row2k Features
Jamie Copus: Hopping the Pond and Hoping to Race for the USA
February 28, 2023
John FX Flynn, row2k

Jamie Copus, closing in on his win at the 2022 Head of the Charles

The start of the selection cycle for the 2023 Worlds kicks off this on Thursday this week, with the USRowing Winter Speed Order. The racing in Sarasota will feature the usual mix of experienced National Teamers and hopeful new comers, but one entry in the Light single, Jamie Copus, brings a bit of both: a fresh face with both senior Worlds experience for Great Britain and dual citizenship here in the States.

The Chicago-born Copus grew up in England--winning Henley with both Abingdon School and Oxford Brookes, earning U19 and U23 medals for Great Britain, and racing for the British Senior team starting in 2015--but this year he plans to use his other passport, hoping to race for the USA at Worlds and the upcoming Paris Olympics.

"Being born in Chicago, I would be lying if I hadn't thought about the idea of rowing for the States, basically, my entire rowing career," Copus admits.

"I've always had a massive affinity with the States. And I certainly feel that my formative years were there. So even if I have an English accent, I certainly would say my psyche is American, which is why I feel that I always connect massively when I come back, and I miss it a lot."

Copus took his first serious step towards Team USA when he entered--and won--the Pan Am Trials last fall, and he now hopes to use a strong performance at this week's USRowing Winter Speed Order to set up the season ahead.

Copus, racing at the Pan Am Trials last November
Copus, racing at the Pan Am Trials last November

His goal will be to earn a spot in the Olympic event class for lightweights, the Double, this year and then to make his first Olympic Team in 2024, for the US.

Changing up your national colors, while not unprecedented, remains a bit unusual, but Copus' status as a dual citizen--born in the US, with two passports--makes the process relatively easy.

Copus looked into the rules before the Pan Am Trials last fall and, while he has since decided--"regettably," he says--to pass up his Pan Am spot due to scheduling conflicts, he remains intent on making his next international appearance with Team USA.

While this year could see his first time racing for the USA, Copus has rowed in the States before, spending 2011-2012 as a freshman at Cornell--where he stroked a Sprints bronze medal frosh crew--after winning a silver in the GB eight at Junior Worlds.

Copus, 2nd from right, on the medals dock with the Big Red at the 2012 EARC Sprints
Copus, 2nd from right, on the medals dock with the Big Red at the 2012 EARC Sprints

He headed back to the UK after that one year, so he could stay in the GB system. That move set him up for two U23 silvers as a GB lightweight and then seven seasons racing with GB's senior squad, all while he completed his degree at Oxford Brookes. Now, though, he says the time to switch to the American side seems right.

"As I could see the future going over the last few years, I've been thinking about it more and more and more," he says.

To earn a spot in the US Light Double for the 2023 season, Copus first needs to perform well in his single again at this Winter Speed Order, then get picked for the boat during the two Olympic Event Selection Camps planned for May and June-July. For whoever makes the Double this year, the racing at Worlds will determine whether the US qualifies an entry automatically for the Paris Games. The US missed that standard--top 7 at Worlds or top 2 at the Final Qualifier--for the Tokyo Games so the early phases of this crew's selection are crucial, even more than a year out from the next Olympics.

The fact that Paris 2024 will serve as the final time the Light Double will feature in the Olympics only raises the stakes: the weight class event phase-out in rowing, which began with eliminating the Light Four after the Rio Games, means no more Olympic events specifically for lightweights after 2024.

Head of the Charles, 2022
Head of the Charles, 2022

Copus knows that he will face other strong contenders along the way to make the USA's Light Double for either the 2023 Worlds or for Paris, including Zach Heese and Jasper Liu, who have been racing for the US in the event since 2021.

"There's a lot of talent over here, you know, with Zach and Jasper," admits Copus. "Jimmy McCullough [the 2022 LM1x] is going really well, Sam Melvin was really strong at Pan Am Trials, and Cooper Tuckerman was second at Head of the Charles. There is a really competitive field of talented guys here."

The amount of competition in the US for those two lightweight seats, though, forms the draw for Copus, who says that, "lightweight rowing is certainly alive and well in the States,” and he wants to be a part of it.

"It's nice seeing that people care about it," Copus says of the light double in the States, "and people want to do it. That's the biggest thing. Despite the fact that, for the Lightie double, all you need is two, it helps to have more good guys to push the whole standard on.

"We all know, it's gone after '24," he says, "but irrespective of whether it's going, [in the States] we still care about it and we're going to do the best we can."

