Rower 'too short' for dream
That’s how far Maclean’s Isaac Bolton says he is from fulfilling his Olympic dream.
For all his rowing titles and records, the 17-year-old concedes he is “no chance” of ever representing his country at the highest level.
For all the hours spent honing his craft, Bolton says genetics – a 178cm frame – are against him ever graduating from outstanding junior athlete to world star.
The official Rowing Australia website does not list height as a selection factor in its list of athlete criteria.
But according to Bolton, he is too short to be considered for Rowing Australia’s National Talent Identification camp in Canberra, which is dominated by 190cm-plus athletes.
Even another single scull national title at Nagambie’s Australian Schoolboy Championships in March – the second crown in his keeping – could not sway selectors to break policy and choose ability over potential.
“They picked all the bigger fellas,” Bolton concedes.
“I just thought it was rock up and have a row. It was a bit of a kick in the gut (to not be chosen).
“I asked them what I could do better and they said ‘you don’t have the build’.
“I’m not going far (with my career) now.”
It is not the first time Bolton believes he has been denied selection because of his stature.
He has called for an overhaul of the criteria in a bid to save his sinking career – and his message is simple: “Give everyone a fair go.”
“I know blokes that are rugby players who have power but can’t row,” Bolton says.
“I want it to be a bit more fair for the average Australian.
“If you won by a fair bit they might look at you. But I have won two Australian titles so I can’t be too bad.”
Since the knockback, Bolton has stepped away from the sport to continue with his electrical career.
His rowing training has been cut from most days each week to “not very often”.
“It’s fun, just the social aspect out of it, and you meet some great people but it’s just the selectors who don’t look after you,” he says.
“I just don’t feel like rowing any more.”
The selectors’ alleged poor handling of Bolton has caused a wave among the sport’s supporters.
Isaac’s dad, Paul, says the issue is bigger than just one man missing out and told shorter rowers “you’re wasting your time”.
“He’s had a good history of rowing,” he says.
“When it comes to selection it’s a different story because of the criteria. They don’t even know what they’re after.
“The results should play a good part of it (selection). But it all goes on size.
“They need to look at all rowers in the future to pick the ones they want to pick but take the ones that are rowing well and give them the same opportunity.”
Despite the uproar, Rowing Australia CEO Andrew Dee says Bolton’s non-selection was a simple matter of not fitting the profile of that particular camp rather than being overlooked because of size.
He claims 79kg Bolton still has a promising career in the lightweight categories.
“It’s not about winning races but there’s a whole range of criteria,” Dee says.
“Some of the guys (chosen for the camp) have not rowed very much before and some quite a bit.
“Just like you pick big beefy guys to pack down into a scrum we look at the athletes that best fit our mould. Every sport does that.”
Dee says to choose entrants for Canberra’s camp a number of tests were undertaken –“one of which was height”.
But this was a simple matter of finding athletes who fit different roles on the water.
“Height is not an issue. In a camp like this we are bringing people together for future potential,” Dee says.
“We want to look at some people and give them a chance to progress.
“If he (Bolton) is winning races he is on the radar.
“At the end of the day it comes down to who is winning races and medals.”
Maclean’s Lex Essex, a former champion rower and one-time president of the Northern Rivers Rowing Association, says Bolton’s issue highlights a worrying trend growing in the sport.
He recalls when lightweight Cheryl Everson was overlooked and put the spotlight on the lack of transparency from rowing officials.
“If the rowing academy is so adamant about hulk and bulk in their rowers then make it known from the start,” he says.
“This perceived idea that excessive height is necessary doesn’t apply to scullers.
“A sculler is boated to their weight then rigged to the right gearing for the height and reach.
“Isaac is still very young and will improve with encouragement instead of disappointment.”
In recent years Great Britain instilled a program called ‘Talented 2016: Tall and Talented’, where males were required to be 190cm and females 180cm.
But Dee says Rowing Australia steered clear of a similar selection criteria.