Tuesday, February 27, 2007

2007 Season Preview - Georgetown University

In 2001 Georgetown entered the IRAs for the first time and didn't make the petites. In 2002 they made the petites but finished second to last. Two-thousand-three brought a leap forward to a fourth place finish and a medal seemed to be within the Hoyas' grasp. But 2004 brought another fourth place, followed by the same in 2005. The bronze medal was tantalizingly close, less than three seconds away in 2005, yet never gave Georgetown the satisfaction of resting around their necks. Then came 2006. Last season the Hoyas said "No thank you" to bronze, took silver, and finished second in the nation for their best season ever. It was a breakthrough season as a program that previously competed for the attention of the heavyweight coach, got its own head coach and showed the league what a little focus can do. Coach Jim O'Conner focused the mind, focused the body, and focused the leg drive, while removing the ghosts of the number four.

But, all that was last year. This year brings opportunity. The opportunity to prove that Georgetown isn't simply squatting on the awards dock, but actually purchased real estate. The opportunity to prove that they are a force and pity the poor crew that lines up against them. That opportunity presents itself in 2 and a half weeks on March 17th at the Jesuit Invitational. Last year the Hoyas spanked St. Joe's, and there's a reasonable chance the Hawks will be back along with Holy Cross (who raced a light eight in the fall) and perhaps Loyola. It should be nice way to open the season for Georgetown, although not necessarily an easy way, as St. Joe's (at least) can have the personnel to create some speed.

On the 31st Radcliffe comes to town for the Class of 2004 Cup. No hype is needed for this race between last year's number 2 and number 3 teams. (This is the same day as the Bucknell, Georgetown, MIT, Penn race in Philadelphia. It's really a shame to see these schools load up a trailer and not bring the lightweights along. As great as the Radcliffe race will be, I'm sure it could have been rescheduled so the Philadelphia race could've included three top lightweight crews. Maybe the coaches could've talked about this one ahead of time?)

On April 6th is the George Washington Invitational. This is on home water so the lights will no doubt be racing, but it's not clear if they'll race other lightweights or only heavyweights. The next week is Knecht, followed a week later by a visit from Princeton. Since Princeton will miss Knecht, this will be the Hoyas' first look at the Tigers.

On April 28th Georgetown heads west to Ohio for what I'll call the Best New Race of the Year. [Update: A reader informs me that this race has been moved to Indianapolis.] In a race hosted by Ohio State, Georgetown will take on the Buckeyes, Stanford, and Wisconsin. To some, this may look like just another in-season race. To me, it's another sign of the growing strength of the women's lightweight league (no, I'm not referring to a real league, I'm just tired of using "category" or "sport," so I'm going to use "league"). The fact that four lightweight crews, three of whom are from west of the Pennsylvania border, can get together for a meaningful race outside of the east coast, shows how far we've come from the dark ages of the early 90s. This is a coup for Ohio State and they should be congratulated for stepping up and organizing this race (interestingly enough, this race is not on OSU's schedule, so perhaps it is still in the forming stages?). Kudos also, to the visiting crews for making the trip, with Stanford winning the award for farthest distance traveled. Mid-May brings Eastern Sprints, with IRAs following at the end of the month.

Georgetown starts the season with momentum and confidence. Winning the silver last year out of the reps had to renew the Hoyas' faith in themselves. Five athletes and the coxswain return from that boat, bringing enough big race experience to spread around. Last year came pretty close to being the "Year of the Hoya," but for that, they need to take one more step - win the gold. (Calendar updated)

Below is Georgetown's start at the HOCR (Coach alert - includes a slow motion look):

Download the high res version here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

It's On!

Doing its best imitation of Major League Baseball, the spring season seems to arrive earlier and earlier every year. This year we're underway as of February 24th. The Stetson Sprints were held Saturday in DeLand, Florida, the result of a heroic effort by Stetson University to stage the races, much less to actually race in them. The Sprints also saw the first lightweight race of the spring season as the University of Florida defeated Embry Riddle by 22 seconds in the light four event.

Lightweights at C.R.A.S.H.-B.

It's that time of year when the ultimate collegiate team sport becomes an individual sport - C.R.A.S.H.-B. For one weekend in February it doesn't matter if you sky at the catch, rush up the slide, lean to port, or miss water. It only matters how quickly you can spin a flywheel to a theoretical 2,000 meters. And some of you can do it quite well.

Before we look at the results, it's worth remembering that C.R.A.S.H.-B.s are another event that makes up its own lightweight category, in this case the ever popular winter weight of 135 pounds. It makes me wonder if lightweights are really bears, who need to pile on the blubber for a winter hibernation. Sorry, I just don't get it.

C.R.A.S.H.-B.s are always notable for how few rowers from the top lightweight programs appear at the top of the results. Mostly this is because not many teams send representatives, but we also see lightweights from mainly heavyweight teams performing well.

If you haven't voted in the readers' poll yet, you might want to consider that of the top three college lightweight finishers, two were from Marist (pulling a 7:29.8 and a 7:30.6). Marist almost always puts out lightweight boats at some point during the season but has yet to make an impact at the IRA level (although they've raced there twice in the past 9 years). They raced a light eight in Boston last fall and didn't look particularly fast, although I understand the crew was a bit injury depleted. Maybe this is the spring for Marist to make a move?

The top collegiate lightweight, pulling a 7:27.3, was from Dartmouth, with the fourth from Brown and the fifth from Trinity. At sixth and seventh were rowers from URI (7:34.2) and MIT (7:35.1), with another MIT rower (7:38.6) at 11th. Am I going out on a limb to suggest that if it wasn't for MIT's fall performance we'd all be quite surprised to see MIT athletes in this territory?

