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Junior Jack Dorney Prepares to Join Long Line of Harvard Rowing Olympians

With a two-medal performance in Tokyo, Gabby Thomas '19, pictured above during her Harvard tenure, headlines the class of 15 current and former Crimson student-athletes competing at the Games.
With a two-medal performance in Tokyo, Gabby Thomas '19, pictured above during her Harvard tenure, headlines the class of 15 current and former Crimson student-athletes competing at the Games. By Courtesy of the Ivy League
By Miller Y. MacDonald, Contributing Writer

While most of the Harvard men’s heavyweight crew team is preparing for the Head of the Charles Regatta, one of the Crimson’s oarsmen will be watching from across the Pond as he trains for another race, one almost a year away –– the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Junior rower Jack Dorney is no stranger to international competition. A native of Monkstown, Ireland, he has competed under the Irish flag at two World Championships, rowing in the coxless four-man boat. The team came into the 2023 World Championships this past September with high hopes, as a good result would net them a place in Paris. Unfortunately, food poisoning within the team resulted in a last-place result for the Irish squad in the opening heats.

“It’s very frustrating when something goes wrong that is outside our control,” said Dorney in a written statement.

However, Dorney and the team quickly shrugged off the misfortune and set their sights on the Final Qualification Regatta in May 2024, hosted in Lucerne, Switzerland. This will be their last chance to qualify for the Olympics.

Currently training at the Irish National Rowing Center in Cork, rowing is currently his primary focus. “It’s been very enjoyable so far,” Dorney said.“It is much easier to train and recover at the highest level when you don’t have to worry about classes or exams.”

“On the surface it’s a very simple process; train, trail, qualify, race,” Dorney added. However, he emphasized the importance of staying focused mentally. “It has to be emphasized how crucial it is to stay calm and use the nerves to help you.”.

Dorney’s Olympic bid comes at a high point for Irish rowing. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Irish lightweight pair Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan won a silver medal in the double sculls event, establishing their presence in the sport with a gold medal in the same event at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

“It is a great privilege to train alongside [Fintan and Paul]. There is definitely pressure to perform,” said Dorney, who’s called O’Donovan his hero in the past. He added that the “high standard” set by such competition “is beneficial when it comes to race day knowing that you’re in a good place based on comparisons from within the Irish set-up.”

Dorney doesn’t lack for role models within the Crimson crew team, either. “The recently graduated senior class along with the captain from the year before had a huge impact on my development while at Harvard,” he reflected, highlighting the team has “very impressive individual achievements with their respective national teams.”

He mentioned that he is keeping in touch with the team and coaching staff while abroad, and is excited to experience the new team atmosphere when he returns next fall.

If Dorney qualifies for the 2024 Olympics, he will not only be adding to a storied Irish rowing history — but to a Harvard one as well. The Crimson sent its first rowing team to the Olympics in 1924, in the men’s coxed 4 event. In the near-100 years since, Harvard has sent a total of 128 rowers to the Games, with many contributing to medal-winning teams.

Prominent Harvard Olympian rowers include the 1968 Crimson men’s eight, who attracted widespread attention for their early support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Harvard legend Harry Parker, the heavyweight men’s crew coach from 1963-2013, also coached three medal-winning teams during his tenure.

The most recently decorated Harvard alumni are Esther Lofgren ’07-’09 and Caryn Davies ’04-’05, who won gold in the women’s eight event at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Their legacy sits alongside Malcolm Howard ’05, who bagged silver with his Canadian eight-man squad that same year.

Surrounded by so much history, Dorney tries to focus on the task at hand. “It’s very easy to get caught up in things,” said Jack, “but sometimes you just have to put your head down and get the work done.”

Representing Ireland at the Olympics “would mark the completion of a dream I’ve had for years,” he said. However, when asked how this competition would be different from previous national team appearances, he emphasized the similarities to previous international competitions.

“It will be the same athletes from [the World Championships] that will compete at the Olympic Games,” Dorney concluded. “As the Olympians on the team tell the up and coming, it’s important to take in and appreciate the gravity of the atmosphere as it’s a unique and amazing experience but more importantly that you can use that to your advantage.”

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