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Dedication, Commitment, and Tenacity

MIT Alumnus Rows in 2000 Olympics

By Sonali Mukherjee
STAFF REPORTER

As the 2000 Olympics come to a close in Sydney, Australia, many athletes who represented the United States at the Games will return home. Some will come bearing medals, and others will not. However, in the spirit of the Games, it is important to realize that every athlete comes home bearing a torch of honor and dedication.

An example of this spirit resides in a member of the MIT alumni community: Steven Tucker ’91 competed in the Sydney Games as a member of the US rowing team. Tucker, who majored in physics at the Institute, competed in men’s lightweight double sculling with his rowing partner, Conal Groom, a graduate of Georgetown. Even though the team did not medal, placing 11th in the Olympics, the story behind the commitment Tucker put into his event reflects upon his character and is a reminder why all US Olympic athletes return as true winners.

Tucker was part of the MIT crew team, but, surprisingly enough, did not join crew until his senior year. He first tried out the sport on an ergometer, a machine that imitates the motion of rowing, at his fraternity, Delta Upsilon, when he was a junior. Gordon Hamilton, the MIT men’s heavyweight crew coach, remembered that Tucker, though an excellent swimmer with specialty in long distance, started out as an average rower. “Usually, when a person is not a good sculler in the beginning, you’re never going to be one --ever.”

Tucker became one of the best rowers in the country, but it took him nine years to perfect his technique and get him where he is today. “When he started, he was an average rower for nationals,” said Hamilton. “But he stayed with it and became an internationally famous rower.”

Tucker’s experience with rowing began with MIT crew, but graduation did not mean the end of his participation in the sport. He became part of the Riverside Crew Club for three years. Afterwards, he went down to Augusta, Georgia to practice at the U.S. Rowing Training Center. He also trained with Charles Butt III, the men’s lightweight crew coach at Harvard from 1997 until the Olympics.

Jeff Myjak ’91, one of Tucker’s teammates at MIT remarked upon Butt’s commitment to Tucker’s training. “He spent a lot of time with him, and most coaches will not do that.” This type of hard work led to many honors for Tucker even before the Olympics.

He made his first national team in 1997, competing in lightweight singles. In 1998, he placed 9th in lightweight doubles at the World Championships with his partner Greg Ruckman. In 1999, he won sixth place with his current Olympic partner, Conal Groom, at the same event. This summer, Tucker competed in the Lucerne Pre-Olympic Regatta in Switzerland and placed sixth in that competition as well.

“There is a pretty significant level of competition at [lightweight] events. It’s a small pool of opportunity, especially at the Olympics. This point gets lost on a lot of people,” Myjak remarked on the topic of Tucker’s amazing ability to penetrate the competitiveness of the sport.

Tucker’s track record and his history in the world of crew reflect well upon his character, and he is openly praised by many of his coaches, teammates, and friends. Butt described him as a modest, generally amiable person and a thinker. “He’s an MIT physicist. He likes to think about how things are and how to make them better,” said Butt. “If there was ever a bad row, he would wait and think about it, and put together why it happened. [To him], improving is a matter of problem solving.”

True to the spirit of an MIT student, Tucker also made use of the available technology by using machines, such as a Pace Coach, that would let him try different strokes and figure out which one was most efficient under racing circumstances. “He is very thoughtful, which makes him effective in the boat. He has sent himself to the top of world rowing -- he belongs in the world of top rowing,” Butt said.

Myjak agrees with him when he described Tucker as “a hardworking person who focused on his goals and pursued them.” Hamilton, summed it up in three words: “dedication, commitment, and tenacity.”

Steve Tucker started out as an amateur rower and ended up at the Olympics through hard work and sheer strength of will. He currently lives in Medford, Massachusetts with Groom, Myjak, and Matt Kaminsky ’91, in a house that they are currently renovating.

Tucker, who returns with Groom to the United Sates on Wednesday, will come home not the most decorated athlete in the Olympics, but certainly one with an amazing story about how he got there. This inspirational story should not be lost on either future athletes or anyone who has ever believed they can excel at something important to them.