Varsity rower wins title abroad

Andrew Rastapkevicius wins double gold in Lithuania

Rastapkevicius, right, and Vaitiekus.
Rastapkevicius, right, and Vaitiekus.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Rastapkevicius
Rastapkevicius and Vaitiekus prepare for a training run at the Lithuanian National Training Centre.
Rastapkevicius and Vaitiekus prepare for a training run at the Lithuanian National Training Centre.
Courtesy of Rastapkevicius

A gold medal is a universally recognized symbol.

This summer, varsity rower Andrew Rastapkevicius, ArtSci ’07, made his Canadian compatriots proud by becoming a national champion of Lithuania. Though he set aside the red, blue and gold in favour of a different tricolour—the yellow, green and red of the Lithuanian flag—Rastapkevicius’ journey began here at Queen’s.

Every September, the Queen’s campus and the Ghetto is papered with red, blue and gold signs that read: ROW THIS FALL. In the fall of 2003, Rastapkevicius decided to do just that. In his first year he was a member of the Queen’s Novice team, the university’s learn-to-row program where even beginners, learn the skills of the sport.

In his second year of competition he was named to the varsity heavyweight team.

He trained hard and the following summer tried out for the Under-23 national team, only to be the last man cut from the roster.

In the fall of his third year, Rastapkevicius once again made the Queen’s varsity rowing team, and this summer also earned a spot in the men’s heavyweight crew representing Canada at the Under-23 World Rowing Championships.

Following a disappointing 7th place finish at the U-23 World Championships in Belgium, Rastapkevicius travelled through Europe for a brief period of time before stopping in Lithuania to visit family. During his stay, he was invited to train with the Lithuanian national rowing team in the city of Trakai. While training, he met one of the Lithuanian Under-23 competitors, Marius Vaitiekus.

Coincidentally, the Lithuanian national rowing championships were taking place while he visited. He and Vaitiekus decided on a whim to compete in the 2000-metre men’s pair event.

“I rowed starboard and he rowed port, so why not?” said Rastapkevicius.

Making a cohesive pair in such a short period of time wasn’t an easy process, due to the stylistic differences between Canadian and Lithuanian rowing technique, and that the men’s pair event is arguably the most difficult to row.

“Large crowds came down to the docks to watch this Canadian and Lithuanian row together. No one knew what to expect,” Rastapkevicius said.

With one great performance following another, Rastapkevicius said the route to the finals was far from taxing.

“We won the semi-final heat by about eight seconds,” he said, “though I think they stopped trying when they saw we wouldn’t lose the lead.”

In the final heat, Rastapkevicius and Vaitiekus won by a margin of six seconds to take the gold medal. Rastapkevicius was also a member of the gold medal-winning men’s eight.

Rastapkevicius said in the fall term he spent 10 to 12 hours per week training and that number increased to 12 to 15 hours in the winter term. Given his rapid development and string of successes, the only questions that remain are about his future goals. He said he’s too young to row in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“I’m too young,” he said. “I don’t have enough experience to break into the top crew of guys going into these Olympics.”

At 22, Rastapkevicius has plenty of good rowing years left in him and he did leave the possibility of the 2012 Olympics open. However, it may not be with Canada as he has an offer of citizenship from Lithuania.

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