Allen Rosenberg, the U.S. national crew coach, is a giant whom nature has cast in a deceptively small mold. He seems even shorter than his 5'1", mostly because of the company he keeps. Folks are always looking down at Rosenberg, as well as up to him, saying things like, "You are an amazingly courageous man," or "I have never known anybody able to communicate more effectively." And Rosenberg, whose sad furrowed face is a map of a thousand old slights and frustrations, says, "I don't mean it egotistically, but now, after 20 years, I'm willing to admit I really am talented." This week Rosenberg and company are putting that talent on the line again.
The place is Nottingham, England, the very Nottingham of Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood. The occasion is the World Crew Championships, where Rosenberg's eight-oared heavyweight shell will defend the title it so shockingly and dramatically won a year ago at Lucerne, Switzerland.
Last year it was agreed that East Germany would win. Or perhaps Russia. The U.S. was no longer a power; all the experts knew that. But there was one, a very short one, who did not. Allen Rosenberg had been U.S. Olympic coach in 1964, and his heavyweight eight had won a gold medal, but 10 years had passed since that glory, and many people feared that the coach was out of touch. However, Rosenberg came to his Princeton, N.J. training camp with a program for the 70s, including flexibility calisthenics borrowed from the Washington Redskins. He also brought his brother Stanley, a teacher of the defensive martial art of T'ai chi in Denmark, who led the oarsmen in body-control exercises. Said Coxswain David Weinberg, "Rosenberg prides himself on being innovative, and on the water he's so dynamic and confident that he gets us to believe in some pretty far-out things."
At one point in training, the crew was having trouble with starts. Rosenberg asked them to try some with their eyes closed. "We're not doing that," one oar complained. Rosenberg explained why it is essential for a crew to be completely oblivious to its surroundings for the first 15 strokes, and that blind starts would be good practice. They were. And the crew began to believe.
"Al has absolute control," says Six-oar Dick Cashin, "but he doesn't have to seek it. He gets it by being one of us." When the time came to take the team picture Rosenberg showed up in his uniform, a necktie and a pair of white socks. That was it. The crew roared and called him Jiminy Cricket and Big Al. But Rosenberg was still the boss.
On the eve of the Lucerne finals Rosenberg spoke for 90 minutes. He told his oarsmen how fortunate they were, how no doctor or lawyer could be the best in the world, but that they had a chance. "I can't possibly explain the difference between the silver and the gold," he said, "but if you win the silver you'll wake up the next morning and know that someone rowed a better race than you, and I don't want you to go through life thinking of that." They didn't, beating' Britain by one-quarter boat length for the world title. Vaunted East Germany came in fourth.
By late July of this year the boat was set again, with only one new man. Mark Umlauf of the University of Washington took over the three-oar from his former Huskie teammate Mark Norelius, now in the Air Force. The coxswain is David Weinberg, Harvard '74, now a banker in New York City, who was aboard last year's national collegiate championship boat. Stroke is Alan Shealy, a June Harvard graduate and a two-time national champion, whose mother says, "Al is so competitive that he can't stand it if someone brushes his teeth better." At six-oar is Shealy's classmate Dick Cashin, a Chinese major, holder of a Fisk Scholarship at Cambridge and also twice a national champion. Hugh Stevenson, who insists he is a romantic idealist, will row again at seven-oar. He refuses to be tested on the ergometer, calling it "antithetical to my concept of rowing." Back at four-oar is Mike Vespoli, crew coach at Wichita State. Vespoli, known as The Mouth because of nonstop conversation, is 29, has been on seven national crews and says he has never respected a coach as much as Allen Rosenberg, who talks to him as an equal. A teammate says, "Rosenberg has Mike eating out of his hand." Youngest (20), quietest man in the boat is John Everett at five-oar, an MIT junior. As of last week there was a difference of opinion as to how many sentences he had spoken during training. Some estimates went as high as four. At two-oar is Rhodes scholar Ken Brown, Cornell '75, nicknamed No. 1 by his teammates, for never having finished second at anything. And, finally, at bow is Tim Mikkleson, an engineer, at 29 going on 30 the oldest, most experienced oar in the boat.
Then there is Jiminy Cricket. Says Vespoli, "Everyone feels good when Al comes out to look at us. He's so perceptive. He says a few things, and it makes a major difference how the crew rows."
All summer, megaphone in hand, Rosenberg was in a motor launch hovering like a dragonfly around his crew, watching, now at the stern, now at one side or the other.
"Weino, Weino," he calls, "Ken Brown isn't sitting straight enough.... Keep the length in that finish, Umlauf.... Hugh, you're not carrying your blade properly."