Different paths to Beijing `08

August 22, 2008

Former Georgetown University sailing team member Chris Behm (MSB ‘08) was almost giddy when the Beijing Olympics began this summer. His old teammate, Andrew Campbell (SFS ‘06), was one of two Georgetown graduates to make the U.S. Olympic team, and Behm was more than willing to stay up as late as three in the morning to watch him sail.

“I came to sail at Georgetown and just immediately looked up to him,” Behm said. “Me being able to sail with someone of that caliber every weekend, that was amazing.”

Meanwhile, Georgetown Crew Coach Anthony Johnson followed former Georgetown rower Michael Altman (COL ‘97), who competed this month with the U.S. Olympic rowing team, with nervous anticipation.

“He’s worked so hard for this,” Johnson said. “He spent the summer proving he deserved to be there.”

Ultimately, Altman’s four-person boat finished 11th in the men’s lightweight sculls category. Cambell finished 32nd sailing Laser, a one-person craft.

Though Campbell and Altman both competed on championship teams during their college years, their former coaches and teammates remember them in very different ways. Campbell’s coach and teammates remember him as a natural during his Georgetown years, the GUST sailor who raised the bar for the entire team.

“On the water, he was a machine,” his former co-captain Ed duMoulin (COL ‘06) said.

GUST Coach Michael Callahan called Campbell a master of several different sailing classes who might have easily qualified for the Olympics in any of them. This summer he chose to sail Laser, which Callahan described as “very technically difficult to sail.”

“While he was at Georgetown, he singlehandedly won three national championships. In Laser, he was undefeated in that boat in all his college years … He was just a phenomenal sailor,” Callahan said.

But unlike Campbell, Altman was not a standout athlete during his college years. Both Coach Johnson and his son, Greg Johnson (COL ‘95), who rowed with Altman for two years, remember him as intensely motivated. According to Coach Johnson, Altman sometimes struggled in his Georgetown years to stay competitive in a sport that requires constant improvement. Coach Johnson recalls that Altman, who rowed with outstanding crews all throughout his college career, “wasn’t a star by any means.”

“He didn’t stand out as anyone who was special-special,” Johnson said. “He really had to prove himself in that group of college rowers.”

And while Campbell easily qualified for the Olympics right out of college, Altman left college to alternate graduate school and his training.

Altman, however, “qualified only as a spare in the 2004 Olympics, and he was terribly disappointed that he wasn’t an active player,” Coach Johnson said.

But Altman’s success in qualifying for the 2008 Olympic team reminded Coach Johnson of the rower’s senior year.

“Some things about the fall of ‘07 didn’t go well. But he really turned it around… If you don’t constantly improve through your training, you don’t make it. And through his persistence, he did make it,” Coach Johnson said. “That’s exactly what he did here.”

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