Originally created 12/15/00

Augusta may keep on rowing



One of the world's top rowing coaches and a Texas businessman are spearheading a movement to re-establish Augusta as a training ground for Olympic rowers.

Last week USRowing closed its national training center in Augusta to consolidate operations at larger centers in New Jersey and California, taking with it all equipment and most of the nation's top scullers.

But the sanctioning body's internationally known sculling coach, Igor Grinko, wants to stay and develop a private training center along the Savannah River that would continue to attract top athletes.

Mr. Grinko's split from USRowing becomes official Dec. 31. The Indianapolis-based organization declined to renew the head sculling coach's contract after he refused to accept an assistant coaching position at the Princeton, N.J., training center.

The former Soviet national champion, whose Augusta-based men's quad sculling team won a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games, is trying to raise money and support for the venture by enlisting Houston businessman David Hirsch.

The two met with community leaders Wednesday in what they called a "focus group" designed to determine the city's level of interest in their proposal.

Mr. Hirsch, a 62-year-old former collegiate rower and USRowing volunteer consultant, is chief executive officer of DynaTension Inc., a maker of components used in offshore oil drilling.

"What we need is seed money to carry us over two to three years," Mr. Hirsch said, adding that the center, once established, could earn revenue from invitational rowing regattas and coaching seminars. "We could be self-supporting."

If the center materializes its rowers would compete against USRowing teams trying to secure a place on the next U.S. Olympic team.

Mr. Grinko said he has received commitments from about a dozen elite-level scullers willing to stay in, or relocate to, Augusta for training. He also has received a commitment from his assistant coach, Ted Nash, a 1960 Olympic gold medal winner who moved to Augusta in 1999.

"I can guarantee guys will come here," said Mr. Grinko, 54, who had headed the Augusta USRowing center since its inception in 1994.

The defunct center used the Augusta Rowing Club's boathouse as a base and catered to 30 Olympic hopefuls who lived and worked in Augusta and trained on the Savannah River and nearby Langley Pond in South Carolina.

Cab Stitt, an Evans resident and businessman, coordinated the meeting between community leaders and Mr. Grinko and Mr. Hirsch.

Mr. Stitt, a USRowing board member, said he is working on the project out of civic duty, not as an official for the organization, because that would be a conflict of interest.

"What we're doing here has zero to do with USRowing," he said.

USRowing, officially known as the United States Rowing Association, selects and manages the teams representing the United States in international competitions such as the Olympics and Pan American games.

USRowing officials did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Barry White, executive director of the Augusta Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, said he hopes the area will lend any assistance it can.

"I think (a new center) would be a win-win situation for the community," he said. "Nothing bad will happen if some type of training center will remain; nothing good will happen if it leaves."

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or bized@augustachronicle.com.