Rowing: Two Riverheaders reach the world stage

COURTESY PHOTO | Dylan Gould, left, and Ed O'Neill, both of Riverhead, qualified to compete in the 2,000-meter lightweight double sculls in the World Rowing Under-23 Championships.

Patience counts, even in the competitive world of national-class rowing.

About halfway through the 2,000-meter lightweight men’s double sculls race in the national under-23 trials last Wednesday, two boats were ahead of the one rowed by Dylan Gould and Ed O’Neill. A spot on the United States under-23 national team awaited the winning boat. But Gould and O’Neill, both of Riverhead, didn’t panic. They didn’t rush. They had a game plan, and they stuck to it.

At about the 1,250-meter mark, Gould and O’Neill went into sprint mode. “We just went as hard as we could,” said Gould.

They took the lead with some 500 meters remaining. By the time there were 200 meters left, “we knew we had it as long as we didn’t screw up,” said O’Neill.

They didn’t screw up.

Gould and O’Neill crossed the finish line at Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., in 6 minutes 37.54 seconds, winning by 3.2 seconds. In doing so, they became one of 15 crews that earned berths on the under-23 national team, and with it the right to represent the United States at the 2011 World Rowing Under-23 Championships that will be held July 21-24 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

“We made the international stage,” said O’Neill.

It has been quite a ride for the 19-year-old Cornell University rowers, who had rowed for Riverhead High School before being separated when Gould left for Cornell while O’Neill was still a high school senior. It wasn’t until last month that they were reunited at a training camp in Craftsbury Common, Vt. The value of the productive three weeks they spent at the Small Boat Training Center at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center became apparent at the national trials.

Rowers at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center aren’t allowed cell phones. It was only this year that Internet service was made available. The rural surroundings do not provide many distractions for rowers, who can focus on the task at hand.

“The situation at Craftsbury is as good as any training camp in America,” said the center’s director of competitive racing, Larry Gluckman, who saw six of the 10 rowers he brought to the trials win a place on the under-23 national team.

Gould and O’Neill said the Craftsbury experience benefitted them. Because they had sailed together in high school, O’Neill said the two had a “synergy” in the boat. They had originally trained to row a pair, which involves one oar per rower, before switching to the double, believing it offered them a better chance for success at the trials.

“They’re both analytical,” Gluckman said. “They think about their rowing a lot. They think about how to make the most of what they got. I think together, the sum is greater than the parts.”

Gould, who will enter his junior year at Cornell, and O’Neill, a sophomore, have also shown they have maturity. It was maturity that prevented them from going out too strong too early in the trials as their opponents might have done.

“I thought it was a very heady race,” Gluckman said. “They stayed calm. They knew they had 2,000 meters.”

Gould and O’Neill are in their sixth year of rowing, a sport that requires grueling training. The races are hardly a breeze, either. Rowers can be seen slumped over in their boats in total exhaustion after a race.

“At the end of a race, every muscle in your body is just surging with pain,” said Gould, who will celebrate his 20th birthday on July 12.

But winning a place on the under-23 national team — the biggest rowing achievement for both of them — eases the pain.

The two Riverheaders didn’t receive medals for their victory, but they were handed their national team uniforms.

“They look pretty sweet,” Gould said. “I’m not going to lie. I was pretty happy when I saw that red, white and blue with that USA emblem on there.”

Gould and O’Neill expected to train in Vermont for another 10 days or so before leaving July 15 for Amsterdam, where they will train before the world championships begin. With all they have accomplished, Gould and O’Neill know their work is not done.

“It’s great making the team and all, but it’s not the end,” O’Neill said. “It’s only the beginning. We have to go overseas and perform now.”

[email protected]