Olympic rowing dream ends for Gennaro and Otto

St. Joseph's Prep grad Michael Gennaro (left) and Robert Otto finished second in the U.S. Olympic Qualifier men's pair final on Mercer Lake.
St. Joseph's Prep grad Michael Gennaro (left) and Robert Otto finished second in the U.S. Olympic Qualifier men's pair final on Mercer Lake. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 15, 2012

WEST WINDSOR, N.J. - Michael Gennaro's boat needed to catch up. He knew it from the start, he said.

But he and his partner, Robert "Ty" Otto, couldn't do it. They faced a strong headwind on Mercer Lake, and some of the best rowers in the nation. They needed the leaders to slow down, to wear out even as an Olympic dream fueled every boat for 2,000 meters.

The leaders didn't slow down or wear out, though. Tom Peszek and Silas Stafford stayed ahead for the entire race, finishing first at the four-team U.S. Olympic Qualifier men's pair final. Peszek and Stafford completed the course in 7 minutes, 14 seconds on Thursday, a day when the wind pushed into the face of each competitor.

Gennaro, a St. Joseph's Prep alumnus, and Otto, a University of Washington grad, were the next team to cross the finish line, about five seconds behind the leaders.

"When you spot someone a lead like that, in a small boat, in an Olympic trial, it's going to be really hard to take back," Gennaro said. "In any race, it's hard to take back. But when those guys know they have the lead and the winners get to go to the Olympics, they're not going to give it up."

Gennaro said he and Otto have been rowing together almost every day since August. They competed for the country's under-23 team. Then, they rowed at the Pan-American Games. And in November, both began training for the Olympic Eights team.

Like many teams at the pairs qualifier this week, Gennaro and Otto focused on Thursday's event after Olympic team officials cut them from the eight-man squad. Gennaro said he and Otto complemented each other.

They've rowed together a lot in the last year, and they're both 23 years old, born just 10 days apart. Plus, Gennaro and Otto are good friends. That, Gennaro said, was the most important factor in their success. They had good chemistry in the boat because they also did on land.

And yet on Thursday, all of their similarities and training and chemistry didn't make up the five-second difference between themselves and the team of Peszek, a standout at Michigan, and Stafford, a Stanford grad.

"That's something we're going to be thinking about for a long, long time," Gennaro said. "That's something we're going to be thinking about the next time we're in a workout or we're thinking twice about getting up early."

Gennaro, who graduated from Syracuse last year, said he doesn't have a Plan B. This year's goal: Olympics or bust. He said he's disappointed, sad, embarrassed. After the race Thursday, his list of summer plans stopped after the first item at hand.

"I'm going to go drink about 65 beers right now," he joked. "I'm definitely going to keep rowing. I'm not sure what the next opportunity is, but I'm sure something will come up. I don't intend on retiring anytime soon. But all I have is a short-term plan to go have some drinks."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@philly.com.

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