BY ED MORAN
PHOTOS BY ED MORAN AND PETER SPURRIER
After months of review from within and without the U.S. national governing body of rowing, USRowing announced Friday its plans to revamp the way athletes are funded, trained, and selected for participation in international competition.
The review was already underway months before the conclusion of the Tokyo Olympic Games, during which the U.S. failed to medal in any boat class for the first time in its history, but was ramped when the Games ended and included extensive athlete exit interviews and surveys.
The reviews—including a nine-month oversight investigation of the national team system and culture by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the law firm Arent Fox—have concluded and the result and recommendations were recently delivered to USRowing.
The overarching finding of the review is that change is needed for athletes to feel that they have a fair and “legitimate pathway” to national team boat selections and to ensure that the resources available are more fairly distributed to athletes no matter where they are training.
In a letter to the USRowing membership Friday, USRowing CEO Amanda Kraus announced the basic framework for the changes and the need to implement them.
“As we prepare for 2024 and beyond, it is clear that meaningful changes need to be made in order to create an athlete-focused approach that maximizes USRowing’s resources and those of the overall rowing community here in the United States,” Kraus wrote.
“USRowing wants to enable our athletes to train and compete in sustainable environments that provide them with the stability and support they need to thrive over the long term. We are also committed to creating a system of high performance that will drive unprecedented success in our sport. To accomplish this, USRowing will be restructuring our national team’s staff, selection process, and training centers.”
The key points in the restructuring are:
- The consolidation of the two national team training centers into one, smaller operation in Princeton, New Jersey, that will have a much smaller contingent of both men and women. That means the Oakland men’s training center no longer exists.
The overarching mission of the Princeton location will be to prepare athletes for small boat trials and selection and moves away from the large team sweep boat focus.
The center will have a “maximum of 12 female and 12 male athletes as full-time residents and will encompass both sweep rowing and sculling. The focus of this center will be to prepare athletes for the small boat trials. Specifics of the performance center will be announced once finalized.
- More reliance on the U.S. club system and continued development of coaching education. Athletes training at a club is eligible for direct athletes support and selection to the team boat camps all based on performance. The online letter provides links to selection process details and names 18 rowing clubs throughout the country as partner clubs.
- A switch in focus from big sweep boats – eights and fours – to smaller boats that will include sculling. The U.S. has struggled to qualify crews for Olympic competition and success, particularly among the men. There were no men’s sculling crews qualified for the Tokyo Games. Given that financial support from the USPOC is contingent and based on medals won, a switch from large boats to smaller crews was expected moving into the 2024 and 2028 Olympic cycles.
- More emphasis on trails to select crews for international competition at World Championships and Olympic Games and for individual athlete invitation to the team boat selection camps.
“In the past, USRowing has run training centers that have been central hubs for the development and selection of the larger boat classes. With the number of athletes involved, USRowing has struggled to support and maintain the necessary environment to meet the needs of the athletes. In addition, the selection process has made it difficult for athletes outside of the training centers to have legitimate pathways to these boat classes,” Kraus wrote.
“USRowing is focused on creating a much more collaborative pathway for athletes to find the best training environment possible,” Kraus explained in her letter.
“USRowing High Performance Partner Clubs will be key pieces in our mission to train, support and develop the elite-athlete talent pool that will represent the United States in international competition. These clubs will place an emphasis on training athletes in small boats for selection and development of senior athletes on the U.S. National Teams through trials and selection camps.”
California Rowing Club Named Partner Club and Will be Coached by Mike Teti
At nearly the same time as USRowing announced its plans, the California Rowing Club announced that it would be one of the partner clubs and that Mike Teti will be the head coach. Teti’s departure from the national team was expected.
“At the California Rowing Club, we want to put the athlete in control of their own destiny,” said Andy Rogers, Board Director of the California Rowing Club,” in the relesase. “With Mike’s love for the sport and its athletes, our goal is to be one of the best clubs in the country by providing the resources necessary to give rowers the ability to achieve their Olympic dreams.”
“The California Rowing Club is very excited to embrace the new athlete-focused model for USRowing. Qualified athletes who choose to train at the CRC will not only find exceptional coaching talent and the ability to train year-round, but also world class training equipment, physical therapy, and boathouse facilities. Athletes who train at the CRC will also be able to take advantage of all the resources the Bay Area has to offer. The club supports athletes who wish to pursue a professional career, alongside training at the highest level in pursuit of their Olympic dream,” the release read.
“I am extremely grateful to the Rogers Family Foundation for creating this opportunity for our athletes. I am also excited and encouraged to see how far we can go with this group of talented young athletes. I believe our athlete-centered approach at the CRC, in partnership with USRowing and the restructuring of their new high-performance model, will allow each athlete to control their path to the Olympic Team. I’m honored and humbled to help launch this new structure at CRC and I’m committed to help our athletes succeed,” said Teti in the release.
“I am extremely grateful to the Rogers Family Foundation for creating this opportunity for our athletes. I am also excited and encouraged to see how far we can go with this group of talented young athletes.”
– Mike Teti
In addition to the USRowing changes, Kraus announced that direct athlete support will be available wherever they are training.
“While an emphasis on small boats is a cornerstone of this process, we are outlining a system where funding (DAS) will follow athletes through their performance at trials and selection camps, and not necessarily the final boat class they make. This allows our top athletes to decide which boat classes they would like to compete in, rather than forcing athletes into boats for which they may not be best suited,” Kraus announced.
Key to the success of these new procedures will be the hiring of a new director of high performance who will be tasked with overseeing the execution and coordination of these plans, including the selection of the coaches to the national team staff.
The search for that person has already begun and this week it became known that British rowing icon Sir Steve Redgrave is being interviewed and is among those being considered. Redgrave won gold medals at five consecutive Olympics while on the British national team and more recently guided the Chinese rowing team efforts toward Tokyo where they won one gold and two bronze medals.
Redgrave, according to Kraus earlier this week, is interested in taking a role with the organization.
Kraus, however, made it clear that while he is an intriguing prospect, there are other candidates being interviewed and that the process is still ongoing. The goal is to name a person by the end of the year, Kraus said.
In her Friday letter, Kraus said that the new high-performance director will work with the partner clubs and athletes.
“HP Partner Clubs will work in coordination with USRowing’s Chief High Performance Director on the national training program, monitoring of athletes, and events. HP Partner Clubs will give elite athletes the opportunity to utilize national team resources (medical, nutritional, additional sport performance, coaching education and development), while providing support for the athletes in locations that best suit their long-term training and needs,” Kraus announced.
The full letter from Kraus can be viewed here.