Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 29
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
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(Photo Courtesy of Rowing Australia)

CAMP CARNEGIE: Members of an Australian men’s four with coxswain, who went through a training camp at Lake Carnegie the last month under a new program put in place by Rowing Australia, pose last week in front of the Princeton University boathouse. Pictured, from left, are coach Paul McGann, Ben Coombs, Owen Symington, Harry Picone, Sam Collins, and cox William Raven. The boat will be competing in the World Rowing Under-23 Championships in Amsterdam from July 20-24.

Not Going Down Under as per New Program, Aussie U-23 Rowers Trained at PU Boathouse

Bill Alden

Some of the main hotbeds of Australia rowing include West Lakes in South Australia, Lake Barrington in Tasmania, and the famed Sydney International Regatta Centre.

But with the World Rowing Under-23 Championships taking place this week in Amsterdam, one Aussie boat prepared for the competition some 10,000 miles from home in one of the storied hotbeds of U.S. rowing — Lake Carnegie in Princeton.

Concerned about the talent drain resulting from Australian rowers who head off to U.S. colleges to study and compete, Rowing Australia decided to try a program whereby such athletes would train at camp in the U.S.

The Princeton University boathouse and Lake Carnegie emerged as the U.S. destination of choice through the assistance of former Tiger heavyweight head coach Curtis Jordan, who headed to Australia in January 2010 to become the head rowing coach for the New South Wales Institute of Sport.

In the view of Paul McGann, the Australian coach chosen to run the camp, the program was overdue.

“Over the last half dozen years we have been losing a lot of these guys to the U.S. schools and they are not coming back to us as senior elite rowers,” said McGann, sitting on a bench by Lake Carnegie after a recent training session.

“They are coming to the American system and completing their course. They disappear, do other things, move on, and we lose them.”

The Princeton camp started in early June with two women rowers from the University of Washington and four men rowers, two from Yale and two from Columbia.

While the women’s pair didn’t reach world qualifying standard for their event as they made the transition to sculling from sweep, the men’s coxed four came together and will be competing in Amsterdam.

As a result, McGann put the boat of Ben Coombs and Sam Collins of Columbia and Harry Picone and Owen Symington of Yale together with imported Aussie coxswain William Raven through daily paces the last several weeks on Lake Carnegie.

The rowers lived on the Princeton campus at Gauss Hall and did three-a-day sessions as they looked to get up to speed.

McGann said that the rowers thrived in and out of the water during their stay in Princeton.

“It has been brilliant; everyone has accepted us and invited us to their homes,” said McGann. “We are getting better and better. We know the speeds that will be required to win a medal and we are knocking on the door of those speeds.”

The legendary Jordan opened doors for the Aussie visitors. “Curtis has taken us under his wing; he is a real Southern gentleman,” said McGann of Jordan, a Georgia native who led the Princeton men’s heavyweights to national crowns in 1996 and 1998 as well as a Henley Royal Regatta title in 2006 and retired in 2009 with a record of 131-43 during his tenure guiding that program.

“He comes out with us every few days. It is the same message but delivered slightly differently. He helps us refocus and he points us in the right direction.”

Picone, for his part, said that being able to stay on site at the university helped the rowers focus better on their training.

“Living on campus is great; it is really fun,” said Picone, a Brisbane native and rising junior at Yale who helped the Bulldog second varsity heavyweight eight take sixth in the Eastern Sprints and seventh in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association national championship regatta this spring.

“It is a five or six minute walk in the morning to the boathouse; I don’t think I have ever rowed anywhere that is so convenient. It is really easy to row here. That is what you want; you want to perform at your best. You don’t want anything impeding what is already a challenging enough task.”

In the view of Coombs, holding the camp came down to a matter of fairness. “There are so many athletes that are leaving for school here; it is not fair to not let them row for their country because they want to pursue their education,” said Coombs, a native of Melbourne who is a rising sophomore at Columbia.

The rowers made plenty of progress in the pursuit of excellence during the Princeton camp.

“The boat is going well, we started out pretty tentatively on the first day,” added Coombs. “The first week, we made exponential progress everyday. We are producing some good speeds.”

Jordan believes that the Australian rowers made the most of their time in Princeton.

“This is a great opportunity for the Aussie rowers that wish to study in the U.S. to have a pathway to their national team,” said Jordan, who has also been coaching an Australian lightweight 8.

“Rowing Australia has worked very hard to organize this opportunity and the athletes took full advantage. They have made their universities and their country proud.”

In McGann’s view, that pathway should be in place for the near future. “I get the feeling from Rowing Australia that they would want operate this again at least next year, whether with me or with someone else,” said McGann.

“I suspect we might have as many as 12 to 14 boys next year and six to eight girls. We have set up a Facebook site for them so the other Aussies can have a look at what we are doing.”

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