Several of the names at the top of the list were also seen at USRowing Nationals and Canadian Henley over the summer, suggesting that they just might know how to row on the water as well.

Also, if I can grossly generalize, a quick look at last year's results shows that a year-to-year improvement of about 5 seconds is a reasonable expectation.

The good thing about C.R.A.S.H.-B.s is that, although there are still 2ks ahead for most of you, it's just about time to get on the water.

And if you go to school in Florida... it's on!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Reader Rankings

I've posted a poll for a pre-season ranking of V8s in the sidebar. After looking high and low without success for a ready-made widget that would do what I want, I finally had to break down and use a form builder to create this. As a result, it doesn't have all the features I would like, but it will allow us to get a ranking that reflects your votes.

These things will never be scientific, but I'd really like to see what you think the final ranking of V8s will be at the end of the season. Use the drop-down boxes to select a crew for each position (there are 15 choices), First through Tenth. The results will go into a database and will be available at the end of the poll which I expect to be in about two weeks. Please vote once for who you really think will finish in each position, not just for your own crew.

If this seems to work I'll run it again midway through the season.

More Respect for Wisconsin

I've noted here before that Wisconsin gets the respect it's due, not just from the University, but also from the local news media. This was seen once again in an article last Thursday in the Wisconsin State Journal. The paper was discussing the Wisconsin's women's hockey team's chances for a second consecutive NCAA championship, and noted that the Wisco lightweight women are one of only two Wisconsin teams to ever win back-to-back championships. Interestingly enough, the paper described them as NCAA championships. We all know that there is no NCAA championship for lightweights, etc., etc., but the point here is that in a world where people have trouble understanding a national championship that isn't sponsored by the NCAA, the Wisconsin women's achievement is taken as seriously as those that are. It's this kind of atmosphere that contributed to the Badgers' ability to win the last three national championships.

I'll bet there aren't too many nitwits like Jordan Bice searching for his manhood around the Wisconsin boathouse. (I will not link to my post on Bice.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

2007 Season Preview - Radcliffe

At the end of the 2006 IRA regatta, when the Bitter Pill Pharmacy opened for business, Radcliffe stepped up right behind Princeton. True, the Cliffies had medals around their necks, but in a season in which they seemed destined for greatness, bronze just didn't cut it. A hiccup at Princeton and a silver at Sprints made some observers think their run was over, only to see them come roaring back at IRAs as they rowed the most impressive heat of the regatta, winning it over Bucknell and Georgetown while dragging a log several hundred meters down the course. A championship was not to be, however, and for the six returning rowers plus coxswain, 2007 is a season of retribution.

The retribution distribution begins on March 31st when Radcliffe heads to Washington, DC to take on Georgetown. (This tells us that Bucknell's race against Georgetown on the same day is with the heavies.) A win here would leave the Black and White thinking that all is right with the world, at least until they see the Hoyas again in two weeks at Knecht. Following the Washington trip, Radcliffe travels to Rhode Island the following week to race URI, Bucknell, and Boston College. URI seems to be de-emphasizing lightweights and BC is usually a heavyweight only squad, so the main race here should essentially be a Radcliffe - Bucknell dual. The following week is Knecht, when everyone except Princeton, UCF, and Stanford will come out to play.

Returning home after Knecht, Radcliffe meets up with MIT to battle for lightweight dominance of the Charles. This will be the first spring meeting of these two crews in a race which used to be almost a rowover for Radcliffe. The Engineers are a different crew these days and there will be no free lunch handed out here. Speaking of no free lunch, the next weekend Princeton comes to town for the Class of '99 Cup. Radcliffe raced Princeton 5 times last season and won every race but one - the Class of '99 Cup. Hmmm, think April 28th might be highlighted on the Radcliffe schedule?

Mid-May brings Sprints, followed by IRAs in the beginning of June.

Radcliffe only lost a couple of rowers from last season's IRA boat, but at least one was a material loss, as evidenced by the way she lit up the summer rowing circuit in a 2x. Nonetheless, with a solid core back from a very strong boat last season, the Black and White will be capable of ruining everyone's day. Radcliffe is clearly on their way back to the top. They almost reached it last season, but settled instead for firing a warning shot (broadside, really) across the league's bows. There will be no settling this year as every Radcliffe boat will come to the line with her decks cleared for action and her gun ports open. They won't be sneaking up on anyone, but I would guess that's just the way they like it. (Calendar updated)

Below is Radcliffe's start at the HOCR:

If you want to download the high res version, you can get it normal size or large size. (As always, thanks to Dan Morken for the video.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

2V at Sprints!

In another sign of growth for women's lightweight rowing, the 2007 EAWRC Eastern Sprints will include a women's lightweight 2v event. The Eastern Sprints schools of Wisconsin, Radcliffe, Princeton, and Georgetown all have varsity lightweight programs and should be able to support this event. I would guess that the coaches have been talking about it for a few years and it's nice to see the ECAC respond.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

2007 Season Preview - Princeton University

Princeton, in 2006, was another crew with a specific personality. Or two, or three, or four... At times the Tigers looked dominating, while at others they seemed to flounder. Much of this season will depend upon which crew shows up to race - the boat that won the Radcliffe dual and its IRA heat, or the one that struggled over the line at Sprints. While the Tigers had some good memories from last season, the overall taste that lingered throughout the summer had to be bitter. By now, Princeton is a crew that has forgotten the past and is pacing in its icy cage, waiting for the spring thaw.

