The men’s heavyweight crew team has lost nine of its last 10 Yale-Harvard races. But the team’s new coach, Stephen Gladstone, one of the premier crew coaches in the country, has infused new life into the program, rowers said, and has arrived at Yale with a long trail of successes in his wake.
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Gladstone began his coaching career in 1966 at Princeton as the coach of the freshmen team, which twice finished second at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championship regatta. He then moved to Harvard, where he led the men’s lightweight team to four consecutive undefeated seasons. During his stint with the Crimson, he coached the U.S. National Team and helped select the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. His success continued at Brown and the University of California at Berkeley, where he won a total of 11 IRA National Championship titles over the next three decades.
Men’s heavyweight captain Derek Johnson ’11 said Gladstone has lived up to the hype.
“The theme of this season is efficiency and purpose,” he said. “There’s not a moment or stroke wasted on the water, and the level of focus and determination that coach Gladstone commands from his rowers is like nothing I’ve witnessed before at Yale.”
Gladstone replaces John Pescatore, who resigned from his post in early August after eight seasons with the Bulldogs.
Though Gladstone brings an impressive coaching resume to New Haven, he thought he would become a journalist while rowing at Syracuse University. Gladstone didn’t decide to pursue coaching until he had an epiphany while working overseas.
“I was in Geneva, Switzerland, working for an investment company,” he said. “I was bored silly, and I came back to my hotel room one night in despair. I then asked myself the right question, which was ‘Where have you been the happiest?’”
Gladstone, who also served as the UC Berkeley’s director of athletics from 2001–’04, said he enjoys rowing because it is “the ultimate team sport,” adding that no last-minute heroics by an individual can save a race. He said his rowers need to not only become fit and technically sound but also need to learn to row as a unit.
Gladstone provides guidance for his rowers, he said, but tries to allow them to actively engage in their own development. While the team has five mandatory rows on the water per week and one workout Monday mornings, he suggests workouts that students can complete on their own time if they so choose. Gladstone said he can provide the expertise but the success of the team lies in the hands of his rowers.
Tom Dethlefs ’12 said Gladstone runs practices that drain him both physically and mentally.
“When I’m coaching, there’s an edge,” Gladstone said. “I get to the boathouse an hour prior to practice. I review the entire practice, and I really anticipate and am fired up by it.”
Though Gladstone brings a new intensity to training, rowers said they still manage to have fun, noting that the team gets off the water “full of smiles.”
This year Gladstone has reduced the number of morning practices, about which “nobody is complaining,” Johnson said. Gladstone also instituted a training trip during winter break. Johnson said sacrificing part of their winter break would pay dividends.
“Whatever it takes to win is what we care about,” he said. “Most other team have winter trips, so this will level the playing field.”
Johnson said he has high expectations for the season, and he anticipates a “cut throat” Yale-Harvard regatta in May, in part because Harvard’s coach, Harry Parker, and Gladstone are arguably the two best coaches in the country. Gladstone acknowledged that the results of past Yale-Harvard regattas are daunting.
“God knows the challenges here if you look at the last half-century of Yale-Harvard races,” he said.
Gladstone will have many opportunities to best Harvard in the near future — he said he does not plan to leave any time soon.
“I’d love to be here for the next 12 or 15 years,” he said. “I like this environment very much.”
Gladstone co-founded Resolute Racing Shells, which produces high-tech racing shells, between coaching jobs in 1994.