Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 34
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
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(Photo Courtesy of USRowing)

A BETTER WORLD: Steve Coppola powers through the water in action for the U.S. men’s 8. Coppola, a former Princeton University men’s heavyweight star and a bronze medalist at the 2008 Summer Olympics, will be competing in the U.S. 8 at the upcoming 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia. Getting chosen for the U.S. boat amounts to a comeback for Coppola after he was left off the U.S. squad for the 2010 worlds.

Demonstrating That He Isn’t Over the Hill Yet, PU Alum Coppola Makes U.S. Boat for Worlds

Bill Alden

Steve Coppola may only be 27-years-old but he has spent the last year trying to prove that he is not over the hill when it comes to competing for the U.S. national rowing team.

After starring for the Princeton University men’s heavyweight program from 2002-06 and earning a bronze medal with the U.S. men’s 8 at the 2008 Olympics, Coppola didn’t make the cut for the 2010 World Rowing Championships in New Zealand.

“While the guys were in New Zealand, I went straight back to training camp and back to work,” said Coppola, who is based in Chula Vista, Calif.

“I was working with training partner Alex Osborne. We took a hard look at our weaknesses. We said what are our flaws and what do we need to work on. We would do a third session, walking uphill on treadmills to loosen hip flexors. We got our weights up in the gym. We did a lot of rowing in small boats.”

Coppola showed that time hasn’t passed him by as he was named to the U.S. men’s 8 to compete in the upcoming 2011 World Rowing Championships on Lake Bled in Bled, Slovenia.

“Making the 8 was the validation of the hard work Alex and I were doing,” said Coppola, reflecting on making the boat which will also include Osborne.

“We were letting people know that we had worked hard and worked smart. My first goal was to show the young guys that I was still there. I have been through this before. I have done that, I know what I am doing.”

Coppola’s rowing savvy helped him get on the same page with U.S. men’s coach Tim McLaren.

“Tim’s whole approach is to be a student of the sport,” said Coppola, a 6’8, 215-pound native of Buffalo, N.Y. who spent the fall of 2008 helping to coach the Princeton men’s lightweights under then-head coach Greg Hughes.

“You just can’t show up and put in training. You have to be a student of everything. You go through certain levels of preparation and he wants you to be at level 10 on everything.”

Coppola’s ability to coach himself helped him reach a higher level of proficiency.

“When a coach tells you to do something, it is not only what it looks like to coach but what is it going to feel like,” said Coppola.

“We didn’t have a coach looking over our shoulder so we spent time learning what things feel like. That gave us a leg up when we would do things in training; we knew this is the feeling.”

Coppola is now working to get things feeling right in the 8 as it prepares for Slovenia.

“One of the beautiful parts of the American selection process is that it is like the Thunderdome on the Mad Max movies; there is speed all the way through and you come out with a decently fast boat,” said Coppola

“Then you have to learn the guys and understand what it is going to feel like to go real fast.”

In Coppola’s view, that will be an incremental process. “It is all about small goals; we want to qualify the boat and then make the A final,” said Coppola of the competition which will take place from August 28- September 4.

“When we are in the A final, then it is going for the medals. We want to qualify the boat to race next year; the top 7 qualify for the Olympics.”

Making the cut isn’t going to be easy. “Unlike other years, the 8 field is tighter than it has been,” added Coppola. “The 8s may not be as fast but it is tighter; it is going to be a knife fight to qualify.”

For Coppola, rowing in the London Games may be the last fight of his rowing career.

“Hopefully, I will row a good piece there into the sunset,” said Coppola. “After 2008, there is something more to do. Bronze is good but let’s see if we can do better. I don’t want this four years to go to waste.”

Getting the most out of the boat is an area where Coppola’s experience should come in handy.

“When I started the last Olympic cycle, some of the guys called me ‘baby Steve,’” recalled Coppola with a laugh.

“Now I am one of the old crotchety guys, saying this could be better. It’s nice to be the elder statesman and have the guys listen to me.”

And by regaining his spot on the U.S. team, Coppola has shown he has some grit to go with his savvy.

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