Twenty-one crews represented the United States at the 2009 Under-23 World Rowing Championships that concluded earlier today in Racice, Czech Republic. Of those twenty-one, only three medaled. The U.S. won silver medals in the men’s four, lightweight women’s quadruple sculls and women’s eight on Sunday, the lone highlights of a generally disappointing final day of racing.
All of the crews and their coaches were self-funded, USRowing did not pay their travel, lodging or boat rental costs. All the crews had won selection trials a few weeks earlier to earn the right to compete at these championships. There were no time standards that had to be met for these boats to represent the United States. The USA was barely competitive in the heats with many boats placing last or next to last. Is it reasonable to expect that the athletes really gained the type of international experience needed to produce future success at the senior world championships and Olympic Games? Is the system truly developing the best talent for future success, or is it merely identifying those individuals fortunate, or determined, enough to pay their way? Can this system ensure the longevity in the sport of these athletes, or, now they’ve had their taste of international competition will they decide to enter the general workforce after graduating college — to repay their college and rowing loans and start building families?
Until USRowing figures out how to properly support and fund its developing rowers, we will continue to have only very few elite level athletes, and most of those will experience only one Olympic cycle before having to seek better ways to earn their livings. Motivation may be the greatest way to drive improvement. But motivation alone is not enough; it needs to be accompanied by support. Why would I train hard if I can make the national team by simply showing up at trials with my parents’ credit card? Perhaps I’d train harder and with more focus if I knew that if I achieved certain performance standards the system would value my efforts and support my development into an elite athlete. The more people that get similarly motivated and supported, the better U.S. rowing can become.
The under-23 championship is meant to be a development regatta. It is a transitional step from the junior national team to the Olympic team. It is not meant to be an end unto itself. Unless there is more structure and support rowing in the United States can expect to reap at best minimal benefit from its participation in the 2009 Under-23 World Rowing Championships.
Originally published July 26, 2009: http://athletesbooks.com/