Before heading over to the 2015 World University Games in Chungju, South Korea, Trevor Michelson had never raced at an international event and could only prepare for the experience by talking with other scullers who had.
Michelson was part of the US men's team that had been pulled together by Michigan men's head coach Gregg Hartsuff. He was selected during the recruiting process put together by Hartsuff to row the lightweight single, but his experience at elite level racing had been limited to the US nationals.
"I had raced Elites right before I went over; I made the final, and I was pretty excited about my speed," Michelson said. "But then, before going over there, all you hear about from guys I talked to who have raced internationals was 'Get ready for the start, that first 500 is flying,'" he said.
Trevor Michelson racing the lightweight singles heats
The advice was spot on. "When the buzzer went off, everyone was gone," Michelson said. "As you go through the heats, reps, semis and finals, you get a little more used to it." Michelson won the C final, and finished 13th overall.
He is now an assistant men's lightweight coach at Dartmouth College, and says that just getting the chance to race in South Korea was more than worth the effort in terms of his overall development as a rower, and now as a coach.
"There is nothing that beats experience," Michelson said. "The opportunity to have that experience, racing high level athletes, was just something that I would say if you have the opportunity, you have to go with it."
That opportunity has come around again.
The World University Championships and/or World University Games, run by the International University Sports Federation, take place every two years. Depending on the year, they are named and run differently; in odd years they are called World University Games and held in an Olympic style format, where multiple sports are contested during the same period and in the same location.
In even numbered years, like this year, they are called the World University Championships, and the individuals sports are contested at different times and in different locations. But in the end, it is still a world championship event for university level teams.
This year the Championships will take place Aug. 10-12 in Shanghai, China. Events will be run in eight boat categories for men and women including four sweep events (eights, fours, lightweight fours, and pairs) and four sculling events (open singles, lightweight singles, open doubles and lightweight doubles).
Both the men's and women's teams are going to be training at the Eastern Michigan Women's Boathouse. Hartsuff will again be the head coach, and will be assisted by Eastern Michigan women's head coach, Kemp Savage, who will coach the women's squad.
Recruiting for the two squads has begun, and the athletes will be chosen from a pool of applicants who apply and send erg tests results, rowing experience, and race result details to Hartsuff and Savage.
The athlete deadline for application is March 9, and coxswains must submit recordings by March 21; the invitee list will be finalized by March 18. Once camp begins that athletes will compete for seats in the various crews. There are no cuts.
"If selected to the team they will be racing in an event,"Hartsuff said. "There are no cuts. The spares will be pulled from the single or double. So, it puts a premium on me to select based on verified erg scores and what I see on video; and of course Kemp and my abilities as a coach to get them working well together as a group."
For Hartsuff, the key attraction for being a part of the team is a chance to represent the US in international competition, but more important in the bigger picture is the opportunity for athletes who may hope to one day vie for a chance to make a senior US national team to gain experience and develop.
"While we want as many fast erg scores and good boat movers as we can get, the reality is some of these athletes are probably a couple of years away from being able to make an impression on the senior team coaches," Hartsuff said.
"But with some encouragement and some experience, the bug may bite them to go a little bit further," he said. "Even if you can get a small handful from a group like this who go on, that, to me, can be the difference maker to the US winning a gold medal in an Olympic event or not. It's a development situation along with a competitive situation."
Men's eight celebrates winning the gold
The man's eight won gold in 2015 and Hartsuff hopes his squad can repeat that result.
"Our goal is to win the eight, but we want to give the athletes a taste of international racing, and hopefully their appetite builds for it," he said. "They should at least be interested in it, and if they're not interested after the camp and say, this is a lot of work and not worth it, so be it. That's probably going to happen with most of the athletes."
Hartsuff said the application process will continue though the next few weeks. He said the coaches are hoping that USRowing will select and announce the candidates for the Under 23 camps, and athletes who were not invited to attend are encouraged to apply to race at the University Championships.
Once the invites are selected from the pool of applicants, the camps will open May 31 for ACRA and NCAA competitors, and June 6 for IRA competitors. Once selected, athletes will attend a camp and can prepare to go and race and have ample time to fundraise.
Which, according to Michelson, is a huge plus.
"The pressure is sort of off in terms of if you're going to make it," Michelson said. "And it is also really good in terms of fund raising. You have so much time to make sure you have everything in order. You don't have to rush to raise the money in three weeks. There is also a guarantee to race, which is pretty rare in any camp," he said.
"Going over, we weren't really sure about the level of competition, because in the United States, we all know what the seniors, under 23 and juniors are all like, but the level is pretty high," Michelson said.
"Ukraine and Lithuanian sent their full senior squad. I think the Ukrainian quad had just set the world record the summer before, and all those guys were there," he said. "It was an awesome experience. I would tell anyone to do it."
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