That thaw officially comes on April 1st, when Bucknell visits Lake Carnegie for a dual. Bucknell showed its speed last year making this a solid opener for the Tigers. (This will be a summer reunion for two opposing rowers.) A week later MIT and UCF come to town. A few years ago one might look at races like these to open the season as a way for Princeton to ease into hard rowing. Needless to say, those days are over. It's a safe bet that at least one, and possibly all three will be in the IRA grand final, with the fastest of the three pushing for a medal. On the 14th Princeton heads out to California for the Windermere Crew Classic, where they'll race UCF again, as well as Stanford and LMU. We heard some unfortunate news about UCF lightweights rowing with the heavies this season, but I can't believe they'll send a team all the way to either Princeton or California just to get embarrassed. Even if it's not the ultimate IRA boat, I have to believe it will still be fast. Meanwhile, after a dismal showing at IRAs last year, Stanford will be highly motivated to show the world it was a fluke. Like Princeton, Stanford is a highly rated academic school that also welcomes and takes pride in its athletes and their achievements. No one in Palo Alto will want another season like last year and crews take the Cardinal lightly at their peril. LMU shouldn't pose a major problem for Princeton, but it is a program that has consistently boated competent lightweight crews and is due to surprise. Knecht Cup is this weekend and it's likely we'll see the Princeton freshmen there.

The Tigers may as well stay on the bus because the weekend following Windermere they head to Washington for a race against Georgetown and the next weekend head to Boston to race Radcliffe. These are two smart moves for Princeton since it gives them a chance to see the Hoyas and the Black and White, both of whom they would normally race at Knecht. Mid May brings Sprints followed by IRAs in June.

Princeton won the Head of the Charles and even though history shows that's a predictor of, well, nothing, it's still better to win it than not. Perhaps more importantly, Princeton only lost the coxswain from last year's IRA boat. Last year Princeton learned that it's no fun to row back to the dock when boats are being called to the medal stand, and they have no intention of experiencing that feeling again this year. If I can drag out the musical theme for one more preview, if UCF is here for the party, Princeton has a slightly different outlook. They've learned their lesson, and that lesson is that in the lightweight league of 2007, you have to be ready to race your best every weekend. For the Tigers, this ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around. They'll be ready. (Calendar updated)

Below is Princeton's start at last fall's HOCR (thanks again to Dan Morken):

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lightweight All-Americans!

With the launch of the re-designed CRCA Web site comes the posting of the minutes from the December meeting of the CRCA Lightweight Committee. The big news here is that the CRCA board approved the awarding of lightweight All America and Academic All America. See the minutes for the process, but I think it's consistent with how the heavies do it.

Other topics covered:

  • Selection criteria for lightweight athletes
  • Review of the variations in weigh-in weights and procedures
  • Methods to promote lightweight rowing within United States colleges
  • Results reporting for the upcoming spring
  • Seeding and Weigh-In procedures for the I.R.A.s
  • Increasing educational opportunities for lightweight rowing coaches
It's hard to imagine a more pertinent agenda, isn't it?

Under the weigh-in and weight discussion, the Head of the Charles weight limit of 135 pounds was addressed. I've never understood why the HOCR averages weights, and allows a max of 138 pounds. It's a practice that seems to encourage unhealthy weight loss (often even easily underweight rowers lose weight to make up for their heavier boatmates). The committee agreed to ask the HOCR to lower the max weight for college rowers to 133. Well, OK, that's better, but why not stop all of this nonsense and just go with the standard 130 pounds, no averaging?

A couple of points raised in the "growth" discussion:
  • Structure championships in a fashion that would encourage more schools to participate
    - include the light eight in team trophies
    - a V4 at IRAs.
  • IRAs
    - sponsorship funding for new schools to attend
    - change the 2V4 format to a 1V4
Note that these are all just suggestions at this point.

I'm not certain I understand the 2V4 to 1V4 at IRAs, since there is currently no V4. Maybe this refers to lobbying for a lightweight V4? In any case, I'm excited to see these issues being addressed by the committee. There are no quick fixes and any progress will only be accomplished through hard work, but at least the work has begun.

(Random FITD statistic: yesterday's post was #400)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ancient Rowers

Not lightweight specific, but I can't resist. More proof that rowers are the fittest athletes comes via ancient Greece.


There have been some good comments posted over the last few days and I wanted to talk about the issues raised by two in particular. The first noted that most elite level lightweights come from heavyweight college programs (something I've noted before as well) and the second points to a rule allowing Ohio high school wrestlers two extra pounds at their next meet due to recent weather related practice cancellations. While perhaps not related at first glance, both deal with what one might call excessive weight-loss issues.

When it comes to elite US lightweights, I have an opinion and I'm certainly open to hearing others. I believe that few would be accepted into today's college lightweight programs. Many watch their weight fluctuate massively over the course of a year and because of the benefit of height in a leverage sport like rowing, the tallest women who can reach lightweight and still have the strength to row well, drop the weight. USRowing encourages this practice by allowing spring erg tests to be taken at 140 pounds, 15 pounds above the boat average weight limit. (Look at the heights and weights of these rowers - 3 are over 140 pounds.) If a lightweight rower walked into a college boathouse for an erg test weighing 140 pounds (ten pounds above the college limit), I would think she'd be sent immediately to the heavyweight pen. The reality, unfortunately, is that all countries' lightweights do this and for the US to take unilateral action would no doubt result in a less competitive team. All the safeguards implemented in college rowing would have the same positive effect in international rowing (year-long weigh-ins and certifications, hydration testing, etc.), but working on FISA for changes like this seems only slightly easier than rowing an erg on water. We have many excellent lightweights rowing in college, only to discover that at the elite level they are still undersized.

