Looking for a High-Performance Director of Rowing?

Have megaphone, will travel.

15 November 2021

By Göran R Buckhorn

“Tis the season for High-Performance Directors and Coaches.

On Saturday, 13 November, HTBS wrote that Paul Thompson had been appointed Performance Director for Rowing Australia (RA). It is interesting to see how the job as “High-Performance Director of Rowing” has become the talk of the town in some rowing camps around the world.

It started with Jurgen Grobler hastily leaving British Rowing in August 2020 to then take the position as Executive High-Performance Consultant for Fédération Française des Sociétés d’Aviron in September 2021. In the beginning of October, on the 8th to be precise, British Rowing announced that Brendan Purcell had stepped down as British Rowing Director of Performance. This as a consequence of the country’s 14th place on the Olympic Medal Table for Rowing at the Tokyo Games after Great Britain having been on the top spot at the three previous Olympic Games.

A few days later, on 13 October, a rumour started to spread that USRowing – who totally missed the Olympic Medal Table for Rowing in Tokyo – was in discussion with Steve Redgrave to become the federation’s new High-Performance Director for the Paris Games. The next day Amanda Kraus, CEO of USRowing, confirmed the rumour and wrote: “We have recently begun our search for the new head of High Performance. We can confirm that Steve Redgrave is interested in playing a role at USRowing and we are very pleased to be in conversation with him.

On 10 November, to mark her one year as CEO of USRowing, Kraus wrote on the organisation’s website that We are […] working our way through identifying the best candidates for two senior roles at USRowing – our new head of High Performance and our new head of Programs. We should have both of these positions finalized before the year’s end.”

Sir Steve’s name was not mentioned in Kraus’s statement.

In mid-October, the Swedish Olympic Committee (SOK) announced that Johan Flodin would take on the role as Sports and Development Director at SOK. Flodin was to return to his home country Sweden after being the head coach for the Norwegian National Rowing Team for eight years. During his time in Norway, he led the Norwegian rowers to 30 international medals.

The answer to the question “who is going to fill Flodin’s shoes?” came at the end of that month when Mark Emke was presented by the Norges Roforbund as the federation’s new head coach. Emke, 62, had only a brief time earlier left the position as the men’s national team manager for Dutch rowing.

Mark Emke. Photo: The Norwegian Rowing Federation

Emke, an Olympian for the Netherlands in the men’s quadruple sculls in 1984, had not only worked with Dutch rowers during two periods, 2004-2008 and 2013-2021, he had also worked with Portuguese rowers for the Olympic Games in London in 2012.

According to an article on Norwegian Rowing’s website, Mark Emke said he wanted to develop as a coach and found it exciting that para-rowing was so well integrated in the Norwegian national team. Whereupon it is easy to add: with Birgit Skarstein as the world’s para-rowing super star, how could it not be?

Then on 9 November, Rowing Ireland announced that Fran Keane, who has worked with Rowing Ireland since 2019, had been appointed High-Performance men’s head coach and Giuseppe De Vita, who has worked with the organisation since 2018, had been appointed High-Performance women’s head coach.

“We are delighted to be building the High-Performance team as we head into the Paris cycle and welcome Fran as Men’s Head Coach and Giuseppe De Vita as Women’s Head Coach. Both coaches have coached extensively in Irish clubs with Giuseppe coaching at UCD and Fran at Presentation College before joining the team in Rowing Ireland,” Michelle Carpenter, Rowing Ireland’s Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement. “Our commitment is to having structure in our programme going into Paris which is only a few short years away.”

While wrapping up this article, news came from Switzerland that, starting December this year, 59-year-old New Zealander Ian Wright will take over the head coach position at Swiss Rowing.

Ian Wright. Photo: Swiss Rowing

Wright was the Olympic head coach for the Swiss Rowing Federation between 2014 and 2016 and led the Swiss men’s lightweight four to an Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Games in Rio. After five years as the men’s head coach in Australia, Wright is now returning to the Swiss National Rowing Centre in Sarnen.

Ian Wright is a three-time Olympic oarsman, in 1988, 1992 and 1996 – taking a bronze medal in the coxed fours in 1988. He also medalled at two Commonwealth Games and took a bronze at the 1989 World Championships in the coxless fours. Wright has been coached by the famous Harry Mahon, who died in 2001.

It seems to be the season for “High-Performance Directors of Rowing”. I wish Paul Thompson, Mark Emke, Fran Keane, Giuseppe De Vita and Ian Wright good luck in their new endeavours towards Paris. But I hope they and Rowing Australia, Norges Roforbund, Rowing Ireland and Swiss Rowing will forgive me when I write that the largest interest right now is who is going to be picked to lead the rowing teams at British Rowing and USRowing. Whoever these persons might be, they have three years to put things right, getting the great rowing nations Britain and the USA back on and high up on the Medal Table for Rowing in Paris.

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