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(Photo courtesy of USRowing)

WRECKING CREW: Former Princeton University rowing star Chris Ahrens saw his smiles turn to shouts of joy last Sunday as he helped stroke the U.S. men's eight to a gold medal at the Athens Summer Olympics. Ahrens, a 1998 Princeton alum who was competing in his second Olympics, was joined on the boat by 1996 Hun School graduate Jason Read as the U.S. won its first gold in the event since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The U.S. posted a wire-to-wire victory which saw the boat cover the 2,000-meter course at the Schinias Rowing Center in 5:42.48 in cruising past silver medalist Germany and bronze medalist Netherlands.
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U.S. Men's 8 Crew Mines Gold In Summer Games, Producing Major Highlight for Locals at Athens

By Bill Alden

Things are pretty quiet around Lake Carnegie these days as the dog days of summer stretch toward Labor Day.

The waters aren't full of rowers busting their guts as they try to squeeze out every ounce of speed in their boats while the parking lot at the Princeton University boathouse is nearly empty.

But the U.S. national team rowers that use the Lake Carnegie boathouse as their training base made noise heard round the world last Sunday at the Athens Summer Games when the U.S. men's eight-man boat flew to a gold medal and the U.S. women's eight took silver.

The men's eight had a distinctive local flavor with Princeton University 1998 alum Chris Ahrens and 1996 Hun School grad Jason Read helping stroke the boat to history as the U.S. took its first gold in the event since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The U.S. men's head coach, Mike Teti, guided the Tigers men's freshman heavyweight crew from 1989-1996.

The women's crew, which was edged by Romania, also had a Princeton connection as Lianne Nelson of the Class of 1995 was on the second-place boat.

For the men, taking gold was sweet redemption after finishing a disappointing fifth in the 2000 Summer Olympics. "We were crushed," said Ahrens in an interview with NBC as he recalled that race four years ago.

There were no such feelings Sunday in the aftermath of the men's wire-to-wire victory which saw the boat cover the 2,000-meter course at the Schinias Rowing Center in 5:42.48 in cruising past silver medalist Germany and bronze medalist Netherlands.

"It's the first gold medal for the U.S.A. after 40 years," said Read as he was quoted on the row2k website. "It was a very difficult race with good opponents. We tried for the best and we did it."

For Read, a Ringoes resident who was the chief of a New Jersey rescue squad that was called into duty to help in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City, the triumph Sunday had a special meaning.

As the rowers were given their medals at the post-race ceremony, Read trembled with emotion, biting his lip and fighting back tears as the National Anthem was played.

"I think that my colleagues (the fire fighters who worked with him at ground zero) will be happy for the country and my boatmates," added Read, who spent days at ground zero after the September 11 attack searching through the rubble for survivors. "There is no greater privilege than to represent America during this time. It's a privilege to be up here and to be part of the Olympic spirit."

For the fiery Teti, who is legendary for filling the air over Lake Carnegie with colorful, sometimes profane, admonitions to his rowers, the win was a matter of necessity.

"We knew we had to end a 40-year drought in this race," declared Teti afterward according to row2k.

"Today the conditions were more suited to the crew. They had a good start. The plan was to have a clean good start and to hold everyone in the first 200 meters. We planned to attack after 600 meters."

The Olympic rowing competition also saw Princeton 2001 grad Thomas Herschmiller earn a silver medal with the Canadian coxless four.

While other rowers with Princeton connections aren't leaving Athens with medals, they acquitted themselves well. Danika Holbrook, a 1995 Princeton University grad, helped the women's quadruple sculls finish sixth. Her husband, Ben Holbrook, a Brown graduate who rows with Princeton Training Center, competed with the men's quadruple scull that took 11th.

Coach Teti's younger brother, Paul Teti, a 1996 Hun School grad and a 2000 Princeton alum, was on board as the men's lightweight four finished fifth in the B final, ending up 11th overall in its competition. Aquil Abdullah and Henry Nuzum, who both live in Princeton and row out of the Princeton Training Center, took sixth in the men's double sculls.

For athletes with Princeton ties who competed outside the rowing arena, Princeton senior fencer Soren Thompson outdid himself as he took seventh in the men's epee last week. Thompson's placement was the best in nearly 50 years by a U.S. fencer in this event and the sixth-highest epee finish ever for an American. Princeton sophomore Kamara James lost her first-round match in women's epee.

On the track, 2002 Princeton alum Tora Harris cleared 2.15 meters in the high jump but didn't qualify for the finals.

In the pool, recent Princeton graduate Juan Valdivieso, competing for Peru, swam 2:02.79 in the 200-meter butterfly which placed him 28th in the qualifying rounds and prevented him from advancing to the semifinals. Valdivieso also competed in the 100 fly, where he finished 47th in the qualifying round with a time of 55.98.

This Thursday, 1995 Princeton High grad Andy Potts will look to produce another memorable Olympic moment as he competes in the men's triathlon. Potts, a former All-American swimmer at Michigan who just took up the triathlon in 2002, is hoping to continue his meteoric rise in his sport with a medal.

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