When many current members of Radcliffe lightweight crew first arrived at Harvard, they never anticipated that they would no longer be under the close guidance and leadership of former Black and White head coach Heather Cartwright.
Over the span of three years, Cartwright led the Radcliffe lightweights to a 15-6 dual record over the course of her three-year run, and three straight fourth-place finishes at the IRA National Championships.
But after a 6-2 mark in her final year, Cartwright decided to step away from the Weld Boathouse in order to attend to a health concern. The move left the Black and White both saddened about Cartwright’s departure and also wondering about the future.
“It was upsetting to us all when we were told that someone who has had a continuous presence in our lives wasn’t going to be there anymore,” senior coxswain Maryana Vrubel said. “We were really close to coach Cartwright, so while we were surprised, we completely understood her reasons, and we knew that it was for her benefit.”
But their initial shock disintegrated and their hopes soared with the mid-summer hiring of Michiel Bartman as head coach of the Radcliffe lightweights on July 26.
“We were really excited when [Michiel Bartman] was hired,” Vrubel said. “I mean, if you look at his resume—Olympic champion, great experience with lightweights, competing at the international level—we were all very happy that he wanted to become part of our program.”
A legendary rower in his native Netherlands and a successful head coach for six years at the Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia, Michiel Bartman has put together an impressive resume both in the water as an athlete and on the riverbanks as a coach.
“I didn’t believe it when I heard he was hired over the summer,” said junior lightweight rower Erich Schultze, who rowed with Bartman at Vesper in 2010. “His experience speaks for itself, what he’s accomplished as an athlete. And I think he’s translated that really well into coaching. The sessions I had with him in Philadelphia were some of the best I’ve ever had. It’s astonishing for the women’s team to have him here at Harvard.”
During his athletic career, Bartman first broke onto the international stage when he and his teammates won the gold medal for their native country at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the eights. Bartman followed up on his Olympic gold with a silver medal performance at the 2000 Sydney games in the quadruple sculls. And then, in 2004, Bartman capped off his decorated rowing career with silver in the men’s eights competition at the Athens Olympics and the award of Amsterdam Sportsman of the Year.
In addition to Olympic glory, over the course of his 20-plus years of competitive racing, the Dutch native has brought home three world championships medals, 13 World Cup medals as a competitor for the Netherlands, and more than 100 gold medals for his rowing clubs.
But after an illustrious career on the water, Bartman sought a transition to full-time coaching in order to impart his experience, passion, and expertise to young athletes in the boathouse. Furthermore, Bartman was eager to fulfill his long-time ambition of living and working in the United States.
So when the head coaching position at the world-renowned Vesper Boat Club opened up, Bartman saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he could not pass by.
“As a teenager I had always had thoughts about living and working in the United States, it always appealed to me,” Bartman said. “So when I had the opportunity at Vesper in 2005, of combining a hobby with a profession and working and being able to live in the United States, it was just perfect to me.”
So with just two suitcases in tow, Bartman set off to Philadelphia to take helm of the 146-year-old Vesper Boat Club—a club whose stated goal is “to produce Olympic champions.”
But Bartman easily rose to the occasion as he quickly established a track record of success at No. 10 Boathouse Row.
During his six-year tenure, Bartman honed elite athletes and prepared them to compete in international competitions, such as the World Rowing Championships and the Olympic Games. Two of his most prominent alums include Andrew Byrnes and Josh Inman, who won gold and bronze in the men’s eight respectively, at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
But not totally satiated with his success at Vesper, Bartman sought a new challenge in the form of collegiate coaching at Harvard.
“I liked my job at Vesper,” Bartman said. “But it is a club program, and for me to gain some additional learning experience for the future, collegiate coaching was a step that I had to make.”
“I already had an impression of rowing at Harvard and of the university, so when [Harvard lightweight coach] Charley Butt called me up and said, ‘Maybe I can drop your name for the lightweight women’s position,’ I gave him the go-ahead, because I thought that this would be a great opportunity for me,” Bartman said
By stepping into this new role as Radcliffe lightweight head coach, Bartman is cognizant of the new challenges he will face at the collegiate level. Nevertheless, he also confident that his tenure at Vesper has already given him the necessary tools to meet those challenges head-on.
“I have been in the position now for four weeks, and it is not much different from what I am used to at Vesper,” Bartman said. “Recruiting is obviously more intense, but other than that, I coached lightweight women at Vesper, and I had some of my best successes with the lightweight women at Vesper.
“So in that sense, it is nothing new. But just being in a bigger environment than Vesper, it has been a personal education for me just to work more with more people, with coaches, coaches from other sports, etc.”
Having just spent six weeks on the job so far, Bartman has already conquered one of the main challenges every new coach faces by coming into a new team—winning over his players.
“He’s done a great job just getting us up to speed on our technique and getting us fit again,” Vrubel said. “I think that with our attitude and his competitive leadership, we have had a really great start to the year.”
“I think that he’s fitting in with the team really well and his personality is meshing really well with us,” co-captain Emma Lukasiewicz added. “We are all really excited to have him.”
—Staff writer Oluwatoni A. Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.