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He's tops, by Jiminy
Dan Levin
September 01, 1975
Led by a cricket of a coach, the U.S. eights defend their title
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September 01, 1975

He's Tops, By Jiminy

Led by a cricket of a coach, the U.S. eights defend their title

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And always there was the emphasis on the Rosenberg style of rowing, which calls for a three-part stroke: first the legs, then the back, then the arms. It stresses economy of effort, unlike more classic styles which call for pulling with everything at once.

Rosenberg says, "I've had people argue, 'If you want to move a boulder you push hard as you can, with all you have.' But to keep it moving, I tell them, you can use less force."

Then, another workout over, a soft, unfocused look comes to Rosenberg's eyes. He watches the boats on the river and says, "They make them in colored plastic now—green and blue—but there's nothing as pretty as the sunlight on a wooden one."

That is another Allen Rosenberg, the one who often comes half an hour late to practice, the one who spent an hour looking for his passport on the way to Lucerne until one of the oarsmen suggested he check his flight bag.

Dick Cashin says, "He's like a genius who can't find his way around the subway system. The only time he comes into his own, as a leader beyond belief, is on the water."

And Rosenberg, an attorney, says, "I admit that I'm a better coach than I am a lawyer."

It was always that way, or almost. Rosenberg started in crew in 1954 as a coxswain for Philadelphia's Vesper Boat Club. Jack Kelly recalls, "I remember Al as a scared little guy who couldn't steer. Some of the oarsmen were animals to him. I'll never know why he didn't quit." But that summer, coxing a four-man boat, he won a national championship. He was a pharmacist then, going to law school at night. He was always in the bottom fifth of his class. In 1955 he won a gold medal, coxing an eight-oared shell in the Pan-Am Games, and in 1962 he took the coaching job at Vesper. For no pay. Two years later Rosenberg's crew won the Olympic gold, and he came home to run for the board of directors of the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen—and lost. He was crushed. People were saying his personality was "abrasive," or "aggressive." Rosenberg's word is "outspoken," and he has always been that way, even at Temple University as a 98-pound wrestler competing in the 118-pound class.

And now 20 years of rowing have passed for Allen Rosenberg. This week his eight defends the world championship, and he has been named the 1976 U.S. Olympic coach. He has already coached an Olympic and a world-champion winner, and no one else has done that, but he has never been offered a college coaching job. He will not admit to being hurt, and for four years he worked as a lawyer in the administrative office at the University of Rochester, not a rowing school. His friends are outraged. "How is it possible," one asks, "that crew schools such as Princeton, Columbia and Rutgers, to mention a few, who have floundered for years, do not recognize Rosenberg's ability?"

"How is it possible," David Weinberg asked last year, "for a guy with a wife and four kids to leave his job, with no guarantee that he will get it back, and walk into something that he hasn't done in 10 years?"

It is probably simply what Rosenberg gets in return, the unabashed admiration and affection of the world's best oarsmen and that rare chance, at least vicariously, to be the best in the world.

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