row2k Features
Clark Dean Profile: From Florida to Boston and Beyond
January 17, 2019
Ed Moran,

Clark Dean rowing six seat for Harvard's first varsity eight at the Head of the Charles

When Sarasota Crew head coach Casey Galvanek talks about Clark Dean, the first story he tells is about how close Dean came to quitting the sport.

"He started with us in middle school," Galvanek said. "His mom came to me in the fall and told me he was getting bored rowing in the eights in the middle school program. I think he was about to quit."

Galvanek knew just by watching that Dean had a ton of potential, and, as timing would have it, the program was in the process of expanding their sculling programs and had just purchased 45 singles, 10 of which were built specifically for the middle school sized kids.

So, Galvanek made an offer: Dean could row in the singles program on Friday mornings, starting that December. There was only one other student rowing in the Friday sessions, and the two students ended up having essentially private lessons.

Anyone that has paid attention to what Dean, who lived very near Nathan Benderson Park and the newly developed Sarasota rowing venue, has been doing the last five years or so would not be shocked by what happened.

Dean pushed the envelope of the program, took the flip test pretty much right away, and began making an impression on his coaches. "You have to complete a flip test to row the single without pontoons," Galvanek said. "Clark took the test and was able to row the boat without the pontoons, and the coach that was working with him came to me and told me, ‘This kid is pretty good.’

"And that kept him interested."

His potential was impossible to overlook, Galvanek said. From the moment he started rowing the middle school single, Dean came to every workout and on water session he could, including a winter sculling camp Galvanek ran during school break that attracted competitive kids from around the country and Canada, some who were rowing on junior national teams.

"Sometimes it just kicks you in the face," Galvanek said of recognizing Dean’s potential. "There was just something about his personality, how hard he worked, and how determined he was all the time. It's not like he was real fast back then. But it just seemed like he was interested.

"Here's a kid that comes to practice, and doesn't miss it. He wants to elevate himself, so he moves himself up from the middle school program to the high school program. He was tall, and really skinny, but certainly growing.

"And he was paying attention to any words coming out of the mouths of anyone who was coaching him. He was asking questions," Galvanek recalled, "and was always doing the right things.

"I pulled him aside and told him that winter, ‘Everybody here knows you are the next all-star on our team. You just need to be patient. Take it slow, don’t try to murder every stroke and learn to row properly.’"

Sarasota Successes

Dean was apparently listening to Galvanek because in his time at Sarasota Crew, he did things that set himself apart early, like getting himself in the varsity lightweight eight for the 2014 Youth National Championships during his final middle school season, as soon as his freshman crew was done at the regional championships.

Dean (second from right) rowing the Sarasota boys varsity light eight at Youth Nationals as an eighth grader
Dean (second from right) rowing the Sarasota boys varsity light eight at Youth Nationals as an eighth grader

Dean weighed just over the lightweight limit and had to drop a few pounds to do it. He did, but when he came back the next season, he had gained over 50 pounds. He was done rowing lightweight. Next, he earned a place in Sarasota’s first varsity eight, beginning with his freshman season, and was in the boat for a serious medal haul that finished up with a national championship in the Men’s Youth Eight in 2018, his senior year.

But that was not where he gained the most attention. Dean rowed on three junior national teams. He won a bronze medal his first year in the quad, then doubled in the coxed four and single the next year, winning the single to become the first American to win the event since Jim Dietz did it 50 years earlier.

And then he came back the next season and did something no American has ever done: he repeated as the junior single world champion.

Dean and Galvanek at the 2018 Junior World Championships
Dean and Galvanek at the 2018 Junior World Championships

Along the way, he set the world’s best time – twice. He broke the record in his heat, going 6:52. 20, and then, after the record was broken again by Germany’s Moritz Wolf in the quarterfinals, did it again in the final.

After the quarterfinals, Galvanek knew that not having the record would motivate Clark to try again, but feared that in going for another record, he could lose focus and jeopardize his chances of ultimately winning. He told Clark to focus on his rowing and not to show everything he had before the final.

