Pushing Past The Nerves and Into the Moment

by Story and Photos by Ed Moran, | Jun 22, 2016
WEST WINDSOR, N.J. – Nareg Guregian has felt pre-race jitters countless times in his rowing career. He’s rowed in world championships, college finals and critical training races where his spot on the national team was in question.
_-4WEST WINDSOR, N.J. – Nareg Guregian has felt pre-race jitters countless times in his rowing career. He’s rowed in world championships, college finals and critical training races where his spot on the national team was in question.

But there were few bigger moments than the one about to unfold Wednesday morning on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J.

After four years of training with the goal of rowing at the Olympic Games in Rio, Guregian (North Hills, Calif.) and pair partner Anders Weiss (Barrington, R.I.) were down to their last possible chance. Neither athlete made the men’s eight that qualified for Rio at the last chance regatta in Lucerne in May, and the four also was filled.

The only Olympic crew not already decided was the pair, and Guregian and Weiss were in the final of the 2016 Olympic Team Trials – Rowing, going up against a group of athletes with which they had been rowing and training. They knew any of the four crews in the final had the will, desire and capability to win.

“I truly thought to myself, this is the last shot,” Guregian said. “I think a lot of people in this kind of position are nervous, and I was nervous. And then I thought to myself that if I had made the eight, I would have had to race the qualifier, and I’m pretty sure all nine of those guys felt this way. So, I thought it is not a unique feeling to be nervous, and I think that calmed me down a little.

“We’ve all been in big races. Not this exact situation, but we’ve all been in ‘this is your last shot’ (races), and I think sometimes the fear and the nervousness really get to you. You just have to find a way to genuinely calm yourself down and enjoy the moment. Once I thought that, it was a little more of thinking that I’m just going to have fun at the beginning of this race, and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.

“But, I knew we had the rhythm and speed to compete, and we did.”

_-2Guregian and Weiss pushed into the lead during the first 500 meters of the Mercer Lake racecourse and dug in. The three trailing crews were going just as hard, but Guregian and Weiss were rowing with the advantage.

Vesper Boat Club’s Tom Peszek (Farmington Hills, Mich.) and Yohann Rigogne (Besançon, France) were the closest competition the entire time and appeared to pull even just past the halfway mark. But, Guregian and Weiss countered every move, made a few of their own, and won in a time of 6:21.10.

Vesper was second in 6:22.23, while Mike Gennaro (Havertown, Pa.) and Dariush Aghai (Skokie, Ill.) were third in 6:29.55.

Now, pending USOC approval, Guregian will join his fiancé – U.S. women’s eight coxswain Katelin Snyder (Detroit, Mich.) – in Rio de Janeiro when the Olympic competition begins in August.

“I just wanted to make sure we had a good start,” Guregian said. “That was the only thing I could truly control, just getting out as hard as I can and praying to God we were rowing well enough to sustain it. We didn’t want to guess what the other crews were doing.

“We knew everyone was in the same exact position as us. Everyone wants to go to Rio, and we knew everyone would do everything they could to get there.”

For the majority of the race, Guregian and Weiss were rowing in control. The Vesper crew had made the final of National Selection Regatta I in March and were one of the favorites entering the final.

_-3Peszek was in the same spot in 2012, won and rowed in the event in London. He and Rigogne were not going to let the opportunity pass without a fight. They pushed into Guregian and Weiss with about 750 meters left to go, but could not overtake Guregian and Weiss.

"We had a good race,” Rigogne said. “It was our best race ever, and we just spent the whole time chasing them. Every time we were getting back on them, they were pushing us back. It was a big chase the whole time. If you look at the times, they're fast times. There's nothing else that we could have done. They're fast. A very good crew."

For Weiss, who has only been rowing at the senior team level for a little more than a year, this was a new experience, but he was aware of what Guregian had endured throughout this Olympic cycle, and the last, and wanted to finish the job for his veteran partner.

“Coming into the last 400 (meters), we knew Peszek and Yohann’s sprinting capabilities, so we went a little early to try and buffer ourselves," Weiss said. "Coming into the last 250, I saw the red buoys and I saw the margin and I started blacking out.

“But I said to myself, Nareg’s dealt with me five weeks now, and I thought there is no more hard working guy that I’ve been in a pair with. I said, ‘I’ve got to do this for him. He’s been training a long time and I’ve only been doing this for a year.'

“As much as I liked to say, I pushed myself, no, I was pushing for him because he deserves this like no other and that’s what got me through the last 250. When we crossed that finish line, I couldn’t really see that much, but I knew that Nareg was one happy man, and I considered it a job well done.”

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