The National Anthem never sounded sweeter to Gavin White.
That’s because White, Temple’s men’s crew coach, who served as a National Team Rowing coach at the World Rowing Championships in Milan, Italy on Aug. 30, had just guided the U.S. pair with coxswain to a gold medal against some stiff international competition.
White waited patiently in the wings while the team received its medals and when the U.S. flag was raised, he could barely control his emotions.
He told the team from the get-go that it was fully capable of bringing home the gold and being the first country to have its flag raised when the race was decided.
“The thrill never goes away when you hear your national anthem played, it’s just chilling,” White said. “Watching them get their medals and watching the flag go up, I just got goose bumps.”
White wasn’t the only Owl to bring home a medal.
Former Temple rower Marcus McElhenney served as the coxswain for the men’s four with coxswain that won the gold at the championships while another former Owl, Jason Read, was on the U.S. eight boat that took home the silver medal.
“You’re kind of in disbelief,” McElhenney said. “Immediately you don’t get this feeling that you won but after a while, when you’re in the awards ceremony, is when it sets in that you’re a world champion.”
For White, soaking in his achievement lasted all but eight hours.
It was just enough time to fly back to Philadelphia and head straight to the Alternative Middle Years (AMY) at James Martin School, where he is a full-time teacher.
It was White’s first trip to Italy and he’ll never forget it.
The championships lasted nine days, which gave White enough time to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper and some cathedrals.
But the team was all business, he conceded, and White had his team practicing for three weeks on Lake Carnegie in Princeton, NJ.
When they arrived in Italy, White had the team rowing on the Idroscalo River twice a day under a brutal sun.
During the finals, the team was racing a 35-kilometer boat in 90-degree weather.
By the end of the race the team was depleted and could barely stand for the ceremonies because of dehydration.
“It was ridiculously hot when we got there,” White said, “like Sahara Desert hot.”
White knew he had a special group on his hands, but that didn’t stop him from suffering a typical coach’s paranoia.
The chemistry was there and so was the need for speed.
“The problem was we didn’t know what the competition was going in,” White said. “Until the gun goes off you have no idea who you’re up against.”
The U.S. pair’s winning time of 7:10.11 was 3.02 seconds ahead of Australia, who took silver, though not before catching up to the U.S. in the open water, while Canada took home the bronze.
One of the biggest surprises came after the rowers received their medals when White was presented by his team with the highly honored coach’s medal: a three-inch heavy hunk of gold.
“I can’t tell you how much that means as a coach,” White said. “Because usually in most regattas it’s the crew that gets the recognition, not the coach.”
For a coach who’s been to the Olympics and guided crew teams for nearly 30 years, it’s about time White gets the credit he deserves.
Chris Silva can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org