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U.S. Olympic rowing men’s eight features four with a Philly flavor

Two rowers and the coxswain are from Chester County, and the head coach (a rabid Eagles fan) is from Upper Darby.

Two rowers,  the coxswain, and the head coach of the U.S. Olympic men's eight are taking Philly to Tokyo this week.
Two rowers, the coxswain, and the head coach of the U.S. Olympic men's eight are taking Philly to Tokyo this week.Read moreU.S. Rowing

When the 76ers were recently eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks in this season’s NBA Eastern Conference semifinals, nearly half the U.S. Olympic rowing team’s men’s eight felt the pain.

So did the head coach.

Philadelphia is home to the famed Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill, and its legendary Jack Kelly Sr. won three Olympic gold rowing medals combined at the 1920 and 1924 Games. The city has long been a hotbed for rowing enthusiasts and hosts many regattas.

Olympic rowing head coach Mike Teti and his men’s eight, including three rowers from Chester County, are taking that Philly experience to the Tokyo Olympics in Japan starting Friday and through July 30.

Coxswain Julian Venonsky, 27, is from Malvern and a graduate of Malvern Prep and the University of California, Berkeley.

Rower Nick Mead, 26, is from Strafford. He attended Episcopal Academy and Princeton. Rower Justin Best, 23, from Kennett Square, went to Unionville High School and Drexel.

“I love Philly and feel really blessed to grow up at Boathouse Row, and [have] all the icons who helped me out, and now we have this next generation,” Teti said in a phone interview.

Teti, 64, is from Upper Darby. He attended Monsignor Bonner High School and St. Joseph’s University, and has been a fixture for years with U.S. rowing as a competitor and coach. In 1988, he won an Olympic bronze medal as a member of the men’s eight.

This will be his third Olympics as head coach, having also served in 2004 and 2008. He was the men’s sweep head coach in 2000 and an assistant coach in 1996 and 2012.

“The thing about rowing in Philly is that it’s like a little subculture down there,” Teti said. “Everybody knows everyone. There are thousands of kids rowing there, and it just feels so important. People in Philadelphia have the Dad Vail [Regatta] and great schools there, and everybody is aware of rowing in Philadelphia.”

Teti is also a diehard Eagles fan.

The coach said he is such a fan that his Sunday workouts in the fall have sometimes been changed to accommodate an Eagles game. The national team’s training center is in Oakland, Calif.

“Remember, there is three hours difference. But sometimes we had to go earlier because the Eagles game would start at 10 [a.m. PT],” said Teti, a former head coach at Cal-Berkley.

Venonsky follows Philly sports, too. “I still haven’t gotten over the Sixers,” he said by phone.

Venonsky, coached by Teti at Cal-Berkley, and Mead were members of the U.S. men’s eight that finished fifth in the 2019 World Championships. The younger Best is a newcomer to the group.

Venonsky said he didn’t know Mead or Best before they all joined the national team, but a bond has been built through shared geography and experience.

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“It’s great to talk to somebody who understands the references I make to Philadelphia sports or going to the Shore,” Venonsky said. “The day after we finish competing I am flying to Philadelphia and then heading to Brigantine.”

Teti said he spent part of last summer in Sea Isle City.

Best, who graduated from Drexel in 2019, said it’s an honor to continue the Philadelphia tradition.

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“Rowing has such a deep concentrated history in the Philadelphia area, and this is another chapter in that long history,” Best said by phone. “Because of the Schuylkill and the routes we had access to going though my high school and college career, it definitely prepped us for this level of competition.

“We all had our time in the Schuylkill. We continued to reach an elite level to represent the U.S.”