A coach to remember - Igor Grinko
International coach, Igor Grinko, 68, has died after a three-year battle with cancer.
Grinko leaves behind an extensive legacy through his work in the Soviet Union, then to the United States, and on to China before returning to the United States.
Along the way Grinko coached many teams to international medals, with some of the most memorable being the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games United States men's quadruple sculls silver medal and Estonia's Jueri Jaanson's silver medal in the men's single sculls at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Born in Vilnius, Lithuania, he then moved to Kiev, Ukraine where he started rowing as a 12-year-old. His home club was Dynamo Kiev. Grinko became a top rower before switching to coaching under the former Soviet Union sports system. He became the Soviet Union sculling coach and led the Soviets to 14 Olympic and World Championship medals. Grinko was then hired by the United States in 1991 to be the national team sculling coach. He remained in the United States before moving to China in 2004 to prepare Chinese rowers for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Grinko was known for his dry humour, memorable one-liners, a brutal training programme and radiant blue eyes. Every athlete who was coached by Grinko has an 'Igor story.'
Not long after Grinko moved to the United States, he was watching one of the country's top women scullers, Alison Townley, while she was training on the indoor rowing machine. Brad Lewis described Grinko’s reaction in the LA Times in June 1991, "... Deciding she wasn't working hard enough, he waved his arms, trying to make himself understood. Finally, in frustration, he took out his Russian/English dictionary, thumbed through it until he found the word he wanted and then shouted: 'Suffer!'” Suffer remained one of his favourite words.
One of Grinko's former US athletes, Brian Jamieson won silver at the 1996 Olympics and described on Row2k.com an Igor memory, "Every time we saw him after our silver medal effort in 1996, Igor would scold, nag and pester us—"why did you not believe me? I tell you, you could have been Olympic champions! You just need go 2.2 seconds faster." And (mimicking us), "oh Igor, I see now… you were right!"
"’Igor's demands were simple,’ adds Jamieson. ‘He asked for a full and unconditional commitment - to his way of rowing, his view of racing and his training regimen. Everything else - family, job, fun - would wait.’"
His sessions at the Olympic Training Centre in Colorado Springs were monumental, with the focus on taking advantage of altitude, while doing intense repetitive weight lifting. His belief in the benefits of volume - on and off the water - became the signature that all of his athletes knew intimately.
Described by Unites States coach Mike Teti as the 'eternal optimist,' when Grinko moved to coach in China he was told that it was scientifically proven that Chinese men were not made for rowing. His response, "I told them they were wrong."