Ken Jurkowski, seen rowing here in the 2008 Beijing Games, qualified for the 2012 London Games this week.
WEST WINDSOR, N.J. -- Ken Jurkowski got a later start in the sport of rowing than most of the top international rowers. In 1999, Jurkowski was a freshman at Cornell University, having just turned 19, when he climbed into the boat for the first time.
“I only rowed the eight (man boat) in college,” Jurkowski said. “I was never by myself back then, but eventually, I wanted to see how I stacked up individually. I liked the sport because everyone has the same chance and everyone has the same equipment. The guy who wins is the one who outworks the other and does more.”
Now, some 13 years later, Jurkowski knows exactly where he stands among those who compete nationally in the single sculls and he’s certainly outworking everyone else in American rowing.
Early Thursday morning, Jurkowski earned a nomination to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games in London by winning the Olympic Trials held at the Caspersen Rowing Center on Lake Mercer. The women’s pair team of Sara Hendershot and Sarah Zelenka defeated the team of Amanda Polk and Jamie Redman to earn the Olympic berth, representing Team USA in the women’s pair event in London. All nominations are subject to the approval of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The 30-year-old Jurkowski, a native of New Fairfield, Conn., will represent the United States in London in July after defeating three other competitors in relatively easy fashion.
Jurkowski’s time of 7:15.898 was seven seconds better than runner-up Michael Sivigny of Somersworth, N.H., Jim Dietz of Amherst, Mass., was third, with Jon Greer of Chester, N.H., fourth.
Jurkowski was able to slice a good 17 seconds off the time he posted in the qualifying trials Tuesday.
“The conditions were a little tougher on Tuesday,” Jurkowski explained. “There was a significant headwind that slowed down times. I wasn’t affected by the conditions today.”
Jurkowski was asked why there was such a significant time difference between Tuesday and Thursday morning.
“Because I wanted to go to the Olympics,” Jurkowski said. “That was the difference. It’s why we’re all here. I felt confident in my preparation and my training. I try to do my best every day. The sport is never easy, but it’s easy for me to give my best effort.”
It will mark the second time that Jurkowski will represent the United States in the Olympic Games. Jurkowski was Team USA’s single sculls participant at the 2008 Games in Beijing, where he finished 11th overall.
“I consider it to be an enormous privilege and honor to represent the country, not to mention a tremendous responsibility,” Jurkowski said. “I take a tremendous amount of pride in rowing for the United States in the Olympics. It’s what I’ve worked hard to do for the last four years.”
Jurkowski, who qualified for the single sculls at the 2011 World Rowing Championships, initially had a chance to qualify for the 2012 Games at the World Rowing Cup competition in Lucerne, Switzerland, last month.
However, since he finished ninth at that competition and needed to finish at least fourth to qualify for the Games, Jurkowski had to win the Olympic Trials to earn his second trip to the Olympic Games.
With that in mind, Jurkowski sprinted out to an early lead Thursday, held at least a two-boat length lead for most of the early part of the race, then pulled away over the last 500 meters to comfortably earn another berth in the Olympic Games.
Going back to the Games became an obsession for Jurkowski, who trains full-time to hone his craft.
“This is all I do for a living,” said Jurkowski, who owns a degree in agricultural and biological engineering technology from Cornell, but has devoted all of his attention toward rowing. “It’s not very lucrative and there are no sponsors. Without the financial help and support from family and friends, I would not be here. They’re all very generous.”
Jurkowski said that he’s spent the last year training and working with the University of California, Berkeley rowing squad.
“Coach Dave O’Neill allowed me to train with his team and that’s been a great advantage,” Jurkowski said. “The goals have evolved over time. After Beijing, I tried to figure out if rowing was sustainable and affordable financially. I figured out how to prioritize the things important for training. It took me a couple of years to figure it out. I got back with full-time training and this is the result.”
But it’s not easy trying to make a living as a full-time rower.
“I only spend money on rent and food,” Jurkowski said. “It goes a lot further than people expect.”
Jurkowski knows that since he’s such a late bloomer in the sport, he has many years of international competition ahead of him.
“Most of the guys who race internationally are older than I am,” Jurkowski said. “They’ve also been doing it longer than me. I’m going to keep going as long as I can and keep doing better. I have no idea when I’ll put that degree to practical use.”
Olympic Trials – Rowing (Qualified Small Boat Trials)
June 14, 2012
West Windsor, N.J.
* Denotes previous Olympic experience
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Jim Hague is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.