Originally created 04/08/04

When music soured, rower found Olympics



A lot of athletes grow up dreaming of making it to the Olympics. A lot of musicians grow up dreaming of playing in front of thousands of screaming fans.

Carol Skricki grew up a musician. She ended up an Olympic athlete.

"It's not something that I dreamed about since I was a kid or anything like that," said Skricki, who trains in Augusta. "I wanted to be a famous musician. Well, that didn't work out. But that's why being in Sydney was so amazing."

Skricki is talking about four years ago when she competed for the United States' rowing team in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, where she and doubles partner Ruth Davidon narrowly missed a medal, finishing fourth.

Skricki is again competing for the chance to represent the United States in the upcoming Athens Olympics. She will be racing in the first national selection regatta today through Saturday at Mercer Lake in New Jersey. Skricki is one of 19 elite rowers who train in Augusta who will spend the next three months competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Skricki, now 41, isn't like most rowers who began rowing in college or earlier. Her height - 6-foot-2 - made her a target of the University of New Hampshire's crew team while she was in college, but her attitude was, "I was a musician, I couldn't do that," she said.

But at age 30 a friend dragged Skricki along to a sculling lesson. She intended to use the sport for recreational purposes. She had no idea where those initial lessons would lead.

"I didn't even have visions of competing in races. ... But my first race I was just blown away," Skricki said.

She kept racing and eventually rowing coach Igor Grinko spotted her at an identification camp and told her she should come to Augusta to train for the national team.

"She has everything," Grinko said.

So Skricki quit her job, sold her house, packed up her things and moved from Boston to Augusta, where the U.S. Training Center was located.

That was in 1997. She spent the next three years here training for the national team and then the 2000 Olympics. After the Olympics, the U.S. Training Center left Augusta and Skricki trained in various places across the country.

But away from Augusta and Grinko, Skricki wasn't competing at the level she had in 2000.

"That's why I came down to suffer through it," Skricki said.

"It" is Grinko's rigorous training program, which has certainly helped Skricki improve since she came back in November. While training three weeks ago, she unofficially broke the record for her age group in the 2,000-meter fitness test. A week later she bettered it again.

Skricki owns the official record at 6 minutes, 48 seconds. When she first broke her record she finished in 6:43. Then, two weeks ago, she was just two-tenths of a second off her personal best of 6:40.2, which she achieved in December 1999.

Grinko thinks that if Skricki had begun rowing in college, she would be an Olympic champion already. In the former Soviet Union, where Grinko used to coach, a 29-year-old female rower was considered too old for the elite level. Thirty years old when she began, Skricki would have never had the chance to compete for the Olympics, Grinko said.

But Skricki does have the chance, and Grinko thinks she has a pretty good chance at making the Olympics in Athens. Either way, Skricki said this will be the last Olympics she goes after. And after that, who knows.

"The future is wide open," Skricki said. "I'm just focusing on this right now."

Reach Kristy Shonka at (706) 823-3219 or

kristy.shonka@augustachronicle..com

Reach Kristy Shonka at (706) 823-3219 orkristy.shonka@augustachronicle.com



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