Three Dartmouth alumni to compete in Worlds
By Lilly Maguire, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Not long after rowing together on the Connecticut River, those same three former Big Green athletes athletes will represent the United States on the senior national team that will compete at the World Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria on August 14-19. After weeks of rigorous training in preparation for the U.S. trials, David Smith ’08, Phil Grisdela ’12 and Nick Dawe ’10 have qualified to race in two different lightweight events at the Championships. Grisdela and Dawe will race together in the same lightweight eight while Smith will row in the quad. Last Thursday, Smith’s quad raced uncontested in its event, and Grisdela and Dawe’s crew sailed into qualification with a four-second victory over a crew from Vesper Boat Club, of Philadephia. Most boats at the trials race uncontested because the United States wants to put together the best boats possible, according to Smith.
“If there are two boats and only one gets to go to worlds, there are likely to be stronger guys in that losing boat that are good enough to go,” Smith said.
To resolve this issue, the United States puts together selection camps for the eight that involve weeks of training and ends with a grueling selection process to decide who will row in that boat.
The selection process for the quad is often more informal. Athletes usually organize a team themselves, choosing to work with whomever they fell they can be most successful. Smith is racing with a fellow sculler against whom he competed for many years. “I raced with my friend Alex in the Olympic trials for the double, and we ended up in the B final with Sam and Shane,” Smith said. “On any other day they probably would have beaten us, but on that day we had a really good race and ended up beating them. After that I went back to Seattle and asked to be in the quad with [him]. I finally felt that I was in the position to ask them, who were better than me, because I beat them.” Boats are put together to train, and they then race each other for trial spots. The U.S. trial for the quad was not originally uncontested. At the Independence Day Regatta in Phildelphia, Smith’s quad faced off against another quad that was aiming for the World Championships.
“We beat the other boat at the Independence Day Regatta so bad that they didn’t want to row the quad against us,” Smith said.
Instead of continuing to row the quad, Vesper Boat Club combined two quads into one eight to race at the U.S. trials - the boat that competed against Grisdela and Dawe’s national team camp boat. They were a last-minute entry in the race, but posed a challenge nonetheless. The race was initially fairly close, but by the 1,000-meter mark, Grisdela and Dawe had pulled away. They finished four seconds ahead, and their boat earned a spot at the World Championships.
“The event typically goes uncontested, so the Vesper entry was kind of a surprise,” Grisdela said. “It was our race, but we just had to go out there and take it, which we managed to do.” The three Dartmouth athletes’ paths to the senior national team varied greatly. Grisdela has raced on the under-23 team before and has had his sights set on the senior national team for a while.
“I really like that rowing is a sport that rewards work,” he said. “It’s one of the few places that the hard work you put in is equivalent to what you get out. I’m continuing to see improvements, so I keep at it.” Like many young graduates, Dawe was unsure of where life would take him after college, so he did not immediately start training for elite rowing. Within a year of graduating, he was offered a position as the part-time coach for the women’s crew team at Fordham University, and he was promoted to full-time assistant coach in 2011.
Dawe hadn’t planned on pursuing rowing until he entered a regatta last summer in Boston.
“It was there that I got the itch for racing again,” he said. “I wanted to get back into the competitive circuit.”
Although he planned to row with a Fordham rower, those plans fell through. Instead, Grisdela suggested that he try to attend the selection camp for the eight in Boston, which set him on the path to competitive success.
Smith has been active in the rowing world for some time, racing in various small boats for the past several years. Despite a persistent lower back injury, he managed to come back this year to make his first national team appearance. Smith said that without the support of his Dartmouth teammates, he would not be the rower he is today.
“I’d tried to make the national team for a number of years and not quite gotten it, but seeing other people do it has kept my faith in the sport,” Smith said. “I had a support network from the Dartmouth guys who I’m still best friends with. They’re the ones who have kept me going through all the injuries I’ve had.”
The alumni agreed that their experience at Dartmouth was invaluable to their rowing careers. Going into the World Championships, both boats have a positive attitude but remain focused on the task at hand. Smith said that from the beginning, it was his boat’s explicit goal to do better than the United States has done in recent years. “It’s going to be hard,” he said. “We’re kind of the underdogs among some European crews who have been rowing together for almost decades, but there is no point in going over there to get last.”
Smith’s boat has shown before at Elite Nationals, but although they are determined, he said that they “won’t know until we are there.” Grisdela said that compared to international competition, the United States is not the best at lightweight rowing, despite the high caliber of collegiate racing here.
“Lightweight international standards are more strict and make it so that rowers must live around a lower weight,” Dawe said.
Although the competition will be challenging, Dawe’s crew has been and will continue to train at a level that will put them in competition with the other teams, he said.
“Our goal is to win,” Dawe said. “As far as what will actually happen, we’ll see. There are only two guys in the boat who have competed at this level before, but our coach believes the inexperience isn’t a bad thing. We’re excited, and we’ve made a lot of progress.”