Mike Gennaro missed rowing in the 2012 Olympics by the slimmest of margins.
He was the last cut from the United States men’s eight Olympic boat on April 30. Runner-up in the U.S. pair with Ty Otto six weeks later, Gennaro was one spot away from achieving his dream of rowing in the Olympics - twice.
So when he was named an Olympic alternate, Gennaro was was unsure of what to expect.
“Going into this year, my goal was to not be an alternate,” Gennaro said. “I wanted to be an athlete on the team. I wanted to win gold as a competitor.”
He felt fully prepared to fill in for an injured teammate, but wondered how he would be received by the Olympic community, his teammates, even his family.
“Every time someone would ask me ‘What sport (are you competing in)?’ It’s always like, ‘Well I’m a rower, but I’m an alternate.’”
For Gennaro, 23 and only two years removed from Syracuse University, the alternate capacity turned out to be the perfect experience given his relative inexperience at that stage of his career.
He studied the greatest rowers — and athletes — in the world firsthand, lived with fellow Olympians and soaked up the rock-star treatment given to him by the waves of fans that lined every city street and Olympic venue in London.
In what was a frustrating role for some, Gennaro cherished the opportunity to represent his country as an alternate. He held no gripes, saying his teammates rowed to their potential an represented their country with pride. The results would have been no better with him filling a seat in any boat.
“I could imagine if it was the opposite I would be extremely jealous or angry,” Gennaro said, “but it was my first year trying out for the team and usually guys wait years and years before they get an opportunity to go to the Olympics.”