And then he changed the speed coach in Clark’s boat so it would not reflect a projected average time. Clark figured it out anyway, and went 6:45.45.

Dean setting the junior single world best time - for the second time in days
Dean setting the junior single world best time - for the second time in days

"I know I will never coach another kid like him" Galvanek said. "That’s a once in a lifetime thing."

College Rowing: A New Phase to Dean’s Career

Today, Dean is again starting his season on the water in Sarasota, but this time it is with Harvard University, his new team. The Harvard heavyweight squad started practice in Sarasota Wednesday and will hold camp there until just before the new semester begins on the 28th.

It’s a whole new beginning, a new journey for Dean and the expectations – his and most everybody else's in rowing – is that he will row in the top Harvard eight, and when the season is over, he will go immediately to the U.S. senior team camp and begin an Olympic journey he hopes could last through three, and possibly more, Olympics starting in 2020.

The kid that Galvanek knew just from looking at when he was 14-years-old was the next big superstar at the high school and junior level, is about to start his first season as a collegiate and senior world athlete.

And he is again being looked at as the next big thing.

New Coach, New Environment

This time, the coach most directly overseeing Dean’s continued development is Harvard men’s head coach, Charlie Butt, who is very aware of the hype that will accompany Dean as he gets going on his first spring collegiate season. But he is also aware that it is deserved.

"In terms of potential, I've never seen anyone with as much potential. But we are talking potential. And he's transitioning levels. I do believe he is going to succeed in a significant manner, because he really likes the sport. He likes his teammates. He has enthusiasm, he's obviously gifted. I think he is on a terrific track."
Harvard coach Charlie Butt

"In terms of potential, I've never seen anyone with as much potential," Butt said. "But we are talking potential. And he's transitioning levels. I do believe he is going to succeed in a significant manner, because he really likes the sport. He likes his teammates. He has enthusiasm, he's obviously gifted. I think he is on a terrific track."

"Clark wants to be treated the same as everyone else, and he wants to be challenged and he wants to be required to show up on time; he loves the team, he loves the process. And when your outstanding recruit is also the guy loading boats in the rain, or doing the extra mile, when you get a guy who is that strong and also contributes in the most humble ways as well, then you have a kid who is also a leader."

Butt is confident in all of that. But the question people will be looking to have answered will be, is Dean really this good?

"Well, we're going to find out," Butt said. "We have to find out, you can't say, and we won't really know until the racing season gets started. What we do know bodes quite well for him to succeed. And what else we do know is he rises to challenges, that he meets disappointment with a bounce back. A disappointment is informative for this guy, and so that's why I see his future as bright as it is."

"I don't have anybody to compare him to so far," Butt said. "I just think we may need to get used to the idea of watching him and seeing what he can do. It's essential that he be patient, because you don't want to take a young power pitcher and put him against the best hitting to soon. Right? So, we are going to have to be patient.

"What I can tell you," Butt said, "is what you see one month is not what you will see in the next month. It's going to be better. He is very much tracking in a positive way. And he doesn't get discouraged easily. This is someone very determined, and who has gifts. But he is not so gifted that he doesn't have to train and try hard."

How Does Dean See His Future in Rowing?

"I think looking 10 years in the future is tough," Dean told row2k. "If you asked me where I saw myself 10 years out when I started rowing, if you asked me when I started where I saw myself my freshman year of college, I would say I didn’t know where I was going.

"It's tough to extrapolate that from where I currently am, but ideally, I go to the Olympics, graduate Harvard but still rowing and going for a third or fourth Olympic cycle. We’ll see how my body holds up. But that's the best-case scenario."

And for short term, he is envisioning rowing in fast Harvard boats and at the Tokyo Olympics two years from now. "I am at least going to go after the next couple of cycles with everything I've got," Dean said.

There are not a lot of people in rowing that doubt he will be there. But the obvious question for an athlete that just won back to back world championships in the single would be in what boat? Does he try to be the next US single sculler on the senior team? Or does he think the path to 2020 is in team boat?

Most, including Dean, think the best situation, would be to start off in a team boat. But don’t rule him out of going for the single in 2024.

