I did things my own way. I came from a music
background and was ambitious to be a musician.
It was also di;cult for me being in the institutional
environment of rowing.”
McGowan came back in 2006 but this ended in
disappointment when he was not chosen for the
top eight. McGowan calls this a defining moment.
He decided to stop rowing.
McGowan sees his coaching style along the lines
of coaching like an athlete. “I think coaches make
the sport complicated. I think to myself, ‘if I was
in the boat what would I want to do.’ I think it’s
about doing simple things better. There’s no tricks
in rowing and if you look at the di;erent crews no
one looks so amazingly di;erent and wins.”
McGowan made Australia’s junior team in 1999
and finished first in the men’s four at the World
Rowing Junior Championships in Bulgaria. He saw
being on the team as a fun adventure: an 18-year-
old, travelling around Europe with his mates.
“The coaches couldn’t handle it.”
In 2007, Dutch coach Susannah Chayes asked
McGowan to assist her. He began coaching the
Dutch lightweight men’s eight. Just months after
taking over the crew, the eight won a World
“I tried to fit into the model that coaches wanted,
but I couldn’t handle it.” Despite this, McGowan
continued to row, medalling at under- 23 level
and then making the senior team in 2003 in the
eight. The following year he was a finalist at the
2004 Olympic Games, in the men’s four.
Then McGowan got another big break. Last year,
four weeks before the Final Olympic Qualification
Regatta, McGowan was asked to coach the Dutch
men’s eight with the aim of getting the one
remaining Olympic spot. The crew qualified and
McGowan was on his way to the 2008 Olympics
with less than one year of coaching experience.
The crew finished fourth in Beijing.
The eight, McGowan says, is all about blending
personalities. “There are going to be eight di;erent
personality types. You’re always going to have the
attention seeker, the quiet one and so on. People’s
strength is their personality. There’s no right or
wrong, it’s a waste of time to try and change them.
The eight is about managing people rather than
coaching,” adds McGowan. “Athletes have egos
and egos get in the way.”
“I’m very relaxed. I have fun. For me it is a game.
As soon as it stops being fun why would you do
During these years McGowan continually struggled
with the pressure to conform. “I got to a point
where I didn’t have the energy to fight it. It’s fun
as a youngster, but I got burnt out.” McGowan can
recount endless stories of his creativity in nonconformance. One of his most memorable was
going to the Athens Olympics with a beard. “They
(the coaches) told me to shave, so I shaved my legs.”
Returning to Australia after the Olympics, he
allowed himself a month to work out whether
rowing at the 2012 Olympics was a possibility.
McGowan says, “The fire inside me was dead.”
He headed back to the Netherlands and back to
■ M.S. B.
Now as a coach McGowan sees himself on the
other side of the fence. “Every athlete thinks that
they are hard done by at some point. Every athlete
has a story about lost opportunities.”
Dave McGowan (b) competing
with crewmates in the men’s
four: Rob Jahrling, Tom Laurich
and David Dennis (s), at the 2004
The matching tracksuits and conformity did not
fit McGowan. “I had nose rings, tattoos and