Sept. 8, 2011
SEATTLE - This summer has already seen the Washington rowing program reinforce its reputation as one of the best in developing international talent. The trend continued when Ty Otto qualified to row in the 2011 Pan-American Games.
Otto merited selection after he and his pair partner (Mike Gennaro, formerly of Syracuse University) recently won a trial in Mercer, N.J. That means Otto's boat is headed to Guadelajara, Mexico, and the Pan-Am Games, which take place Oct. 14-30. The Pan-Am games, which are held every four years featuring athletes from North, Central and South American countries, are considered one of the top precursors to the Olympics, from how they're set up (athletes live in a village) to the competition structure.
For the recently graduated student, the decision to put himself through Pan-Am selection came after he was hit with some dispiriting news. Despite a prestigious academic resume, Otto was not selected off the wait-list for Oxford. He also missed out on a couple of job opportunities in Washington, D.C., in the political think-tank realm.
Instead of moping, Otto viewed this as a sign to continue rowing at the international level, building off his win in the USA eight at the U-23 World Championships in Amsterdam.
"The decision didn't end up being difficult at all," Otto said via cell phone. "So I'd say this is a pretty good fallback."
Otto plans to relocate to Oklahoma City, where the USRowing High Performance Center is based. He'll continue to put some mileage on the water with Gennaro, who coincidentally was one of Otto's biggest rivals in high schools. Otto is not sure how the two have developed such a great chemistry on the water.
"Funny how circumstances change," Otto said. "We were always butting heads out on the East Coast in high school rowing."
Otto rowed at Thomas Jefferson High in Burke, Va., one of the top magnet schools on the East Coast. Gennaro competed with St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia. The two programs would meet at Stotesbury Cup Regatta each season, the de facto high school championships. Otto's TJ eight won twice over Gennaro's boat from St. Joe's, giving him bragging rights he still utilizes till this day.
Husky men's coach Michael Callahanfeels Otto's rowing has crested because the pressure from academics is off his mind. While at Washington, Otto completed the coursework for a demanding double major (political science and physics) in addition to rowing on the varsity squad. During his final season at UW, an illness exacerbated his struggles on the water.
"His senior year was very difficult," Callahan said. "But during his last quarter, he was able to rise through it and really focus on his technique. Now, with that pressure off, he's achieved more than ever."
Callahan has been instrumental in pushing Otto to maximize his rowing opportunities. The 6-7 Otto has the ideal height and arm length coveted by USRowing coaches, and his affable personality makes him a pleasant addition to any boathouse. Otto also has plenty of skill rowing in small boats, which are a staple of the UW fall training program.
Callahan also knows about the benefits of rowing in the Pan-Am Games, having medaled at the 1999 games in Winnipeg. He mentioned the structure helps athletes understand the distractions that come with racing at the Olympics.
"It's bigger than just rowing," Callahan said. "Think of it as a dress rehearsal for the Olympics. The Pan-Am Games are a great stepping stone to achieving those goals." From unemployed to London next summer, this could be an interesting year for Ty Otto.