Caryn Davies and 2012 gold medal women eights
Caryn Davies (far right) with the 2012 London Olympic championship women’s eight team.

In 2012, the US women’s eight was the favorite to take the gold medal at that year’s London Olympics. Stroke seat Caryn Davies wasn’t buying it. “Everyone’s bow is even at the start line.  Being the favorite means nothing when we line up to race.”  And Team Canada was nipping at their heels, having nearly beaten Team USA in a World Cup race a couple of months prior to the Summer Games.

But only 500 meters into the finals of the women’s eights in London, coxswain Mary Whipple could see the commanding lead they had built, and she told Davies some years after that at that point in the race she was so certain of victory that she had wanted to stand up in the stern of the boat and shout to the competition behind her, “Bring it!” She didn’t, but the Americans did indeed win gold, leading from start to finish and winning America’s third-ever gold medal in the vaunted eights competition.

This was a significant triumph, important in cementing the American women’s dominance. And yet, for Davies, it was the end of a long road. After winning bronze in Athens and then gold in Beijing and London in the stroke position of the boat, she felt it was time to move on with her life.

Caryn Davies 2

“I had had a good run,” Davies told me. “I won a bunch of medals and ended on a high note. I was almost done with law school. I thought it was time to get a job and start ‘real’ life.” With a law degree from Columbia and an MBA from Oxford, Davies entered the reputable law firm Goodwin Procter in Boston. For three and a half years, she advised clients on finance and M&A. While getting the work done, she wasn’t as fulfilled as she hoped to be. The competitive nature of business was different from the competitive nature of sports, and she was noticing the differences.

Business leaders love to listen to and be around sports champions. They love to hear their stories of preparation, struggle and triumph.  Yet success in sport is generally clear-cut and objective, whereas success in business is often opaque or subjective. The contrast led to the insight that the challenges of leadership and management can be greater in the world of business where goals and metrics are less clear. In such cases, the ability of leaders and managers to motivate individuals and sustain a team mindset becomes more significant.

She shared this insight in a 2017 interview with Forbes magazine.

True teamwork demands a level of bonding at deeper levels. That requires intentional effort to build. The intensity of the workplace, and its consumption of most of our brain power, leaves little reserve for building those bonds. When you’re executing a sport like rowing, even though physically demanding, you aren’t using all of your brain’s processing power, so there is reserve left to invest in relationships with your teammates.

In other words, often in business, managers may have to work harder to strengthen team bonds to improve team performance, particularly if there are perceived stars on the team. Davies experience has informed her that successful rowing teams do not emphasize the star.

In rowing, there is no standout player. On sports teams where you have star players, you see divisiveness. Generally, you know who is faster on your team, but from the outside looking in, there is no star. You see boats where there’s one person trying to win the race alone, and they burn out.   The people behind them can’t follow and there’s a disconnect between them and the rest of the team, just making the boat go slower.

Davies, who was already a member at a couple rowing clubs in Boston, began going down to the boathouse more regularly. She wasn’t there just to get in a good workout in the early mornings, but to learn from the club members who were themselves successful people with lessons for newbies to the world of business. And one day, she learned a lesson from a successful person.

“I was out in the single rowing one morning August last year and the legendary Harvard coach Charley Butt sees me and says through his megaphone, ‘Caryn, are you training for 2020? You should! Rowing loves you, and you love rowing.’”

Reflecting on that, Davies realized she still needs to play to her strengths—that maybe her work in the law firm was not the way to fulfill that drive to be the best.

I was feeling a bit frustrated with my career. I thought, okay, I could double down on law. But I don’t love law enough to be the best in the world. And there is something where I have been the best in the world – rowing -and perhaps I could still be the best in the world. Where is my best contribution? I could slog away at a law firm. But is that my best contribution?  There is this thing I am still good at and in which I still have a lot to learn – why not do it to the fullest before it’s too late?

Davies left Goodwin in February 2019 to focus on her training. Having been away from world-class competition for going on 7 years, she had to lot catching up to do, and is realistic about her chances of making it to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But she knows she has a lot to offer.

Let’s be honest. I am nowhere near as strong physically as anyone on the team. If you put us on the rowing machine I would not beat another person. My strength has been on the technical side of rowing. That is something you never lose. I still have that. I realize I can contribute to a team by being in a boat and rowing my best and help others row a little bit better. My #1 goal for this year?  Be the best teammate I can be. That means helping everyone get faster. I acknowledge that could help someone beat me out of a spot on the team. If that is the case, so beat it. I will have achieved my goal.

