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With US Rowing review underway, athletes say coach Mike Teti threatened and verbally abused them

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A group of U.S. Rowing athletes said they have direct knowledge of their Olympic team coach threatening or verbally attacking athletes while the months-long U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee review of the sport continues, the Associated Press reported. 

The report lands five days before the Tokyo Olympics are set to begin with members of U.S. Rowing already in Japan to compete. Members of the men's eight boat team supported longtime coach Mike Teti earlier this month, explaining that his style made winners. But nine rowers told the AP that Teti threatened harm if athletes challenged him. 

Law firm Arent Fox is doing the assessment and has not provided a timeline. US Rowing CEO Amanda Kraus, who took over in November, told the AP the investigation is not about a particular coach, but about the culture of the entire center and the well-being of athletes. 

Mike Teti
Mike Teti was reportedly verbally abusive to athletes in the US Rowing program. (Essdras M Suarez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

US Rowing coach verbally abusive, athletes say

Athletes painted two different pictures to the Associated Press regarding Teti, who had been investigated by SafeSport in 2018 and by a group on behalf of Cal-Berkeley in 2016. 

“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,” one former Olympic rower said, via the Associated Press. “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.”

Another former national team member told the AP two years ago outside the training boathouse in Oakland he overheard Teti threatening to punch and kill a rower if he took another step. Teti told AP it was a "disagreement over the best way for an athlete to reach his highest potential" and they apologized to each other moments later. 

Teti, 64, replied to AP: 

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

Teti is the only member of the National Rowing Hall of Fame who was inducted as a rower and coach. 

He was investigated by SafeSport in 2018 and by an outside investigator hired by the University of California-Berkeley in 2016. In the Cal case, a former female rower said Teti knew she had been sexually assaulted at a rowing team party. She said he did not report it and told her to stop crying, telling her "you're no angel, anyway," and asking about sexual encounters with other rowers, the East Bay Times reported in 2016. 

The SafeSport investigation was closed with no sanctions and Cal never released information from its outside counsel. 

Athletes stand behind Teti's coaching style 

Many told the AP they believed he crossed the line in coaching. They said he created a climate where he would attack athletes in front of teammates and be verbally abusive in front of family. And that he uses fear and finances to keep rowers in line with what he wants. 

Others said he has to have a certain style and drive to get the most out of a group of people at their best already. 

“Everyone invited to his camp has already been incredibly successful in rowing in some way,” Ben Holbrook, a 2004 Olympian, told 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.”

US Rowing at Tokyo Olympics

The men's four and men's eight are the two boats on the men's side to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. The men's eight finished fourth and the four finished seventh at the Rio Olympics in 2016. 

Anders Weiss is the only returning male Olympian for the boats in Tokyo. He competed in the pair event at the Rio Olympics and finished 11th. Weiss will now be part of the four-man boat. 

Teti won a bronze himself at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul as a rower in the eight boat that year. He coached the gold-medal winning men's eight to gold at the 2004 Athens Games and bronze in Beijing. 

After a successful tenure at Cal, he returned for the 2012 London Games and led the eight boat to a fourth-place finish. 

The U.S. is the only country to qualify all seven of its women's boats. The women's eight-boat will go for a fourth consecutive gold 

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