American Dreams

Photo by Lisa Worthy.

When he crossed the line first at the 2017 world junior championships Aug. 2-6 in Trakai, Lithuania, 17-year-old sculler Clark Dean had achieved something no American had done in 50 years: win a gold medal in the men’s single at junior worlds. The last person to do it? Jim Dietz, longtime UMass women’s coach and now men’s vice chair on the board of directors for USRowing.

Not only is it an impressive feat on its own, but Dean’s performance comes at a time when there is a debate raging in the U.S. about the effects of international recruiting on the under-23 and senior levels. The international presence is often seen as deleterious to the development of U.S. athletes, who may not always have the same sculling background as their international counterparts (a lack of experience that some feel leads to the Americans being less competitive).

Add to that the fact that Dean was also part of the USRowing junior men’s four with coxswain, which made the A-final as well—he raced with that crew roughly two hours before his final in the single sculls—and you start to understand the kind of athlete Dean is.

“I think it’s incredible that Clark ‘The Shark’ Dean is going that fast in the single,” says Oakland Strokes men’s head coach Brian de Regt, who first saw Clark row the single as a 6th grader at Craftsbury. “And I think it’s great to see the eight staying in the medals.”

Last year, it was de Regt who guided the U.S. junior men’s eight to a silver. This year, he was happy to see longtime USRowing junior coach and one of the program’s chief architects, Jesse Foglia, do the same.

“Jesse has been in the background, but just super steady for years. So I’m bummed I didn’t get to coach the junior men’s eight this year, but he’s an awesome guy and I’m glad he got the opportunity to coach that boat.”

And the bronze medal? That came from the women’s straight four (Kelsey McGinley, Gwenyth Lynch, Rose Carr, and Kaitlyn Kynast), which fought off an early push from Poland and a late charge from China to make the podium—the result marked the eighth-straight podium finish for the U.S. in this event.

“I think there’s a really robust system in place for the juniors,” de Regt says. “I was only involved for one year but the talent ID is pretty good and the reach is good. We have an American winning the single, and nine more coming very close to winning the eight for the third year in a row. If that doesn’t inspire confidence and create some excitement over where we can go, then I don’t know what will.”

Turning our focus outward, it was Romania that won the day. The Romanians scored no less than six total medals, divided evenly between gold, silver, and bronze. Somewhat predictably, it was Great Britain taking second overall in the medals, with four total, including two golds of their own in the men’s four (an event that GB Rowing has won at each of the last five Olympics) and the women’s double sculls.

Third in the medals was Croatia. While the Sinkovic Brothers have become something of a household name in rowing circles by dominating the last quadrennial in the men’s double, another set of Croatian brothers are looking to make a name for themselves in the pair: Patrik and Anton Loncaric claimed gold in Trakai, followed by Romania and Turkey. In fact, the junior men’s pair in Trakai featured crews from Uzbekistan (fourth), Mexico (sixth), Moldova, India, Israel, Latvia, and Armenia, which bodes well for a sport that has placed an emphasis on international development.

But arguably the most impressive performance of the regatta came from the Germans. The German national team placed crews in nearly every A final, with the exception of the men’s pair and women’s four, and were achingly close to owning the medal table. Team Germany ended up with seven total medals, but only one gold (four were silver, two bronze), placing them fourth on the medal table. Still, the depth and breadth of their system was on full display.

Case in point: Germany came within less than a second of sweeping both the men’s and women’s eights. Only a comeback victory for the Czech Republic in the women’s eight held Germany off the top of the podium, with Czech crew second off the blocks but finishing in 6:27.97 to Germany’s 6:28.40.

At the outset of a new quadrennium, much attention is paid to up and coming talent at the elite level, with rowing federations testing new combinations and building both culture and performance as the Olympics draw ever closer. While that may be a ways off for the athletes at the world championships this year, it’s exciting and exhilarating to see the next generation of Olympians begin to realize their talent on the international stage.

It was recently announced that Los Angeles would be the host for the 2028 Olympic Games. There seems little doubt that we’ll be seeing more of these same faces, and hearing these same names, for the years to come between now and then—and perhaps on the grandest stage of all at the Los Angeles Olympics.

As the (adapted) saying goes, ‘the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single stroke.’