She now believes she has a 50:50 chance of making Team USA for the Olympics. And she’s got one positive sign so far: US Rowing announced the crews that will compete at the 2019 World Rowing Championships to be held in Linz, Austria from August 25 to September 1, 2019, and Davies made the cut. She will compete in the women’s four-person boat with Molly Bruggeman (Dayton, Ohio/University of Notre Dame), Madeline Wanamaker (Neenah, Wis./University of Wisconsin), and Vicky Opitz (Middleton, Wis./University of Wisconsin)

Caryn Davies (Ithaca, N.Y./Harvard University) said “I’m thrilled to be racing in that boat with those teammates.  I think it’s going to be a great regatta!”

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Caryn Davies and 2008 gold medal winning women eights

Caryn Davies (top middle) with the 2008 Olympic championship team

In rowing, the American women are the dominant force in the glamour event, the eights. When the women from Team USA settle in their barracuda-like 9-meter shell in a world final, they do so as winners of 12 of the past 13 world and Olympic championships.

But in 2004, at the Athens Summer Olympics, that was not the case. Caryn Davies was a college student, and many of her teammates on that rowing team were also in their twenties. In the case of rowing, particularly today, experience is highly valued, and teams composed of rowers in their thirties or forties are not uncommon. But the 2004 team had . And a tailwind.

In a dramatic throwing-down-of-the-gauntlet, the crew burst out at the start and held off the Romanian boat in the first heat to set a world record time of 5:56:55 in the 2,000-meter race. Back on the dock, when a reporter informed the boat that they had broken the world record, one of Davies’ teammates blurted out on live television, “Holy shit, we did?”

In the finals, the powerful Romanians were ready for the hard-charging Americans. Despite the Americans holding a narrow lead at the 1000-meter mark, the Romanians pushed past them and held on for gold.

Athens was a learning experience and a launch pad for success. Davies became part of a core group of athletes that stayed intact through the next few years, winning gold at the world championships in 2006 and 2007 before lining up for the finals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“We had more experience as a boat, as the core had been rowing together since 2006,” Davies told me. “It was around that time that we saw a shift in the composition of the national team.  Leading up to 2004, most athletes came directly from college, and there was a lot of turnover.  After 2004, athletes stuck around for years after college. We had more confidence in our ability to respond to competition.”

Determined to win, they dedicated their pursuit of gold to the 1984 women’s eight, which were the last American women to win gold. Channeling the spirit of the women of ’84, the American eight started off with a slight lead, and gradually widened the gap, pulling away from the Romanians. At the halfway point of 1,000 meters, coxswain Mary Whipple called for an extra 20 stroke-long effort, a move dedicated to the team from 1984.

Davies is the stroke, the technically consistent rower who sits in front of the coxswain and sets the tempo for the other seven. She could clearly see how far ahead of the others her boat was. But even in the last few hundred meters, she believed that anything could happen, even the worst.

“In the last 250 meters, a little fear started setting in for me personally,” she said. “By that point in the race, I had driven myself into the ground. My technique was breaking down, and I knew that if it had been me alone in the boat, we would have been going backwards.  Thankfully my teammates were there to carry me across the line. There is a photo of me just as we cross the finish line where I am looking to the side with utter terror in my eyes.  In that moment I was thinking, ‘That had better be the finish line, because one of two things is going to happen in the next few strokes: either we’re going to cross the finish line, or I’m going to pass out.”

Caryn Davies 1a

She did not pass out. She and her teammates crossed the finish line first.

Spent, her teammates made efforts to smile and cheer. But Davies’s head was down, bent over exhausted. Whipple crawls over the stroke seat rigger to Davies and embraces her. The women from the US were Olympic champions: the first of three consecutive Olympic championship crews in a row that would cement this team’s dominant place in sports history.

04c-1964 practice-2
Ted Nash, Phil Durbrow, Dick Lyon and Ted Mittet in Seattle; from the collection of Dick Lyon.

It didn’t bode well in New York.

Four men from the Lake Washington Rowing Club (LWRC) in temperate Seattle came to hot and muggy New York to compete in the US rowing trials on August 29, 1964.

Ted Nash was the veteran and star of the crew of the straight four without coxswain. He had won gold for the United States in the straight four rowing competition at the 1960 Rome Olympics, the only American team to win gold. Dick Lyon, Phil Durbrow and Theo (Ted) Mittet filled out the boat, coming together in a very short time to compete in Tokyo for the 1964 US Olympic rowing squad.

But first they had to win the trials, held at Orchard Beach Lagoon in New York.