The wrestler story also points out an acceptance, and encouragement, of large weight fluctuations. The reader who posted this comment wonders why this is accepted with boys but viewed with alarm with women rowers. I think the answer is because women are more susceptible to eating disorders than men, although that certainly doesn't mean it's healthy for men. Lightweight women's rowing has this stigma that I think holds it back from mainstream (i.e. NCAA and therefore athletic director) acceptance. (Some coaches have told me that they don't believe this is true.) While I think we know women are more at risk than men, less clear to me is whether collegiate lightweight women rowers are more likely to suffer from eating disorders than their college attending age cohort, or even than heavyweights. I don't know the answer to this and would love to see research that settles the question. The idea, by the way, that women lightweights are more likely to have eating disorders than their classmates has become dogma in some circles. For that reason posts like this tread on dangerous ground (and one resulted in my favorite comment of all time, "You're an idiot.") but I'll never accept that it's wrong to ask for evidence. If there is a problem in college lightweight programs today, let's define it and address it. If there isn't, let's show it and help the rest of the rowing and athletic world move on. While there may be lots of issues at the elite level, I think college programs are trying their best to keep their rowers out of danger. We deserve to know if they have been successful.

This same reader notes that Ohio wrestlers are required to have hydration and body fat tests performed at the start of the season and wonders if something like this might be in store for rowers. Actually, I think that most (all?) separate varsity lightweight programs do this throughout the season. If the question is whether these kinds of tests may be instituted at race weigh-ins, there have been discussions about this. If you recall the presentation given by Tim Hosea at the USRowing convention, one of the recommendations was that lightweights only be certified as lightweights if their body fat reaches a certain percentage when at weight. I believe that hydration testing has been proposed for race weigh-ins. While I believe hydration testing is a critical part of health monitoring, I wonder what the effect would be on rowers' if they were subjected to a test at weigh-in that they could not perform before-hand for themselves. In other words, if you never know if you will be hydrated or not, will your reaction be to lose extra weight so you can put it back on with water before weigh-in to make sure you pass the hydration test?

Now let me try to head off nasty comments. I've said many times before that I'm not a doctor and these are only my opinions. I don't hesitate to express them, however, because if someone who is smarter or has more information can point out the error of my ways, my hope is that we all can learn something.

Friday, February 16, 2007

2007 Season Preview - University of Central Florida

I make a lot of guesses (educated, I hope) and assumptions (as some of you have pointed out with disdain) when I post here, and last year's UCF preview was no different. I wrote, "UCF will be a team to watch this spring... I have no doubt that UCF will belong at IRAs this year and I expect they'll be ready to put on a good show." I sure do love when a crew makes me look smart; it happens so rarely! If anything UCF showed that I might not have been optimistic enough. In a hyper-competitive field last year, the Golden Knights made the IRA grand final and finished fifth. UCF actually made the grand final in 2004 but, just to give you an idea of how much the category changed in two years, they finished sixth that year, 37 seconds behind champion Wisconsin. Last year in fifth place they were only 12 seconds back.

Well, this is a new year and we're about to see if UCF can sustain their momentum or if they'll be a one-hit wonder. A quick look at the roster suggests that six rowers and the coxswain from last year's IRA boat will be back to begin the season on March 3rd (yes, that's in 2 weeks!). On the 3rd, UCF heads to Winter Park for the Metro Cup which I think amounts to a dual with Rollins. Two weeks later, on the 17th, is the Rollins Tri-Meet back in Winter Park. Last year the lights raced Jacksonville and Georgia heavyweights, beating both. On the 24th is the Petrakis Cup, a race which I think is all heavyweights. Given that it looks like UCF's only home race of the season, the lights will probably get in some racing.

[Update: A reader posted a comment saying that 6 UCF lightweights and a coxswain will be racing with the heavyweights this season, leaving only 2 rowers to return from the IRA boat. If this holds true throughout the season, that will be quite depressing. Question: will cannibalizing a fast lightweight boat that has a chance for a national championship result in slow lightweights and moderately faster, but still not nationally competitive, heavyweights? As long as the heavyweights don't make the NCAAs, the lightweights can move into the light eight for IRAs (if they go to NCAAs, those lightweights cannot race again). This will make that boat faster, but not as fast as it could be if it were together all season. The NCAA strikes again.]

April opens with a race I'm already excited about - UCF, Princeton, and MIT at Princeton. (Radcliffe is also listed on the UCF schedule, but I think they're racing elsewhere.) This race is followed a week later by a trip out to California for the Windermere Classic. The schedule isn't clear, but I assume the lights are going and they'll meet up with at least Princeton and Stanford. The month finishes with the SIRA Championships, a regatta with a light four event but no light eight. For UCF I think this is a heavyweight evolution, as is May's South/Central Regionals. UCF's next real lightweight race will come at IRAs.

Although it's not alone, UCF plays a bit of a risky game by forgoing Knecht for Windermere. It will only see Princeton, MIT, and Stanford before racing at IRAs. The Windermere/Knecht conflict causes the Knecht field to split this year and, although I like to see regattas with all of the contenders racing, I think Windermere is a much better venue for high quality lightweight racing. Winderemere treats competitors like royalty, while at Knecht sometimes you feel like a parking problem. I also think that fast non-west coast crews racing at Windermere helps to grow the sport in the west. The downside, of course, is that it's a long and expensive trip for east coast crews.

Although I only occasionally get a look inside the programs I cover here, some of them seem to have a specific personality. For me, UCF is one of those. I don't think any crew has more fun rowing than UCF. Maybe I'm dead wrong and every practice ends with a cat fight, but I doubt it. When I see UCF on paper, on screen, or on the water, I'm Here for the Party! pops into my head. I can't say why, but it does. The thing is, it's only a party if you're winning.

Yeah, I think UCF is here for the party.

(Disclaimer: FITD does not endorse the sentiments expressed in this song...)

