Rowing for the Gold

Olympic hopeful Cyrus Beasley '95C has his sights on a medal at the Centennial Games

By John D. Thomas

The only thing Cyrus Beasley says he regrets about his competitive rowing career is that he didn't start sooner. A 1995 Emory College graduate and America's top-ranked single sculler, Beasley began rowing in the spring of 1992 after a couple of friends on his freshman hall approached him and said the 6'6", 240-pounder would be a welcome addition to Emory's fledgling crew club.

"We were really on Cyrus' case to row just because he was tall, because the taller the better in crew," says Jason Steele, one of Beasley's freshman hallmates, who is now Emory's crew coach and the coordinator for student conduct in the Campus Life division. From his very first effort, Steele says, Beasley's talent was unmistakable. "I remember going over to the gym with him the first time he had ever been on a rowing machine. And he pulled a time that was right up there with the best. I remember distinctly. And at that point I had never seen someone row that well, and he had never had any experience on the machine. He's a prodigy."

After a couple of seasons rowing in Emory's team boat, Beasley moved up to the more challenging single scull racing. "It's really the hardest event in rowing," Beasley explains. "It's pretty much the elite of the elite. And in about a year's time, I went from flipping over every day to winning the national championship. [My progress has been] pretty amazing. A lot of people can't believe it. To be honest, I have a hard time believing it sometimes myself."

Beasley says he first realized the extent of his gift for rowing in the summer of 1994, after he was invited to train with the United States National Team in Virginia. "That's when I started to realize that I had a lot of potential, because I was picking it up so fast and ended up making the national team that summer after about six weeks of sculling," he says. "I got hit over the head with it then. I was like, Wow, I can really do this."

That summer, Beasley made the U.S. National Team as part of a four-man boat known as a quad. He competed with that team in the 1994 World Championships in Indianapolis, where his boat finished seventh. After that event, Beasley concentrated solely on single scull racing. In an unprecedented rise to prominence in the sport, he raced in the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta and placed fourth, won the U.S. Pan American Trials, and then earned a silver medal in Argentina at the Pan American Games.

The following summer, Beasley's progress continued unabated. He won the U.S. National Championships, made the U.S. World Championships team, and then placed ninth at the World Championships in Finland, firmly establishing himself as one of rowing's up and coming stars. He admits that at times the ride has been somewhat dizzying. "The World Championships were definitely overwhelming," he says. "I really had to focus on the task at hand and not worry about the people I was rowing against and the fact that they're legends in the sport. I was torn, because on the one hand I was saying, Wow, these are guys I've been reading about and seeing in magazines ever since I started rowing, and now I'm competing against them. But at the same time I had to tell myself, Yeah, you're competing against them, but you have to be good enough to beat them. So it was a weird situation. The World Championships were a lot of fun, but they were also pretty stressful."

Beasley is currently training upwards of eight hours a day in preparation for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. He says his goals for the Summer Games are pretty simple. "I want to go to the Olympic trials and I want to win, and then I want to go to the Olympics and I want to win," he says. "That's why I'm going. I'm not going into this halfheartedly. Realistically, it's a long shot for me to get a medal at the Olympics, but I think I can do it. It's going to take a lot of work from here on in, but it's possible. I want to win a gold medal in the single eventually. And if it doesn't happen in 1996, I am planning on going to 2000. But at the rate I've been improving, I think I should be able to do it this year. My learning curve is basically going straight up right now."

Igor Grinko, the U.S. National men's sculling coach, agrees that if Beasley stays on his current track, he has an excellent chance to do well in the 1996 Olympics. "I have coached many athletes," he says. "I am the former Soviet Union coach, but for someone [sculling for just] one year, I have not seen anyone who can do [what Beasley can]. If he continues improving, he has a chance for a medal, maybe for a gold medal."

One thing Beasley believes bodes well for his chances at the Atlanta Olympics is the home court advantage he feels he has. "I'm really lucky to have the Olympics in what I consider one of my home towns," he says. "It's a really big advantage to know your way around the place you're competing. I learned that from all the traveling in Europe I did last summer. It's just so much easier if you know where you are. It's also going to be great to have all of my friends and family there. I think that's a huge bonus. Not many people get to go to the Olympics in their backyard."

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