05-1964 New York-1
At the US rowing trials at Orchard Park, New York, kneeling in front of teammates: Ted Nash, Phil Durbrow, Dick Lyon and Theo (Ted) Mittet; from the collection of Dick Lyon.

According to Stanford University rower, Lyon, the crew from LWRC got in a practice start with a team from the Detroit Boat Club, just before the heats were to begin. Ted Nash broke the edge of his oar blade on one of the maple flagpoles floating on Styrofoam that formed the lane lines. “We barely made it back to the line in time after sprinting back to the NYAC boathouse to get another oar,” Lyon was quoted in the book, The Sport of Rowing, by Peter Mallory.

After winning their heat, Lyon told me that as the team was preparing for the final, Mittet said quite urgently that he had to pee, which meant that he had to sprint 100 yards to the boathouse, and then another 100 yards back. Mittet made it back to the line in time for the start, and they got in a couple of hard sprints in just before engaging in one of the toughest physical activities one can do – 2,000 meters of rowing to absolute exhaustion.

Rowing as a team is very difficult. It’s not a matter of getting the best rowers together in a shell and expecting them to perform. It’s more a matter of finding a group of rowers that feels a rhythm, that leads to a seemingly effortless flow, and results in unchained speed.

Durbrow was in Laos with the US Army when he got his orders to report to Stan Pocock in Seattle. Pocock was the coach of the Lake Washington Rowing Club and Durbrow’s coach at Menlo College and Melbourne Olympian, Duvall Hecht, had strongly recommended Durbrow. When Durbrow arrived in Seattle, he felt like the odd man out. Pocock was looking for the men who would build a powerful crew of eight, as the eights are the heavyweight class of rowing, and thus the glamour event in rowing competitions. Durbrow joined 16 others who were already competing in two squads of eights, wondering where a 17th would fit in.

And yet, try as he might, Pocock could not find the right mix of eight, his teams losing to squads that were not Olympic quality. So in early July, Pocock agreed to disband the crews of eight so that the rowers could find the right combinations of pairs and fours. Nash quickly grouped with Lyon, and when Durbrow got on the scene, they found a natural to sit behind Nash, the powerful stroke. So Nash, Durbrow and Lyon would try any and every combination of the remaining 14 rowers at Lake Washington, and met mainly with disappointment.

Mittet, who grew up on the shores of Lake Washington, and had rowed from the age of 16, was late to the LWRC trials. By the time the eights were disbanded, most of the small boat team decisions had already been made, except for the straight four. But when Mittet jumped into the shell with Nash, Durbrow and Lyon, “from the first stroke, I was awakened to a level of rowing that I had never imagined possible,” as Mallory quoted Mittet as saying. Mallory also quoted Durbrow as saying, “we were trying every conceivable combination of oarsmen in a number of fours that went out every day. Boats that I expected to be super fast felt heavy or ungainly, but one time, Ted Nash, Ted Mittet, Dick Lyon and I went out together with Nash stroking, it felt light and quick.”

The three would continue to experiment with other rowers to sit at the back of the scull, but whenever they rotated to Mittet, they found their rhythm and speed again. After countless combinations, Nash made the decision at the end of July to add Mittet to complete the team of four, and commit to getting ready for the Olympic trials to be held 6 weeks later.

When Nash and his three teammates got to New York for the Olympic trials, they felt confident. Lyon told me that the game plan was to explode off the start with a powerful 40-plus stroke per minute rhythm, and then to ease down to 35 or 36 after a minute, which is about 350 meters of the 2,000-meter race. But Nash, who sat at the stern of the boat as the stroke, the rower who sets the pace, decided to maintain a high pace. Lyon said that for the first 1,000 meters, the crew kept the pace around 39 strokes. “We had never practiced for that long,” Lyon told me. “I don’t remember that we talked about this, but Ted is an extraordinarily enthusiastic person, so we just kept it up for the first 1,000 meters.”

The crew of Nash, Durbrow, Lyon and Mittet won handily, beating the Harvard crew by nearly 3 seconds with a time of 6 minutes and 23.1 seconds.

 

05b-1964 trials win 001
From the collection of Dick Lyon.

 

“We were extremely fit,” Lyon said. “We were doing two or three workouts a day, including work outs with weights, running stairs. There were naps in between those thousands of miles of rowing.”

The team was confident. The rowed together exquisitely. The handily won the US trials. They believed they had a great chance for gold in Tokyo. And yet, they heard some great times coming out of Europe – 6 minutes and 19 seconds in one case.

And of course, there is always the unexpected. A shocking turn of events awaited the straight four team in Tokyo.

