U.S. Rowing Team take on Echo Lake for ‘enduro’ conditioning
Tahoe’s thin mountain air often leaves the most conditioned athletes gasping for air. But for the 24 athletes on the men’s and women’s U.S. Rowing team, Tahoe’s lofty setting wasn’t high enough.
“We trained a few days in Tahoe and about 10 days on Fallen Leaf Lake and now we’re here at Echo Lake trying to get the highest altitude,” said sculling coach Emil Kossev during an evening training session on Tuesday. “We don’t want to get too specific about our training this close to the Olympics but in general the lack of oxygen in the high altitude training makes the body more efficient, which is good for endurance.”
Between barks on the bull horn ordering more refined rowing techniques from the athletes, Kossev explained that the training sessions are conducted differently at high altitude than at typical sea level sessions where they work on sprinting techniques.
“Up here, the training intensity is not as high. They go slower and longer, trying to build endurance – so they look sluggish here,” he said as the quad crew from the men’s lightweight sculling team quietly passed the coach’s motor boat like it was sitting motionless in the water.
As they passed, something in their stroke caught the coach’s eye.
“SNAP THE WATER, DON’T HIT THE WATER,” he said, his heavy Bulgarian accent distorted through the blaring of the bull horn. “GOOD JOB. YOU DID BETTER IN SACRAMENTO BUT MAYBE YOU CAN DO IT AGAIN TODAY BECAUSE IT’S SEAN’S BIRTHDAY.”
Sean Groom, a lightweight rower, celebrated his 31st birthday with a morning and evening workout session and no birthday cake.
“We can’t give him cake or ice cream because we don’t want him to get sick,” said Kossev, smiling. “We’ll do something, maybe yogurt with a candle in it.”
Kossev said the team, which trains about 1,000 hours a year, doesn’t have a dietitian to keep the athletes in line nutritionally.
“That is the difference between U.S. and European teams. In Europe they have a dietitian, a massage therapist and a physician,” he said. “Here we have four coaches and we try to do the best we can with the resources we have.”
And Kossev said the resources are few.
“We don’t get a lot of publicity in this sport,” he said. “So we don’t have the financial support and security that other sports like baseball, football and basketball get. We rely on community sponsors to help us out. We’ve had a lot of help in Tahoe from Granlibakken, Fallen Leaf Lake Marina and the Echo Lake Chalet.”
Kossev said, because of the lack of funding, many of the athletes work regular jobs to support themselves.
Sean Groom works sporadically as a copy editor and freelance writer for National Geographic magazine. Jamie Koven, the star of the men’s single sculling team, trades in his Spandex rowing suit for a suit and tie to work as an investment analyst.
Others, like David Sanderson – who steers the boat on the lightweight quad sculling team, dedicate all their time to rowing and hope they’ll make ends meet with the little funding they get from the sport.
Kossev said the team is a compilation of experienced scullers and athletes who are new to this level of competition.
“Some, like Jamie Koven, have three World Championships behind them,” he said. “It will be the first for others.”
This year’s World Championship, held in Ontario, Canada, is less than three weeks away and Kossev seemed confident of the team’s success and advancement to the 2000 Olympics.
“We have a pretty strong team this year,” he said. “They need to make it into the finals at the World’s to go to the Olympics and I think we have a strong chance.”
After the training session, Sanderson said they’re still preparing for the World’s Competition that will draw the best sculling teams from 11 different nations.
“I don’t know if we’re ready (for the World’s) yet, but we only have to be ready for one day,” Sanderson said.
Wednesday completed the three-week training camp at Tahoe. Princeton, New Jersey is the next stop on the list for the athletes.
There, they’ll resume their high-intensity, race-pace training.
Groom and Sanderson said, despite the high-altitude effects like headaches and dehydration, they’ll miss Tahoe.
“It’s really nice here,” Groom said, “especially the drive around Emerald Bay.”
“This is, by far, the most beautiful place we’ve ever trained,” Sanderson said.
Kossev said the team will try to come back to Tahoe next year for their high-altitude training camp in preparation for the Olympics.
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