Dec. 7, 2011
SEATTLE - The way Michael Callahan looks at it, he's just handing off the baton to the coaches at USRowing. His focus, of course, is winning National Championships. But the Husky men's crew coach also wants to develop and prepare rowers for the rigors of National Team selection.
Recently, Callahan traveled to San Diego to support two of his current seniors (Robert Munn & Ambrose Puttmann) racing at the West Coast Speed Order, an intense competition that determine invites to the priority selection camp.
"Our ethos is to help students develop," Callahan said. "A goal of mine every year is to help our athletes reach their potential. The ceiling for both Rob and Ambrose is incredibly high, and this was a great opportunity for them."
Munn and Puttmann finished 12th in the pairs and finished strong in the 6,000-meter erg test, but came back home knowing they need to be faster if they hope to qualify for the Olympic Team in the next quadrennial.
"They more than held their own," Callahan said. "Even at Washington, though, those two aren't our fastest U.S. pair. Our level of competition is intense here, and we are preparing these seniors for the next step once they graduate."
One of the challenges with making the transition to the senior level is how athletes lose the tight bond of the team environment. USRowing open weight head coach Tim McLaren discussed how athletes need to be disciplined to work hard on their own, a trait he often sees in Washington oarsmen.
"We help work the kids through that transition," McLaren said. "In college, they get strength through their peers and a commitment to a cause. The kids at Washington have such a great support network, and that's why I feel the college system is the best in the world."
Unlike most nations, the development system for USRowing is the collegiate system. And few universities have the track record like UW. This reputation was recently enhanced when freshmen coach Luke McGee was named the development coordinator for the U.S. National Team. McGee will help identify and train talent for the U-23 World Championships, where success is often a precursor to making the senior team.
Last year, the Huskies had nine American rowers who competed at the U-23 World Championships in Amsterdam. Additionally, several alums including Giuseppe Lanzone, Brett Newlin and Scott Gault have established healthy careers with USRowing, and recent graduates like Hans Struzyna and Ty Otto are on the cusp of selection. The system used by the Huskies has been a well-proven entry portal for those with potential to row beyond the college level. While it's not a complete facsimile, Callahan structures his program to mirror those of a national team, everything from a dedication to training in small boats, tactics, technology and the support staff.
"We prepare the rowers as much as we can, and then we hand them off to (US coach) Tim McLaren," Callahan said. "Our goal has been to construct our program to model those that you see at the training center in San Diego."
Because the primary focus of collegiate rowing is winning the varsity eight event, there's a difficult transition for oarsmen to make when they move over to the national team. Struzyna, in particular, struggled at first when away from a team dynamic. McLaren said a lot of athletes go through an adjustment period when the eight is de-emphasized for smaller boats. Because UW rows so much in small boats, the learning curve flattens out for Huskies competing at the national level. What expedites the adjustment level as well is what McLaren tagged as the most common trait he's seen in Washington oarsmen - coachability.
"All those kids, they're just very solid," McLaren said. "They're good to coach, very supportive, well-mannered, across the board; really respectful of hard work."
This, of course, is something Callahan emphasizes as one of the hallmarks of his program. But the primary directive is to a) win and b) develop rowers capable of rowing at the next level.
Callahan also has the pedigree of time spent coaching on the national-team. He's coached a U-23 boat five times in the past seven years, most recently this past summer in Amsterdam. He's also a product of the national team system, and knows full well the difficulties in sustaining careers at that level.
"We're an academic institution, so we're also developing guys to have successful careers once they leave Washington," Callahan said. "Ambrose told me he'd like to go to Medical School and the Olympics, and we're going to do everything we can to help him realize those goals."
Coming back to Munn and Puttmann, both are the type of rowers who fit the national team prototype. And while they didn't win the West Coast Speed Order, Olympian and Washington Alum, Gault did. They proved to the USRowing staff that they have the tools and the will to row at the senior national team level in the future.