"I think my short term goal is to get there in any capacity I can," he said. "The realistic shot at that is going to be through the camp boats. There is a much better chance I will qualify for a spot through an eight or through a four compared to something like me going on my own and trying to qualify the single.

"It's definitely a tougher road to get top nine or top seven at the world championships in the single than in the eight where it is getting the top five out of seven or top five out of eight, something along those lines.

"So, my short term goal is just to make it to the Olympics in whatever capacity that's possible. And after that, however I do - and hopefully that’s very well - I think I will have three more years of college, and I will have a lot more time to think about it.

"What I hope is that the next time I go, I will be better than I was when I went before, and then maybe I'll go again after that and the goal will be to be better than the last result again."

For right now, Dean's focus is on this year at Harvard and the group of recruits starting their first sprint season, a very potent freshman class.

Some of the names among the current first years include Dean, Saugatuck boys team captain Harrison Burke, who was also a three-time junior national team medalist in the coxed four and eight; and Montclair high school team captain Kenny Copeland, another former junior national teamer.

The rest of the group includes some of the top international prospects available, kids coming in with significant experience and success from Australia, the Netherlands, and Great Britain, including St. Paul’s School’s Calvin Tarczy, who was in the Harvard top eight at the Head of the Charles.

"Our current freshman class is really, really strong," Dean said. "If it's not the strongest the school has ever seen, it's got be right up there. We're a very strong class. Just look at all the boat placements in the fall for the freshman class. On average, everyone was placed in much higher boats than any other class.

"We were talking (in the fall) about how we wish the freshman eight was still a race because we all love rowing together. I'm sure every freshman eight thinks they are something special, but I think we're all really confident in each other and have a lot of trust in each other. I can't imagine that another college could put out an eight that would be faster than us. We just have some great recruits this year and such great guys on the freshman team specifically," he said.

When he talks about his hopes for the coming year, Dean said he has goals set for both Harvard and the coming international season. And he is not unique in having to separate the two because there are plenty of guys at Harvard that are hoping to have international careers at the same time as they are hoping to place Harvard on the podium this year.

It’s a shared pressure, he says.

"Being in an environment where everyone feels some sort of pressure, but all working together, not only trying to make ourselves the fastest we can be, but also trying to help each other out, is a really good environment to be a part of."

"We're all motivated by wanting to make Harvard go fast, but the British guys are trying to make either their U23 or senior team system, the other Americans are all trying to get into our U23 or senior team system. Everyone has their own motivations for why they are working so hard, but we also are all unified around the goal of beating all these teams," he said.

"So being in an environment where everyone feels some sort of pressure, but all working together, not only trying to make ourselves the fastest we can be but also trying to help each other out, is a really good environment to be a part of."

For Dean, at least in the US, there will be additional pressure, and a brighter spotlight. He knows that, and does not seem fazed by it.

"I think I am used to it in some capacity," he said. "It obviously changes from being in high school, going to junior worlds to going Harvard, to going for the Olympics in terms of the amount of recognition you receive. And I'm not worried about having to do something because that's what's expected of me. I think I am going to do what's best for myself, and what's best for my team.

"I think that started in Sarasota and that will continue on through Harvard and through the senior team. I am never really worried about making a decision based on popular expectations.

"I'm really looking forward to getting back into a big sweeping boat and going really fast and making switches, and fine tuning our speed and getting every last millisecond of speed. That's always an exciting prospect."

At Harvard he said, "We’re looking to improve on our success of the fall and finding the perfect lineup, and getting every point of a percent of potential out of all of us. That's always just an exciting process to be a part of."

And as for his Olympic goals, Dean says, "I'm definitely excited. I want to go to the Olympics this cycle, but it's not like the end of the road and if I'm not in this Olympics. It’s not like I’m never going to be able to row again. I think that my (senior) international career and my college rowing career is just getting started."

Dean on the podium in 2018
Dean on the podium in 2018

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01/23/2019  12:43:03 PM
Great article Ed Moran, thanks. It will be fun to watch Clark's progression in this sport. We have some strong US youngsters coming up, that's for sure.

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