Last week, Taylor Ritzel ’10 was named to the American women’s eight boat that will row at the Olympics in London. At Yale, Ritzel helped the varsity eight win three NCAA Championships, was honored as a three-time All American and captained the 2009-2010 team. She rowed in the boat that set a new world best time and won the 2012 World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland this May. Ritzel will be joined by Jamie Redman ’08, who was invited to travel with the American team to London as an alternate. Ritzel and Redman are two of seven Bulldogs headed to the Games, and will compete against Australian rower Tess Gerrand ’10 and Canadian rower Ashley Brzozowicz ’04 on Dorney Lake, west of London. Following the American roster announcement, Ritzel spoke with the News about her career at Yale, her transition to the world stage and her hopes for the London Olympics.
Q: Congratulations! You’ve been training with USRowing for three years now and have won a number of international regattas. How are you feeling after the official Olympic roster announcement?
A: With the depth of talent that we have on the women’s side, there are a lot of women who could make that boat really fast. It’s definitely a relief to be in the boat. I owe a lot of credit to the women who didn’t make it. I’m just really honored and excited. I’m sort of the newby. It’s great to have so many women with so much experience — two people have already been to two Olympic Games!
Q: What was your transition like from Yale to the Olympic level?
A: It’s hard to be an athlete at an Ivy League school because you don’t have the financial or faculty support. It can be tough for athletes to balance both. I owe a lot of success to the Yale women’s crew program and head coach Will Porter. I’d never rowed before coming to Yale. The women from Yale will not only be my lifelong friends, but the training that we did was great preparation for now. It wasn’t a huge transition in terms of what we did at Yale.
Q: How are you feeling about racing against former teammate Tess Gerrand ’10?
A: I am so thrilled that she has the opportunity to go as part of the Australian women’s eight. I already got to race against her in Lucerne. [At the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup II in Lucerne, the American boat rowed a new world’s best time and defended its world championship. The Australian boat won a spot in the London Olympic Games with its victory in the qualifying regatta.] Off the water I have a ton of respect for her. She is one of my lifelong friends. Hopefully we can do Yale proud.
Q: What inspires you?
A: I’m used to working hard and trying to be the best I can be in any possible scenario. Coming from a place like Yale where you ascribe to be the best at something is how I approach almost anything. A big inspiration has been my mom [Lana]. She passed away two years ago from breast cancer, and it’s been a challenge both emotionally and with being away from my family for so long. She was the one who actually got me started in rowing. It’s become my personal mission for her.
Q: Will you be selling the Laces for Lana in London in honor of your mother?
A: I am absolutely thrilled about the fact that my former teammates created that. I can’t even say how much that means to me and my family. And the team has spread it so much. Sometimes I’ll be at a race, like Head of the Charles, and see someone I don’t even know wearing the bright pink laces. One of my goals was to have the U.S. Olympic Team all wear laces, but it might be a little late. It would be neat to have a bunch of pairs over in London and see if other athletes will be interested in buying them. Mary Ann Wasil, the head of the Get in Touch Foundation where all of the money from the laces goes, is coming to watch the races so maybe I can get people to buy them if I remind them that she is watching. [The Get in Touch Foundation promotes breast health using “Daisy Wheel” cards that teach maturing girls the steps for conducting self-breast exams.]
Q: Your boat is the defending Olympic champion and the defending world champion. What’s the goal for London?
A: Right now we are trying to spend as much time on the water as possible and trying to gain some speed. We have a great track record, but this is a new lineup, a new boat and a new year. Everyone who competes wants to win, and we are definitely going to race to win.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I just want to emphasize that I’m very thankful for my experience at Yale. I credit a lot of how far I’ve come to being a part of the Yale women’s crew program.