Beijing Olympian and ten-time National Teamer Tom Paradiso just traded in his megaphone to launch a comeback. Since June, he's narrowly missed making the 2011 Worlds team, after just a month back in the double, and won himself a spot on his second Pan Am team. He heads to Mexico next week for his first international racing since Beijing. This week's two-part row2k Interview caught up with Tom at the Oklahoma City Training Center, where he is prepping for Pan Am competition in the light double and men's quad. In Part I, Tom talks about training for the Pan Am's, his plans for next year, and how some occasional training at the office turned into a bid to return to the Olympics.
row2k: How are preparations going for the Pan-Am's? Doing anything special to get ready?
Tom Paradiso: It's been going pretty well. We spent a little time in Philadelphia after Trials, since we're both from there. While we were in Philly, of course, we got hit by two hurricanes, and the river flooded and we were off the water for a week. So we came back a little earlier to Oklahoma than we had planned, but it's been going really well, training here. It's actually been surprisingly calm: the wind's not really been bad and the weather's really nice, so we're getting in plenty of water time. Nothing too out of the ordinary, in terms of just training for an international race, bearing in mind that, really, we're preparing for next year.
We're trying to do two things at once: increase the volume and prepare for a sprint race at the same time, without having either one suffer. Also, here there is an altitude room that they have for training, and we are going to be racing at about 5000 feet [at Pan-Am's]. We're not training in there, but we are spending a little bit of time in there, just to try and acclimate a little bit to the altitude we'll see at the Pan-Am's.
row2k: Is the focus for you and Bob Duff on preparing for the Olympics in the light double, or just preparing in general for selection?
Tom Paradiso: On the double, for right now. With the way things are working, that's been the plan. We're both open to working with the other lightweights, if high-level guys want to get together and see beforehand, but judging the way that has gone so far and judging from how it has gone in the past, it's probably not likely that there will be a matrix done [that includes us].
row2k: You and Bob Duff got into the light double just before Elite Nationals, and were together for just a month or so when you narrowly missed catching the US LM2x at trials and taking this comeback through Bled: do you feel like the boat has been putting on speed since the senior trials?
Tom Paradiso: Yes, definitely. We're working on a lot on refining the stroke. We got in and found some easy speed [in June] and the fitness was pretty good--that's just going to improve--but the little things, the little errors that add up to bigger losses in boat speed, as we've tackled those one at a time, it's getting quicker, and easier to find speed.
row2k: So, now, do you look back at the Senior Trials as a missed opportunity or is this additional training through Pan-Am's turning into a positive?
Tom Paradiso: We're definitely taking the positive out of Pan-Am's.
row2k: The Pan Am format has you doubling into the heavy quad, with the Men's 2x. Has the added race changed the training or focus for you guys in the double?
Tom Paradiso: No, not really. We got out in a quad in Philadelphia while we were there, with those guys, [Andrew Quinn and Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg]. They're both lightweights, too, so it's going to be an easy transition.
We're approaching Pan-Am's both for the race experience in the double--that "end of the race" experience that you can't really simulate in practice, which was one thing that we felt we fell short a little bit on at Trials-- and experience in a faster boat. I think that rowing the quad, where everything's got to be a little faster, there are lessons there that we can take into the double, as well as just the benefit of extra racing.
row2k: It's my understanding that countries are doubling up in different ways. Canada's light double, for instance, is doubling into the four instead of the quad. Since some athletes in your events will be racing once and some twice, does that factor into what you expect to see on the race course?
Tom Paradiso: I don't think it factors too much: it'll stress the importance of recovery between races. Possibly, but not any more so than any other international competition, it might make it more strategic in how you approach the preliminary races, where a boat might just qualify, and then show extra speed in the final. They're not going to waste any energy or show any unnecessary speed to get through. I do know that our finals are on the same day, for the double and the quad. Racing is really only a two-hour window, so it's going to be two races very close together, but that's not so different from Elites, where we were racing six races in two days.
row2k: Was London always in the cards for you at some level, or were you pretty set on switching to coaching?
Tom Paradiso: No, [London] was always the plan and, while I would never admit that during the process, this year, especially, it was obvious with how much I was working out around where I was coaching, that more or less every athlete on the team asked me if I was making a comeback.
row2k: Was it hard to step away from such a promising career start and the work of helping get the Penn program rebuilt to get back to training?
Tom Paradiso: It definitely was. It was hard to take myself away from there. The school didn't make it difficult and Greg Myhr didn't make it difficult, it just was tough [for me]. This class that's currently the freshmen [class], which was the first one that I had recruited for the entire cycle, I was definitely looking forward to working with and continuing to see Penn improve.
row2k: When did you realize that your training was leading you towards a full-blown comeback?
Tom Paradiso: Probably the Schuylkill Navy Regatta [in June], two weeks before Elite Nationals, and I really had not done any what you would call "work," any pieces. Part of the thing about my training during the year is that Greg Myhr was completely egging me on, so to speak. There's me training, and part of it is me always thinking about London, and part of it is not wanting to be out of shape, for whatever I wanted to do athletically, but when your boss is challenging you to 2k tests for time, or workouts, or a race... and literally at Schuylkill Navy, it was [Greg saying], "OK, we're going to race the single." And I raced, and was right in the mix with guys who had done well at the NSRs: I was second, in the Open Single, to a guy who was in the B Final at the NSR, and that told me I was actually still pretty quick. I was already planning to row with Bob [Duff] at Elites, but then it was like "Maybe I should do the single and the double at Elites." During the course of Elites, seeing a lot of familiar faces at Mercer, and getting a lot of questions--"Are you coming back? What's going on?"--but it was still in limbo at that point and was more or less, I'll see how it goes this week... and it went pretty well.
Read Part II here.