Will Newell ’11: Six Years to the Olympics

Only six years after the start of his career, Newell looks to medal in an event that has never been a strength for the US

Race to the Finish
Courtesy of US Rowing

Will Newell '11 (center) trains for the Olympics in Oklahoma City.

It didn’t take long for Will Newell ’11 to go from novice to Olympic-caliber rower.

“Will didn’t start rowing until his junior year in high school,” said Linda Muri, Harvard’s lightweight freshman coach. “He had very good recommendations from his high school coach, but he was a little bit of a wild card.”

After coming to Harvard, Newell developed quickly, earning himself the lightweight captaincy as a senior and leading the Crimson to a combined 27-1 during his time on the 1V. A victory at Eastern Sprints and a second-place finish at IRA nationals, along with a stint on the Under-23 National team in 2010, convinced Newell to consider international rowing despite his short career.

Just six years after the start of his rowing career, the Weston, Mass., native will be representing the United States in London as a member of the lightweight four, which starts competition on Saturday. In doing so, Newell will become just the fifth Crimson lightweight rower to compete in the Olympic Games.

“I really fell in love with the sport, and I could definitely see me sticking with this for a while,” Newell said.

CHANGING THE COURSE

Harvard has a long tradition of success in the lightweight, capturing its eighth national championship last season, but its rowers have not been able to match that success on the Olympic level. Since the lightweight four was added as an event to Olympic competition in 1996, the USA has only walked away with one medal, a bronze in the Atlanta Games during those inaugural Olympic competitions. The team failed to come close in Sydney, Athens, or Beijing.

“The overarching goal is to kind of turn that around,” Newell said of the USA’s relative failure in the four. “Over the past four years, the lightweight fours internationally have been incredibly close. That means that there’s not a lot of room for error, so if we can make it to the A final, anything can happen.”

The route to the Olympics for Newell and his three fellow oarsmen was stressful. After narrowly missing a qualifying spot at the Games at the 2011 World Rowing Championships, Newell and company had to wait a year to earn their way into the Games with a first-place finish at the 2012 Final Olympic Qualification Regatta.

“It’s been such an emotional rollercoaster ever since the qualification,” Newell said. “To go from not even knowing if you’re going to have the chance to qualify to definitely going was incredible.”

Joining Newell on the fastest lightweight four US Rowing could put together are three familiar faces—every member of the boat rowed in Ivy League competition. Anthony Fahden, a 2008 Dartmouth grad and the “veteran” of the group, is the only one that Newell did not compete against or with at any level prior to joining the lightweight four.

Robin Prendes rowed for Princeton in the same year as Newell, going head-to-head with Newell for four years before joining forces this summer. Nick Lacava, a 2009 Columbia graduate, rounds out the boat.

“We were deemed the fastest US four they could put together,” Newell said. "A lot of the lightweight rowers come out of Ivy League schools, and we just happened to all earn a spot on the same boat.”

OKLAHOMA, WHERE THE BOAT COMES SWEEPING DOWN THE WATER

Unlike most of the crews which choose to train in traditional locales such as the Northeast and California, US Rowing put rowers competing for a spot on the lightweight four away from the sports’ classic centers: Oklahoma City.

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