Ben Davison

Inverness resident Ben Davison, third from the front in white hat, rows for the U.S. men's eight team at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Ottensheim, Austria. He'll be competing for the U.S. team once again in the Summer Olympics starting July 23 in Tokyo.

 

Ben Davison hasn’t forgotten the agony of 2016.

He was 19, a student at the University of Washington, and he was trying to secure a trip to Rio de Janeiro. No, it wasn’t for a social visit. This was all business, an opportunity to compete in the Summer Olympics held there later that year.

The Inverness resident and 2013 Citrus High graduate was part of a U.S. rowing team taking part in an Olympic qualifier in Lucerne, Switzerland, that fell heartbreakingly short of advancing to Rio.

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Five years later, on June 4, Davison learned that he would be on the Team USA 8-man rowing team in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

"It’s huge," Davison said. "It was definitely a tough moment in 2016. I was young at the time, so I took my sophomore year off of college (to qualify for the Olympics). You train for months and months and you miss it by less than half a second.

"I’m a little bit older. I’ve learned a lot from that moment. By no means do I regret it. It spurred me on to this one."

Davison, who moved to Citrus County from England when he was 10 and still has traces of an accent, was in the boat at the 2019 World Rowing Championships when the USA men’s eight team qualified for the Olympics by finishing fifth.

This is a different rowing discipline than what he attempted to reach the Olympics in back in 2016. That was a quadruple sculls — meaning four people in the boat, each with two oars. Men’s eight is a sweep, so each of the eight team members has just one oar.

Coming out of college rowing, where there are only sweep races, competing in that discipline simply made the most sense for the now 24-year-old Davison, who graduated from Washington in 2019.

Since qualifying their boat for the Olympics, the Team USA members have been training in Oakland, California, and battling for a spot on the Olympic squad. Then there was the uncertainly of the pandemic, which postponed the Tokyo Olympics by a year and threatened to cancel them all together.

"It’s been very stressful for all the guys here. We’re all one team, but at the same time we’re also racing each other. It’s stressful just managing that," Davison said. "Each week you’re racing 2-3 times a week and too many bad days, that’s basically it for you.

"You put in months and months of training. Your life is on hold working for this."

Though vaccinated, the USA rowers face regular testing and will have an app on their phones to help in contact tracing. They’ll first head to Hawaii, which Davison likened to a quarantine.

"We’re going to race. That’s our priority," Davison said. "It’ll be a little bit weird racing an Olympic final with just a couple spectators, but rowing is not a sport with a lot of fans anyway. We’ve been doing this for years so it’s not different for us."

Yet the COVID protocols will prevent Davison’s family from attending the Olympics. That includes his mother Sarah, a nurse at Citrus Memorial Hospital, as well his father Terry, who was his coach growing up.

"They’ve always been my supporters," Davison said of his family, including his brother Joe. "I wasn’t always good at this. I’d argue I was pretty bad. But I’ve always had support from my mom, and brother."

From believing he was pretty bad to being the Pac-12 Conference Men’s Rowing Athlete of the Year in 2019 and now an Olympian is an impressive ascension. The next step is to see if he and his teammates can earn an Olympic medal, something the USA hasn’t done in men’s eight since 2008. The last of 12 gold medals in that particular event came in 2004.

In Rio, Team USA just missed the medal stand by placing fourth. But only one person, Austin Hack, returns from 2016. The remaining eight members of the team, including Davison, Justin Best, Liam Corrigan, Conor Harrity, Nick Mead, Alex Miklasevich, Alexander Richards and Julian Venonsky are all first-time Olympians.

"I’m confident. It’s a great group of guys," Davison said. "We’re a young group. We have just one returning Olympian, which is uncommon. Usually a boat has a lot of solid guys returning. We’ve got a little bit of experience but we have youthful energy."

Predicting where each boat might finish is difficult, Davison noted, because each race tends to be decided by mere seconds. It will become clear, though, when men’s eight heats take place on July 25. The final will be July 30.

However it works out for Team USA, Davison doesn’t know how it will impact his future and whether he’ll take another shot at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

"Everyone is different. A small part of me thinks if I win an Olympic medal, that’ll be it for me," Davison said. "But I might try a different boat class or if we don’t win a medal that might be the inspiration to go for one in Paris."

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Contact Chronicle sports reporter Chris Bernhardt at 352-563-5660, chris.bernhardt@chronicleonline.com or on twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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