White House Invitation Card 2
Official Invitation to the White House for American Olympic medalists

He was invited by the Mayor to a celebration for Seattle Olympians on November 2, 1964. He was also invited to the White House by President Lyndon Johnson for a luncheon honoring American Olympic medalists on December 1, 1964.

But Ted (Theo) Mittet, in his mind, had bigger and better things to do – like travel throughout Japan: Yokohama, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Beppu, Nagasaki, Niihama and Nara. The 22-year-old American rower from Seattle, Washington had helped a crew of four take the bronze medal in the rowing fours-without (which means four rowers without a coxswain). And while most of his teammates returned to the United States for parades and celebratory dinners, Mittet decided that hitchhiking and taking the train through Japan would be more fun. And based on the numerous letters exchanged between young Mittet and the Japanese he met along the way, all parties were better for that decision.

Thank you ever so much for your nice letter. It is more than you could imagine how happy I was to read your letter. I am glad to know that you stayed and travelled in Japan for two months after the Olympic Games were over. It is a wonderful and happy experience for me to have worked for the Tokyo Olympics, and we talk very often about the pleasant days during the Games. Since that time I have become much more interested in English, and I attend the English conversation classes once a week. Though I try my best it is still very hard for me to master it. Is there any idea or suggestion to learn it faster? – Hiroko Sho, a volunteer from Tokyo stationed at the offices of the US Olympic Team.

FullSizeRender (10)
Ted Mittet surrendering his American team’s cowboy hat, gifted by President Johnson to the male Olympians

But more significantly, Mittet inspired people to dream of being a part of a bigger world.

When Mittet went to Matsuyama City in Ehime Prefecture, a place not many foreigners ventured to in the 1960s, he was invited to a high school to meet the students, three of whom screwed up the courage and effort to write to him. One was Kayoko Kurita, who wrote to Mittet of her dream.

You may be surprised to receive this letter from me but I met you in Matsuyama and spoke in English with you. Do you remember me? You gave me your name and address I was happy to receive it. You said you attend WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in Seattle. I would like to be your pen pal, and would enjoy corresponding with you if you don’t mind. I hope we will become good pen pals.

And my dream is, ……………, but it isn’t come true, but I’ll tell you. I would like to study abroad in your country especially WASHINGTON or Indiana or Kentucky or there is no Japanese there. Your university is very good and very big excellent university, but I would like to go to High School or Junior in America, so I’m looking for a sponsor for me. But it’s very difficult to find. I wish I will.

Mittet met a university student from Osaka in Kyoto named Takanao Dojima, who volunteered to take Mittet on a tour of Kyoto’s most famous temples, Kinkakuji and Ryuanji. Dojima wrote Mittet in a letter the following year, saying “Probably nothing is more enjoyable than travelling. I want to go to America as well as you visited to Japan. But I haven’t money, I can’t to visit America.”

A Sophia University student and interpreter for the BBC during the Olympics, Masako Kajiki, possessed more advanced English skills than the average Japanese, and appeared to have the financial means to travel abroad. She wrote in mid-November, 1964 to Mittet of her role as Shylock’s daughter in an upcoming production of The Merchant of Venice, and her plans to travel to the United States.

Listening to various talks from my parents who have just come back from the States after three months’ travel in Europe and the States, I have long wanted to go to your country next summer session. I’m looking forward to visiting your country, though it’ll be only for 10 weeks. Seeing is believing.

Three months later, Kajiki was approaching her departure date for the United States. Kajiki had already sent her entire, very detailed itinerary that would take her from Haneda to Honolulu, and throughout the mainland – LA, Las Vegas, Dallas, Knoxville, DC, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, New York, just to name a few in her nearly three-month cross-country adventure. In her letter, she is clearly conscious of her own accountability as teacher of things Japanese. For a young Japanese woman in the Sixties, she has a stronger and clearer point of view on America and Japan than the average Japanese. But in the end, she cannot contain the excitement of her ultimate goal – to see America for the first time, and Mr. Theodore Mittet again.

 

Mayor's Invitation
Official Invitation to a celebration for Olympians in Seattle, Washington, also turned down by Mittet.

 

I’m afraid, however, that after you have made the railway journey from Osaka to Tokyo, you’ll remember not only the ugliness of those cities, as seen from the train, but also the succession of advertisement billboards that so often interfered with your view of the enchanting countryside along the route. As you know Japan is surely losing our own tradition that our ancestors made unique one after they assimilated Oriental civilization and digested it. We have been, however, striving to keep up with American and European country and rebuild Japan what it is from a heap of ashes.