(Calendar updated)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

No Lightweights at ECACs

ECAC sources have informed me that there will be no lightweight events at this year's ECAC Regatta. The ECAC has had trouble filling a lightweight field and is understandably hesitant about running match races. It's great to have this information early in the season so lightweight crews can make appropriate plans. Dad Vail has an established lightweight tradition and would be a great venue to bring together all of the Dad Vail and ECAC lightweight boats. The championship becomes more meaningful and the regatta could become an exciting and important stop on the road to IRAs. Should the IRA Regatta find itself in the position of having to turn away entrants, a Dad Vail championship may one day become a price of admission.

Now it's on you, coaches, get Dad Vail on your schedule and let us anticipate great eights racing to go along with the already excellent fours event.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Jim Dietz on Women's Lightweight Rowing (cont)

(Interview with Jim Dietz continued)

I next challenged Jim's idea of creating a NCAA championship that looks like the Olympics. While I recognize the value in that, I suggested that with only the 2x available for lightweights, it would effectively kill lightweight rowing. Jim responds:

Your premise is that you as the coach make that decision. If your athletic director is supporting rowing because of numbers then there is no way you will drop the big boats. Case in Point: Last year the coaches of the Atlantic 10 voted to drop the points for the lightweight eight “IF” there were fewer then two or three crews in that race. In the Atlantic 10 the V8 only gets two points more then the lightweight eight in team points. The coaches felt that it was unfair to award full points in an event that only two crews were entered. The Athletic Directors voted the coaches down. They were afraid that schools would not try to fill the lightweight events and numbers would drop.

Not everyone gets to the Olympics. Not everyone should get to the NCAA Championships. It should be just for the best! Even now there are lightweights going to the NCAA championships. The two times that I went to the championships with teams I had lightweights in my crews. They were the best they could compete.

Under the present system are the best women going to the championship or just the best women from the biggest programs. Are there better women at other programs but not enough to have the large team? If rowing were an individual team sport would there be more opportunity for more women, possibly smaller women?
Some good points made here, but I'm not sure they contradict the notion that lightweights would be in trouble with an Olympic format. One thing that I hear time and again from coaches is how such-and-such a boat had a lightweight in it and was fast. Probably not Jim's point here, but this is like noting a boxer who can beat people two weight classes above him and suggesting that there shouldn't be weight classes. These rowers are remembered precisely because there are so few (I'm talking about DI and elites here). Also, I've had a national team coach tell me how he had a lightweight in bow of one of his medal winning eights. This "lightweight" weighed 168 at peak condition. I think it's common for heavyweight coaches to see a rower smaller than their average heavyweight and refer to them as "lightweights."

The A10 athletic directors reaction to the lightweight proposal is very interesting. I wish that were the attitude of more conferences. Also note the coaches' role. Heavyweight coaches get paid to win heavyweight races. If a lightweight event is in the way of that goal, they will try to remove it. This isn't a criticism of heavyweight coaches for doing their job, but it is a criticism of those who would put the fate of lightweights in the hands of heavyweight coaches at theCRCA.

Further addressing lightweights at the A10 championship:
They are a valid part of the Championship. I am all about rowing for everyone. They all count in our gender numbers and they should have an equal part and enjoy a great experience. The points are important and the lightweights know their contribution to the team win. This gives everyone value and a true sense of team. To have lightweight programs traveling to different events then their open weight programs is divisive.
Finally, I asked about the idea of more events at the NCAA championship (Olympic events), and wondered if that would dilute the field too much, leaving winners unsure if they beat their opponents best or if the best rowers were in another boat.
If we only think that the eight is important then we should get rid of all the other boat classes. Did the US Men’s eight at the last Olympics feel less of their victory because the English 4- was not in their race? Did the English feel cheated because the best Americans went in the eight and not the 4-?

If we are going to have different events then each of those events should be able to stand on their own merit. Does the 4+ at the NCAA feel cheated because there might have been a faster 4+ in the country whodidn ’t have two other eights to give them a free ride. Maybe it should be about the top 8+, or maybe just the top 4+, or if we really want to know who is the best then each school should only send their top 1X!

I have been involved in rowing for quite a while now. I have seen lightweights win the Olympics in open events. I have seen lightweights compete in theUSRowing Nationals, Trials and NSR ’s often humbling heavyweights. I don’t know where the answer lies. I think an open mind will be necessary to break down the years of “This is the way we always did it in America”. We need more people questioning. That’s how things change.
The issue of an eights only format (Mike Teti scheme) vs an Olympic format is best left for another time. Again, the notion of lightweights beating heavyweights is a two-edged sword - it's great when you do it, but the fact that it happens is usually used as an argument against having a lightweight category (I don't think that's Jim's intent here).

So, some of Jim's more interesting points:
  • The NCAA championships should follow the Olympic format (that would mean a WL2x)
  • All boats should receive equal points in the team championship calculation
  • The A10 seems to be a "lightweight friendly" conference
  • No lightweight issues have come before the NCAA rowing committee in the past two years
As always, no easy answers, but certainly some food for thought. Perhaps the most important thing Jim Dietz had to say were his closing thoughts: "We need more people questioning. That’s how things change."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

2007 Season Preview - Bucknell University

As we preview Bucknell, we enter the rarefied air of the IRA grand final. With a 6th place finish at IRAs last year, Bucknell is coming off its finest season ever. With 6 of the 8 IRA rowers returning, this spring brings both high expectations and high potential.

Bucknell gets its first taste of action on its spring training trip in Georgia, as they're scheduled to race Alabama on March 10th. Alabama does race lightweights, but it's more likely Bucknell will come out as the 2V for this race. Two weeks later, on March 24th, the Bison head to Philadelphia for the Murphy Cup which will no doubt see the lightweights racing again as a 2V boat. On March 31st Georgetown is on the schedule in Philadelphia. Georgetown's schedule isn't out yet so it's not clear if this is a heavyweight or lightweight race. If the lights go at it, this would be a fantastic early season matchup as Bucknell tests its progress while Georgetown will try to assert its dominance. I have a funny feeling this will be only heavyweights, but it would be a great opportunity for both schools to get their full squads racing together.

