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Accident Ends Rower’s Comeback One Race Away From Trials Finals

April 11, 1996

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) _ John Riley’s last shot at the Olympics is over.

The rower, who earned his first spot on the national team in 1985 and had been to two Olympics without winning a medal, decided last year to train full-time for a chance as the U.S. team’s single sculler.

But instead of racing in Thursday’s semifinals as one of three favorites, Riley nursed a broken collarbone in private and waited for a flight home to Boston.

``He’s trying to keep up a good front, but it’s a shock to have everything come to a sudden end,″ said his coach, Charlie Butt.

Riley, 32, had qualified easily in one of six preliminary heats Wednesday. That night, he was turning through a green light when an ambulance hit the right side of his Saab.

He was thrown against the side of his car. Another few inches and Riley would have been seriously injured or killed, his coach said.

``He said, `Well, it’s a good thing I was driving that thing. It’s built like a tank,‴ Butt said.

Riley was released from Northeast Georgia Medical Center after being treated for the broken bone in his left shoulder. He formally withdrew from the Olympic trials late Wednesday night.

Surgery will be scheduled within the next week for doctors to reconnect the shoulder bone with a screw.

Without Riley in the race, defending national champion Cyrus Beasley, 24, easily becomes the favorite to represent the United States, Butt said. Beasley won his semifinal Thursday in 7 minutes, 20.8 seconds.

``A lot of us were anticipating just a fantastic duel,″ Butt said. ``I figured it would go three rounds. I figured they would exchange the first two (finals), and then we’d find out. Then you can’t do anything but leave satisfied.″

Riley was 21 when he earned a spot on his first national team in 1985. He was a U.S. Rowing team alternate to the 1988 Olympics and was eighth in the 1992 Olympics in the U.S. men’s quadruple sculls.

He quit rowing after the 1994 world championships and was coaching masters sculls and learning how to be a salesman in the print business. He decided last year to try again for the Olympics.

His students, a group of professors, lawyers, doctors and teachers, funded his training through donations. And he showed serious promise for the Olympic trials when he upset a Swiss rower last fall in the Head-of-the-Charles.

Instead of racing Thursday, Riley stayed at the home of a Georgia family and declined to talk to anyone. Butt said Riley would not come near Lake Lanier, the Olympic rowing venue, before heading home.

``No, I don’t think he wants to see anybody,″ Butt said. ``The hardest thing is not to feel sorry for himself. That’s the hard part.

``Now he has to move on.″

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