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Vol. LXII, No. 29
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
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(Photo courtesy of USRowing)

SCULL SESSION: U.S. Olympic rower Matt Hughes is all smiles as he looks forward to making his Olympic debut next month at the Beijing Summer Games. Hughes, a 2004 graduate of the University of Michigan, has been holding down a day job as a financial analyst with Princeton-based Karr Barth Private Client Group as he has made his way up the U.S. rowing ladder. Hughes will be rowing in the quadruple sculls in Beijing.

Local Financial Analyst and Olympian Hughes Preparing for Scull Session at Beijing Games

Bill Alden

It didn’t take long for Matt Hughes to make an impression when he joined the University of Michigan crew program in 2000.

In his first college session on the ergometer, the torture machine that approximates the rowing motion, Hughes set a school record for the 4k.

Hughes’ feat was all the more impressive since he was a rowing novice, having played soccer and dabbled in basketball and track at Ludington High (Mich.).

Despite his obvious natural talent for rowing, it took a while for Hughes to fall in love with the sport.

“I wouldn’t say that I liked rowing until the end of my sophomore year,” said Hughes.

“Freshman year was rough, the boat was flopping all over, guys didn’t know what they were doing, including myself. Once I got into championship racing with six lanes, I really liked it.” 

Now, Hughes is looking ahead to the ultimate rowing championship as he prepares to compete in the quadruple sculls for the U.S. next month in the Beijing Summer Olympics.

For Hughes, who moved to Princeton in 2004 after graduating from Michigan, making his first Olympic team was a bit anticlimactic.

“It was a feeling of relief,” recalled Hughes. “I had known for a while because our boat had won the World Cup race at Lucerne earlier this year. It was a pretty cool feeling signing the declaration of intent for Olympic athletes.”

A key step in Hughes’ road to the Olympics was his move to Princeton to train with the U.S. National Team.

“I came to Princeton in 2004 right before the Athens Olympics so I was out of that cycle,” recalled Hughes.

“The training load wasn’t that more intense; we had a big load at Michigan and I trained outside the team. The jump in intensity was rowing with the other national guys.”

Another turning point for Hughes came when he turned his focus to sculling, the rowing discipline where the athletes use two oars as opposed to sweep, where the rowers use only one oar.

“When I got to Princeton, they were dividing up the new guys and they had me go to sculling,” said Hughes.

“I did that for a year and then I got cut. I went back to the sweep with the four with cox. I came back to the double sculls in 2007.”

The transition to sculling has gone smoothly for Hughes. “It’s not a lot different, it involves the same principles,” explained Hughes.

“You need to be in unison with the other guys on the boat; it’s the same sort of approach. It takes a little more coordination to get things in synch with the two oars.”

Landing a job as a financial analyst with Karr Barth Private Client Group at the Carnegie Center has helped Hughes keep things in balance.

“They are very supportive,” said Hughes, a finance and computers major who had a stint working at the Princeton Running Company before going to Karr Barth.

“They have no problem with me coming and going from practice; I can also work from home. It’s good to have something else in your life. If you have a bad practice, you have something else to put your mind on.”

Right now, Hughes has his mind squarely on getting prepared to do his best in Beijing as his boat is spending about four and and a half hours a day on the water at Lake Carnegie.

“All the work is in the water at this point; we are working on technique and small changes,” said Hughes, who will be joined in the boat by Scott Gault, Jamie Schroeder, and Sam Stitt.

“We are working on the little things that will help us win a medal. It’s a pretty young crew. We beat Poland, the three-time world champs, in Lucerne. But then Italy beat Poland and we haven’t gone against Italy. The win over Poland was a big confidence builder. All the boats will be faster in Beijing, there will be a lot of getting out early and hanging on.”

In view of Hughes’ auspicious early work on the ergometer, it’s no wonder that he has hung on to become an Olympian.

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