After Georgetown comes a race at Princeton on April Fool's Day. Last year Bucknell had an excellent race on Lake Carnegie which turned out to be a good measure of the Bison's potential. I suspect Princeton will be ready for this race this year. The next weekend Bucknell heads to Rhode Island to race URI and Boston College. If URI can put out a light eight this would be another nice opportunity to get both teams racing together, but that seems unlikely. The next two weekends are William Smith at home and Princeton/Penn/Dartmouth at Princeton. These are heavyweight races and any lightweight action will be as a 2V boat. On April 28th a race against Penn State and Susquehanna at home is listed, followed by the Patriot League Championship on the 29th. I doubt the same boats will be racing both events so we'll probably see the lights racing as a 2V boat again at Patriots.

On May 5th are ECAC Metros. I still don't know the difference between ECACs and ECAC Metros, but I think we can guess that Bucknell will race again as a 2V boat. The IRAs come along at the end of the month.

In a schedule loaded with heavyweight races and frequent relegation to 2V status, The Bison get in at least one excellent lightweight race against top competition at Princeton, and possibly a second against Georgetown in Philadelphia. Other than the Princeton race, however, we learn little about Bucknell until IRAs. This year will be more informative than last, however, because we know how the boat did against 2V competition last year compared to how it eventually fared at IRAs. A noticeable absence on this schedule is Dad Vails, although Bucknell typically raced as a 2V, preferring to shoot for a JV heavyweight medal rather than a varsity lightweight medal. This absence is interesting, however, because there is no other race on the schedule for Dad Vail weekend.

Bucknell has made great strides over the past several years. In only its second year at IRAs (its first was 2004), the Bison made the grand final and beat the eventual silver medalists in the heat. In my season preview last year, I said that "I also expect Bucknell to make a run at IRAs." Of course, making a run this year is a given and as long as there is no loss of focus on the lightweights, I think the Bison should be challenging for a medal. (Calendar updated.)

(For the voyeur in you, take a look at some Bucknell erg times. Some of the lightweights raced as heavies.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Jim Dietz on Women's Lightweight Rowing

Several times over the course of the past year or so, people have mentioned in comments and emails that Jim Dietz, women's coach at UMass, is a supporter of women's lightweights and has some interesting ideas about our sport. I contacted Jim, and he was kind enough to give me his views.

I began by asking if the NCAA championship has been good for women's heavyweight rowing and if there might ever be a NCAA lightweight women's championship. Jim responded:

I do think that the NCAA has been good for women’s heavyweight rowing. The up side is that the NCAA is the yardstick that all sports are measured on here in the USA. This is very important because all athletic directors and sports enthusiast understand it. The down side is the direction that the sport took when it became a “team sport” under the NCAA umbrella. The championship quickly turned into what the BCS is in football. (Only for those with 1A football programs or endowments capable of supporting the 2 eights and a four format).

There are many serious rowing programs in this country that will never be part of that NCAA experience. Like lightweight rowing the question then is WHY? Rowing is an Olympic sport, yet it is the only “NCAA-Olympic sport” that does not look like the Olympic program. If it were, at least there would be lightweight doubles and ALL the collegiate rowing programs would have an opportunity to qualify for the championship. When you go down to smaller boats the “size” of the individuals rowing become less of a factor.

The only chance that I can see for lightweights becoming an NCAA sport would be to get 40+ programs together and petition the NCAA for a separate event. In the two years that I have been on the NCAA rowing committee, I cannot recall any lightweight legislation or proposals for inclusion. That legislation would have to come from a Conference Office or the CRCA.
I think there are two interesting points here - one is that the NCAA championship program is different than the Olympic program (more on that later) and the second is the last paragraph on lightweights becoming a NCAA sport. Lightweights are dependent on Conferences or the CRCA to bring lightweight legislation to the NCAA. It's hard to see a conference that might do this, and the CRCA, although tasked with representing lightweights, is generally hostile to the category (for evidence see my interview with the CRCA president, who was ignorant of any lightweight issues).

I then asked about team championships and if counting lightweight women toward team trophies would help grow the category.
I don’t understand the American fascination with the V8. Every medal is of equal value at the Olympics. Why do they have so many events at the IRA if the coaches themselves discount these wins in pairs and fours as “not real events.” To say that it's not fair for one school to be racing their top 2 or 4 athletes against another school's 16 through 20th athlete’s is crazy. If the Women’s NCAA is a true “Team Championship” then all three boats should get equal points. I don’t think that this strategy will help the lightweight agenda. Organization and creating more events would better serve your cause.
I agree that organizing and more events would help the cause, but I still think that a team trophy for say, Eastern Sprints, with equal points for a lightweight eight, would go a long way toward creating more events.

I then asked a general question about the future of women's lightweights.

Lets face it, there would be no NCAA women’s championship if there was not a need for gender equity. ... We should be demanding more from the NCAA. If you look at the numbers of women rowing and not the number of institutions having teams you will see that the NCAA is getting off cheap. The schools with full lightweight squads are giving those schools the gender numbers with no opportunity to get to a NCAA championship. There are still many collegiate rowing programs in this country that are not varsity. If they believed that they could qualify one boat for the NCAA do you think they might go varsity? If those schools went varsity the NCAA formula for athlete participation would go up.
[To be continued following the next team preview...]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

2007 Season Preview - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT enters the 2007 season in an unusual position - riding a wave of momentum generated by successes in the eight. It's been a few years since MIT has put its heart into the eight, but they did so last spring and this fall and have some fine results to show for it. Now comes the hard part...

