A Final Medal and Promise for the Future at the 2012 London Olympic Games
August 04, 2012
LONDON – Three of the four Americans looked out into the press conference room wide-eyed and still.
From the look on their collective faces, it was clear they were both tired from racing, and were in a situation they had never experienced before. Only Scott Gault, the veteran of the group, and the only one who had ever been to an Olympics, seemed ready and relaxed.
Beside them to their right were eight of the most senior and most decorated rowing Olympians competing in the 2012 London Olympic Games in the men’s four. Among the British crew alone – Alex Gregory, Pete Reed, Tom James and Andrew Triggs Hodge – there were 14 international medals, including nine world titles, three of them Olympic gold from the same event in 2008.
But there they were this afternoon, Gault, 28, (Piedmont, Calif.), Charlie Cole, 25, (New Canaan, Conn.), Henrik Rummel, 24, (Pittsford, N.Y.) and Glenn Ochal, 25, (Philadelphia, Pa.) on the same dais, with Olympic bronze medals around their necks. They came into the Olympics a new lineup, without an international medal among them, or an international race as a crew, and they had just run with the best in the world to claim the third Olympic rowing medal for the United States at this Games.
And they were talking about the future.
“Certainly I think people have to be excited about the work we’ve put in,” said Cole. “We put in a lot of hard work since last year. We’re young guys and we have a lot to look forward to and we’ll have to think about and reflect on our performance and let the dust settle. But we have a lot to be confident about, and hopefully, a lot to look forward to in our rowing careers.”
It was a perfect finish to a week of rowing that ended an Olympic quadrennial for the United States with three medals and gains in many events that speaks of promise for the next four years and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The bronze medal in the four was the first for the U.S. since 1992. The women’s eight continued its dominance with back-to-back Olympic gold medals and a seventh consecutive world title. And the women’s quad took bronze for the first medal in the event since 1984, when it was a one-thousand-meter, coxed-boat event.
The rest of the numbers speak for themselves:
Of the 44 athletes in the U.S. contingent, 17 left London with medals, 30 rowed in the finals, and 11 missed the podium by tenths of a second – 0.2 in the women’s pair and 0.3 in the men’s eight, a boat that had not qualified at the 2011 World Rowing Championships.
There were some ups and downs, the men’s quad faltered in the repechage and finished out of the finals, and men’s single sculler, Ken Jurkowski (New Fairfield, Conn.), was forced to withdraw for medical reasons.
In the lightweight women’s double sculls, Julie Nichols (Livermore, Calif.) and Kristin Hedstrom (Concord, Mass.) finished 11th overall today.
“I’m proud of all the effort we put in, all the hard work we’ve done, working on this,” said Nichols. “It’s definitely not the outcome we were hoping for or looking for.”
While Gevvie Stone (Newton, Mass.) missed the top final, she finished seventh, winning the second level final this morning.
“It was a great race,” Stone said. “I wanted to come out here and put all the pieces together, row well. I was fortunate to be in lane six and I just put my race together. I was right with everyone at the 500 (meter mark), which is something I have never done internationally and I just said go with it, long and strong.
“I kept pushing myself, I was rowing pretty efficiently, I think. I’ll have to ask my dad, who is my coach, what he thinks. But it felt great. You never know how many chances you’re going to get to row on an Olympic course and I wanted to make this one a good one.”
In the total medals count, Great Britain rewarded the 25,000 fans that showed up everyday with nine medals, including four gold, two silver and three bronze. Three of the gold went to women’s crews, the first time in Olympic history that Team GB has won gold in women’s events.
New Zealand had three gold and two bronze. Australia took three silver and two bronze, and saw sculler Kim Crow win silver in two events, the women’s double and the women’s single. Germany had two gold and one silver. Denmark had one of each color for a total of three.
The United States was next with three. And the future looks good.
“This group has performed as they were supposed to,” said Glenn Merry, USRowing CEO. “They came in and they developed over four years. The women’s eight continues to excel and continues to make that a huge opportunity for us.
"But that men’s four. I’ve watched the progression of that for USRowing.
I asked Tim (McLaren) when I hired him to focus on a boat outside of the eight and I wanted to know that when we get through this, that we can make progress towards a medal and he said yes, I think we can do that.
“We both thought the eight would also medal, but this four, watching the progression, there were a lot of naysayers after last year. I heard the U.S can’t do this, the U.S. is doing things wrong, and we’ve made wrong decisions. We’re not making wrong decisions.
