds last summer, and went straight through the fall and winter. A group that numbered in the 20s at one time was narrowed down to 16 rowers and three coxswains for the last few months. And on April 30, after a never-ending succession of seat racing, the final group was picked. The rest were given the bad news.
“Everybody here was pushed to the limit,” said Giuseppe Lanzone, who was selected as bow seat in the lineup. “Nobody had an easy ride. Everybody got pushed. It was a first-time experience, for me at least, to be seat raced day in and day out, day in, day out. It was hard the whole time.”
Named to the lineup were coxswain Zach Vlahos, Grant James, David Banks, Steve Kasprzyk, Jake Cornelius, Brett Newlin, Ross James, Will Miller and Lanzone.
Banks, Newlin and Lanzone were members of the men’s four that finished ninth at the 2008 Olympic Games. The James brothers return to the boat from last year’s world championship lineup, while Kasprzyk joins the lineup from the men’s eight that won gold at the 2011 Pan American Games.
In addition to the eight being named on the 30th, the camp and selection for the lightweight men’s four, which was also a long and difficult process, was also finalized and the crew named.
Like the eight, the crew of Robin Prendes, Nick LaCava, Will Newell and Anthony Fahden will represent the U.S. at the Final Qualification Regatta May 20-23 in Lucerne, Switzerland, in the hopes of gaining an Olympic berth. Only the winner in the eight event will qualify. The top two boats in the lightweight four will go to London.
Prendes and Fahden return from the boat that finished 13th at the 2011 World Rowing Championships. LaCava and Newell won the lightweight men’s pair event at the first National Selection Regatta and were members of the lightweight eight that finished fifth in Bled.
“I feel pretty good about the boat,” said lightweight men’s coach Bryan Volpenhein. “Selection went fairly well. We did a lot of good pieces and I think it was good for the guys, going through that.
“They got better from it and we’ve had a pretty solid block of training over the last three weeks,” he said. “Now we’re getting to some specific race training. The guys are feeling pretty good. They showed some good times. We’re looking to piece the heavies the next couple of days and test ourselves there.”
After finishing 13th and not qualifying in Bled, the lightweight four is facing a challenge.
“It is such a tough event and it has changed over the last few years. I think it’s getting harder,” Volpenhein said. “I think we’re better than last year and if we have some good races, I think we can qualify.”
There is optimism in the eight as well.
“It was a solid effort from everybody during the selection process; there were a lot of good guys and everybody worked real hard for a real long while to get this boat selected,” said Miller. “I think we’re working hard and moving well and moving in the right direction.”
Still, he said, it was difficult when the crew was announced.
“It’s hard to see your friends go,” Miller said. “Everybody put in a real solid effort. It is a bit strange, but we knew it was going to happen at some point. We’re working hard. We have a lot of faith in the coaches and we’re going to do our best to make this boat as fast as possible.”
And with the selection over, that task is where Teti is focused.
“Camp was a good experience because of the people involved,” Teti said. “The selection itself was difficult because you have so many athletes that are really close, a lot of interchangeable parts. So the hard part really was telling guys that they weren’t going to be in the boat.
“The coaching was the easy part,” he said. “They all responded well. I think back to the days when I was an athlete and when I’ve been in both positions, where I’ve made it and also not made it.
“The guys that make it inwardly are happy, but they’re a little bit subdued because some of their friends didn’t. And the guys that didn’t make it know that they were good enough to make it and there were some big disappointments.
“No one likes to deliver bad news, so it does make it hard,” he said. “They have been progressing pretty well. I think their times during selection were pretty good. I think they are rowing well.
“And I think there are things to work on. So now we are sort of transferring from the selection part. First it was the training and then the selection. It was actually more race pieces than I was used to doing, but we had to do it to give everyone an opportunity and now we’re more into, okay, now let’s see what the correct race strategy is going to be for this group of athletes – what kind of start, where are we going to make our press, what rate, when do we move, things like that. We’re sort of formulating that right now.”
Teti said he doesn’t really know just yet which countries will be the most competitive in Lucerne. What he does know is that the U.S. has to win.
“I know what speed this boat has to go to achieve a medal performance. And I am assuming the qualifier is the same as medaling speed, and that’s what we’re trying to do right now.”