Sharing Jack Nunn’s Experience From A 4 Day Rowing Camp That Featured Four Olympic Gold Medalists…And More!!! (Part 1 of 8)
September 9th, 2004, 2:10 pm
I am holding a rowing camp in November (2004). Thomas Lange from Germany, Gold 88′ and 92′ and Bronze 96′, men’s single scull; Marnie McBean from Canada 4 Olympic Medals; myself (Zeno Mueller from Switzerland …Gold 96′ and Silver 00′) and Rob Waddell from New Zealand, former Indoor World Record Holder with a 5:36 2000m race, and 2000 Gold medal men’s single scull. We will all run the four-day camp together.
This was an advertisement I viewed online right after I got back from training on the U.S. National Rowing Team in Princeton, New Jersey. I was living in Jersey training for more than 2 years and wanted to come home and focus on training more in the single sculls (following in my dad’s footsteps as he moved from the East Coast after earning his MBA at University of Michigan in order to row in better weather all year long).
This camp was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to meet the best of the best in the sport of rowing, especially in the singles event. The singles event is known in the world of rowing to be the toughest of all rowing events and respected by other sports as being one of the hardest things to master. To be the best in the world in the single is like being Superman in my eyes. There are 8 Parts to this Blog simply because each one of these athletes has had such a tremendous impact on the world of rowing and beyond. I want to share my experience with each of these great rowers.
Thomas Lange was simply one of the greatest single scullers of all time. Technically peerless, he achieved success after success against the world’s greatest. While on the water he was phenomenal and when off of it, his genuine humility and willingness to be a team player showed through. His achievements were all the more impressive set against the backdrop not only of East Germany’s demise but also a determination to pursue his medical studies.
From the moment Lange burst on the international rowing scene as a junior (under 18) in 1980, it was clear that the East German system had found a very special athlete. As a sixteen year old in the double sculls, he pushed the favorite boat, stroked by the great Steven Redgrave, (a future five-time consecutive Olympic Gold Medalist), back into second place. It was the first of his three junior Golds, the next two in the single.
His famous opponent back in 1980, Redgrave, though they would never race again, was to become one of Lange’s greatest admirers, said: “Thomas had a special quality about him.” It wasn’t long before those qualities would be tested in the Senior Championships. Duisburg World Rowing Championships in 1983 was Lange’s first year out of juniors and his new double with Uwe Heppner proved unbeatable. Lange and Heppner would have been the favorites for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, but East Germany chose to boycott the games. He struck Gold in the double the following year in the World Rowing Championships and though sickness prevented him from challenging in 1986, he was ready to make his move into the single scull.
Sculling was dominated by two giants of world rowing: Kolbe and Karpinnen, who in 12 years had won 10 World and Olympic titles between them. Yet in 1987, Lange’s time had come. He took on and beat both men in Copenhagen at the World Rowing Championships and repeated the feat in the Seoul 1988 Olympics to claim his first Gold medal. Those watching were clear about the reasons why. Juergen Grobler, former top East German coach said: “You knew Thomas had a good feeling for the boat. His blades entered the water incredibly quickly, like Ivanov, the Russian, who won 3 sculling Olympic Golds in the ‘50s”. But Lange had more too, not least a fantastic ability to visualize how a race would go and put that into effect.” But Lange also had to learn how to recover from adversity. Though he won the singles again in the 1989 World rowing Championships, the death throws of East Germany had an enormous effect on him. Not only was there personal tragedy from his Fathers’ death, but there was the uncertainty that such a change wrought. Moreover, Lange had to concentrate on his medical studies. Personal challenges meant that his Silver in the doubles in 1990 World Rowing Championships was an even more remarkable achievement.
Competing for the new united Germany saw him return to his best form, winning the singles again in 1991 Worlds and taking a remarkable second Olympic Gold in 1992, Barcelona. He never quite managed the feat of immortality that a third successive Olympic singles title would have brought – he took the Bronze in 1996, Atlanta. By then, he was already deep into his medical studies and took 1994 out to concentrate on those studies. But in truth, Lange had already achieved a peerless status. In retirement, as in competition his contemporaries continued to be deeply impressed. Peter Hoeltzenbein, a teammate of his recalled: “I was always deeply impressed how this fantastic athlete could just leave the water and get on quietly with his medical studies and be a doctor in Ratzeburg.” He was awarded the Thomas Keller Medal in 1997.
I was in the best shape of my life when I moved home from Princeton, NJ to focus more on my training in the single sculls. The main reason I moved was for the weather as I could row all year long on the water and gain even more experience in the single to be faster and stronger. Thomas Lange coached me throughout the 4-day rowing camp in Newport Beach Harbor, Ca. He told me that I needed to have faster legs almost every stroke… he would yell out “legs Jack..legs.” He would also try and help me with the catch, (when the blade enters the water), and told me I was too slow getting my blade in. He took me aside and knew I had the determination to make great things happen, however he also said that if I wanted a chance to make an Olympic Team that I would have to work twice as hard as I was already! It was a daunting task as I was already putting in 3-5hrs a day of training 5-7 days a week. I asked him how he was able to be the world’s best sculler. He replied, “It takes A lot… A lot… A lot of hard work!” It was an honor to meet such a legend in the sport of rowing. It would be like meeting Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Bo Jackson, or Bret Favre. The Absolute BEST in the sport! But Thomas Lange was also one of the most humble men I’ve ever met… along with my father John Nunn (Olympic Bronze Medal in Mexico City 1968, and Olympic Rowing Coach in Montreal 1976).
Check out this Video from the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona highlighting Thomas Lange’s Life!!