When Tom Peszek and Silas Stafford were not selected for the United State's men's eight man with coxswain Olympic crew, their pride was hurt.
The two rowers who train in Oklahoma City just missed the cut for the boat that is rowed prominently by collegiate programs around the country.
“We had spent the past six or seventh months trying to make the eight,” Peszek said. “We were the last two guys not selected. It was kind of a crushing moment for both of us.”
“I definitely felt I deserved to be in there,” Stafford said. “I understand the coaches' perspective, but I definitely think they made the wrong decision. It's not fun to get cut ever.”
However, the two rowers turned their disappointment into motivation and won the Olympic Trials in the men's pair, each earning their first berth to the Olympic Games.
While training for the men's pair the past two months, the Oklahoma City rowers would “remind each other we were passed over and we would use that to fire ourselves up a little bit,” Peszek said.
“Making the two-man crew we had to win. We had to win the trials to make the boat. It wasn't a matter of convincing the coach we were good. It wasn't a matter of the coach picking us. We had to go out and win. It was really satisfying to actually go out and do that.”
Peszek, 27, a native of Michigan, was one of the first rowers to move to Oklahoma City and begin training in the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River.
A former collegiate rower at the University of Michigan, Peszek aspired to make the U.S. National Team after leaving Ann Arbor.
Peszek moved to San Francisco with hopes of joining and training at a “high-level rowing club, but they wouldn't have anything to do with me,” he said.
He then saw a posting on the Internet about the Boathouse District in Oklahoma City. He sent an email to coaches and received an invitation to come and train on the Oklahoma River, despite being told by some in San Francisco that he could never achieve his Olympic dreams in Oklahoma City.
“I don't think I talked to anybody in San Francisco who told me it was a good idea,” Peszek said. “Everybody was either ambivalent about it or told me it was not a good idea. Nobody believed that Oklahoma would turn out to be a great place to train. Obviously, it was a great decision.
“I would like to tell myself I could have made it anyway (to the Olympics), but I can't imagine how I would have made it without Oklahoma City. It has definitely delivered on all the promises.”
Stafford, 24, rowed for UCLA before transferring to Stanford's powerhouse program. He moved to Oklahoma City to train at the urging of Peszek.
Stafford was a track standout in high school, running the mile in a personal best four minutes, 26 seconds. He turned to rowing in college because he wanted to continue to compete.
Now, he will be competing on the world's biggest stage, the Olympic Games.
“This is the pinnacle of rowing,” Stafford said. “For everyone there, it's kind of do or die. There is no next year for the Olympics. Obviously, the intensity is going to be much higher than it is at other (international) races.”
Stafford wasn't a kid who always dreamed of making the Olympics, but winning the Olympic Trials left him with feeling of elation and vindication because he was passed over for the prestigious eight-man boat.
“I've gotten hundreds of emails and phone calls from old friends and people I haven't talked to in years (since making the Olympic),” Stafford said. “It's been pretty cool.”
The first time Stafford and Peszek actually raced in a men's pair event was during the Olympic Trials. They admit they will be a dark horse at the Olympic Games in London.
“We are kind of in the shadows a little bit,” Peszek said. “It's kind of nice because I don't think there are very many expectations for us.”