Copus also knows, from racing in the Light Double for GB over the last quadrennial, that the international standard has risen in this event:

"It's become absolutely brutal, because you're all pretty much the same power, you're all rowing pretty darn well, and it's basically who can time their peak the best, have the most output, and just be the absolute craziest on the day.

Copus stroking the GB LM2x at the Sarasota Worlds in 2017
Copus stroking the GB LM2x at the Sarasota Worlds in 2017

"That's the way that the lightweight double is now, having raced in it the last six years," he says. "Since the Lightweight Four went, it has just completely saturated the lightweight talent into the lightweight double, and it's just crazy. Every race is an A Final: you have twenty boats now that would have been A Final standard in the past. Any one of those crews could go [to the final].

"It's a tough gig, but that certainly means that I've got a lot of really good friends on the circuit, like Belgium's Niels van Zandweghe; he's one of my absolute best mates. You form a bit of a brotherhood, because we know that we're the last of a dying breed."

Copus started working towards racing for the States at the Head of the Charles two years ago. Back in 2021, he took second there in the Light Single, sandwiched between Zach Heese, who won, and Jasper Liu--the 2021 and 2022 US Light double--and then Copus won the 2022 edition this past fall.

Head of the Charles in the Light Men's Single for 2022
Head of the Charles in the Light Men's Single for 2022

He prepped for both of those runs at the Charles by working with Union Boat Club coach John Lindberg, who had previously coached two of Copus's Abingdon and GB Junior Team crew mates at Boston University.

"John's a fantastic coach," says Copus. "He has given me some pretty cool little nuggets from the launch, analogies that I hadn't even thought about. I had a couple of light bulbs with him over that couple of weeks."

Lindberg, in turn, connected Copus to Bill Manning, Penn AC's Head Coach, who welcomed Copus into the elite sculling group there. Copus trained in Philadelphia with Manning for the Pan Am Trials, and is back with the squad now to get ready for the Winter Speed Order.

"I can't thank Bill enough," says Copus. "He and Penn AC have made me feel so welcome, and I'm loving every minute. The squad is a great fast group: everyone's really close, the vibe is strong and we're all working off each other really well. I really like the way Bill approaches training and programming, and you can see that paying off in the way everyone is developing. Bill does as much as he can to help the athletes, and he's certainly helped me. I'm really grateful, and I'm excited to see where we can go."

Coming to the US now after his experiences in the British system has also given Copus a unique perspective. He feels that the US approach could be more effective for him, because it allows athletes to train for most of the year at individual high performance clubs of their choosing, as opposed to within a single Training Center.

"It gives you the freedom to find out what works best for you, and then to train that way," says Copus, who cites that ability to choose as, "the one thing I've been looking forward to a little bit more in these next few years. That flexibility to be able to figure out what works best and then do it.

"Back at Oxford Brookes, I've found that some higher intensity stuff works better for me than just more mileage, and it certainly seems to be reaping some pretty good results at the moment," Copus notes, and his wins at both the Charles and the Pan Am Trials bear out that this new approach has been working for him.

Repping Oxford Brookes at the Charles in 2022
Repping Oxford Brookes at the Charles in 2022

"Obviously, every athlete is different: we're not robots," he says. "We're all different people with different physiologies and of course psychologies, and those differences require different strategies to be able to get the best end result.

"I think that's one bit where actually the US's lack of having everyone in one place actually could really be a strength, because it allows people to be able to get the most out of themselves."

In the US right now, Copus sees what he calls an "appreciation that there's different ways to skin a cat."

That appreciation and the chance to chart his own course appeals to Copus, because he sees this year--and his switch to the US side--as an inflection point for the rest of his international career.

Stroking the GB entry (center lane) in the Repechage at the 2021 Final Olympic Qualifier
Stroking the GB entry (center lane) in the Repechage at the 2021 Final Olympic Qualifier

"I reckon 2028 will probably be absolutely my last year," he says. "If I've got five years left on my international rowing career, I want to absolutely make them the best that they can be, and that also fits with where I want to go as a person and what I want to do."

Part of his trajectory in those five years, Copus readily admits, will involve going after an open weight spot once the lightweight events are phased out after Paris. For the rest of this Quadrennial, though, his first priority remains the Lightweight Double, the Olympic event he has the most experience in, at least for as long as it remains an Olympic event.

"It is really disappearing after Paris, and it would be pretty darn cool to be part of the last ever iteration of the Olympic Lightweight Double."

"And then," he added, "Let's see what happens when I put on a little weight!"

Racing at the Winter Speed Order starts on Friday, in Sarasota, with time trials. The Finals are set for Sunday morning.

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