Without your country’s support, our country – indeed like many other countries such as Great Britain and France – would not have been able to regain the present strength in such a brief span of time. You can imagine then how anxiously I’m waiting for visiting the States. May 29th seems the longer in coming, because you are waiting for me!!

And then there was Hirokazu Okugawa, a student at the Department of Architecture at Kyoto University. Mittet was also a student of architecture at the University of Washington, and was introduced to a professor at Kyoto University named Dr. Nakamura. Okugawa was a student of Nakamura’s and they both sought a way to get Okugawa to the United States. In an initial letter to Mittet in mid-December 1964, Okugawa writes, “I would like to go to University of Washington next September, and I would like to study architecture more there. And Dr. Nakamura hopes that I study it there, and that I shall become an eminent architect. Would you introduce to your professor?”

So full of hope, Okugawa would realize that it wouldn’t be so easy to become a student in the US. Two months later, Okugawa has the name of the dean of the school of architecture at the University of Washington, and intends to state his case. But soon after, he received a letter from Mittet – now his unofficial career advisor at U of W, that dampens his spirits:

According to your letter, there is no probability of my admission for the degree to the master. My ability of English conversation is not enough to understand the lecture in the University. I am going to study hard English conversation this year.

But Okugawa has a dream. He can see himself going to the States, studying English hard, taking on any task to show he’s worthy of being a student in the United States, and continues to explore ways forward with Mittet. By the end of February, he and Mittet have decided that Okugawa should still officially apply to the University of Washington, and Mittet has sent the application form and information on all required documentation. Okugawa acts on the instructions, presumably to extreme exactitude, only to be disappointed again:

As mentioned in my previous letter, I received an application form for an admission. And I completed its form and my works in Kyoto University, and these letters were sent to the chairman Architectural Graduate Program. And also, my report in Kyoto University and three letters of recommendation were sent there.

But I received the letter from Director of Admission in which he said “It is too late for autumn 1965”.

HOW SHALL I DO? WHAT SHALL I DO?

CAN YOU HELP ME?

I BEG FAVOURITE ATTENTION.

If I can, I would like to work in architecture office, and then I would like to study in University of Washington the next year. How shall I do in order to do so? How shall I get working visa? I will be given about $1000 and the expense of transportation.

Would you please consult with the dean about my admission? I would like to know your professor, professor Nakamura’ friend. What is his name?

Looking forward your kind letter.

There is a tinge of desperation in young Okugawa’s typewritten letter. And only a week later in early May, Okugawa seems resigned to not getting into his dream school in 1965. Mittet, who has apparently responded quickly to Okugawa’s letters, when necessary by express mail, was encouraging and understanding. And indeed, hope was not lost because Okugawa informed Mittet that an official of University of Washington’s admissions stated that Okugawa could apply for enrollment in the Fall of 1966, with the condition that he take an English certification course that November.

I have received the beautiful picture of U. W. from you. The mountain covered with snows resembles Mr. Fujki in Japan. I was so glad that I showed it to many friends of mine, and I put it on the wall of my lodging house.

By the way, I took English proficiency examination on the 1st of May at A. C. C. (American Cultural Center). Fortunately I could do excellent, and the director kindly recommended me to your University. But Mr. Johnston has written to me, and said that I must not be expecting to enroll U. W. until autumn 1966, and I must take the English Examination (TEFL) on November.

When I heard these things, I was disappointed. But, I think I can study more English and architecture at Kyoto University (master courses) until autumn 1966. And I hope we discuss architecture in letters.

Did Okugawa eventually make it to Seattle, study at the University of Washington, and become an “eminent architect”? Who knows. Dreams are not goals of certitude – although they could be glowing embers of aspiration. In the case of 1964, the Olympics fanned those embers of the Japanese. In certain cases, a spark named Ted Mittet set the fire.

This is part two of the photographs taken by Dick Lyon, member of the United States rowing team. After his four-man coxless team won the bronze medal at the Toda Rowing course, Lyon had the time to walk around Tokyo with his Bronica Camera. Here are a few of them:

Tokyo 1a

Outside a candy store – It’s a common story during the 1964 Olympics: the best athletes in the world visibly sticking out in homogenous Japan, particularly those who hovered around 200 cm tall. Lyon’s rowing teammates, who joined him in these perambulations around the Olympic Village in Yoyogi, were no exception. Here is Lyon’s rowing mate, Theo Mittet, with two giggling women from the candy shop. Note Mittet’s fancy footwear.

