Five members of men’s heavyweight rowing race at the 2023 World Rowing U23 Championships

Members of the men’s heavyweight rowing team competed for the U.S., Great Britain and Australia, respectively.

by Caroline York | 7/28/23 1:05am

Source: Jacob Hudgins

From July 19 to 23, five members of the Big Green men’s heavyweight rowing team competed at the 2023 World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Jacob Hudgins ’23, Julian Thomas ’25 and Sammy Houdaigui ’25 competed for the United States, while Felix Rawlinson ’23 rowed for Great Britain and James Isles ’25 competed for Australia. Great Britain took home gold, the U.S. won silver, Germany captured bronze and Australia placed fourth in the Men’s Eight.

Hudgins and Thomas faced off against Rawlinson and Isles in the Men’s Eight. Houdaigui coxed the Men’s Coxed Four and took home third for the U.S with a time of 06:12.76.

Dartmouth hosted the three-week U23 Men’s Sweep Selection camp for the first time since 2015. While Hudgins, Thomas and Houdaigui trained at the camp in Hanover, Rawlinson trained in Caversham Lakes in his home country of the U.K., and Isles attended the Australian camp in Princeton, New Jersey. Thomas noted the appeal of rowing with athletes from different programs.

“It was really cool… it’s always fun getting to meet guys from different programs and rowing communities, and they’re all great guys,” Thomas said. “I honestly had a blast getting to meet new people and compete with guys who were super passionate about the same thing.”

Because of major flooding concerns in Hanover and surrounding areas on July 10, the U.S. selection camp relocated from Hanover to Boston, Massachusetts, where the team trained at Boston University for two days before traveling to Bulgaria. According to Houdaigui, this “adversity” strengthened the cohesion of the U.S. team. 

The U.S. team was coached by John Graves, former men’s heavyweight assistant coach and recently appointed head coach of women’s rowing, and Trevor Michelson, newly appointed head coach of the men’s lightweight team.

During the training camp, Graves and Michelson’s positions were announced. Thomas noted his “mix of emotions” to the news about Graves transferring to the women’s team.

“I don’t think [the announcement] impacted the way we responded to his coaching at all in the process,” Thomas said. “I'm incredibly happy for him and the opportunity that this is for him and his family, and I’m super excited to see what he does… I'm obviously very sad that he’s leaving us … It was nice that we went out on a note that we were all happy with.”

Hudgins and Thomas both brought experience to this year’s U.S. team. Thomas was named an alternate to last year’s U.S. team, and Hudgins has rowed for the U.S. U23 team three times. Despite his veteran status, Hudgins explained the stress of the event.

“It’s hard when you have a lot of pressure to execute your full capacity,” Hudgins said. “It’s easy to let the pressure get to you. We were really focusing on just staying calm, relaxed, loose and just driving the boat really hard for the first 250 meters.”

In the U23 Men’s Eight Heat 1, the U.S. finished third with a time of 05:37.95, behind Great Britain and Australia. Thomas elaborated on the performance.

“[In Heat 1], we were a new crew, we hadn’t raced together a lot and not a lot of us had race experience at U23s,” Thomas said. “I definitely think the heat was a ‘welcome to the league moment’ in the sense that it was definitely a step up of racing for a lot of us.”

After Heat 1, the U.S. took first in the Repechage race with a time of 05:38.64, which secured the team a spot in the Final A. The U.S. bested Australia to jump to second place in the Final A, with an best overall time in the championship of 5:28.90.

“I think actually losing in [Heat 1] helped us in the long run because we were able to go to the Repechage and get more experience as a crew, and we just all committed to the plan of just not dropping the intensity from stroke one until the end,” Thomas said.

Rawlinson noted the “surreal” feeling of claiming gold for Great Britain.

“Rowing for your country and doing worlds is a very hyped up thing … it’s the end goal of all the work you’ve been doing,” Rawlinson said. “I didn’t make the team last year, and …winning U23s has been my dream for the past three years.” 

Hudgins spoke to the importance of the U.S. team’s momentum going into the finals and what the silver medal meant to him.

“People probably thought we were going to be fighting for a bronze medal [in the Final A], so to get the silver was a great step up from our first two races,” Hudgins said. “This was my third silver, so I obviously really wanted to win, but I think as a boat we were pretty happy with the result.”

Houdaigui noted the unique dynamic of being on the U.S. team with some of his Dartmouth teammates, especially at the finish line of the Men’s Eight. 

“After my race, I was a spectator, and it’s so cool to watch your teammates perform at the highest level and get a medal, “ Houdaigui said. “In the Men’s Eight, the finish was really close… those guys were rowing over and [Hudgins was] screaming like, ‘second or or third?’ … And then I started screaming ‘second.’ That's a really cool feeling to let those guys know how they finished.”

Thomas shared conflicting emotions about rowing against his Dartmouth teammates Rawlinson and Isles.

“It was definitely challenging but fun at the same time because you want to see them do well, but at the same time, everybody’s super competitive,” Thomas said. “Everyone’s trying to represent their country to the best of their ability … I’d say it's a little bit of both emotions.”

Ryan Tripp ’25, a member of the men’s lightweight rowing team, competed in the lightweight double for the U.S. along with Timothy Parsons. The pair finished fourth in Heat 1 with a time of 6:50.86 and did not continue on in competition.

Next year, the U23 championship will be hosted in Canada, where the U.S. team will have an advantage, according to Houdaigui.

“I do think we have the opportunity to do something special, especially with it being in Canada,” Houdaigui said. “We won’t have to adjust for time zone change, we won't have to fly, and we'll be able to race with the boats we train in because we'll just trailer them up. I think it definitely presents a lot of advantages.”

The team is already gearing up for the upcoming season and the 2024 U23 World Championships, according to Houdaigui. All five rowers who competed at the championship are returning to Dartmouth to row for the Big Green in the fall.

“Next Dartmouth season, I'm just excited to get back with my teammates,” Houdaigui said. “One thing that I’m taking away from this is more confidence in myself and getting over the fear of failure … It's just an exciting time to be a Dartmouth heavyweight.”