1980 Olympians Move on - and on, and on
September 26, 2010
1980 US Men's eight in Amsterdam
"They probably would have won it," said 1980 Canadian Olympian Phil Monkton recently about the US Men's Eight entry at the boycotted Olympics in Moscow. "They had so much speed that year."
Monkton, who would have been Canada's entry in the 1x for the 1980 Olympics, made the comment at the Canadian Henley this year, and it is a sentiment shared by many--the 1980 Men's Eight was hot stuff, and was considered a team to beat at the Olympics. But while the US teams were fine-tuning their technique, tapering with the assistance of exercise scientists to achieve that peak performance in the summer of 1980, the deadline for Soviet troops to withdraw from Afghanistan sped past, the boycott was executed, and Olympic athletes who had trained for years were left with no climax at the end of a long and attentive courtship. In the opinion of many, the athletes were used as political pawns.
But the men of the 1980 Men's Eight did not suffer from some form of athletic post-traumatic stress disorder; they moved on. Yes, that sizzling 1980 boat had found some serious rowing mojo, and maybe that lineup had a sublime connection (it turns out they did and still do). Looking back at historical line-ups from World Championships, Pan Am Games and the like over the late 1970's, you see these names in different boat classes, seats and configurations: Robert Jaugstetter, Bruce Ibbetson, John Everett, Steve Christensen, Tom Woodman, Kurt Somerville, Charles Altekruse, Richard Cashin and Sean Colgan.
Similarly, row2k's video section is absolutely filled with training sessions--these guys had some staying power in the sport, and with the help of Coach Harry Parker, had become a fiercely competitive boat in 1980. But they did not row at the 1980 Olympics. So now what?
It was by no means an end; instead, it was the beginning of thirty years of friendship and counting, with almost annual reunions (sometimes biannual, one being the Head of the Charles regatta), that has transcended the aborted Olympics. 'We are drawn together by a common disappointment," says John Everett, (AKA Jake/7-seat),"We've gotten over it, but it is a bond,” he said. “We don't sit and cry about it though."
"The Olympic part only bubbles up every four years when you see an opening ceremony," says Kurt Somerville, (AKA "Wedge"/3-seat. The Wedge moniker? It comes from Dartmouth college days: "you are such a tool!" What is the simplest tool? Ok, you got it.)
What this boat has done rather than continually lament their loss, is to party like only Olympians know how... with a dose of pain and competition thrown in. To wit: in 1990 they flew to Moscow to row on the Olympic course against the 1980 Soviet Eight (the US crew won). In 1991, a team member paid to fly the same Soviet Eight to FISA Masters in Miami to race again (the US crew won). From then on, the 1980 Eight moved to using wheels rather than oars, and has met all over the Continental US, Canada and Costa Rica to pedal in either sanctioned or self-guided bike tours, many with family, some with extensive miles, and all with a common thread of having fun with the best blokes around.
Tours have included Washington border to South Oregon along the coast, Sun River, OR, across Costa Rica, and most recently, a 2-part ride in Colorado over the weekend of August 6-10 this summer. The first part was a Ride for Yellow/Livestrong mountain bike ride in Steamboat Springs, the current residence of this year's '1980 boat' host Sean Colgan. Lance Armstrong was in attendance there to give some star power to the fund raising unit of the ride.
Part 2, a 120+-mile spin from Steamboat to Laramie, WY on road bikes, followed immediately, after a day of rest. The Ride for Yellow ride was described on their website as "an epic 26-mile ride on pristine single track across the Continental Divide." They remained in an erratic peloton throughout. It was epic.
For some, the day of rest was necessary. "Sean Colgan gets the award for the most crashes," says Bruce Ibbetson (AKA "Wib"/8-seat). One of the approximately 10 Colgan crashes required a visit to the medical tent (after finishing the ride...no one in this group stops for something as petty as a head injury) for a concussion check. 'I'm not really good at the technical part of mountain biking," admits Colgan. "I was catapulted."
It is not always bow seat who gets the taunts (and there were many). When asked before the ride who is most likely to be the brunt of a few jokes, there was a delay (a brief hold while the guys decided if they were going to name names) and then a decisive: "Steve Christensen." (AKA Chicklets/6-seat)
Then the reverse, kudos to who usually shows up for the rides in the best shape: "Tom Woodman, Bruce Ibbetson, and John Everett," says Somerville.
The riding was only a segment of the weekend festivities. At this Steamboat iteration of the reunion, there was tubing, an alpine slide, golf, and BBQs with some resident grill experts.
"The best non-rowing activity was probably the dinners," says Bruce Ibbetson. "It was the same yelling we've done for 30 years," he shares.
On the longer day of the ride, they left early to give Harry Parker a bit of a lead (he is after all almost 20 years older than many of the crew). Coxswain Bob Jaugstetter drove a sag wagon to keep the team hydrated and fed and supplied flat repair tools (tho no flat tires this time around).
"The support van did not have to do much ferrying of athletes... it was just food and water really," says Jaugstetter of his role on the day of the ride. And due to favorable conditions and perhaps a touch of that competitive/Olympic spirit, they all finished in the predicted time, eager for a shower, no doubt. "I am a bit beat up," admits Ibbetson as he packed for departure. "I won't be getting on a bike anytime soon," asserts Colgan.
"There is never a thought of when will be stop doing this," say Ibbetson. "It is: what's next?"
(It is worth noting that many of these guys are also still involved in rowing, and even bullet-pointing their collective rowing resumes would mean active scrolling for a while. Cheers to the 1980 Olympic Men's Eight!)