The United States will be represented in the Olympic Games next month by a crew of former Ivy League rowers who now call Oklahoma City their home.
The Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation and the Oklahoma River is the home base for the United States' men's lightweight four crew of Anthony Fahden, Will Newell, Robin Prendes and Nick LaCava.
They are the first crew of rowers who train in Oklahoma City to qualify for the Olympic Games.
The foursome finished first in the final 2012 Olympic qualification regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, earning a spot for the United States in the event in London.
Eleven boats had already qualified for London in last year's 2011 World Championships. Last month's regatta in Switzerland was the last chance for two more boats to earn a trip to London and the Olympic Games, and the last chance for an American crew to get in.
“Each sport has their pinnacle event,” said LaCava, a native of Weston, Conn. “For rowing, definitely the top is the Olympics. For most rowers, they see that as the final goal to achieve.”
LaCava rowed collegiately at Columbia University. Fahden, a native of Lafayette, Calif., rowed at Dartmouth. Newell is from Weston, Mass., and rowed for Harvard. Prendes is a native of Miami, Fla., and rowed at Princeton.
Each of them was recruited to those Ivy League schools because of rowing. They live and train about four months out of the year in Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma River, which in 2009 was designated as a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site for rowing and canoe/kayak.
The rest of the year, they are racing or at training camps with the rest of the U.S. national rowing teams. Next week, they travel to New Jersey for another camp, the final tune-ups before competing next month in the Olympic Games.
Oklahoma City is their home a third of the year now because of the corporate and community support that now exists here for rowing. These crew members say it is unequaled anywhere else in the country.
“We've trained all over the country, too,” Prendes said. “We definitely have a frame of reference.”
While they are certainly not celebrities like the Oklahoma City Thunder are in town, the crew members say they are amazed by the number of people who will approach them with questions simply because they are recognized as rowers by the clothing they wear.
“Even beyond the financial support, there is a level of enthusiasm and interest (for rowing) you don't see in any other places, which I think is especially striking since it's not a sport that is traditional to the area,” Fahden said.
Part of the enthusiasm stems from being new.
“If you row in Boston, it's kind of hard to stand out. There is always these rowing clubs,” LaCava said. “There, if you row, you are just another rower.”
One business in Oklahoma City even gives free haircuts to the crew.
“Stuff like that doesn't happen anywhere else,” LaCava said. “Little things like that make a big difference for us.”
As far as next month's Olympics, the crew says the most stressful race is behind them: the one that got them there.
They will not be expected to medal in London, but the margin between winning and losing is incredibly thin in the men's lightweight four event, so anything is possible.
“Our main goal is to make the finals,” Fahden said.