New Canaan’s Campbell, Cole ready to row in Rio
Published 10:26 am, Wednesday, August 10, 2016
New Canaan is a small, land-locked suburban town about 50 miles north of New York City.
It probably isn’t well known outside the Northeast, but this summer it will gain some national prominence as two residents compete for the United States National Rowing Team in the Rio Olympics representing their country, and, more specifically, their hometown.
While high school sports normally reign supreme in small-town New Canaan, residents can look to the international stage this summer as two of its own will represent America.
“Seeing it all come together is especially meaningful to me given how things turned out in the past,” said the 24-year-old Campbell, who narrowly missed qualifying for the 2012 Olympics in London. “I’m so grateful to compete for my country, for all the support from coaches, donors, everyone who has backed me on the way here, I feel a great responsibility to represent them all well in Rio.”
Not qualifying in 2012 has made Campbell compete with a chip on his shoulder.
THE ANDREW CAMPBELL JR. FILE
HIGHLIGHTS: Won lightweight singles Under 23 World Championship in 2013 and 2014….. Won the lightweight double sculls at the 2016 Olympic & Paralympic Team Trials…..Won the lightweight double sculls at the 2015 National Selection Regatta 1…Won the lightweight single sculls at the 2014 World Championship Trials…Won the lightweight single sculls at the 2014 Under 23 World Championship Trials…Won the lightweight single sculls at the 2013 World Championships Trial
THE CHARLIE COLE FILE
HIGHLIGHTS: USRowing 2011 Athlete of the Year…Won Bronze in 2012 Olympics… Won the pair at the 2014 National Selection Regatta 1...Won the pair in the 2014 Fall Speed Order...Won the pair at the 2014 Senior 2 World Championships Trials
But he almost didn’t compete, after coming within a second of qualifying in 2012 Campbell questioned if he even wanted to continue rowing.
“The thought (of quitting) definitely crossed my mind,” Campbell said. “This is a hard sport and the training requires intense dedication and can be very unpleasant at times. It’s straight-up painful to train for a power-endurance sport like this so the thought of giving up did occur to me, but I decided I did enjoy it enough to make the day-to-day training enjoyable.”
The biggest factor in Campbell’s decision to keep rowing was his college team.
After rowing his freshman year at Harvard, Campbell took a year off to train for the Olympics, but upon his return to the Crimson he realized that training with a larger team of like-minded rowers lessened the sting and motivated him to get better.
“Coming back to a big squad is fun,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of supportive guys, a lot of people to train hard with and that is really what drew me back into the sport.”
Cole, 30, also had a decision to make if he too wanted to train and compete in Rio.
As a member of the Olympic team in London Cole rowed with the men’s four boat and took home a bronze medal, also winning USRowing’s Athlete of the Year award in 2011.
“It wasn’t a gold medal, but to be on the podium is pretty special in the Olympics,” Cole said. “And that made it all worth it.”
After getting married in 2012, shortly after his return from London, Cole moved to New York City to be with his wife Catherine.
Then, at age 26, he knew he would have to start a career of some sort, and he worked for a year and a half , training by himself at home before the itch to return to the water became too intense to resist.
“From the moment we crossed the finish line in 2012, I knew I wanted to come back for more,” Cole said. “It was a positive experience, I thought I was just scratching the surface and I was pretty sure I wanted to do it again.”
Cole feels he’s stronger than ever, and while it meant putting his career on hold for a little longer, he was willing to make that sacrifice.
“I think I’m the best I’ve ever been as an athlete and have some pretty great teammates, so I’m excited to cap it off,” Cole said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen after this, it’s unlikely that I row again. I’m old as rowers go but I’m in an incredible spot to race for a gold medal and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Campbell and Cole both credited their starts to the Maritime Rowing Club, in South Norwalk, and husband and wife coaches Yan and Olga Vengerovsky.
The couple, who emigrated to the United States in the 1990s from Russia run the Maritime Club and the New Canaan High School rowing team, where both Campbell and Cole became acclimated to life in the boat.
“These particular coaches are very special and they both came up in the Soviet National Team system, so they run a Soviet-style training program,” Campbell said. “They pushed me very hard from a young age and there was always a standard of excellence that they held and expected out of us.”
Campbell moved to New Canaan from the Chicago area when he was in fifth grade. After sailing in Chicago he knew he wanted to continue in the water, leading him to rowing where he would eventually win a championship at New Canaan High School under the Vengerovskys.
Cole started slightly later than Campbell; looking for a fall sport at New Canaan High School he joined up while rowing was still in its infancy in the state, and is impressed with how far the sport has come since he started.
“At the time it was a pretty basic program,” Cole said. “Now there are three or four based just on the Norwalk River, there’s a program in Westport, there’s two programs in Greenwich on the Mianus River and there’s programs in Fairfield; so now there are programs wherever there’s water and there’s hundreds of kids at each place rowing. When I was there it was a few boats, a couple rowing machines and a garage and there were a lot of kids doing it but it was pretty basic, it wasn’t very competitive.”
Those rowing machines actually proved to be Cole’s ticket into high-level competitive rowing.
Twice a year rowers are tested on the machines, with the standard distances being 2000 and 6000 meters. It was there, without the variables of the water, that Cole molded himself into an Olympic-caliber athlete.
In between his junior and senior years of high school Cole grew two inches and gained 20 pounds. He was invited to a junior men’s camp and honed his skills at Yale University before competing with the national team that would go on to race in Athens a year before the 2008 Summer Games as a test run for the Olympic team.
“I made the junior men’s eight in Athens and we won silver,” Cole said. “And I thought being able to compete and race and be successful at that level, well, I’ll keep going and see if I can be successful at the next level.”
Campbell’s place on the team came from adaptation.
In high school Campbell didn’t make the men’s four boat, so he started rowing singles.
“There were the top four guys and I was the fifth man so I went to singles,” Campbell said. “Then around my junior year of high school I started to see the results of some hard work I’d been putting in and things started to take off. Senior year I competed a lot in singles and showed some good results; it was towards the end of high school where I started getting ideas that this is something I could do at a very high level.”
And he has, going on to finish first in both 2013 and 2014 Under-23 World Rowing Championships.
As the torch is lit in Rio, both Campbell, the young man who battled his way onto to the team four years after being left behind, and Cole, the veteran looking for one last shot at Olympic glory, look to make not just the country, but also New Canaan proud.
“It’s a deeper field than London,” Cole said. “There’s more crews that have a chance to medal, there’s more that have a chance to win so it’s going to be tougher to be successful there than it was in London. It’s the fun part now, it’s a four year winding road and you’re not sure if you’re ever going to get there and you’re not sure if it’s all worth it but here we are coming up on what we’ve been training for and man, it’s exciting.”