Phil Sheridan: Teti takes U.S. men's eight from disarray to within 0.3 seconds of bronze

Posted: August 02, 2012

LONDON - After a year of rowing uphill, it was no surprise Mike Teti's crew of eight found itself in last place among six boats in the Olympic gold-medal race.

They had been playing catch-up all along - failing to qualify for the Games until the last possible race, assembling a brand-new boat from a cattle call of athletes - so this was a familiar feeling.

"Not a great start," said Teti, the rowing legend from Upper Darby, Monsignor Bonner High, and Temple University. "They were out of the race, and then they got back in it."

His handpicked rowers handled it the way they handle everything - by rowing harder. The field was bunched up, all within a boat-length of leader Germany. It was "deafening" to be in the middle of the maelstrom, Drexel alumnus Steve Kasprzyk said.

"There's not a lot of room for thinking," Kasprzyk said. "It's just go. It's hard to really know what's going on."

"I think everybody saw where we were," Will Miller said, "and we just decided to fight."

The U.S. boat passed the highly ranked Australians. It passed the Netherlands eight. It pulled up virtually even with Britain as both crossed the finish line.

"It took a couple of seconds, at least, for the results to come up," Miller said.

When they did, the Americans learned they had finished three-tenths of a second behind the Brits. Three-tenths of a second from a bronze medal.

"That," Miller said, "was tough."

"It is tough we weren't able to get on the podium," Kasprzyk said, "but I'm still proud of the guys. I'm proud of the way we fought back the last 1,500 [meters]."

To row for Teti is to fight. That's why U.S. Rowing brought him in. The men's eight, with its long Olympic tradition, was in disarray. There was a very real chance the Americans wouldn't be represented here at all. Teti took about 40 rowers to a camp and let them fight it out for positions on the boat.

That's how Kasprzyk wound up in the No. 6 seat.

"I didn't know Steve as well," Teti said. "I knew his name, but I didn't know of him being on the team before. He was one of the last guys invited to the selection. He came in, and once we started racing, he was winning all the time. He made his way into the boat, and he's been a big contributor. He's in the key seat, the sixth seat.

"And it's great to have a Philly guy in there. It makes me feel closer to home."

Teti is now the head coach at the University of California, a long way from Boathouse Row. This was all supposed to be behind the 55-year-old. His Olympic career was written in ink: three Games as a rower, including a bronze in the men's eight in Seoul in 1988; four Games as a coach, including a gold medal in Athens and a bronze in Beijing.

But when the men's eight finished eighth - and more important, out of Olympic qualifying - at the 2011 world championships, Teti's phone rang.

He had revived the men's eight before. Would he do it again?

"It wasn't so much a shake-up," Teti said. "It was more like, 'Could you come and help this group?' If they wanted me to try to help, I wanted to do it. I'm American. I root for the U.S., and especially the eight. I wanted to be helpful."

The big mistake at the tryout camp was not selling it to television as a reality show. Rowers took turns in different combinations and were gradually eliminated. On April 30, Teti named an eight-man crew with only two rowers - twin brothers Grant and Ross James - who were in the boat for the world championships.

This brand-new eight won the last possible qualifying meet in Switzerland in May. Their third race ever was the Olympic qualifying heat on Saturday. Their fourth was Wednesday's final.

"This is probably the closest eight final, at least in my memory," Teti said. "I've never seen six boats within a length of each other, and I've been in a few of them."

Six coxswains shouting, 48 oars slapping the huge man-made lake at Eton Dorney, the roar from thousands of fans in the bleachers on each side - it was 500 meters of chaos followed by a few seconds of uncertainty. Ultimately, it added up to 0.3 seconds short of a medal.

"I wanted them to win a medal for them," Teti said. "They've come a long way. A couple tenths here, a couple tenths there, and you're on the right side. But you can't argue with the effort. The way they fought back is a testament to these guys."

And to the way they were coached.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster, and read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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