After A Long Rowing Career, He Still Has Something To Prove

Posted: June 28, 1987

INDIANAPOLIS — Yesterday morning, Tiff Wood was nervous. He has rowed for high stakes in international regattas for a dozen years now, even winning a bronze medal in the 1983 World single sculls, but yesterday morning, hours away from a semifinal singles race in the National Championships Regatta, he was nervous.

He thought that a movie might take the edge off, but when he thumbed through the features section of the newspaper, he discovered that there were no movies playing in the morning at any of the local theaters.

"So I watched a couple of movies on television," he said. "Invaders from

Mars and that one with John Lithgow and the kid with the atom bomb. The Manhattan Project, I think it was."

Several hours later, a still-nervous Wood hacked his way through the white- capped waves of Eagle Creek Reservoir and held on to finish third in his single sculls semifinal in 7 minutes, 28.62 seconds. Wood, at 34 the oldest single-sculler in the field, thus advances to today's final.

Though he had the slowest time of any of the six finalists, there was a smile on his face as he rowed by the spectators beach on the way back to the launching dock. Racing, he would say later, is the acid test of rowing, and it seemed at that moment that he had passed some kind of test.

"Way to go, Tiff," someone shouted.

"Our hero," said another.

"You did it, Tiff," said John Biglow, who beat out Wood as the Olympic single sculler in 1984. Biglow yesterday finished sixth in his heat.

"Tiff," shouted Wood's wife, Kristy. "I can't believe you qualified."

Along the shore the sentiment was heavy for Wood, but then it is difficult to know his history and not root for the man. Fresh from one of Harry Parker's finest Harvard crews, he made the Olympic team as a spare in 1976 but did not row a stroke. He expected that 1980 would be his year, and he trained and sacrificed to prepare. When the boycott came, he was crushed, and he took some pride in the fact that at a reception for the would-be Olympic team, he refused to shake the hand of President Jimmy Carter.

After he won the bronze in the World Championships in 1983, it was generally acknowledged in the rowing world that Wood would be the favorite in the single sculls at the Olympic trials. But he was beaten by Biglow and subsequently bounced from boat to boat in ensuing trials, emerging finally as the Olympic spare. Once again he did not row a stroke.

His pain was documented in detail in David Halberstam's book The Amateurs, which was published the year after the Olympics. By that time, Wood had ceased rowing competitively, soured by his experience at the Olympic camp. His love for rowing, however, did not diminish.

"But I would that say I'd have a very hard time going to a camp again," said Wood, who is from Boston.

He devoted more of his time to his consulting business and less to rowing, until about a year ago this spring.

"I found I enjoyed training, with no real particular purpose," Wood said. ''And I found that I missed it. I never really stopped completely. Nobody ever does."

And so he worked out last summer and was pleasantly surprised when he finished fourth in the single sculls at the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston in October.

His business occupied him again until February, when he began serious training again, this time with a more specific purpose. Though he says that he ''is keeping his expectations under control," he would like to place well enough in today's final to qualify for the Pan-American games in August.

"I think 90 percent of rowing is the conditioning," he said. "Stamina, strength and conditioning. If anything, I'm a little better technically than I was before, it's just that the miles aren't there."

There is the possibility that Wood will try for a fourth Olympics - his expectations firmly under control, of course.

"I'm going to wait and see what happens," he said. Minutes later, a woman came around to collect the names of athletes interested in the Olympic festival in Durham, N.C., an event that is considered a training ground for aspiring young Olympic athletes.

"Are you interested, Tiff?" she wondered.

"Take me," he said. "Choose me, please."

*

Penn AC added two more titles to its growing coffer by winning the elite men's straight four and the men's pair-with-coxswain, in addition to a slew of other medals in lightweight, senior and intermediate men's events. Those performances put the Penn AC in a nearly unbeatable position to win the Barnes Trophy, awarded for the overall points title.

After the morning's final results had been totaled, Penn AC led the New York Athletic Club, 179.5-74.75, with the Vesper Boat Club in third place with 65 points.

The defending world champion Penn AC straight four of Ted Swinford, Dan Lyons, John Riley and Bob Espeseth collected its second gold medal in as many days. They captured the straight four in 6:05.05. The four - along with cox Karla Eastberg - had won the four-with-cox event on Friday.

The Vesper straight four of Michael Teti, John Strotbeck, Dave Anderson and John Pescatore was second yesterday in 6:08.07.

Penn AC's "A" boat of John Walters, Kirk Bausbeck and cox Steve Shellans finished first in the elite men's pair-with-cox in 7:14.6. They were followed by the Penn AC "B" boat of John Kissick, Ed Ives and cox Jon Fish, which finished in 7:18.2. Vesper was third in 7:57.1

In other races, Penn AC's John Pinkel won a bronze medal in the intermediate lightweight men's single sculls race in a time of 7:34.1, while the Penn AC "A" boat won the senior men's eight in 5:41.66. They were followed by the Penn AC "B" boat in 5:47.43.

Paul Worthington and Ted Trocky combined to secure a bronze medal for the Penn AC entry in the senior lightweight men's double in 6:57.09, while the Penn AC "A" boat was first in the intermediate men's four-with-cox in a time of 6:36.4. Penn AC "B" finished in second place in 6:41.8.

Penn AC's Michael Fountain was third in the intermediate men's single in 7:35.77. In the intermediate lightweight men's eight, Vesper was second in 6:09.94, followed by Undine in 6:11.24.

Friday, Penn AC collected an additional pair of silver medals in junior events. The lightweight men's four-with-cox of Bill Jaeger, Jim Hankee, Eric Hoyer, Greg Shawaryn and Matt Kelly was second in 5:11.25, and Mike Feliton and Mike Giuntuli were second in the junior men's pair in 5:32.96.

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