[Update: This is a corrected version of the original post thanks to a reader who was kind enough to provide the actual schedule (as opposed the inaccurate one on the school Web site) in the comments.]

The Engineers open the spring on April 7 at Princeton, vs. the Tigers and UCF. It's always dangerous to make too much out of early races, but this will be a great race. Right out of the gate MIT will get an opportunity to prove itself against two of the best the lightweight league has to offer.

It looks like the Engineers will skip Knecht, choosing to stay at home to race UMass on April 15th. UMass will use this race as a test of their speed and will row hard to provide some incentive for the program to put focus on the light eight. MIT will want to show it can dominate here. The following week the Beavers will take on Radcliffe. As always, this will be an excellent test against the home-town rival who, by the way, MIT handled pretty nicely last November at the Foot of the Charles. There's always a lot of talk after these fall races about who had what boat in what race crewed by which rowers, but the results stand. And they'll stand long enough to make this an interesting race. MIT will be tested pretty well in April.

On May 13th MIT heads south to Camden for Eastern Sprints. By the time the end of the month and IRAs roll around, I'm guessing that the MIT eight (and four) will have proven itself worthy of making a serious push for the grand final. I'll leave it there, but if I rowed for MIT I'd be thinking bigger than making the final.

MIT loses two rowers from last year's IRA boat. The fact that MIT came back last fall with some speed is a promising sign for the depth of the program. You know, rowers are known throughout the academic world as the brainiest of athletes. Doesn't it just make sense then, that MIT should be fast? Not only that, if you're going to chant this cheer, you'd better be fast! Well, I expect to hear that cheer a lot this year. (Races added to calendar)

Finally, through the good graces of Dan Morken in Washington (state, that is), I have MIT's start at the 2006 HOCR for your viewing pleasure (some resolution loss from YouTube). Doesn't the sound of the oars in the oarlocks just make your stomach churn?

Erg Score Weight Adjustments

I've posted on erg weight adjustments before, but really just pointed to the Concept II calculator. Alan Thomas at Erg Science posted on adjustments today, but went further into the math and also explored two other formulas. He then posted a spreadsheet using Zoho Sheet that you can download and which allows you to calculate adjustments en masse. It's some good information and a nice tool.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

ErgScores.com Team Accounts

ErgScores.com now has free team accounts available. Check their blog post for more information.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

2007 Season Preview - University of Dayton

As in-state rival Ohio State begins its first season under a new coach, Dayton begins its last season under coach Mike Farrey. Coach Farrey tells me that the first race he'll likely race a light eight will be the Knecht Cup (unless someone shows up in OakRidge during spring break). There are, however, two races scheduled for Dayton prior to Knecht.

On March 24th the Flyers race Duquesne, followed by Cincinnati, Indiana, and Eastern Michigan on the 31st. Last year Dayton's lights raced as the 2V in the latter race so perhaps they'll get some racing in this year as well.

On April 14th the Flyers head to New Jersey for the Knecht Cup. This is a critical race for all of the obvious reasons, and even more so for Dayton. Coach Farrey will look to this race as an early indication of where the light eight stands. A dismal showing here could mean a shortened season for the boat. A dismal showing, however, is not something I expect. This is a relatively early race and I would be surprised if Dayton didn't at least show enough speed to make the rest of the season interesting. last year the Flyers made the grand final, finishing sixth, a result which turned out to be a pretty good indicator of where they would end the season.

A week after Knecht comes the A10 championships. Dayton is the defending A10 champion, having bested URI last year. With URI's possible demise, it's not clear who could step up to challenge Dayton. This is an unfortunate situation for this championship because many teams who boat a light eight early (e.g. St. Joe's and UMass) have often decided by this point that they can't be competitive and don't enter, leaving what looks to be a shallow field. In reality, the A10 championships are a self selected field of the A10's best (I'll have more on this phenomenon in a later post).

Following the A10s, Dayton heads to Philadelphia for the Dad Vail on May 11th. Dayton is also the (two-time) defending Dad Vail Champion and here's hoping there's a nice lightweight field for Dayton to take on this year. Following Dad Vail comes IRAs at the end of the month. Last year was the second time Dayton raced at IRAs (2001 was the first that I know of) and they finished 8th, an excellent way to end the season.

Dayton has five athletes returning from the IRA eight and three returning from the A10 and Dad Vail eight. The Flyers are young this year and will be looking to a senior and two juniors for leadership. Coach Farrey expects the speed of the boat to depend on how well the sophomores step up.

Dayton has had some good seasons these past couple of years and Coach Farrey should be proud of what he's done with the program. I think Dayton has played the lightweight game just right. During the season they race lightweight when they can and make a point of racing the championships. As a result they are defending A10 and Dad Vail champs. In earlier years they realized that they weren't ready to have an impact at IRAs and raced where they could be competitive, gradually building up their reputation. Although there will be up and down years, they are now ready to seriously challenge for a spot in the grand final at IRAs. Dad Vail programs measure themselves against the Flyers and IRA programs know better than to take them lightly. Despite their youth, I expect that Dayton will continue to uphold their reputation this year.

(Calendar updated)

Stetson Crew Relief Fund

I asked (future) Stetson lightweight coach, Chris Thomas, how the rowing community can help the Stetson Crew get back on its feet. Chris was kind enough to write back:

Thank you for your time and concern. The entire rowing community has been very willing to help but not sure how. We have an abundance of equipment offered to us... we could literally have 70 boats here by next week if we wanted. But we are not at that stage yet... we have no place to store equipment, even our new trailer was totaled. So for now we just need financial help to get back on our feet. We are raising money to get some of the equipment such as oars, erg, coaching launches and docks replaced/repaired. Then we will get loaner/rental boats this season from area teams. We are still looking for a place to run practices from, but we still intend to travel and compete this season and are thankful of the help offered.

