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Twin rowers headed to Olympics

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Cailin Riley   Jul 10, 2008 1:19 PM

It would seem that Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss were destined to be Olympic rowers.

The 26-year-old twin brothers, who are part-time residents of Quogue, possess the tall and lean physique suitable to rowing, while the special connection they have as twins makes them the perfect team for the two-man boat they’ll be rowing in Beijing in August.

The Harvard graduates earned their spot on the team after competing in the U.S. qualifier on June 25 in Princeton, New Jersey. They will depart for Beijing on July 25 to represent the United States in the two-man boat. Their rise to the highest level of their sport is impressive, considering they only began rowing as high school freshmen. There was no rowing club in their hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut, and they had to create the rowing program at their school. Their dedication to the sport in the face of those obstacles is a testament to their persistence and desire to succeed.

Getting Started

The Winklevosses got their start in rowing almost by chance. During their freshman year of high school, their parents, Carol and Howard Winklevoss, wanted to get their sons interested in another sport and decided upon rowing because of the influence of next-door neighbor Ethan Ayer. Ayer had the same tall and lean build as the Winklevoss brothers and had been a competitive rower in both high school and college.

“We heard about his rowing exploits and thought we might give it a shot,” Cameron said. “Our parents were friends with him and had heard good things about the sport.”

Carol Winklevoss set about to find a place for her sons to row, and after much searching, she brought them to the Saugatuck Rowing Club in Westport, Connecticut, a half-hour drive from their home. Fate intervened again when the twins and their mother first stopped by the Saugatuck club and met rowing coach James Mangan.

“We drove up there one day in the summer and ran into him,” Cameron said. “We just went to look around, but there was an instant connection. I think he was surprised to see two twins who were pretty tall and looked like they would get taller and bigger. He was pretty excited and from that day on, he took us under his wing and gave us a ton of time and focus. He was definitely one of the guiding forces and strong influences in our situation.”

As they became deeply invested in the sport, both Cameron and Tyler proved that they were pretty adept at self-motivation as well. Before long, they approached the headmaster at their high school, the Brunswick School, about starting a rowing program. The program they started in their junior year is still in existence today.

“There was definitely a lot of support and interest from athletes in the school,” Cameron said. “I think there was a good group of kids who were more than interested and willing to try rowing.”

Cameron also said that the sport provided a nice alternative for students who wanted to participate in athletics but weren’t interested in the more traditional sports such as football, basketball and baseball.

Climbing the Ladder

Becoming Olympic-level rowers certainly wasn’t something Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss expected when they first got started in the sport, but they can point to the moment when they realized that they had a good chance at being more competitive than the average high school rowers. During their sophomore year of high school, the twins did several ergometer tests on a rowing machine to measure their speed and found to their surprise that their scores ranked them in the top 20 nationally among junior rowers.

“You get kind of encouraged by seeing results like that,” Cameron said. “We were like, ‘Oh, let’s see how good we can get.’ It sort of builds on that from there.”

The following season, the twins were invited to compete on the junior national rowing team, and after their high school careers came to an end, they joined the rowing team at Harvard University. Success followed them in college, where they were members of an eight-man boat that won the NCAA national championship in both 2003 and 2004.

After an extremely successful collegiate career in which they lost just one race, the twins decided to make a run at the Olympics.

“We basically made a commitment to training for four years,” Cameron said. “At the time, we didn’t know what boat we would be in and we really didn’t even know until two months ago.”

The twins, along with several other U.S. rowing hopefuls, spent the winter training at Clemson University in South Carolina, and after they trained in the two-man, four-man and eight-man boats, their coaches decided that the two-man boat would be the best combination for them.

Rowing in a two-man boat is much different than four or eight-man boats in that the two rowers must do the steering on their own. In the four-man and eight-man boats, the steering is done by a coxswain. In the two-man boat, the stroke (front) rower steers the boat by manipulating with his feet a series of cables that run to the stern where they are connected to a rudder. The other rower is in charge of calling the race, while the front rower must also set the pace in addition to steering.

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