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Old Lyme's Austin Hack and Liam Corrigan: From a small town to the Olympic stage

They share more than a passion and talent for rowing as well as the same hometown.

Austin Hack and Liam Corrigan, Old Lyme High School graduates, recently earned spots on the United States Olympic rowing team that will compete next month in Japan.

That's right, two athletes from the small town of Old Lyme will be competing as part of the men's eight in the Tokyo Summer Olympics, being held a year later than originally scheduled due to the pandemic.

"I think that's incredible," Corrigan said. "I feel a bit weird saying it, but I'm very proud of Old Lyme for that to happen. It's a very small town, probably the smallest town in that area. The rowing program there is somewhat historic and old, but it's not like the mecca of rowing on the East Coast. It's not like the major powerhouse.

"So. I think It's really cool and special. It says a lot about the coach we had, Louis Zubek, in high school, and also the culture of the town to be able to support that. I'm very grateful to have a town that gave me the opportunity."

The two Olympic team rowers talked about their journey to reach this elite level during separate phone conversations last week from the USRowing training center in Oakland, Calif.

Hack will be making his second trip to the Olympics, competing in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro where the men's eight placed fourth.

"It's definitely a terrific feeling going back for a second time," Hack said. "I probably look at it a bit differently than I did at that time when I was going to my first, because when you go to your first Olympics, it's the first time you're able to call yourself an Olympian. So, it's obviously a great accomplishment even to attend.

"But now that I feel much more strongly even than I did then, I don't just want to go, I want to win."

This will be Corrigan's first trip.

"I remember the first summer when I started rowing, I watched the (2012) Olympics," Corrigan said. "Of course, that was on my radar. As I got better at rowing and as I did it more, that became more and more real. For it to finally happen was huge and tremendously exciting.

"But, at the same time, I'm just excited now to actually go over there and race."

Up until about seven years ago, Hack and Corrigan hadn't crossed paths.

At 29, Hack is six years older than Corrigan. In fact, he's the oldest member of a young men's eight. They competed for prestigious college programs on opposite coasts – Hack at Stanford and Corrigan at Harvard.

While attending Stanford, Hack once dropped by an Old Lyme High rowing practice to work out during a trip home. He chatted with Corrigan about rowing and the college recruiting process.

Corrigan was once called "the next Austin Hack."

Now they're part of the same Olympic team.

"I think it's so cool," Hack said. "Liam and I never overlapped when we were actually in school, so I didn't even really know him. Now I feel he's like my little brother a little bit, having him on the team. Except the little brother who is really good. I think it's great to have him. It's another little bond that the two of us share.

"For a small town like Old Lyme to produce two Olympians in the same event no less, I think it's a pretty amazing accomplishment for our town."

Hack and Corrigan, whose parents' houses are located about three miles apart, returned home during the pandemic last spring. They mostly worked out on their own.

Hack rode his bike, used the rowing machine at home and rowed a single at his old training spot at Rogers Lake.

"It was nice," Hack said. "It was fun to go back to the old spots where I used to go, like where I get my breakfast sandwich after training and stuff like that. Just hanging around with my family, it was great. Training by yourself for the Olympics is a bit hard and a little bit mentally draining. But I was willing to make that trade-off just to be at home for a little bit longer."

Eventually, Hack and Corrigan returned to Northern California to resume team workouts. At first, they trained in singles due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Now training sessions are six days per week, twice per day. Corrigan is in the stroke position and Hack in the four seat.

Corrigan is happy the stressful period of Olympic team tryouts is over and he can focus on preparing for Tokyo.

"Now we're in the actual lineups for the Olympics, so it's starting to feel like it's a bit more like it's showtime or we're getting close to it," Corrigan said.

While at first disappointed the Olympics were delayed, Corrgian believes the team benefited from the extra year.

"Part of me would have hoped for it to be a year earlier in 2020, but at the same time with most of our team on the younger side, having that whole year gives us a pretty good advantage from where we would have been," Corrigan said. "It's another year of technique and fitness and everything.

"I feel fortunate with everything that's happened with COVID."

The U.S Olympic rowing team will leave California in mid-July and stop in Hawaii to train for a before continuing on to Japan. The Games begin July 23.

The 2020 Summer Games will be different from past Olympics due to COVID-19 restrictions. There will be no spectators allowed from outside of Japan, so Hack's and Corrigan's parents will have to root from home.

The rowing team is scheduled to arrive five days before its event starts and leave two after it ends.

Hack and Corrigan feel totally comfortable with making the trip and competing in Japan. Everyone on the rowing team is fully vaccinated.

"I have a lot of confidence in all the team doctors and all the support staff who are involved with Team USA, not just rowing but the entire U.S. Olympic delegation," Hack said. "I've got a lot of faith in what those experts have to say. If they made the assessment that it was all fine, then that's definitely enough for me."

g.keefe@theday.com

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