Davidon surfaces as elite rower


Like most students at Johns Hopkins Medical School, Ruth Davidon doesn't have much spare time. When she isn't in class, she spends countless hours in the library surrounded by medical books and journals.

But Davidon is also a world-class sculler who trains twice a day, two hours each time. When she has to travel to rowing competitions, she leaves a tape recorder with friends so that she can listen to lectures when she gets back.

Davidon's commitment to rowing -- despite a demanding course load -- has paid off. She will represent the United States in women's single sculls in the Goodwill Games that open today in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Davidon's transition from medical student to international competitor in less than three years has stunned some veterans of the sport.

"Yeah, it is kind of surprising," said Molly Brock, a third-year member of the U.S. Women's National Rowing Team and Davidon's training partner this summer. "I think the reason she does so well is that she trains so hard, and she's so into it. A lot of people train hard, but she has a lot of faith in herself."

"It has a lot to do with the natural ability you have," said Brian Jamieson, a member of the men's national team last year. "Ruth is amazing in that not only does she have all that natural ability, but she also has a lot of drive."

Even Davidon is astonished by her run. "It is a surprise that I've come this far in the sport. I knew I was strong, and I felt fit, but. . ."

The only person not flabbergasted by Davidon's results is national sculls coach Igor Grinko.

"I see that she is very mentally strong, and she has a good heart," said Grinko, the former coach of the Soviet national sculls team. "No surprise. I could see it in her eyes. . . . She has everything."

Davidon, 30, began rowing in her hometown of Philadelphia, where she watched scullers on the Schuylkill River. And although Davidon was a member of her high school rowing team, she did not scull as a student at Amherst College. Instead she played field hock ey one year, swam another, and concentrated on her pre-med studies.

However, she continued to row on her own time, and after graduation sent a trial time for 2,000 meters to the U.S. Rowing Association in Indianapolis. U.S. Rowing immediately invited her to train with the national team in Boston during the summer of 1987.

But after one year of training, Davidon left the team and stopped rowing for four years. She got married in 1991 and was busy with a research project in a biochemistry lab at Harvard.

In 1992 Davidon sent another trial time to U.S. Rowing, which invited her to try out for the 1992 Olympic team. But she suffered a stress fracture of her ribs and failed to make the team.

"I was pretty happy just to make it to the tryout camp," she said. "I mean, I had just begun training in March of that Olympic year. I was happy to get that far."

In 1993, Davidon made the U.S. National Team, which she led to a bronze medal in women's quadruple sculls at the World Championships in the Czech Republic. The medal was the United States' first in nine years, but what's even more amazing is Davidon competed with three broken ribs.

"It was my first summer on the national team, and I knew that we had a good chance to get a medal," she said. "I was determined to pull through -- whether or not I had broken ribs."

At the national championships last month, Davidon set a record by winning gold medals in four events -- the women's single sculls 500-meter dash, the women's single sculls 2,000-meter dash, the women's double sculls and the women's quadruple sculls. But in the Goodwill Games, Davidon will compete only in the women's 2,000-meter single sculls.

Davidon has been coached by Grinko since 1991, when he became the U.S. coach.

Davidon's quest for a gold medal at the Goodwill Games will not be easy. Her competition includes Romania's Elizabeth Lipa, 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the single sculls, and Germany's Katherine Boron, gold medalist in the doubles.

But Davidon is heartened by the fact that at the U.S. National Championships she was timed in the 500-meter dash at 1 minute, 41 seconds -- just two seconds off U.S. champ Jason Gailes' time in the men's single sculls.

"It's a little scary because I've never raced that kind of competition in the single, but I've been going very fast," Davidon said. "I want to be the fastest person in the world. That's what motivates me."

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