This article was written by Zoe Vais, Communications and Development Coordinator.
This summer at World Rowing Championships, all eyes were fixed on the USA women’s team as they rang in a 10th consecutive gold, but impressive performances were had across the field for the U.S. Among them was the U.S.A. Men’s Lightweight Eight. The lightweight men made a resounding comeback from last year’s performance, when the LM8+ finished in last place a whole ten seconds behind the lead boat. This year, in a tight fight for first, they took bronze, finishing within two seconds of the gold medalists, Germany.
Sitting in seven seat of the boat was Pocock Rowing Center alumnus David O. Smith. Now back in training with eyes set on Rio, Smith returns to Seattle to find more speed. Last week, Smith visited the Center to meet junior athletes, show off the new hardware, and share his experience training and racing with the national team this year.
Smith, who has raced nationally and internationally before, explained that past years had been much more personally stressful. Between being a less-experienced rower than other teammates and being the weakest of the bunch, Smith had been worried about slowing the boat down for the other rowers in past years. In both 2012 and 2013, despite having comparable times to other crews, Smith’s boats did not make the A Final. This year, however, Smith says, “I was not expecting to make the team at all- just being here was a gift.” It was Smith’s first time competing in international sweep racing (past years had been sculling) and he loved it right away. Smith says his trust in his teammates and confidence in their performance level helped him relax and trust the process of training.
Looking back on what it was like during training and selection, Smith notes that all the candidates for the boat had been scullers, and were new to sweep racing, “Everyone was a novice…a super-fit, eager, humble novice.” Despite the learning curve, each athlete was skilled enough to make changes quickly and get the boat on track. Smith says that the experience of learning about and becoming close with his crew was something special.
“The better you know and respect your crewmates, the more you can use that knowledge to tease out amazing performances from them.”
With a tight competition field of only five crews, the semifinals race served primarily as a race for lanes, but also a peak at what the final would look like. Smith shares, “We completely biffed the start, blades all over, boat set terrible, near-crabs and I took an air stroke, which wasn’t ideal.” Despite the rough start, the crew stayed with the pack and beat the previous year’s silver medalists, Italy. Although not performing their best race, their ability to make it back from a poor start gave Smith and his teammates confidence in their upcoming final. “Going into the Final we had two focuses- one to get the start better, if not perfect, and two to care less about the result and focus […] on taking solid strokes together.”
Now, walking through the bays of the Pocock Rowing Center, this national team athlete has some wisdom to share with the young juniors who train here. On race day, he focuses on small changes and details to reduce nerves and overthinking. “If I think ahead even 10 strokes it’s not useful for me, I like to stay in the moment.” Smith also said that the crew kept things light hearted by telling jokes every time they had to spin. “Rowing with this crew is a pleasure and an honor, and it’s extremely fun. We did not take ourselves too seriously, and for this group it worked to our advantage.” Lastly, when thinking back to his time here at Pocock Rowing Center, Smith remembered his junior coach, Andrew Bagley, and the way he taught the team to “relish” in the tough, gritty parts of rowing. Smith says, “I’d encourage any junior rower to worry less about your results and enjoy learning how to have a ton of fun racing with, and against, friends!”
USRowing Northwest Junior Championships
Friday, May 19 - Sunday, May 21
George Pocock Day
Saturday, July 15
Evening on the Docks | Renton Rowing Center Benefit
Saturday, July 29
Corporate Cup Regatta
Green Lake in Seattle, WA
Saturday, August 19