TOkyo 5 001

 

A pub in Tokyo that appears to be connected to a racetrack – The signs appear to list names of horses and jockies. These “taishyuu sakaba” were low-cost drinkeries for the everyday salaried worker, whom, I suppose, had a love for the horses. This one lists all items as selling for 100 yen, or some 28 cents at the time.

Tokyo 11 reading racing forms

 

 

 

A man studying the horse racing data of the day – This image of intent concentration belies the fact that the Japanese government ultimately decided that this form of gambling was a necessary form of recreation for the average citizen, as well as the well as the tax revenue it generated. The Japanese government thought briefly in the early 1960s about banning such forms of gambling, but thought better of it, according to this report.

Tokyo 1b

 

Shimbashi Station – In 1964 and today, this was the hangout for salarymen where they ate and drank in the many tiny eateries underneath and near the train tracks.

Tokyo 12a

 

Ginza and the San Ai Building – In 1964 and today, Ginza is the upscale shopping area of Tokyo, and has for a long time been considered the most expensive real estate in the world. A symbol of Ginza glitz and glamor has been the San Ai Building, a glass tower that has gleamed electric light since it opened in 1962, a couple of years before the Olympics.

Tokyo 13 001

 

A View from Tokyo Tower – In 1964, the Tokyo landscape around Tokyo Tower was flat. And yet, my guess is that 19 years before, at the end of the Second World War, after enduring considerable firebombing by allied planes, the landscape would have been considerably flatter. In less than two decades, Tokyo was re-built and transformed, a miraculous revival for the world to see.

thomas-bach-and-yuriko-koike
Thomas Bach and Yuriko Koike

There has been a backlash against the Olympics. Public support of hosting an Olympic Games has dropped as cities like Rome, Hamburg and Boston ceased their bids for the 2024 Games.

Sochi cost USD50 billion, Beijing USD40 billion. At USD15 billion, the cost of the Athens Olympics put significant pressure on the Greek economy, and likely contributed to that country’s government debt crisis. This is a public burden a lot of cities and countries are no longer willing to accept.

In late September, an expert panel established by the Tokyo Metropolitan government released their report re-examining the costs of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. Their estimate – the total cost of Tokyo 2020 could balloon to JPY3 trillion, or about USD30 billion. The original budget set at bid submission: about one fourth of that.

The new governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, campaigned on the premise that she would rein in the costs of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. A few weeks after becoming governor, she vowed to do what it took to bring down costs.

Before I became governor, there must have been certain procedures that went into the cost calculations and I would like to speak to 2020 organizers and the national government about that. I will not leave white elephants to the taxpayers. I will leave a good legacy. That is the direction I want to see the games take.

And already, Koike is looking at changes of venues of certain sports in order to whittle away at costs.

The first suggestion from Governor Koike is to use a different venue for canoeing and rowing. The current plan approved by the IOC is to develop the Sea Forest Water Sports Center, two land-fill islands located in Tokyo Bay, right next to the Tokyo Gate Bridge. One of the islands would be developed to host equestrian events. The other island would be used for the mountain bike course. The water way in between the two islands would be the raceways for rowing and canoeing.

sea-forest
Illustration of what the Sea Forest Sports Center would look like in 2020.

But because cost estimates for the Sea Forest venues reported to have climbed significantly, Koike has been looking into moving the rowing and canoeing events to the Naganuma Boat Park in Tome, which is in Miyagi Prefecture. This move is being considered not only to decrease costs, but also highlight the reconstruction efforts in the area since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.

To the chagrin of Tokyo2020, the IOC, and the various rowing and canoeing federations, Tome is 400 kilometers from Tokyo.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Thomas Bach, has been working with all parties to get to a mutually agreed state. According to this article, he is reluctant to agree to plans where athletes do not come first in the decision making process, which could mean he prefers not to move the canoeing and rowing events to the Northern part of Japan.

Bach instead recommended that a four-party panel, which includes the IOC, The Tokyo Games Organizing committee, Tokyo and Japanese government representatives. It is the IOC’s leaders hope that the four parties together can work to decrease costs to the satisfaction of all. The article explained that it is in the IOC’s best interests to defuse this internal conflict as soon as possible.

“The IOC is worried that news of this wrangling over the 2020 Olympics will spread through the world,” a Japanese government source said. “It probably decided it can no longer leave the issue in the hands of the Tokyo metropolitan government or the organizing committee alone.”

Rowing and canoeing are just the beginning. Next up for discussion? The venues for gymnastics and volleyball.

Russians banned not banned
Source: ABC News Australia

Who’s in? Who’s out? The very political decision making process for which Russian athletes are considered eligible for the Rio Olympics or not has changed yet again.

