Steve Gladstone to be Awarded the 2015 USRowing Medal of Honor

by Ed Moran, | Sep 21, 2015
Steve Gladstone has had a lot of big moments over the course of a lifetime of coaching and building rowing programs. One of the biggest had to be his Yale University men’s eight victory at the 2015 Henley Royal Regatta over the University of Washington in the final of the Ladies’ Challenge Plate.
gladstone2Steve Gladstone has had a lot of big moments over the course of a lifetime of coaching and building rowing programs. One of the biggest had to be his Yale University men’s eight victory at the 2015 Henley Royal Regatta over the University of Washington in the final of the Ladies’ Challenge Plate.

Washington was not just another fast crew; it was the defending U.S. national collegiate champion. Gladstone’s crews won 11 national championships, but if you ask him which stands out, his answer is, they were all special.

gladstonecelebratingBut Henley was his most recent and was with a program he had been asked to bring back to prominence in 2010. The victory “was as exciting as any race that I’ve been a part of in my coaching career,” Gladstone said.

Since 1966, Gladstone, 74, has been a larger than life legend in rowing. He coached at Princeton University and served two stints as head coach at the University of California, where he was also Director of the Intercollegiate Athletic Department. He coached at Brown University, where he also served as the head of the University’s Sport Foundation after he stopped coaching, and he then helped found Resolute Racing Shells.

Now he can add another tribute to his very long list, the 2015 USRowing Medal of Honor. Awarded to a member of the rowing community in the U.S. who has rendered conspicuous service to, or accomplished extraordinary feats in, rowing, it is the highest honor USRowing bestows.

“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Gladstone said of the award. “It’s very, very thoughtful. It’s always satisfying to be acknowledged for the work the crews have done. It was very, very pleasing.”

Gladstone will be presented with the honor at the Golden Oars Awards Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 19, at the New York Athletic Club in New York City.

Gladstone began his coaching career in 1966 at Princeton University, where he led his crew to a pair of silver medals at the IRAs. After three years, he took over the Harvard University men’s lightweight program, leading them to four consecutive undefeated seasons, four Eastern Sprints titles and victories in the 1971 Thames Challenge Cup and Wyfold Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta.

He then moved to Cal where he stayed from 1973 to 1980 and posted three undefeated dual-race seasons and an IRA title in 1976.

Gladstone left coaching for one year, but in 1982, he was asked to take over the Brown program, where he again developed national championship-level teams, winning four Eastern Sprints titles, five IRA championships and two National Collegiate Rowing Championship titles.

In 1993 and 1994, Brown won all three titles, a feat that had never been accomplished. In his final year at Brown, his crew was undefeated.
Gladstone again left coaching, partnering with America’s Cup yacht builder Eric Goetz, to form Resolute Racing Shells, where he was president and director of marketing.

But in 1996, Gladstone returned to coaching crew at Cal. The program had fallen off and went 23 years without an IRA victory. Gladstone changed that. In his first two years back, his varsity squads finished third at the IRA and then won in 1999. Cal went on to win four straight IRA titles and was undefeated for three consecutive years.

In 2001, Gladstone was named Director of the Intercollegiate Athletic Department at Cal, from which he resigned in 2004 to focus solely on his job as the head men’s rowing coach.

After the 2008 rowing season, Gladstone left collegiate coaching and accepted a job with the California Rowing Club. He stayed there until Yale came calling.

“Steve Gladstone has simply been spectacular as he and his staff have worked tirelessly to rebuild the Yale heavyweight crew program,” said Yale Athletic Director Tom Beckett. “We are extremely proud of their efforts, and we thank USRowing for recognition of this by awarding Steve this most prestigious honor.

“Steve is one of the legends of college athletics. His record of coaching success is remarkable. He has been a fantastic role model for our entire department. His willingness to meet with any and all members of our department and share his expertise has been so very special. Steve loves to teach, and we are so very pleased he decided to stay connected to the sport he loves dearly by becoming our head coach.

gladstone and koven“This was a very special year for the Yale crew program. Our student athletes, coaches, and loyal alums and friends of Yale crew helped to make this happen. However, the leadership of Steve Gladstone has clearly been the driving force behind this remarkable effort.”

If one looks at an online bio of Gladstone, each time he left coaching to do something else, it was said that he “retired.” Gladstone does not agree with that wording.

“It was not so much retirement as it was moving in a slightly different direction,” Gladstone said. “What it amounts to is there are those of us who enjoy new challenges, and I think it’s clear from looking at my patterns over the course of my career that I enjoy building rowing programs.

“That’s what we did at Brown, that’s what we did at Cal, and that’s what we’re doing at Yale. I would frame it this way; let’s use the analogy of climbing a mountain. You climb the mountain and you find a certain way up and once you’ve found that certain way up the mountain, it’s enjoyable to find even more challenging routes up the mountain.

“I enjoy the challenge of a new pathway, a new route up to the top, and I find that intriguing. I was probably not aware of that in the beginning of my career, but it became pretty obvious that that’s the case.”

Building Yale back to championship form this year was an especially satisfying way up the mountain for Gladstone. And the Henley win was reaching the top again.

“That was a really thrilling experience,” he said. “We knew going in that we were gaining speed through the course of the season. What was deceptive probably to the general public was we had a very bad race in the semifinals of the IRA and to some extent that disguised our speed.”

Gladstone could see that the IRA semifinal did not discourage his athletes and that they were getting fast. He could see it when they went to Gales Ferry, Conn. to prepare for the 150th storied Harvard-Yale race.

“When we went up to Gales Ferry to train for the Harvard race, it was clear the boat was getting faster. Then during the race, we set the course record and won by six or seven seconds and that was an indication that the boat was moving well.

“Then we went over to Wallingford and the Oxford boathouse, and the water there between the two damns has almost no movement. We could see we were gaining speed. At Henley, what you’re looking to do early is progress. You’re not looking to have your maximum performance; you’re looking to progress,” he said.

“When we got in the final, we knew we had a shot at Washington. Washington is a very fast crew; they proved that all season long. They proved it at Henley in their racing there, but we thought we had a shot at them and indeed we did.”

It capped a good year for both Yale and Gladstone, but his work will continue.

“I love to teach rowing, and I love to compete. It’s been my passion, my obsession from the day I started coaching way back in the spring of 1966. I plan on more coaching and continuing to do the good work here. It’s fully engaging. Every year has a new narrative. Every year has its challenges, and we’re far from complete at Yale. A long way from it in fact,” he said.

“So it’s fully engaging. The other piece to this is as time goes on in your coaching life, you have such great satisfaction from watching the lives of the people you’ve coached unfold, watching their lives, being aware of their families, courses of work.

“It’s enormously satisfying to think that the time you spent together with them had a positive impact on their lives. I know that’s a cliché, but any teacher would say the same thing. It’s enormously rewarding.”
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