Glen Ochal helped the U.S. to a good showing in the quadruple sculls last year in the World Rowing Championships but ultimately concluded that wasn’t his best route to the 2012 Olympics.
Ochal’s quad took eighth at the worlds in Bled, Slovenia but he faced a major decision upon his return to the U.S.
“After the men’s 8 didn’t qualify for the Olympics, the high performance director presented to us the idea of moving to the sweep,” recalled Ochal, a 2008 Princeton University alum and former star rower for the Tiger men’s heavyweight program.
“We had some of the best ERG scores and that was the way to harness power. We needed to qualify the 8 but they also wanted the 4 to be a priority boat. Will Miller and I decided to go to sweep. I thought maybe this was a good idea; maybe I can do better.”
Ochal ended up getting selected for the 4 and helped the U.S. get off to a good start at the London Summer Games last Monday as the boat won its opening heat to earn a spot in the semifinal this Thursday at Eton Dorney with the final set for August 4.
The boat clocked a time of 5:54.88 over the 2,000-meter course in the opening heat to cruise past runner-up Netherlands (5:55.99) and third-place finisher Greece (5:57.71). In order to advance to the final, Ochal and his boatmates will have to finish in the top three in their semi.
For Ochal, 26, the move from sculling, where the rowers employ two oars, back to sweep, where rowers use just one oar, required some adjustment.
“Because I was sculling, I wasn’t sure where I fit,” said Ochal, who excelled in sweep at Princeton as he helped the Tiger men’s heavyweights win the 2006 Eastern Sprints and the Ladies’ Challenge Plate at the 2006 Royal Henley Regatta.
“I wasn’t the best guy on the first day but I wasn’t the worst. It took a little time, I got used to it. We started with a large group, by January we were down to eight, and by March it was down to four.”
Once the lineup was set, the boat had hoped to race in Europe as part of the Olympic buildup but had to scuttle those plans due to injury. The lack of racing experience, though, didn’t overly concern Ochal.
“We have been flying solo,” said Ochal, a native of Philadelphia, who is joined on the four by Scott Gault (Piedmont, Calif.), Charlie Cole (New Canaan, Conn.), and Henrik Rummel (Pittsford, N.Y.).
“We were going to go overseas for some races but a couple of guys got injured so we decided to stay here. Some people might find it a concern but a race is a race and I have been in a lot of them.”
As the spring has turned into summer, Ochal feels that the quartet had been making good progress.
“We have been working together for a while,” said Ochal. “We want to go over and perform our best, just being there isn’t the goal. The men’s 4 got fourth in Bled and we have made it quicker. We have good speed; everyone is on task and ready to go.”
In Ochal’s view, the key to Olympic success comes down to focusing on basics.
“When you start thinking the Olympics is more than a race, you might try too hard or go out too fast,” said Ochal.
“You have to approach it as another race that just comes every four years. You need to stick to everything in practice, there is nothing magical. You need to get into the race right at the start and work hard through the middle and give it your all at the end. You don’t have to be in the lead but in contact; you have to have faith in your teammates.”
Ochal has faith in his own ability to provide some magic to the boat. “These races comes down to inches; there are 200 strokes in a race,” said the 6’5, 200-pound Ochal.
“I focus on what I am going to do to make it go a little faster. I am feeling pretty comfortable about it. I have adjusted. I have gotten better each month, each week, each day.”
While Ochal is thrilled to be competing in London, he is viewing the Olympics as a step in the process of his growth as an athlete, noting that he would like to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games.
“I will take a break but I am looking to be involved in the next quadrennial,” said Ochal.
“I probably won’t start with the 2013 worlds; there is still a ways to go. Power and endurance aren’t holding me back. I can still improve as a rower with stroke technique. I have improved a lot over the last year but have room to improve even more.”