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Rowing: Skricki an Olympic Finalist

September 19, 2000

PENRITH, Australia (AP) _ Carol Skricki watches Ruth Davidon row in the Olympics with much of the same awe she had in 1996, when Skricki was a newcomer to the sport and Davidon was a single sculls finalist in Atlanta.

The difference is Skricki has a better view this time _ from the back of Davidon’s boat.

The Davidon-Skricki double sculls tandem advanced to the finals on Tuesday through a second-chance classifying heat. Skricki has reached rowing’s most prestigious regatta just eight years after picking up an oar for the first time.

Her ascension, which began at age 30 when a friend dragged her along to a lesson, is incredible and inspiring _ even to Skricki.

``Sometimes when we’re out practicing, just going down the Olympic course, I’ll be rowing behind Ruth and it just hits me,″ she said. ``I actually watched her row the single in the ’96 Olympics. She was at the top of the scullers and I had just started. And now I’m rowing a boat with her at the Olympics.

``It’s just as hard for me to believe as it is for anyone else.″

The women’s coxless pair of Missy Ryan and Karen Kraft also advanced to Saturday’s finals by winning their heat in the consolation repechage round.

The tandem finished a close second at the 1996 Olympics then gave up rowing only to return two years ago. Ryan’s comeback is special because she donated a kidney to her brother two months after winning a silver medal in Atlanta.

Skricki was an office worker at university art galleries around Boston by day and the bass guitarist for an alternative rock band called the Orchids by night when she went to that fateful sculling lesson.

``It wasn’t even at a rowing place,″ she said, laughing. ``They actually rented canoes and just happened to have a few recreational sculls.″

She was hooked from the start. The timing couldn’t have been better because her group’s lead singer had just left, stalling her music career.

``I’d been discouraged by putting together a big group and having one person leave, then having to start all over again,″ she said. ``When I got into sculling, in the single, it only depended on me. I didn’t have to worry about anybody else. I could achieve my goals basically on my own.″

Her first goal was to win the Bay State Games, the first regatta she ever entered. She did. So she volunteered to work the Head of the Charles just to experience the race, with plans to run it the following year. She won again.

She entered the Olympic trials in 1996 to try catching the eye of the U.S. coaches in hopes of eventually making the national team. A few months later, national sculling coach Igor Grinko invited her to a training camp in Augusta, Ga., because he was intrigued by her 6-foot-2 frame and raw strength.

Skricki was switched to the double and success came quickly. She won on national champion crews in 1997 and ’98, then won the ’99 national team trials.

Early this year she was teamed with Davidon, who had retired after Atlanta to pursue a medical degree. They finished second at the Olympic qualifying regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, and took bronze at a World Cup stop in Vienna.

``It may seem like I have risen quickly, but I don’t feel like I’ve sat in one place,″ said Skricki, who lives in Augusta. ``I’ve gone up in a pretty methodical way.″

Skricki doesn’t play much guitar any more. In case you didn’t notice, she’s the type who goes all out into whatever she’s doing and demands a lot from herself. So if she can’t play at her best, she would rather not do it at all.

``Rowing takes so much mental and physical energy,″ she said. ``I like to be very focused on one point. Ruth can multitask. We’re very different, but when we’re in the boat, we have one mind.″

The other three U.S. teams that competed Tuesday advanced to Thursday’s semifinals: single scullers Monica Tranel Michini and Don Smith, and the men’s double scull of Henry Nuzum and Mike Ferry.

Another round of repechage will be held Wednesday for the other seven rowing events. The United States is the only country that qualified for all 14 events and so far is on pace to make all the finals.