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Bound By Shared Olympic Dreams
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Ed Moran, row2k.com
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John Grave racing in Speed Order I

Just a year ago, John Graves and Ben Davison were never more than a few feet apart whenever they were sculling. Both were in the Craftsbury quad that won U.S. Olympic Trials and went to Lucerne in a bid to qualify their crew for the Rio Games.

The result was a bitter disappointment that ended both Graves' and Davison's hopes for the last quadrennial.

Craftsbury Quad in Lucerne

This week, with the official start of the Tokyo 2020 cycle now in its second day on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., the two men are again locked together in a renewed dream for this new cycle, but are separated for the moment by thousands of miles.

Yesterday morning Graves was leading the pack of men's singles competing in the 2017 USRowing Spring Speed Order I. He won his heat with the fastest time of the day and the opening time trial, and heads to the Thursday semifinal as the guy to beat.

"It's going alright," Graves said yesterday following his race. "Today was a pretty big headwind, so it was a pretty difficult race physically, a very heavy piece."

(Heats were also held Wednesday morning in the women's single event. Full results can be found here)

Across the country, at about the same time, Davision was waking up on the campus of the University of Washington, getting ready for another day of academics and training for rowing in the Huskies varsity eight.

Every year, every quadrennial, holds long and short term goals for the athletes involved. For Davison right now, his immediate goals are about this weekend's dual with California and whatever the rest of his collegiate season has in store.

Graves has this event, which he is hoping will lead to a solid world cup performance later in the spring in the single and more training and working on his sculling.

But both are watching each other's results, while waiting for when they can get back together and train to row the double this season, and a plan that if all goes according to their dreams, will lead them to the start line in Tokyo, 2020.

"It's been nice to be able to race again," Graves said Wednesday. "The single is a great boat to train in and get a base of fitness. It's been nice starting off a new quadrennial and getting back to basics, working on the stuff I need to work on to be a better sculler."

Those are the short term items. The long term goal for both is on the calendar and approaching.

"Obviously, Ben is still in school and I'm quite a bit out of school, but we want to row together and kind of keep the magic from the quad going," Graves said. "We want to make sure that we don't get caught the way we were last quadrennial and be ready early on and ready to make a great push at Tokyo." For both Graves and Davison, the Lucerne loss was a huge disappointment. But it was also a single experience among many - another step in the international careers both have been building.

Graves began his senior national team career when he first rowed the single at the 2013 World Rowing Championships. He spent the following three years chasing the Olympic dream as a Craftsbury sculler in the double and quad.

Davison is also after an Olympics, but he was still just a 17-year-old teenager in 2014 when he started chasing.

Davison racing in the 2014 NSR

Born in Durham, England, Davison's family moved to Inverness, Fla. in 2006. When his older brother took up sculling, Ben followed. Davison's dad grew up in Northern Ireland playing soccer and rugby and is a personal trainer. He trained and coached his sons in rowing - and passed on the Irish accent Davison still speaks with.

Davison was known commodity as a high school sculler and announced his presence to the elite world when he competed in his first senior event at the 2014 NSRs. He reached the finals in a packed and experienced field of Olympic and national team scullers.

It was more of a personal challenge, and following that, Davison continued on with his high school, junior and under 23 rowing endeavors in the single that have continued right through to the World Under23 Rowing Championships last summer.

Out of high school, Davison was recruited to row at Washington, but took 2016 off to train for an Olympic bid. The bitter loss at the final Olympic qualifier last May was a reminder of how difficult it can be to row on the ultimate world athletic stage and a lesson that continues to fuel his 2020 desire.

For now, he is enjoying being a collegiate rower and undergraduate psychology student at Washington.

"It's going pretty well here," Davison said Tuesday, just after Graves had finished winning the speed order time trials. "There was a little bit of adjusting, getting back after a year and having just rowing in my life. But, I'm really enjoying it and it's going pretty well."

His experience last year was a mixture of "great" and "disappointing," he said.

"It was super disappointing. To come as close as we did. In the end, right after it happened, I was definitely quite upset coming away from it. It's still upsetting, we would have loved to have gone, but it's an experience that I will be able to take to the next try.

"I learned a lot from it. I've grown up as a person and a rower from taking last year off."

If he carries his disappointment with him, he is in a good place to move forward. Collegiate rowing, he says, is an atmosphere unlike anything he has experienced.

"What I like about rowing here at Washington is the atmosphere. I've felt it from day one since I arrived back. It's hard to describe. It's an energy and an atmosphere unlike anywhere else and I'm really loving it.

"There is just a lot of energy. Everyone is just cheering each other on and it's a very unique feel. That's probably the biggest difference from last year. It's a different atmosphere and a different sense of purpose."

Davison said he will continue pulling for Washington and after the season he said he is planning to join Graves and begin training for U.S. trials and hopes to row in the double at the 2017 World Rowing Championships.

If all goes well, Graves and Davison will hammer out a three year plan that points toward 2020 and Tokyo.

Graves and Davison training in 2015

"I think this far out, the plan is still pretty vague," Davison said. "But for this year at least the goal would be to try for the double with John. We trained a little bit during winter and for now the plan for the summer is to go for the U.S. trials and then hopefully race in Sarasota at the world championships."

It's what they are hoping for and what they intend to build from following Lucerne last spring.

"There was a lot of disappointment because of the way we felt about that boat," Graves said. "So, to not have it do well, and not compete at the Olympics was really brutal. Ben is an incredibly gifted kid, kind of beyond his years in many respects.

"I think he and I approach things very similarly and we're on the same page mentally. I think we both are very aligned in the things we want to accomplish over the next four years," Graves said.

"We don't want to waste too much time and we want to make sure we are preparing as well as we can for what will be an incredibly difficult qualification process in a few years."


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