Sporting Life

In search of gold, Yalies head north

Medals at the Pan-American Games in swimming and rowing.

Harry How/Getty

Harry How/Getty

Eva Fabian ’16 (left) swims to victory in the 10K open-water event at the Pan-American Games. View full image

At Yale, Ivy League champion Eva Fabian ’16 competes in distance events that take place in pools and within the lane lines. Internationally, she’s an elite name in the sport of open-water swimming—where pools give way to lakes and lanes give way to wide-open, long-distance racing.

“It’s such a free competition. Time doesn’t mean anything,” says Fabian, who was the 2010 world champion in the five-kilometer swim. “It’s a chess match that goes over two hours.”

In July, Fabian was one of three Yalies who came home with medals from the Pan American Games in Toronto. In the 10K competition at Ontario Place, a manmade extension of Lake Ontario, Fabian was part of a closely bunched lead pack for most of the competition. But she made her move at the end, finishing with the top time of 2:03:17.0. A brief, tense delay followed when it turned out that the electronic buoy had recorded exactly the same mark for Venezuela’s Paola Pérez Sierra. (Two other racers followed in the next half second.) To determine a winner, officials turned to the video. Fabian was declared victorious.

“I knew I had won,” she says. “It’s always a little nerve-racking when they’re doing video review, but it’s something that’s pretty normal in the sport.” With gold in hand, Fabian returns to her senior season at Yale and the comparatively claustrophobic confines of Olympic-sized pools.

About an hour south of Ontario Place, at the Royal Canadian Henley Rowing Course in St. Catharines, two recent grads raced their way to medals for Team USA. Brendan Harrington ’14 earned a bronze as part of the US crew in the men’s eight (and also competed in the pairs event). Matt O’Donoghue ’14 rowed in the lightweight coxless four-man boat that won silver.

For both Harrington and O’Donoghue, the event may turn out to be a tune-up for something bigger: each was inspired to pursue an Olympic berth after watching the 2012 summer games in London. They have spent most of their time since graduation at the National High Performance Center in Oklahoma City, the officially designated Olympic training site for rowing. The two are in a group of ten trainees competing for the very few seats on the lightweight four-man boat in Rio. But they have one advantage: they already know what it’s like to feel the weight of an international medal around the neck.

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