Katelin Guregian’s last call in rowing — help the U.S. women’s eight regain its crown

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Katelin Guregian jokes that she had 20 different addresses in the last eight years as the coxswain of the decorated U.S. women’s eight. That’s not that uncommon in rowing, where the best of the best often live with host families near the national team center in Princeton, N.J.

Guregian, who in the last Olympic cycle guided the American program to a third straight gold medal and sixth, seventh and eighth straight world titles, will move again after this summer.

She has lived apart from her husband, fellow Rio Olympic rower Nareg Guregian, for two and a half years. Nareg now works for Visa, based in California. She turns 33 a week after the Olympics and wants to start a family.

“Absolutely it’s my last Olympics,” Guregian said in November, adding that she wants to make Tokyo her last regatta of any kind. “Rowing, you have to give everything in order to be successful. For me, it’s not sustainable to keep giving everything for another quad. Even this quad, there have been some times where I’ve been like, oh man, not this again. You can’t have that thought. You can’t voice that thought. It’s like, OK, I’m ready. It’s someone else’s turn.”

Guregian, an Orlando native, crashed into a dock in her debut as a coxswain. The hull cracked in two places, and the boat had to be sent back to the manufacturer to be repaired.

She went on to cox the men’s team at the University of Washington. Then succeeded two-time Olympic champion Mary Whipple at the stern of the U.S. women’s program, extending the golden reign from 2013-16.

U.S. coach Tom Terhaar still remembers the end of the Rio Olympic final. Guregian, 5 feet, 4 inches and 110 pounds, violently splashed her arms into the water at about 1,995 meters of a 2,000-meter race.

“And some of the other athletes going, well, I guess we crossed the finish line,” Terhaar said with a laugh. “She was probably too excited to even speak, and that was the way she could express it.”

But Guregian’s favorite memory was in the meat of the six-minute cauldron: the third quarter from 1000m to 1500m. The grittiest part of a race, she likes to say. The U.S. went from third to first and never looked back.

“The only thing I said [to the team] was, ‘We are the United States women’s eight,'” Guregian remembered, conjuring Whipple’s call during the Beijing 2008 final that started this Olympic run. “We were here for this, and this is what we want, and we are here for each other, and we’re here for the women that came before us, was enough to help us execute our race.”

That kind of statement showed what made Guregian a special coxswain.

“She isn’t sitting back there critiquing and setting herself apart from the performance,” Terhaar said. “She’s completely in it, completely one of them. … It’s never they. It’s always we.”

The U.S. women’s eight, dubbed a dynasty throughout the Rio Olympic cycle, since experienced major defeat for the first time in more than a decade. The Americans were fourth at worlds in 2017. After gold in 2018, they earned bronze this past summer with two other returning members from Rio (one of them coming out of retirement).

“That’s such a crummy feeling,” Guregian said. “My role on the team is two-fold because I’m helping people understand what they need to do in order to never be in that position again, but I’m also trying to convey to everyone, don’t overthink it.”

Guregian does more than that. She cuts her teammates’ hair. She is also mentoring Leigh Warner, the 2018 Stanford graduate and coxswain-in-waiting for the next Olympic cycle. Together, they created a jocular Instagram — @launchtalks — to “deal with the stresses of training.”

“I want to be part of [Warner’s] journey so that if she’s successful in 2024, I will feel like I have part of that,” Guregian said. “I will feel pride and ownership in her success, even though it’s not me executing.”

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