The financial help will be greatly appreciated... we have set up a Tornado Relief Fund:

Checks Payable to : "Stetson Crew"
MEMO/ATTN: "Tornado Relief Fund"

Stetson Crew
421 N. Woodland Blvd., Unit 8359
DeLand, FL 23723

Sunday, February 04, 2007

2007 Season Preview - Ohio State University

URI actually finished 9th last year, but the best they are hoping for this year appears to be a light eight at the A10 championships. That's quite a disappointment from a program that had planned to make lightweights a permanent part of URI rowing. Since URI looks like they'll be non-participants this year, we'll look instead at last year's 11th place team - Ohio State.

Coach Hugh Dodd begins his first spring season at the helm of the Buckeyes. An 11th place ranking last year was a bit of a slip back from 7th in 2005, as some varsity programs with a focus on lightweights scooted past in '06. Coach Dodd comes in with a strong appreciation for lightweights and a desire to make Ohio State known as lightweight friendly (and successful) for both men and women.

The Buckeyes' schedule is a mish-mash of both lightweight and heavyweight races so it's not always easy to tell when the lights will race. The racing starts on March 25th in Indianapolis with a race against Purdue, Texas, Michigan State, or Grand Valley. Of those crews, only Purdue is likely to have lightweights (and it would be nice to see the Boilermakers come back to the fold after several years away), although MSU did race lights last season. The next weekend is Michigan State or Grand Valley, or the Ithaca Invite. I'm not aware of any lightweight potential there.

On April 14th is the Ohio Cup (too bad they're not at Knecht). This regatta was canceled last year, but there was a light four event the previous year. It's likely that OSU would outclass any other lightweight boats that would show up. Two weeks later is the Indianapolis Invitational. Despite a healthy men's light eight field, there is no lightweight women's event. There were three light eights here last year, but they were forced to race as 2V (OSU beat MSU and Miami), and it's likely that's what we'll see this year. Indy is followed by MACRAs, this year in Michigan. The Buckeyes should be able to race a light eight and four here (they won last year's light four race by half a second). This race would be a nice lead-in to the light eight and big light four field at Dad Vail; unfortunately, the next week Ohio State plans to race at ECACs instead of Dad Vail. Since the ECAC canceled lightweight events last year, either the Buckeye lightweights will sit out or race as the "2V." The ECAC continues to play its original Dad Vail spoiler role well. Would it be too much to hope that the lightweight coaches would call each other and decide on one race to attend? I'd like to see that race be Dad Vail (that would be the regatta that didn't cancel the lightweights last year), but it really doesn't matter as long as everyone is in one place. Three weeks later comes IRAs.

Ohio State will be lucky to race as a lightweight eight even once before IRAs, and may go into the national championship race never having raced any of its competition. At Dad Vail they would at least see Dayton, but at ECAC they may only see a passel of 2Vs. Coach Dodd's first season will be interesting to watch. He seems to be committed to lightweights and I suspect his enthusiasm will breed speed.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Stetson Hit Hard by Tornado

A UCF reader just alerted me to how hard Stetson crew got hit by a tornado that tore through central Florida. The newest lightweight program will have to wait a little while longer to get started. If anyone can help out with equipment, labor, or materials, it sure looks like they'll need it. Pictures here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

What Does BMI Tell Us?

In January the Raleigh-Durham News and Observer published an article on the Body Mass Index that suggested it is a poor measure for who's overweight, particularly among athletes:

The paradoxical problem with athletes is simple: Muscle mass weighs more than fat. In a calculation that relies simply on height and weight, the buff athlete will lose out.
This is something I've always believed (or did I just have the need to convince myself of it?), but back in June, The Daily Erg conducted an interview that suggested BMI wasn't such a bad measure after all. (By the way, the N&O article uses the fact that the offensive line of a certain university's football team are considered obese by their BMI as evidence of the index's lack of credibility. To that I say that the index suggests that the linemen are obese, not that they are weak, or slow, or can't walk up a flight of stairs. If you've ever seen a major college football lineman, the fact that he is obese is inescapable.)

The Daily Erg interviewed Dr. Tony de la Mare who "is doing research into the use of the BMI both for health and in comparison to athletic performance."
Dr. de la Mare presented BMIs from a variety of elite athletes and all of their numbers were in a similar range - for men typically 20-24 and for women typically 20-22. Even ice hockey players and rugby players who are more muscular were in the 26-28 range - still well below so-called obese levels. There would seem to be an ideal BMI for aerobic performance at least, with runners (20), mountain bikers (22), and X-C skiers (23) all in the same range.
Also, The Daily Erg did some calculations of his own and found that the women on the 1992 Olympic team averaged a BMI of around 23.

In my (hardly scientific) experience, the average lightweight female rower is about 5'6". At 5'6" and 130 pounds a rower has a BMI of 21.0. What do you know, smack dab in the middle of the elite athlete range! Some more fiddling with numbers shows us that about the tallest a lightweight should go is 5'10", which gives a BMI of 18.7 (18.5 is underweight). On the other end, a rower would have to be under five feet and weigh 130 to be labeled overweight (pretty doggone generous if you ask me).

So BMI may not be some super accurate measure of who is overweight, but it is a reasonable indicator, even for athletes. As The Daily Erg says when talking about national team athletes, "being in the ideal range is necessary for membership in this elite club, but it does not predict how you will perform once you get there." My point, however, is that for a typical lightweight, the weight limit brings them into a range for which they should be striving anyway. The typical lightweight woman is not being asked to destroy her health to row lightweight.