Moments before dropping their boat in the water for the 2004 Olympic men’s eight rowing final, coxswain Pete Cipollone and his crew benefited from the inspiring words of an Olympic legend.
“Hey, I heard you guys are going for the gold today,” said Carl Lewis, winner himself of nine gold medals. “Look, forget about the other stuff. Go enjoy it!”
Lewis’ simple wisdom calmed the crew’s collective nerves, and the Americans shook off the memories of 2000 in Sydney, where Cipollone recalled “the wheels came off” in a disappointing fifth-place finish for the heavily favored squad.
In 2004, however, the U.S. men’s eight team rowed to an easy victory in the Athens sunlight.
“The next thing we knew, we had on our gold medals,” said San Francisco resident Cipollone, who ended up wet as tradition dictates that the winning team throws in its coxswain. “That was the best toss ever.”
Taking a page perhaps from the track and field icon Lewis, the second-generation coxswain stepped away from the sport after the gold-medal experience.
“I couldn’t imagine a better way to go out. In a span of eight days, we set the world record and won the gold medal,” Cipollone said. “When we hit that finish line in Athens, it was over.”
As president of the board of directors of U.S. Rowing, Cipollone remains heavily involved in the sport.
He is proud of the large contingent of Bay Area oarsmen that will represent the U.S. this summer in London, particularly his fellow Cal graduates.
Cal alumnus Erin Cafaro and Stanford grad Elle Logan are out to defend the 2008 gold medal in the women’s eight, one of the eight events — there is a total of 14 Olympic rowing events — for which the U.S. has already qualified.
At the final Olympic qualification regatta May 20-23 in Lucerne, Switzerland, the U.S. men’s eight hope to gain entry to this year’s Olympics. Cal alumni Nareg Guregian and Zach Vlahos, Stanford products David Banks and Jake Cornelius and Santa Rosa native Silas Stafford are all in competition for the coveted seats in that boat.
With only three months remaining until the torch is lit in London, Cipollone eagerly awaits the opportunity to assume his place in the spectator’s seat rather than the coxswain’s perch.
“I’m really excited for this generation of athletes,” Cipollone said. “The Olympic experience is something that you never forget.”
At look at Olympic rowing hopefuls from the Bay Area:
- Nareg Guregian (Cal grad)
- Silas Stafford (Santa Rosa native)
- Kara Kohler (Cal student)
- Julie Nichols (Cal grad)
- Erin Cafaro (Cal grad)
- Elle Logan (Stanford grad)
- David Banks (Stanford grad)
- Jake Cornelius (Stanford grad)
- Kate Bertko (Oakland native)
- Scott Gault (Piedmont native)
- Zach Vlasos (Cal grad)