Perhaps the best feature of the Schuylkill River race course is the sharp turn it takes at the Columbia Railroad Bridge. It’s a unique twist for rowers, even stirring the curiosity of an Olympic champion.
“That turn makes it special. It’s going to be interesting tomorrow,” said five-time Olympic sculler Iztok Cop.
Cop conducted a clinic Thursday on the banks of the Schuylkill for college and high school rowers on the eve of the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta. This is his first time at the 73-year-old event.
“I’m quite impressed,” he said. “It’s so much bigger than anything I can imagine. In Slovenia, we have six rowing clubs, maybe 600 rowers, from kids to senior level.”
Cop, a native of Bled, Slovenia, thinks rowing is bigger in the U.S. due to all the universities. There will be more than 100 colleges — 3,500 athletes — represented this weekend. In Slovenia, they only have three universities.
“The system is different in Europe,” Cop said. “Here, after the Olympics, that’s it, it’s over. Where I’m from, we have older rowers. A lot of them make it a career.”
Cop started rowing when he was 13. He is considered Slovenia’s most medaled athlete, having won gold in the men’s double scull at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It was the first Olympic gold for the country since its independence. Despite all his success, he holds a great amount of respect for his U.S. contemporaries.
“It’s completely different here,” Cop said. “In the American system, I doubt I would have made it to the national team.”