As most of the sporting world is aware, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) issued a report recommending that the entire team from Russia be banned from the upcoming Rio Olympics. The International Olympic Committee, which originally had the final thumbs-up, thumbs-down accountability on who gets to participate in the Olympics, decided to defer judgment on Russian eligibility to the international sports federations.

IOC and Russian flagsThis created chaos as, frankly, with less than two weeks to go, the various federations, some supremely under-resourced, have to make a well-researched decision on who to ban or not to ban. Many have criticized that decision. And as can be expected, decisions on Russians allowed to compete are inconsistent.

In this great summary by ABC News of Australia (as of July 27), the IAAF has banned all track and field athletes, as has the International Wrestling Federation. The World Rowing Federation has approved 6 for participation, but banned 19. The governing body for badminton (BWF), the International Judo Federation and the governing world body for volleyball, FIVB, have essentially cleared all of their eligible Russian players to compete.

As of this writing, the current estimates for Russian competitors at the Rio Olympics is more than 200, according to the Daily Mail.

However, on July 30, the IOC, likely buckling to criticism, decided to set up a three-member panel that will ultimately decide on Olympic eligibility, based on recommendations from the federations. The IOC spokesperson said that the process would be completed by August 5, which also happens to be the day of the Olympics opening ceremonies.

One person of note who will not be competing – Yuliya Stepanova. The athlete who risked her career, and perhaps even her life to help blow the whistle on the Russian state-sponsored doping and cover-up operations by talking with journalists and WADA was ironically banned.

Rusanova of Russia competes during the woman's 800 metres semi-final heat 1 at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu
Yuliya Stepanova

The IAAF, which has been hawkish in banning Russians from international competition, recognized the bravery and impact of Stepanova by approved her competition in the Rio Olympics as a “neutral athlete”. Despite that, the IOC decided to ban Stepanova from competing for her failed drug tests in the past, while conveniently dropping its accountability, casting a blind eye in all the other cases by allowing a third party to determine Olympic eligibility.

By the way, the honorary president of the International Judo Federation is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

roger jackson own the podium
Roger Jackson, CEO of Own the Podium

To be the best athlete in the world often means overcoming overwhelming fatigue, excruciating pain, and suffocating fear and anxiety. As described by Olympic swimming champion Dick Roth, pain not only must be tolerated, it must be befriended.

I often thought, world-class athletes – they aren’t like you and me. Defying pain, building up super-human endurance, reaching world-class levels – is that trainable?

I posed that question to Roger Jackson, three-time Olympian, and gold medal rower in the coxless pairs at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Jackson was the CEO of Own the Podium, an NPO tasked with enabling Canada’s athletes to develop into Olympic champions. The only two times Canada had ever hosted the Olympics – 1976 in Montreal and 1988 in Calgary – no one from Canada won a gold medal. Own the Podium had a mission – help Canada achieve the highest medal haul in the 2010 Winter Games, to be held on home turf in Vancouver, Canada. While Team Canada did not come out on top in the medal count, Canada did win the highest number of gold medals, 14, which also happened to be the most total gold medals ever won by a country in a Winter Games.

“We had always been fifth in the world,” Jackson told me. “I was asked by the Canadian government and the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee to build a program to win the most medals in Vancouver. I had five years. I hired strong leadership. And I insisted on 100% commitment from our athletes. If you were willing to be disciplined and committed to the world-class training regimen we created, we would fund you. We worked with the athletes on plans, assessed the performance of the plan three times a year, identifying issues and upgrading the plans as we needed.”

Jackson emphasized that Olympians who want to be champions have to have this attitude – no compromise. “Family, school, wife – they cannot compromise your training. You need to sleep, rest and work your ass off. That’s the tone of the very best.”

Jackson said that’s why the Canadian rowing teams were traditionally strong, and why all Canadian teams had a chance, even the unknown Roger Jackson / George Hungerford coxless pair team. Canadian rowers trained hard and did not compromise.

Jackson, Roger | Hungerford, George
Canada’s Roger Jackson and George Hungerford celebrate their gold medal win in the rowing event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (CP Photo/COC) Roger Jackson and George Hungerford du Canada célèbrent leur médaille d’or au deux d’aviron aux Jeux olympique de Tokyo de 1964. (Photo PC/AOC)

“In the University of British Columbia Rowing program, we were told to do something, and we had to do it,” said Jackson. “Maybe we couldn’t believe we could do it, but we’d have to try. We would row three or four miles every morning and again every evening. And because there were so few teams to compete with us as other competitive teams were so far away from us, the coach had all the different teams compete against each other. At the end of each morning workout, we would row a 2000 m race against our other crews. The slowest boats would start, being the pairs and seconds later the fours would start and later the eights would start, all converging on the finish line at about the same time. And to win, you would never give up.”

