OAKLAND, Calif .– As the Tokyo Games approach, US Rowing awaits the results of a month-long assessment commissioned by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee of the national sports team’s programs, including the men’s group Oakland-based, where longtime trainer Mike Teti is criticized by some rowers for what they call his intense and intimidating style.
Athletes offer radically different accounts of what rowing under Teti’s guidance is.
Members of the men’s eight-boat team united behind Teti before leaving earlier this month for Hawaii to train ahead of the Olympics, determined to limit any potential distractions as they prepare to race in the Japan, and others have said Teti’s coach spawns winners.
But nine rowers who spoke to The Associated Press describing Teti’s bullying – all except one on condition of anonymity because they want to continue in the sport or fear retaliation – said they had first-hand knowledge of Teti physically threatening athletes or verbally attacking them if they challenged him in any way.
“He will vary so much from the guy who you think his uncle will kill you if you don’t win… to the guy who cries and tells you he loves you,” said a former Olympic rower. . “It exists in the same guy – and I believe them both. There’s a storm raging inside this guy he’s having a hard time controlling.”
A former national team member said he saw Teti, 64, threaten another rower two years ago outside the Oakland boathouse. “I heard Mike Teti say to the athletes, ‘If you take one more step I’m going to hit you… I’m going to kill you,’” said the rower, who didn’t want his name used because he can row again. The athlete who he said was threatened confirmed the account.
Responding to questions from the AP, Teti said, “I think I coached in a fair way, keeping the well-being of the athletes in mind,” adding, “Any athlete who thinks they have done the object of inappropriate conduct or unfair treatment should express that concern in the appropriate place. US Rowing has reporting mechanisms and staff in place for this purpose, and has a zero tolerance policy for retaliation. “
Regarding the boathouse incident, he said: “It was a disagreement over how best for an athlete to reach their highest potential. I expressed my feelings clearly and firmly, and so did he. I called him a few moments later and we apologized to each other … There was no threat of violence.
After contacting Teti, the AP received more than a dozen unsolicited claims from former rowers, other coaches and other colleagues expressing gratitude for Teti’s leadership and guidance.
Law firm Arent Fox, which conducts the rowing assessment, declined to provide a timeline for its work. The AP obtained a copy of a letter the firm sent to rowers in January saying it planned to “consider whether the concerns of elite athletes can be heard in a fair and neutral manner that does not contribute to fear of reprisals ”.
Some athletes have shared their comments on the culture under Teti directly with US Rowing CEO Amanda Kraus, who arrived on board in November.
Kraus said the review “is not an investigation of any particular coach at US Rowing. It is a high level assessment of the culture of our male and female training centers with the aim of ensuring that the concerns of our athletes are taken into account and that fairness and transparency are always at the heart of how we operate. “
Teti was investigated by the SafeSport Watch Group in 2018 and also in 2016 on behalf of the University of California at Berkeley, where he was previously a coach. The SafeSport investigation was closed without penalty and Cal never disclosed his findings.
Athletes critical of Teti have said they accept that some yelling and profanity accompanies competition for an uncompromising coach, but that Teti regularly goes too far, even on what rowers see as minor issues such as a misunderstanding of shift schedules. trip.
“Internationally, we regularly show up paralyzed by external things,” an athlete at the training facility recently said, adding that rowers endure “systemic mind games” and “bullying”.
Teti, the only member of the National Rowing Hall of Fame to be inducted as an athlete and coach, rowed in the American eight which won a bronze medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and coached the men’s eight to the medal of gold at the 2004 Athens Games. Four years later in Beijing, he led boat eight to a bronze medal before starting a successful tenure at Cal, where he remained for a decade. Ahead of the 2012 Summer Games, he was called up to lead the eight in qualifying for London, where the boat finished fourth.
Former rower Ben Holbrook is among those who appreciated Teti’s style and dynamism.
“Everyone invited to his camp has already had incredible success paddling in one way or another,” said the 2004 Olympian. “I’ve always thought Mike’s job is to figure out who among the most elite athletes can work together in the most stressful times to maximize the chances of winning gold. “
But according to others who spoke to the AP, Teti regularly crosses the line.
“There’s nobody he doesn’t criticize. It’s always been an unbearable amount of verbal and emotional abuse,” said one rower.
Two-time Olympic rower Greg Ruckman, who competed in the 2000 and 2004 Games, has filed several lawsuits over more than a decade challenging the team’s selection process, he told the AP was an attempt to allow the athletes to escape. Watching Teti while training elsewhere.
Ruckman, 47, broke down on several occasions when describing what he called the guilt he feels all those years later for ignoring Teti’s behavior so he could pursue his Olympic dream of rowing.
“I was part of the majority of rowers who kept my head down while they rowed, and that for eight years until 2005, and that is when I could not continue like that”, a he declared.
Athletes condemning Teti’s conduct have expressed concerns about his potential to ruin opportunities with prospective employers during or after their rowing careers, given his extensive relationships with companies that offer flexible jobs allowing athletes to train while keeping a full-time job.
Many rowers remain grateful years later for Teti’s professional help, but some have expressed concern that he will revoke his support.
“It is certainly easier to focus on the more important cases such as threatening to hit an athlete, and the verbal abuse is bad, the language is really bad, but athletes are willing to put up with a lot, given that they are on a path to success given that they at least have the tools so they can perform then, ”said a former Olympic rower.
A former Cal coxswain told the AP that Teti was outraged when she approached him about being hired as a resident assistant in the college dorms, a position that would cover room and board and allow her family to save $ 18,000 per year. Taking the job, however, would also mean missing a workout every week to be on call.
The woman, who did not want to be identified as she still works in the tight-knit rowing community, said Teti started “yelling at me for 20 minutes”, accusing her of undermining her authority and being selfish to pursue another activity given rowing. had been the reason she had chosen Berkeley in the first place.
“I was not allowed to miss training,” she said of her reaction, adding: “My hope is to allow the athletes not to endure the suffering.”
Rowers describe a training climate in which Teti verbally attacks athletes in front of their teammates, publicly insults family members, or questions their commitment to the team. Another former Olympian said he was still afraid of Teti because of the threats he made.
“Mike Teti is extremely verbally abusive and manipulative. He uses fear, your finances, your place on the team and even physical intimidation against you,” said a former national team member. “The mental well-being of his athletes is completely ignored by him.”
A former Olympian has said he hopes talking can bring changes to American rowing.
“Future guys need better than that,” he said. “It is simply unacceptable.”