Friday, September 7, 2012

Understanding boat selection in USRowing

I have been asked many times how the USRowing boats are selected, mainly because the process seems unfair. So to date, subject to change, this is how it goes:

In USRowing there are two systems that are the same for the men and women's team:
1. Camp Selection
2. Trial Selection

-with some overlap of training support and centers in between.

The distinction of Olympic and Non-Olympic events are also treated differently.

All small boats are trial selection: 1x, 2x, 2- (lightweight & openweight).
Big boats are camp selection: 4x, 8-, M4- and LM4-. But the lightweight quads and women's four fall into trial selection because they are Non-Olympic events.
Thus funded, Olympic, trial events racing at NSR are: W1x, M1x, W2x, M2x, LW2x, LM2x, W2-, M2-.
Unfunded, non-Olympic, trial events racing at Senior Trials are: LW1x, LM1x, LM2-, W4-, LW4x, LM4x, LM8-.
Funded Olympic camp events named by the coaches are: W4x, M4x, M4-, LM4-, W8-, M8-.

Camp selection means the national team coach is picking all the seats. Athletes are required to train together at a USRowing supported venue, such as Princeton, San Diego or Oklahoma City and most expenses like coaching, training venue, equipment and training center gear is covered. There is also an athlete income for most of the rowers in in the camp selection.

In trial selection, athletes are free to pick partners, coaches and a training place. However they, personally or through their club will need to cover all costs for this. In trial selection to be on the national team you need to win the final at NSR or senior trials. It's a great cowboy-maverick approach where you row, train, race all on your own, wherever you want, and with who ever you want, coached by who ever you chose. If your event is Olympic, then your hotel, flights, coach and equipment will be paid for when you go race the World Cups and World Championships after winning the NSR. You also start to earn a little monthly income that is helpful with health care benefits. However, if your event is Non-Olympic, then after you are named to the national team from winning the senior trials you need to pay for everything when you go race at World Cups or World Champs (hotel, flight, boats, coach, equipment rental, transport). And there is no income or health insurance. So when I'm raising funds for my lightweight single I sometimes feel like a starving beggar, palms open, happy with any scraps spared.

USRowing has limited liability as they are a non-profit, organizing federation. Thus their endeavors of goodwill are scrutinized to buffoonery because they have to compete as a governing body against professional federations with government funding. And whilst rowing is revered for its amateur status in the United States (going for the dream with no financial gains) it doesn't make a culture of winning sustainable. Its a random diamond in the rough moment with great stories.

Further the USA is the only country that is governed by a law called the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. It says that athletes cannot be denied opportunity. At our national team trials there is no selection procedure based on results. Absolutely anyone can enter and race.
"No member of the corporation may deny or threaten to deny any amateur athlete the opportunity to participate in 
    • the Olympic Games, 
    • the Pan American Games, 
    • the Paralympic Games, 
    • a World Championship competition, or 
    • other such protected competition as defined in Section 1.3 of these Bylaws..."
Further or firstly, this Act also grants legal monopoly status to the USOC, a non-profit corporation, which is in turn empowered to recognize other corporations (e.g., USRowing) as "National Governing Bodies" (NGBs) for their respective sports. All stay non-profits. In 1998 the Act was modified to include arbitration requirements imposed on NGBs for conflict resolution in athlete grievances.

A wonderful concept in principle, just like a non-profit rowing federation. But in reality these things make achieving medals in rowing that little bit harder. Teams and selections in the USA are done at the very last moments. With no platform for development the trial boat athletes will rather continue in their self-selected boats with their partners and setup, because they have invested so much outside resources into in. In other words, if your 2x is not meeting up to the speed checks in racing, athletes rather just stick it out because the options to go back to a base with other athletes to retest is not in place. If this way of thinking was in place, it might mean that the athlete might not end up on the team. So there is pressure to decide between making the team or doing what ever makes the boat faster, even at your expense.

Coaches too get the chance to go to world cups as paid USRowing coaches if they are named by the athletes in Olympic trial boats. Athletes have the capacity to name family or friends as their ‘coach’ to join them at international rowing venues, paid for by USRowing. If your event is non-Olympic, athletes must factor in their fundraising monies, paying for the coach as well as themselves.

So fair or not, this is the process. It has a short term focus. Athletes are required to pick their boat and race in that selected event only. Athletes in small boats trials are not in a squad and the possibility of changing boats or partners is not possible. This process runs on eligibility instead of selection. It is more about filling the team than making selection decisions based on competition results. In business, if after 3 years you don't show profit, your business is termed a hobby. Could this be applied to 3 years, or 3 races without a result, does that then start looking like a hobby?

No comments:

Post a Comment