“We would get to the finish line totally exhausted, dry retching, heaving. And, on occasion, the coach would say, ‘not good enough. Do it again.’ And so we raced 2000 m again. And if it wasn’t good enough, he’d tell us to do it again. I was eating 8,000 calories a day and still losing weight, but I knew that no one else had this incredible work ethic. That was the attitude that made us do things we didn’t think we could do. So when we got to the starting line in Tokyo, I knew we had done everything we could do to prepare ourselves to win.”

Do it again. Again. Again. Again. Again. Sound familiar?

Here is a famous scene from the film, Miracle, about the 1980 USA Ice Hockey Team that won gold at the Lake Placid Olympics. Coach Herb Brooks has taken his team to play the Norwegian national team and the game ends in a tie. Brooks isn’t happy with the team’s dedication and commitment, and makes them skate sprints over and over and over….until finally, the team’s captain, exhausted beyond reason, has an epiphany.

Left to right - Bjørn Borgen Hasløv, Kurt Helmudt, Erik Petersen and John Ørsted Hansen_gold medal coxless fours 1964
Left to right – Bjørn Borgen Hasløv, Kurt Helmudt, Erik Petersen and John Ørsted Hansen_gold medal coxless fours 1964

The coxless fours from Denmark were champions. While they won their heat quite handily, finishing more than five seconds ahead of their closest competition, the championship race was decided by slightly more than a second.

And yet when Bjørn Borgen Hasløv recalls that time in Tokyo in 1964, he doesn’t remember the pain or the tension. The stroke on the Danish team that pipped the Great Britain team for gold remembers that they were a young group of men who came together as a team.

“We were young,” recalled Hasløv to me. “I was 23, still not having completed my studies because I spent my free time rowing and had no time for other things. The youngest was 20, Kurt Helmudt, who was in shipbuilding. Erik Petersen, 25, was a plumber, and John Ørsted Hansen, 26, was a fitter, charged with steering the boat. It was important that we could tell if we were rowing together, not as separate people. You have to feel your team around you. If you don’t work together, 100%, you will never be fast.”

Hasløv said that his coach, Poul Danning, taught him (among many other things) that the sport of rowing requires individuals to find their role and rhythm within a boat so that all are in synch – for example if the strongest person in the boat pulls as hard and as fast as he can, the differences in power and speed with the others will actually slow the boat down as water resistance increases due to the differential. Legendary boat maker George Yeoman Pocock expressed this insight in this way – “It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend.”

Hasløv believes that his team worked so well together that the water was indeed their friend that day. “Everything was going to plan. We were concentrating hard on rowing together, supporting each other, finding rhythm in the boat. I didn’t feel the pain. I could feel the water under the boat, and it sounded like music as our boat was going perfectly. It’s a strong feeling. It’s a feeling that you control your body and you are a part of a team.”

My guess is that Hasløv was feeling what Pocock and other rowers call “swing”. Daniel Brown, in his wonderful book, The Boys in the Boat, about the American Eights Rowing Team that competed in the 1936 Olympics, described “swing” for an eight-man crew this way:

There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. it’s called “swing.” it only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others. It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant. Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten at once. Each minute action – each subtle

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

The German rowing teams had already won five of the previous six rowing events in the Olympic Games hosted in Nazi Berlin. At the beginning of the main event – the eight oars – the American crew didn’t hear the man say “start”, so lost precious seconds from the beginning. They were in the last lane, which had the hardest crosswinds to overcome. Their stroke, the pace-keeper of the eight-oared crew was so ill, he looked as if he would pass out any moment. And for the first half of the race, the men’s team from Seattle, Washington was in last place with another 1,000 meters to go.

I was on my step machine at the gym yesterday, my towel and water in their place, and my Kindle resting on the step machine display. I was reading the final chapter of Daniel Brown’s brilliant book about the legendary American crew from The University of Washington – The Boys in the Boat – Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

boys in the boat_seattle PI

The description of the race, as were descriptions of all the key races, were thrilling. And as I tapped from page to page, I noticed my pace picking up on the machine. The stroke, Don Hume, was a ghost, and the coxswain Bobby Moch, was hesitant, but shouted that he wanted the 7, Joe Rantz, to take over the stroke role. That woke up Hume, who resumed his role and picked up the pace.

And again, up went my pace.

Brown writes