Thursday, March 02, 2006

Wisconsin Coach Talks Lightweight Rowing - Circa 2002

I recently came across a news conference transcript from 2002 in which former Wisconsin coach Maren LaLiberty discusses lightweight rowing at Wisconsin. I link to it now because it gives a little bit of insight into how a great program operates, while at the same time showing how far lightweight rowing has come. If you think women's lightweight rowing is going nowhere, take a look at this.

LaLiberty names her three main rivals - Princeton, Radcliffe, and Villanova. Villanova? Villanova is a classic example of a good lightweight program that decided to concentrate on heavyweights and became a mediocre heavyweight program. You would think schools would learn from this sort of thing, but they never do. LaLiberty then says that the only other programs in the country with separate lightweight programs are Princeton, Stanford (just went varsity at that point), and Radcliffe (the pioneer), and there are about 30 to 40 other colleges that compete in lightweight events. I'm not sure how many schools have separate lightweight programs now, but I consider a program with a separate lightweight coach a separate program. By that measure there are more schools joining this group all the time. Georgetown, URI, and UCF are three that come to mind. Also, as my analysis of colleges rowing lightweight shows, we now have about 70 schools racing lightweight boats every year. That's a big change in three years.

The best part of this interview is her discussion of weight. What LaLiberty describes here is how all good programs operate. As she says, it's a "weight-based sport... not a weight-loss-based sport." My favorite point is her assertion that the Wisconsin lightweights worry about how big their food budget has grown to be.

LaLiberty discusses a national championship by saying the obvious, that the NCAA is worried about weight issues with lightweight rowing. Isn't it funny that in my communication with the NCAA the issue of weight was never mentioned? LaLiberty's position on an NCAA championship mirrors the one I've stated on this blog - that a championship isn't the goal, participation is. She predicts a NCAA lightweight championship within ten years (2012). She also says that the coaches have been pushing for a four at IRAs. Boy, that's gone nowhere. The IRAs have men's intermediate midweight fours for rowers with red hair named Jason, but they don't have a Women's lightweight four.

Reading this interview can give you a pretty good feeling. Even though LaLiberty is gone, you have to believe that Mary Shofner, Paul Rassam, Cecile Tucker, Al Acosta, and Jim O'Conner are working behind the scenes for the same things. Personally, I wish they'd be a bit more militant about it. Really, I think the problem is that they all figure they'll be heavyweight coaches some day so if they push too hard for lightweights now they'll look like hypocrites then. That's not true and I hope I'm wrong about that, but I don't know...

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