USA Olympics Coach Mike Teti Accused of Physical Threats, Verbal Abuse by Rowers

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJuly 18, 2021

Coach Mike Teti speaks into a megaphone toward rowers practicing in the Oakland Estuary in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. Nearly two dozen U.S. men's rowers signed on to keep training for another year after the Tokyo Olympics were delayed until 2021. Teti, a three-time Olympian himself, is thrilled the group stuck together. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Nine rowers have accused United States Rowing Association men's coach Mike Teti of physical and verbal threats ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

Janie McCauley of the Associated Press reported Saturday the rowers' accounts come amid an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee into U.S. Rowing's national team programs.

"He'll vary so wildly from the guy that you think is actually going to have his uncle kill you if you don't win ... to the guy that's crying and telling you that he loves you," an unnamed former Olympic rower told the AP. "That exists in the same guy—and I believe both of them. There is a storm raging inside that guy that he has a hard time controlling."

Other athletes who've been coached by Teti told McCauley his coaching style "breeds winners." Teti released a statement to the AP about the allegations against him.

"I believe that I have coached fairly, with the athletes' well-being in mind," he said. "Any athlete who thinks they have been the subject of improper conduct or unfair treatment should voice that concern in the appropriate venue. U.S. Rowing has reporting mechanisms and personnel in place for that very purpose, and has a zero tolerance policy for retaliation."

Teti won a bronze medal for Team USA at the 1988 Summer Olympics as part of the men's eight rowing team.

The 64-year-old Pennsylvania native started his second stint as the U.S. men's rowing head coach in 2018. He previously filled the same role from 1997 through 2008. He's also coached at the collegiate level at Cal, Princeton and Temple.

He's a member of the U.S. National Rowing Hall of Fame as both an athlete and a coach.

Athletes who spoke with McCauley provided "drastically different accounts" of his coaching style.

"I have heard Mike Teti tell athletes, 'If you take one more step, I am going to punch you ... I'm going to kill you,'" one former U.S. team member told the AP about an incident outside of an Oakland boathouse two years ago, an account confirmed by the rower who was being threatened.

Teti denied there were any physical threats made during that conversation.

"It was a disagreement over the best way for an athlete to reach his highest potential. I expressed my feelings clearly, and firmly, and so did he," he told McCauley. "I called him moments later and we apologized to each other. ... There were no threats of violence."

The Arent Fox law firm, which was hired by the USOPC to handle the probe into the national rowing teams, wouldn't provide a timetable for when its results would be released. U.S. Rowing CEO Amanda Kraus told the AP the review is "not an investigation of any particular coach."

Teti was previously investigated in 2016 by the University of California and in 2018 by SafeSport, a watchdog group, but neither probe publicly revealed details of the findings, per McCauley.

Ben Holbrook, a member of the Team USA at the 2004 Summer Games, pointed to Teti's success to show his coaching style was effective.

"Everyone invited to his camp has already been incredibly successful in rowing in some way," Holbrook told the AP. "I have always thought that Mike's job is to determine who of the most elite athletes can work together in the most pressure-packed moments to maximize the opportunity to win gold."

Others hope the USOPC review will eventually lead to a change atop the U.S. Rowing men's team.

"Mike Teti is extremely verbally abusive and manipulative. He uses fear, your finances, your place on the team and even physical intimidation against you," a former U.S. rower said. "The mental well-being of his athletes is completely disregarded by him."

The men's eight rowing competition in Tokyo begins with heats July 25 and ends with the July 30 final.