One-on-One with heavyweight rowing coach Wyatt Allen

Allen won a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics, a bronze at the 2008 Summer Olympics and is entering his seventh season as the head coach of the Dartmouth heavyweight rowing team.

by Vikram Strander | 8/6/21 2:05am

With the end of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics nearing, the Big Green is celebrating its community of world-class athletes. Men’s heavyweight rowing head coach Wyatt Allen is no stranger to the Games. Having competed in the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2008 Beijing Olympics and taking home the gold medal and world record for men’s rowing in 2004, Allen has a plethora of experience succeeding at the highest level of competitive rowing.

The Dartmouth spoke with Allen about his involvement, training and life while at the Olympics, as well as Allen’s continued passion for rowing within his current position as a collegiate coach.

The interview has been ordered into two main sections. The first section focuses on the Olympics, specifically Allen’s journey to gold. The second section talks about Allen’s choice for coaching and why he chose Dartmouth.

The Olympics

What was it like training and competing at the Olympics? How did it differ from collegiate training?

WA: When you’re training as an elite athlete after you graduate from college, certainly, both the volume and the intensity is raised. And that’s because you have more time to train and you have more time to recover. I mean, our Dartmouth guys train anywhere from two to three and a half hours a day. When they’re not training, they’re typically either in the classroom or doing schoolwork or eating —  their days are packed full. We’re just not able to train them quite as much, and they’re not able to recover as much as they would need to, or devote as much time and energy to recovery as they would need to in order to train at that level. That’s the main difference. 

How did it feel to win gold in 2004 in Athens — while also setting a world record? 

WA: It was obviously awesome. We hadn’t done that regatta. It was a fairly untested combination since we hadn’t raced together internationally, but we knew we were fast from the times we were pulling in practice back in New Jersey. We hadn’t tested ourselves against actual competition. It was almost surreal. I almost didn’t process it until a few days or even a week or two after the Olympic final.

How did you maintain your training between 2004 and 2008? 

WA: I think the important piece was that Olympic rowers had good living and training situations for those eight years in preparation for the games. I was able to live in Princeton and Europe. Six out of those eight years, I had a full-time job, so I was able to support myself and do so while being able to train at a high level. So in that regard, I felt really fortunate. The big thing that made training at that level sustainable was I loved doing what I was doing. I was passionate about the sport and trying to compete at the highest level for the entire time I was doing it. And then I was surrounded by awesome teammates, and that just made it fun to go to the boathouse every day. 

What were the biggest differences between competing in Athens vs. Beijing? 

WA: To me, the locations of the two Olympics didn't really impact things. I think the approach was very similar between the two Olympic Games. I was going with the same coach; we were based out of Princeton — that's where the training center was located — and we spent the winters in Chula Vista, so the training was very similar. You know, the big difference was it was a different group of guys in 2004 than in 2008. That sort of changes the complexion and personalities involved, but in terms of the way we prepared, it was very similar.

Coaching at Dartmouth

What made you want to coach for Dartmouth? 

WA: I came to Dartmouth because I saw an opportunity to rebuild a program in a place that had everything we needed to be successful, and that’s everything from a great boathouse to a great body of water. And we just did the renovation of the boathouse to add the indoor training space with the moving water tank, so it really is one of the best training centers in the country. We’ve got an incredible education and academic reputation to recruit with. And then we have an athletic administration and a group of alums that are fully behind the program. I came here because I wanted to build this program at Dartmouth into a national powerhouse, and we’ve come a long way. We still haven’t reached the full potential of this place, but we’ve had a great couple of years, and this past year, in particular, I think we showed what we’re capable of on a yearly basis.

But I think as far as our rowing programs, our goal is to perform on the race course for Dartmouth, but we also want to be a program that produces national team rowers and Olympians. We want our guys to leave our program with the boat-moving skills and the erg scores and hopefully the competitive resume to make them candidates for the national team in the Olympics. And I think another important piece of that is leaving the Dartmouth rowing programs with a passion for the sport and a desire to do it at the next level.

What has it been like coaching the Dartmouth team with little competition due to COVID-19?

WA: We were really fortunate to have a big group of guys on campus in the fall. And then we had a big group of guys on campus in the spring, and I thought that our sports medicine department and athletic administration did a lot of great things to help us get back out on the water and resume training — and then when the opportunity arose, to get out there and compete. Looking back over the year, there were a lot of challenges, but overall, I think our team was both fortunate to be able to compete and train at a high level. I give the group of guys in the program a lot of credit for how they adapted and made the most of the situation, and it was awesome to see that pay off for them at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association races.

What are you most looking forward to this year?

WA: The thing I’m looking forward to most is having the entire team back in the boathouse training together. It’s really been a year and a half since we’ve been able to do that. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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