"It’s hard to win medals. It’s a marvelous success, and the women’s success, an unprecedented success. All three of these boats, plus the women’s pair, is the result of a system we didn’t start until 1992 and wasn’t fully engaged until 2004. Three of those camp boats made it through to the medals.”
Just one year ago, the U.S. men’s four had finished out of the medals in Bled, beaten out by Greece. Not today.
After winning both its heat and semifinal, the U.S. men fell into third place behind Great Britain and Australia and held there. The U.S. made moves throughout the 2,000-meter course and pushed to the limit to try and move one medal closer to the top, rowing the fastest 500-meter split of the six boats in the third quarter. But the lead boats held and Great Britain won in 6:03.97, Australia took second in 6:05.19 with the U.S. finishing in third in 6:07.20.
When the U.S. boat crossed the line, Gault fell back into Cole’s lap, exhausted and happy.
“The guys behind me laid down a powerful rhythm and I just went with it,” he said. “We pounded down the course, didn’t give a stroke up, and stayed focused. There was a chance there where we wanted to sprint to the line to get a silver. We gave it everything we had. We’re going home with smiles on our faces.
“I just know the last two hundred and fifty meters, I laid everything on that oar, just everything I possibly could. And right before the end, I had absolutely nothing left,” he said.
“This feels great,” Ochal said. “We wanted to come here and have a good race and that was a damn good one. We wanted to run with those guys and we were overlapped the whole time, we tried to push it and they just kept inching out and they got us. They’re good crews, but we’re happy to be right where we are right now. It’s been since 1992 since we had a medal in the four. We have some real speed out there. It wasn’t a two-boat race. Maybe everyone thought it was, but it wasn’t a two-boat race,” he said.
“It feels good,” added Rummel. “But I thought we were catching them and then they did a great job holding us off.”
The idea that they were all just slightly disappointed with bronze speaks well for what can come next. Of the crew, only Gault plans on retiring.
Back on the dias, Gault paid tribute to men’s head coach Tim McLaren
and to his young boat mates.
“We started the quadrennial with not a great performance,” Gault said. “We really had to work from what we were given. These three guys to my left are incredible athletes and Tim really coached them well, and we really built the program together. We all worked hard.
“None of us have ever won a world championship medal, three had never been in an Olympics before. To my right, is a group with plenty of medals, plenty of gold medals. But with Tim McLaren we were better prepared than a lot of people and we just really focused with professionalism and that really got us to the medal table here and I’m really happy about that.”
And McLaren was equally happy with his crew.
“The guys in the four, this is the first time together racing as a group and that will give them some confidence,” McLaren said. “Three of them are going on and some guys in the eight are going on and some of the scullers are going on and we have some good kids in the u23 group this year and last year. I think we’re in a reasonable place. If we can tighten it up, we can continue to press on.
“We’ve come with a rush this year. Our results the last few years haven’t been anything at all to get excited about and here we are. We’re competitive again. We look a little more respectable than we have and I’m grateful.”
For the rest of the men’s side, there were also notable gains, especially in the lightweight men’s four that finished eighth overall.
“Obviously we would have liked to do better, but I think there is some progress there,” said Bryan Volpenhein, who coached the men’s pair and lightweight four.
“The pair did better than last year and the four, that’s the best they have done since 2003, at worlds, and they got sixth in Athens. So it’s a big improvement from the last Olympics. I think if we can keep some of these guys around and keep the momentum going, I think we will have something going for 2016. We have some good young talent and there is some energy there now and we just have to keep it going.”
On the women’s side, the training camp system just keeps getting deeper and winning more medals.
“It’s getting the right heads and the right bodies in the right boats,” said head women’s coach Tom Terhaar, after his eight won gold.
“Getting the best athletes the best opportunity to win a medal and, fortunately, people stuck around and some young kids came up and it just created this incredible depth.
“What did we have, 13 female athletes from the States have a medal? That’s huge, because I watched a couple of Olympics where it was four, and the best athletes, who were very good athletes, came home with nothing. So that’s what’s exciting to me,” he said.
For 2012 Olympic Games news, features and daily quotes from Team USA athletes, coaches, staff and family members, visit http://www.usrowing.org/Pressbox/2012Olympics.aspx.
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Ed Moran, photos by Row2k Media