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Vol. LXIV, No. 26
 
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
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ITALIAN JOB: Princeton University men’s lightweight rower Gianthomas Volpe savors the feeling earlier this month after Princeton won the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta. Volpe, a native of Italy, will be returning to Europe this week to compete for a Princeton coxed four in the Henley Royal Regatta near London.

Italy Native Volpe Brings Flair to Tiger Crew, Heading Back to Europe as PU Rows at Henley

Bill Alden

Like millions of young boys in Italy, Gianthomas Volpe dreamed of becoming a soccer star.

But struggling with a knee injury as a middle schooler in his native Napoli some eight years ago, Volpe was given the option of recovering on the water.

“The doctor said I could row instead of doing rehab,” said Volpe. “I started rowing and never went back to soccer.”

Volpe went on to become a star at his rowing club and compete for Italy in 2007 at the Junior European Championships. In 2008, Volpe made a long trek to the U.S. to join the Princeton University men’s lightweight crew program.

After helping the Tiger first varsity boat to titles this spring at the Eastern Sprints and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta, Volpe is back in Europe this week competing for a Princeton coxed four in the Henley Royal Regatta near London.

The rising junior Volpe is thrilled to be making his Henley debut. “I think it is going to be an amazing experience,” said Volpe, whose boat will be competing in the Prince Albert Challenge Cup in the regatta on the Thames River. “I have heard so much about it.”

The boat got off to a good start in its training for the storied competition. “We took a week off after graduation,” said Volpe of the boat which includes the bow four from the Princeton’s top lightweight boat.

“When we came back we did some small boat work. We rowed as a four the Wednesday after we got back and it is going pretty well. I am really excited.”

It has been exciting for Volpe to broaden his horizons by coming to Princeton.

“I didn’t know much about the recruiting system or college sports,” said Volpe, whose mother is American and had an older sister go to George Washington University.

“I got into it late in summer before my senior year; I rushed through it. I had visits to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. I really liked the team at Princeton; the guys were great and the coaches were great. The boathouse is good, both for what is in it and how close it is to campus.”

Adjusting to a new country and culture, Volpe found a support system at the boathouse.

“I had lived in the same town all my life,” said Volpe. “From the start, the upperclassmen on the team and the guys in my class were helpful. The older guys helped us with anything, whether it be academic questions or rowing.”

From the start, Volpe made an impact in the water. “I stroked for the novice boat in the spring,” said Volpe, who noted that the team’s intense work over the winter on the ergometer indoor rowing machines was a major challenge in his transition to college rowing.

“We got fourth place at the Eastern Sprints. That was good but not great. It helped fuel things for this season.”

Volpe’s motivation was also fueled by being around the 2009 top varsity boat, which made history by going undefeated on the way to winning the Eastern Sprints and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) titles and taking the Temple Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in London.

“They had an amazing season,” said Volpe, reflecting on that special crew. “I think the one thing that stuck with the freshman class is how hard they worked in the winter and the fall; that is when the team is really built. The intensity they put into training on a daily basis stuck with us.”

Last summer, Volpe was exposed to more intense training as he competed for Italy in the World Rowing Junior Championships. “It was a great experience,” said Volpe, who helped the Italy eight take fourth. “We trained with our senior Olympic team and saw how hard they worked.”

This past fall, Volpe’s hard work translated into a spot on Princeton’s first varsity eight as he made the boat for the Head of Charles and the Princeton Chase.

Rowing in the No. 4 seat this spring for the Tigers, Volpe learned an important lesson when Princeton lost a regular season race to Harvard.

“Obviously we didn’t want to lose,” acknowledged Volpe. “In retrospect, it helped us stay focused and work harder.’

The boat rebounded from that setback to sweep the Eastern Sprints and IRA titles. “In the Easterns, we wanted to prove to everyone that we could pull it off and we got the job done,” said Volpe.

“I think after the Eastern Sprints, we knew we had the speed. We had to polish things and make it cleaner. The last bit of motivation was that we were losing two seniors [Jack Leonard and James Donovan]. Leonard was a great captain and Donovan added so much to the boat. It was great to be able to do that and send them off on a high.”

It was great for Volpe and his teammates to add to the winning tradition of the Tiger lightweight program. “This is not the boat from ’09,” said Volpe. “It is something new. We followed a different path and got there anyway. We couldn’t ride on the things we did from the year before.”

Princeton men’s lightweight head coach Marty Crotty thinks that Volpe and the four can do some good things at Henley

“Things have been going well,” said Crotty, whose program is sending a four to England rather than an eight because members of last year’s champion boat are precluded under regatta rules from defending their title.

“From the first stroke of training camp, they had a very easy rhythm about them. They have been rowing together everyday since March 20th so that helps.”

Crotty credits Volpe with helping to create that rhythm. “GT is a great rower; he is very deft and has a great feel,” said Crotty.

“He really knows how to row. I have him at stroke and I would say he is the person most responsible for the easy rhythm.”

The boat will need to keep its smooth stroking in order to excel against the hard competition it will face at Henley.

“I really want them in the water when the atmosphere is the sweetest,” said Crotty, the first-year head coach who has rowed at Henley but hasn’t guided a boat there until this summer.

“On Saturday, the crowd is 50,000-60,000 and it it is tight. They are right on top of you. I want us to be on the water and not watching on the shore. We would have to win two races to get to the weekend. There are 41 entries in our division and I think being in the top four is a good goal.”

Volpe and his teammates are primed for that challenge. “We want to see what we can do, we are the new guys from the bow four,” said Volpe. “We want to see if we can do something.”

In making his odyssey from Italy to Princeton, Volpe has already done quite a lot.

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