Olympic Spotlight: Opportunity With Australian Eight A Dream Come True For Gerrand

Four former Yale women's rowers – Ashley Brzozowicz '04 (Canada, eight), Tess Gerrand '10 (Australia, eight), Jamie Redman '08 (USA, spare) and Taylor Ritzel '10 (USA, eight) – will be at the 2012 Olympics in London. In the days leading up to the Games, yalebulldogs.com will profile each of the four.

Ever since she started rowing at the age of 13, it has been Tess Gerrand's dream to represent Australia in the Olympics. As recently as a few months ago, it didn't seem that it was going to happen.

Australia had not sent a women's eight overseas since the Beijing Games. It took a fair amount of petitioning to convince the nation's rowing committee to select a boat to race in the final Olympic qualifying regatta. When they finally agreed, Gerrand was eager for the opportunity. After finishing third in the women's pair at the national championship in March, she was invited to the selection regatta and earned a spot.

The Australian eight then went out and won the qualification regatta final by more than three seconds in Lucerne, Switzerland, in May.

"Needless to say it has been a busy and emotionally tumultuous year so far, but this means a lot to me," Gerrand says. "It means that a lot of my hard work has finally paid off and that I can breath a sigh of relief knowing that the sacrifices and difficult decisions have been for a very tangible outcome and hopefully a metallic one too."

Not everything went the way Gerrand hoped, however. Her training partner, two-time Olympian Monique Heinke, was not selected.

"That was devastating for me because Mo is a true female role model - doctor, two-time Olympian, wife and mother of two – and had taught me so much throughout the season," Gerrand says.

Nevertheless, there will be a couple of familiar faces in London. Gerrand's former Yale teammates Taylor Ritzel (U.S. eight) and Jamie Redman (U.S. spare) will be there. Gerrand and Ritzel, both Yale Class of 2010, enjoyed remarkable success for the Bulldogs. They each sat in the varsity eight for four years and won three NCAA titles.

"Taylor and I talk, tweet, email and Facebook each other very regularly. But I think we might chill out and resort to death stares and a quick smile or two for the sake or our teammates between July 29 and Aug. 2 [the dates of the rowing competition]," Gerrand jokes. "After racing, though, I plan to spend some quality time with her for the first time since we graduated."

During their time at Yale, Gerrand and Ritzel spoke often about some day competing in the Olympics.

"We always thought it would be awesome if we were to race each other at the Games, and I think [Yale head coach] Will Porter even promised he would [come] if all of us were racing in London," Gerrand says.

Porter is unable to make the trip to London, but he'll certainly be following the results. He isn't surprised that Gerrand earned a spot on the Australian team.

"Tess is physically one of the strongest athletes I have coached," Porter says. "She is keenly aware of her physical ability and is very calculating in her approach to work. She knows when to use it and when to pace it. It was never a question if she would make the Australian team, it was just a matter of when. Now that she is in the system, the sky is the limit."

Gerrand also will catch up with another former Yalie in London. Former heavyweight rower Charlie Cole '07 will be competing in the coxless four for the United States.

"Charlie and I used to talk about [rowing in the Olympics]," Gerrand recalls. "In fact, I remember a conversation on the bus to the boathouse one day where we decided he and I would fine me a husband in the Olympic village in London. I have managed okay without his help, though, so now will just be looking forward to cheering him on to a silver medal, just behind my club-mate James Chapman in the Australian four."

It was Gerrand's mother that got her interested in rowing. She rowed at a local club and would take Tess with her to regattas. Ironically, Gerrand started her rowing career as a coxswain for a master's women's four.

"I got too big for the coxswains seat very quickly and was coaxed into rowing in a club quad," Gerrand says. "I fell in love with the sport when I started winning races. It is a wonderful combination of strength and endurance which makes it very hard, so perfect for my annoyingly competitive/stubborn personality. It was the first avenue where I felt I could combine my length and strength with some hard work and succeed."

Now that she has earned a spot on the Australian team, Gerrand hopes to remain for the foreseeable future.

"I definitely know I want to do a full Olympiad to be able to prepare to the best of my ability," she says. "It was only a few months ago I was still working two casual jobs and riding my bike between the two for extra training minutes. So things haven't been ideal from a preparation standpoint, but if I continue to be selected to the team, I will be able to focus more of my energies onto training camp leading up to 2016. Then I would like to have a real career, a real social life and a real big family."

Story by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity

View: Mobile | Desktop