Guerette with Olympic silver medal.
USA's single sculler Michelle Guerette has come a long ways since her days at Radcliffe. After racing in the quad in Athens, she quickly rose to be one of the top scullers in the world; finishing third in the single at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships. In 2008, she climbed the ladder even futher winning the silver at the Beijing Olympics.
row2k: Now that you've had time to reflect on your Olympic silver medal performance from last year, what are some of your lasting impressions?
Michelle Guerette: My most powerful memory was definitely crossing the finish line. I had been so focused on execution, on following my race plan all week right through to the final, I think I hardly looked up for two weeks. When I crossed the line, that's when I felt the past ten years of rowing unfold again, from having been so compressed. It's a privilege to be an athlete at this level, to be allowed to become so focused. It's almost an out-of-body experience, that moment, the first seconds of being done and really seeing the place you've been in, mentally. That signifies the Olympics for me.
row2k: What is something you learned last year?
Michelle Guerette: I wouldn't have been able to push myself if it hadn't been for the people I trained with. Training with the US team in California each winter made a huge difference. There was an intensity, pride, and a sense of a shared goal that made hard training possible during that critical period. In addition, I did a lot of hard work with club rowers, people whose names you won't see on the start sheets but who came out to help me each morning. For example, over the summer, one rower really pushed me on endurance pieces, while another was my regular sprinting competition. My coach put their names into the boat (above) on the last day of practice before the finals to remind me of the work I'd done. Rowing in the US sometimes gets a lot of criticism, but one thing that is true is that at every level, from high-school novice to club masters, the culture here is one of commitment and especially camaraderie. We've got a lot of heart. It's not sufficient alone, but it can be a big advantage in a race.
row2k: You had a bit of a rough patch mid-summer; how did you deal with and work your way back from that?
Michelle Guerette: The first World Cup in Munich, where I finished 7th, was a wake-up call. My training intensity had been right, but I wasn't ready at that point for the specifics of 2k, or for the conditions we faced. After my B final in the morning, I biked back out to watch the A finals that day. It was hard to do, but it also helped me to understand that I could still do it in August. I had planned to stay in Europe and race the Lucerne World Cup as well, but made a decision to return home right away to focus on training. It was an abrupt change and it could've easily been a turning point in the wrong direction mentally. But Charley and I agreed that we would trust that we had 80% down, and just go to work for the rest.
row2k: Is there anything you would have done differently?
Michelle Guerette: I really do think that the training and the racing preparation came together at the right time for me. It would have been easy to be too ready, too soon, in the Olympic year what with all the excitement. Both Charley and the other coaches I worked with over the winter were aware of that; in retrospect I understand better now that it was their knowledge of this which really helped me. In terms of the final, I thought I had executed the race well - it had the elements we'd trained for and the "x-factor" of willpower. It's always challenging to see a close finish where you of course want to be ahead - but when I think to my experience within the race itself, I'm so happy with it.
row2k: Did you take a vacation after the Games?
Michelle Guerette: I stayed in China through the end of the Olympics and for several days after. It was nice to see more of Beijing, outside of the Olympic venues. The people, culture and cuisine were all really interesting to me - I especially love the spicy foods. When I returned home, life was more a whirlwind than a vacation. As a team, we did a lot of travel to events. I had the chance to meet with students and rowers of all ages while speaking at a number of schools and clubs, which was really great.
row2k: How are you tackling 2009?
Michelle Guerette: One thing I really enjoyed was the chance to do some cross-training earlier in the year. I learned this winter to cross-country ski. It's a great workout and I'd love to do a race sometime when I've gotten a little better. Right now I get a much better return for my efforts on the water. This year I'm also taking the opportunity to include some other activities that would be impossible in an Olympic year. I've actually been in Toronto, Canada, for some time now, working with the humanitarian organization Right To Play. As rowers know, sport is a powerful tool that positively impacts physical and mental health, and can help bring communities together. Right To Play works to use sport in this way as a means to help improve the lives of children in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It's something that I believe in very strongly, and I think it's important use my experience as an Olympic medallist to help.
row2k: Have you had any thoughts on different events or are you sticking to the single this cycle?
Michelle Guerette: At this level, it takes extraordinary effort, almost perfect execution, and even luck to reach the medals. For that reason, any time an athlete finds him- or herself able to make a strong impact in a particular boat and shows real competitiveness at the top of the field, the athlete will want to consider that boat. But the bottom line is that I love the single.