Just about every sport has its own major championship. In baseball it is the World Series. Soccer has World Cup. For football, it is the Super Bowl. With respect to many others it is the Olympics, something that Nick LaCava is experiencing first-hand.
The Weston native is currently representing his country at the 30th Olympiad in England. A member of the U.S men’s rowing team, he is competing in the men’s lightweight four event at Eton Dorney Rowing Centre, about 19 miles southwest of London.
“You cannot imagine the thrill of seeing and hearing 30,000-plus rowing fans packing the venue to cheer on the teams for all the events,” said Mr. LaCava’s father John, who made the trip to England with the rest of the family to watch his son. “The scope, organization and presentation makes one realize that it truly is a worldwide stage. It’s epic. We feel fortunate to be able to participate on a personal level by having Nick compete.”
For Mr. LaCava and his boat mates the Olympics mark the culmination of many months of formal training and hard work. His own journey had its beginnings when he first took up the sport at the Saugatuck Rowing Club as a 13-year-old in the eighth grade.
“My mother was a masters rower at Saugatuck Rowing Club,” said Mr. LaCava, now 25. “She exposed me to the sport and got me interested in giving it a try,”
At first Mr. LaCava found it challenging. On his first attempt he overturned his boat, which was a scull for a single.
“It was more of just a fun sport for me,” he said. “Once I started to be a little better at rowing I started to think the Olympics might be a possibility and something that I definitely wanted to do.”
After middle school Mr. LaCava attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H. There he continued to train and was a member of the school’s rowing team, which finished third at the New England championships his senior year.
While at Columbia University, Mr. LaCava was a four-year rower. During his junior year he won the lightweight division at the 2008 C.R.A.S.H.-B World Indoor Rowing Championships and was fourth the following year.
As a senior he was captain of the men’s lightweight team and was on the men’s lightweight eight boat that was seventh at the 2009 Eastern Sprints and also seventh at the 2009 IRA Championship. He also finished 12th in the lightweight four at the 2009 World Rowing Championships.
Graduating from Columbia with a degree in economics in that year, Mr. LaCava continued to row and was asked to try out for the U.S. rowing team by the head men’s lightweight coach at the time.
He would go on to win the lightweight pair at the 2010 third National Selection Regatta as well as the lightweight eight at the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston in 2011.
Mr. LaCava was selected to represent the U.S. in the lightweight pair at the first National Selection Regatta in San Diego in March. He and Will Newell (Weston, Mass.) finished first in the event.
Along with Robin Prendes (Miami, Fla.) and Anthony Fahden (Lafayette, Calif.) they were chosen for the men’s lightweight four boat by coach Brian Volpenhein with a shot to compete at the Olympics.
“Making the team was extremely difficult,” said Mr. LaCava. “Basically it came down to eight guys. Any one could’ve made those four spots. The coach made the final decision and I was lucky to be one of those guys.”
Mr. LaCava and the rest of the team would still have to qualify, however. That opportunity came in May at the final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland.
There they would need to at least finish second in order to make it, or their dream to go to this year’s Olympics would come to an end. It turned out they would have some room to spare.
By completing the 2,000-meter course in six minutes, 1.85 seconds, Mr. LaCava and the rest of the team earned their trip to England, edging a second-place Dutch team by less than a fifth of a second.
“When we crossed that line at the qualification regatta it was a great feeling,” he said. “We had a great race. It was awesome.”
The men’s lightweight four competition at the Olympics began on Saturday, July 28, with the U.S. among 13 teams to qualify for the event. Also competing were Switzerland, South Africa, Denmark, Italy, Great Britain, Australia, Germany, the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, China and Poland.
Competing in the first heat, the U.S. team had a sluggish start, taking fifth in 6:02.42 and last overall. However, the team still had a chance to redeem itself in a men’s lightweight four “repechage” race on Sunday, July 29. A “repechage” is a special race in which runners-up in the eliminating heats compete for a place in the final race.
After making some technical and pacing changes, Mr. LaCava’s team took first place witha time of 6:00.86 in the repechage to qualify for the semifinals and keep its chances for a medal alive. The team had nearly a full boat length lead early in the race and continued to widen the gap.
The semifinals on Tuesday consisted of two heats with six boats in each. The top three boats from each advanced to the A final, which determines first through sixth place. The other boats compete in the B finals for seventh through 12th place.
By finishing fifth in the semifinals at 6:05.06, the American boat, with Mr. LaCava, is out of medal contention and will next compete in the B finals on Thursday.
“We don’t have a specific place in mind, but are trying to make it through one step at a time,” said Mr. LaCava. “I feel lucky that I’ve made it this far and had good teammates and a lot of people to support me to get where I am.”
Ed Moran of Row2k Media and HooplaHa- Life With A Smile- www.hooplaha.com contributed to this article.