Robin Prendes is deadly serious about his rowing but he acted like a little kid when he qualified for the Olympics in the U.S. men’s lightweight four.
“At the end, I was splashing water everywhere,” said Prendes, referring to winning the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland in late May.
“I was pretty excited; it seemed to sink in faster with me than the other guys.”
The former Princeton University lightweight rowing standout had plenty of reason to be excited as he nearly didn’t get a seat on the U.S. four.
“I was the last guy selected to the boat,” said Prendes, a 2011 Princeton graduate who helped the Tiger men’s lightweight crew win two Eastern Sprints and Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national titles along with the Temple Cup at the 2009 Henley Royal Regatta.
“It was pretty intense seat racing right up to the last moment. I think that helped me. My technique had to be sound and I had to be ready to race everyday.”
Prendes, 23, gained some invaluable racing experience last year when he helped the U.S. lightweight four take 13th at the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia.
“The worlds regatta was difficult; it was my first time on the world scene,” said Prendes.
“There was a lot on the line. I gained from the experience; I saw how close the lightweight boats are. With all those boats, the hardest race was the semifinals. Coming so close to the finals and not making it was tough.”
Upon returning from Bled, Prendes headed to the U.S. lightweight training center in Oklahoma City to start the selection process for the Olympic boat. The 12 candidates battled through the fall and relocated to San Diego when the weather turned cold in Oklahoma.
Once the six-month selection process was completed, Prendes saw a winning combination in the boat that also includes Nick LaCava, Will Newell, and Anthony Fahden.
“We are very close in age; I think the proximity in age gives us the same mindset,” said Prendes, a native of Matanzas, Cuba who grew up in Miami, Fla.
“From day one, I knew that our strength was based in the middle of the race. The lack of experience we have rowing together hurts us at the start and sprinting off the line.”
In coming through at the final qualification regatta where a top-two finish was needed to book a spot in the London Olympics, the boat showed good closing speed.
“The start was pretty good; we were in fourth place,” recalled Prendes, who is rowing in the stroke seat for the boat.
“Serbia was in first but everyone else was close. We thought either Serbia was way better or they had gone out too fast and it turned out to be the latter. We concentrated on the Dutch; we knew they were really good. We started passing boats; I wouldn’t say it was easy but we seemed to be on autopilot.”
Over the homestretch of the race, Prendes was able to enjoy the moment. “The last 250 meters we were in a position to qualify,” added Prendes, whose boat ended up with a 6:01.85 time over the 2,000-meter course with the Netherlands taking second in 6:01.99. “I tried to relax and not catch a crab.”
Since the qualifier, there had been little chance to relax in the buildup to London.
“The last two weeks have been pretty intense,” said Prendes, whose boat was training at Princeton in July prior to its departure to London.
“We are doing 3-a-days. On Monday, Wednesday and Saturday we are doing weightlifting in the middle of the day. We are on the water at 7 a.m. for longer sessions. In the afternoon, we come back for sprint sessions.”
In Prendes’s view, the hard work is helping the boat develop into a force. “We have been rowing together for a couple of months now,” said Prendes.
“I think we can make the ‘A’ final. If we are able to get better on things besides our base, we can row with the top boats.”
In order to emerge as a top boat in London, the four will need to avoid the hoopla surrounding the games.
“We can’t get too distracted by the Olympics; it is going to be unlike anything we have seen,” said Prendes, looking ahead to the competition which will take place at Eton Dorney, 25 miles west of London, with the heats scheduled to start on July 28 and the final slated for August 2. “We need to keep working hard. We have to stay focused and execute.”