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MIT director of crew leads US rowing team to victory

An MIT crew coach was one of two coaches who led the US rowing team to win six gold medals, a silver and a bronze medal at the World Maccabiah Games held in Israel from July 14-24.

Stu Schmill (SB '86), director of crew at MIT and coach of the MIT men's lightweight crew team, was chosen by a national selection committee to lead the US rowing team at the Maccabiah Games, an international competition for Jewish athletes held in Israel every four years.

"The Maccabiah Games is the third largest international sporting event in the world, after the Olympics and the Pan-Asian games," said Mr. Schmill, who added that 5,600 people of all ages and from 50 countries competed this summer in 32 sports. The nine men and one woman who rowed for the US were picked at a selection camp held in Philadelphia in June.

Mr. Schmill personally coached the US sweep rowers, who won three gold medals, as well as the silver. The scullers won the other three golds and the bronze, leaving few medals for the other six countries' teams: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Russia and Venezuela. (Sweepers row with one oar; scullers with two.)


This was Mr. Schmill's second time coaching at the Games -- in 1993 he coached the entire US rowing team himself. That year they won gold medals in six of the seven events. But, according to Mr. Schmill, winning is not everything; "the cultural aspects of the Games are just as important as the competition.

"Most of my rowing team were Jewish by birth, but they weren't religious and didn't know much about it, which is a good thing about this trip. They learned something about their heritage and got connected again," said Mr. Schmill.

The entire US delegation, about 600 people, stayed outside Tel Aviv for the first few days after their arrival in Israel, where they trained from 6-9am each morning and toured the country in buses from 10am until late at night. Then they split up into sports teams and went to the cities in which their competitions were to be held. The rowers were stationed in Tiberias, in the northeastern part of Israel on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. While there, the team visited the Golan Heights, on the eastern shore of the Sea.

"One of the more interesting things was the morning we went to Katzrin to a religious service in a synagogue that's a few thousand years old," Mr. Schmill said. "It's near where the Israeli army was training. We were in the middle of this solemn ceremony and bombs were going off, machine guns were firing and helicopters were flying overhead. It was scary initially, certainly unnerving, but by the end of the one-hour service, you got used to it."

The only tragedy of the games was unrelated either to military action or the competition. Two people were killed and many were seriously injured when a bridge collapsed during the opening ceremony at the Ramat-Gan Stadium just outside Tel Aviv, sending members of the Australian delegation, who were first in line, tumbling into the Yarkon River. The opening ceremonies were canceled, and the following day was declared a day of mourning. Two others died later.

Mr. Schmill said the accident brought a "more deflated atmosphere" for the Games. "I saw many Australians with their arms in slings or on crutches at the closing ceremonies."

Mr. Schmill has been coaching crew at MIT since 1987. Last year the men's lightweight crew team finished fourth, "in what is certainly the toughest league in the country," he said. After graduating from MIT in 1986, he spent a year working for General Motors in Detroit but returned to MIT to coach.

"I gave up the [engineering] salary, sold my car and lived off the proceeds that first year," he said. "I figured I would do this for just a while. Now I can see myself here forever."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 10, 1997.

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