Big Green rowers face tough competition at 2016 U-23 Worlds

by Gayne Kalustian | 9/23/16 12:15am

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Walter Banfield ’17 competed in the men’s lightweight single sculls at the U-23 Worlds.

Three members of the Big Green rowing family, Walter Banfield ’17, Bobby Moffitt ’16 and men’s heavyweight head coach Wyatt Allen, skipped the pond at the end of August to compete at the 2016 World Rowing Under 23 Championships in the Netherlands. Banfield rowed the men’s lightweight single sculls, his third appearance at Worlds, while both Moffitt and Allen represented the Big Green — and the United States — in the men’s eight. In his third appearance as a coach at Worlds, Allen took on a new role as the lead coach of the eight. Moffitt sat in the bow, a departure from his role in the middle crew at Dartmouth.

Banfield finished last in the C final, situating himself and the U.S. in the 18th spot out of the 27 original competing countries. Allen’s team, which included Moffitt, took 10th place in a field of 13, missing the A final by over five seconds. All three said the finishes were disappointing, but it was Moffitt who took a more optimistic stance.

“We walked away with kind of a bitter taste in our mouths,” Moffitt said. “We didn’t perform up to our own expectations. We wanted to be on the medal stand, but we fell short of that. But I mean the competition was pretty stiff, and we felt like when we were there we put out a good effort.”

Moffitt has reason for his optimism. Despite finishing 10th, his rise turned heads, earning him an invitation to train with the U.S. Senior National team in Princeton, N.J. Moffitt will be making the move soon to test the viability of Senior National — and possibly Olympic — dreams. Though he’s rowed for years, the move to the international stage is new for Moffitt.

The recent graduate appeared at Worlds for the first time in his career this year, setting a goal for himself during his junior year at Dartmouth. He trained nonstop until this summer, when he finally was invited to the selection camp for the heavyweight team run by his own college coach, Allen. While Moffitt felt he had an advantage at the camp, which was held in Hanover, Allen said it meant Moffitt had more to prove.

“When you run the selection, you have to be very transparent, especially when it’s one of your own athletes,” Allen said. “You have to be very clear that they earned their way to the boat.”

Years of hard work culminated in Moffitt’s selection for the eight­ — the priority boat. He trained in Hanover under the tutelage of Allen, a nine-time national team member and two-time Olympian. Moffitt lived in Lord Hall for a month while he and the seven other members of the boat attempted to achieve cohesion. Bringing together eight rowers, mostly from different teams, was one of the biggest challenges this team, and every rowing team, faced, he said.

Moffitt noted the need to change the athletes’ various rowing techniques into a uniform stroke that would propel the team ahead of its opponents.

“It was really hard to decide how do we get that uniformity,” he said.

The team decided to focus on implementing a stroke that involved driving their legs and swinging their bodies through as a cohesive unit, Moffitt added. The swing, he said, is another major aspect that was different for each person.

Eventually, Moffitt ended up in the bow, a change that gave him the opportunity to emphasize his technique. While at Dartmouth, he was one of the larger and stronger rowers and therefore was placed in the middle of the boat. On the international stage, he wound up being on the smaller side, moving to a more technical position in the boat.

Banfield’s experience could not have been more divergent from Moffitt’s, racing a single and training in Seattle with his old coach from high school, Richard Lawrence. Banfield arrived in the Netherlands having trained for 12 months straight through a combination of rowing for Dartmouth in an eight and cultivating his own skill in a single. Singles rowers are chosen from a straight time trial, which is different from that of the eights, which were determined through a selection process while attending a special rowing camp. In singles, the best rower goes and for Banfield, his first place finish was enough to send him to Worlds for the second time as an under 23.

Rowing in an eight and rowing in a single are completely different experiences, according to Banfield.

“In some ways there’s a lot more pressure, and in some ways there’s a lot less,” Banfield said. “You’re just out there doing your thing, but the races take a lot longer, can be harder.”

Because he is the only athlete racing in a single scull, Banfield said he realizes “at the end of the day it’s all on you.”

“I’d say I screwed up, just wasn’t fast enough...might have been adjusting wrong,” he said.

Back at Dartmouth, Banfield has less clear visions of his future as a rower. The senior is looking for jobs, applying for fellowships and still deciding if he wants to try to go pro. He knows it would be tough to balance working and training for such a rigorous sport. For now, he said, he will see what his options are and go from there.