Row to London Profile: Steven Coppola

Jan. 31, 2012, 11:07 a.m. (ET)

Ask Steven Coppola what led him to rowing and he answers by talking about football.

He grew up in a football family in Buffalo, N.Y., and his grandfather, John Barnes, was a legendary coach at Canisius High School. Over the course of 42 years, grandfather Barnes coached 287 games and lost only 68 of them with another 16 ties.

So Coppola’s mom and her brother John Jr., and the rest of Coppola extended family knew enough about the game to steer young Steven away from the game. It wasn’t his size. He was certainly big enough at 6’8 and 215 pounds.

“For me, my body, I was a little bit awkward, especially going into my freshman year and my uncle and the rest of my family basically said football will destroy you. You have all these little guys going after you and by the end of four years, you might not be walking right because of the chop blocks you’ll be taking.”

So he chose basketball, and then rowing to help get him in shape. That worked right up until his junior year at Canisius when the basketball depth chart combined with his potential in rowing led him to focus on rowing.

Family history again played a part in the decision. An uncle rowed on the national team “back in the 50s.” And it was those genes that won out. Today, after four years of rowing at Princeton University, Coppola is deep in the mix to make his eighth national team and row at his second Olympics this summer in London.

In his first Olympics, the 2008 games in Beijing, Coppola won a bronze medal in the eight. He has had a long and successful career and he is currently training with Mike Teti who rejoined the USRowing coaching staff after the team failed to qualify the eight at the 2011 World Rowing Championships. Teti was Coppola’s coach in Beijing.

Coppola, 27, was in that boat and the thought of facing the qualification regatta this May are fueling his training and that of his teammates. He wants to help qualify the boat and then compete at the Olympics.

“It’s going really well. We have two large groups and the numbers are what we need. It only took me about a half of a day to get used to being with Mike again. And that’s good.”

For Coppola, this will probably be his last Olympic cycle. He’s been dating a former national team kayaker named Katie Hagler, who he met at the Olympic Training Center in 2007. The couple started dating in 2008 and, as Coppola puts it, “it’s probably time to call it. If nothing else, it’s time to step back. My parents have been great helping me out, keeping me in training. But it’s going to be time.”


Coppola began rowing at Canisius High School and at the West Side Rowing Club in Buffalo . . . He attended Princeton University and graduated with a degree in psychology . . . He enjoys reading history and science fiction, lists his favorite authors as C.S. Lewis, Robert Heinlein and Jimmy Buffett . . . An avid Buffalo Sabres hockey fan, Coppola has been wearing the same Sabres hat since 2007 “it goes everywhere with me” . . . He said he wears it to attract fellow Buffaloians – “it’s my Buffalo calling card,” but he admits it occasionally causes problems, “This past year at Lucerne I had a little hockey argument with the Canadian coxswain. He was wearing his Edmonton Oilers hat” . . . Coppola hopes to someday coach rowing as a career but said he will “look around and see what opportunities there are. I’ll follow my feet somewhere.”

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