This September, while many of us were glued to our television sets watching America compete for gold in Sydney, one of Temple’s coaches was witnessing it all first hand.
Gavin White, the head coach of Temple’s men’s crew, had an experience this past September that he will likely never forget. White was an assistant to the United States Olympic rowing head coach Mike Teti.
White, who will enter his 22nd year as coach at Temple, is a five-time assistant coach for the U.S. National Team (1986, 1997- 2000). In 1999 he led the men’s coxed four to a gold medal and in 2000 to a silver medal at the U.S. Nationals. White is also a full-time health and physical education teacher at James Martin Middle School (in Philadelphia?).
Thirty years ago, White began his rowing career here at Temple University. While a member of the freshmen basketball team, White was encouraged by a friend to go out for the crew team. He admitted in a recent interview that he didn’t fall in love with the sport at first.
“At several points throughout the year, I was about to quit because of disagreements with the coach,” White said.
He stuck with it, though, and today he is one of the most well-liked and well-respected coaches in the country.
“I love to coach young people,” he said. “I am fascinated with training and their development. Working with kids also helps to keep me feeling young.”
The sport has changed a lot since White first got involved.
“The boats today are a lot lighter then when I first started,” he said. “The times have decreased dramatically because of it.”
Teti and White have a strong history together, since Teti served as White’s assistant from 1982-1989. White didn’t mind taking a back seat to his protégé in Sydney.
“Mike and I are almost like brothers,” White said. “He only assembled coaches who he was comfortable working with.
“When you are the assistant coach, you don’t get as much credit, but you don’t take the heat either, so I had it better then he did.”
Heat is something that Teti and his staff had to face following their performance in Sydney.
Expectations were extremely high for the U.S. rowing team entering the Olympics. The Americans were the only team to qualify for all 14 rowing events in Sydney. After the games were over, however, the U.S. was left with only a silver and two bronze medals, a disappointing result for many.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the three-time world champion U.S. men’s eight team taking home a fifth-place finish.
“That was definitely a disappointment.” White said. “Everybody was expecting us to win the gold. Maybe we didn’t concentrate hard enough in 1 or 2 events.
“The thing that most people don’t realize is that unlike other sports, these are not professional athletes. Most of our athletes were either right out of college or still students.”
Despite some unmet expectation on the water and the podium, White said that Sydney was definitely an enjoyable experience.
“It was such a thrill to see everyone walking in during the opening ceremonies,” he said. “It makes you realize how big of a world it really is.”
White was able to take his wife and his two kids with him to Sydney.
“That was probably the best part,” he said. “We were able to take tons of photos of our kids with different celebrities and in famous places. These are things that we can cherish forever.
“Other than my two children being born, this (Syndey) was probably the most exciting moment of my life.”
One of White’s fondest memories was walking around in downtown Sydney with his family.
“There were thousands of people standing out in the streets watching the games on giant jumbo-trons,” he said. “It was neat to see them cheer even when Australia had lost. They exemplified just what sports are all about.”
As positive as his experience in Sydney was, White would think twice before reprising his role for the U.S. Olympic team in Athens in 2004.
“I haven’t had a vacation with my family in a few years,” he said. “The Olympics aren’t just a couple of months of training. If I were to coach again we would start training very soon. I am not sure if I am ready for that kind of commitment.
“Something you have to remember is that I am not just a coach. I coach at Temple every morning from 5:45 till 7:30, then I go teach full time at a public school. If I were to coach (the Olympic team) again, it would be a very difficult decision.”