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Row With Champions

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From The Norwalk Hour:
July 20, 2012

New Canaan High School graduate Charlie Cole is a member of that select group.

Cole, who turned 26 a month ago Saturday, will join Scott Gault (Piedmont, Calif.), Henrik Rummel (Pittsford, N.Y.) and Glenn Ochal (Philadelphia) in the Men’s Four boat that will compete for the United States in the Games of the XXX Olympiad, which begin with the opening ceremonies in London July 27.

“Certainly I am happy that the coaches selected me for the 4,” Cole said via e-mail while training in Germany. “At the start of last year (September, 2011) the men’s sweep group consisted of about 30 guys going for the 4 and the 8, the two priority boats on the ‘heavy men’s’ side. As the year progressed, the coaches cut the group down but kept me around for the 4. It was up to the coaches. It wasn’t until we were named as a crew in June that I was told I would be going to the Olympics in the 4.”

Those coaches include Tim McLaren, the head coach for U.S. men’s rowing, men’s assistant coach Cam Kiosoglous, and Bryan Volpenhein, men’s lightweight head coach.

Not surprisingly, McLaren brings the most Olympic experience to the coaching staff, having won silver for the U.S. at Los Angeles in 1984 in quadruple sculls, as well as coaching the men’s double sculls in Beijing.
“Bryan coaches the lightweight men, whereas Tim coaches the heavyweight men,” Cole said. “Tim is coaching the 4, Cam is coaching the quad, and Bryan is coaching the lightweight 4. Tim has been in charge of the 4 all year, so he managed the selection process.”

All the Olympic rowing races will take place at Eton Dorney, the nickname for the site’s official name: Eton College Rowing Centre at Dorney Lake.

Since the Stockholm Games of 1912, all races are competed over a 2,000-meter course. Women’s rowing was introduced at Montreal in 1976 at 1,000 meters, and it took until 1988 in Seoul for their races to reach the current distance.

As far as single nations go, the United States leads the Olympics in total rowing medals with 84 (31 gold, 31 silver and 22 bronze), although a conglomeration of four different Germanys that have competed in the Games have brought home 116 total medals, including a gold-medal best 33 for the former East Germany.
One of those American medalists, Norwalk’s Dan Walsh, was an early influence on Cole. Walsh earned bronze as part of the men’s eight in Beijing.

“I started rowing at age 12,” Cole said. “I was looking for a fall sport and rowing was just getting started as a varsity sport at New Canaan (High School), so I thought I would give it a try. I rowed out of Maritime Rowing Club (in Norwalk) for Yan Vengerovskiy.”

With Walsh as a local inspiration, Cole kept pushing through some early struggles.

“It was pretty challenging early on, but I stuck with it as I made progress,” Cole said. “As I got better I enjoyed that improvement, and I wanted to keep improving. When I was starting, Dan Walsh was rowing on the national team and was making a bid for his first Olympics (in 2004). He was a spare in 2004, and was in the bronze medal 8 in 2008. Dan’s success showed how far you could go in the sport.”

Cole began having success on both the national and international levels in 2003, when he took bronze in the quadruple scull at the USRowing Youth Invitational, and earned silver in the 8 at the World Rowing Junior Championships. A year later it was bronze in the freshman 8 at the IRA Championships, and a fifth-place finish in the 8 at the World Rowing Junior Championships.

In 2006, Cole was sixth in the varsity 8 at the IRAs, and he placed 14th in the quadruple sculls at the World Rowing Under-23 Championships. The following year came a silver medal in the varsity 8 at the Eastern Sprints, along with a fourth-place finish in the 8 at the World Rowing Under-23s.

Cole’s first gold came in 2008 in the 8 at the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race, as did more gold in the 8 at the World Rowing Under-23s that year.

Wins in 2009 in the pairs at the USRowing Speed Order, the pairs at the National Selection Regatta #1, and the same event at the National Selection Regatta #2 went along with taking seventh in the pair at the Rowing World Cup in Banyoles, a bronze in the pair at World Cup in Lucerne, and a fifth in the pair at the World Rowing Championships.

First-place finishes came more frequently in 2010, as Cole won the pair at the National Selection Regatta #1, won the pair in the same event at the National Selection Regatta #2, won the pair at the USRowing National Championships, and finished fourth in the pair at the National Selection Regatta #3, while also taking sixth in the 8 at the World Rowing Championships.

In 2011, Cole earned USRowing’s Athlete of the Year honors for winning the pair at the National Selection Regatta #2, reaching the finals of the Stewards Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta, taking bronze in the four at the Rowing World Cup in Lucerne, and placing fourth in the 4 at the World Rowing Championships.
Cole never let his studies slip as his rowing skill escalated, earning his bachelor of arts degree from Yale University in 2007, and his master’s of science in environmental policy from the University of Oxford a year later.

He and teammate Jake Cornelius — who will row on Eton Dorney in the Men’s 8 — began Milestone Academic Counseling together.

“Milestone was a project Jake and I started shortly after we arrived in Princeton in the fall of 2008,” Cole said of one of the nation team’s training centers. “We started working with our first student in the spring of 2009 out of the Princeton public library, and students’ homes, and it grew from there. It was a great opportunity for us to build a business from scratch and at the same time make a difference in students’ lives. By the time the men’s squad was relocated to San Diego in the fall of 2010, we were operating out of an office and had hired a full-time manager. We have had a few mangers come through since then, and they have combined to do an excellent job.”

The Olympics are not the only exciting upcoming event for Cole, as he plans to get married in the fall.
Before then, his parents, Rufus and Ann, and brothers Henry, 24, and Billy, 21, will be rooting for Cole, as he goes for gold a long way from New Canaan High School.