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Local rower John Graves one race away from spot in the Tokyo Olympics

John Graves.jpg
Posted at 4:08 PM, Mar 18, 2021

CINCINNATI — John Graves wanted to be a baller. Soccer and basketball were his sports of choice growing up in New Richmond.

Rowing didn’t choose him. It picked his father Harry first. Then his older brothers Tom and Peter followed (wet)suit.

“I, as the youngest, definitely tried to stay away as much as I could,” Graves said from Austin, Texas. “Now I’m 32 trying to go to the Olympics in rowing.”

Graves, a Cincinnati Country Day graduate, is one step away from spot in the Tokyo Games.

Five years ago, he was 0.7 seconds away from qualifying for the Rio Games.

He and his brother Peter were in the quadruple scull in Switzerland, the final qualifying race before the Olympics where the top-two in the event advance to the Games. They finished fourth, 0.7 behind New Zealand. Three weeks later, the Russian team, which won the event, was banned from the Olympics after a doping disqualification.

“That margin between our two boats, we didn’t think that was going to matter, ended up mattering,” Graves said. “It was a really difficult pill to swallow. You go back and think, what could I have done differently?”

He couldn’t do anything about 2020. The coronavirus postponed the Games just months before Graves was set to give it one final go.

“Having it be so close and then it move was a very challenging mental and emotional process,” Graves said.

The endurance athlete wasn’t sure he had the endurance to go on. After all, 2020 was supposed to be his last year of competition.

“When someone says you have 16 more months, you just feel like, I just survived that last four years and now you want me to survive another 16 months?” Graves said. “I absolutely considered hanging it all up.”

He answered the call just a few weeks ago in Sarasota. Graves won the men’s single scull competition. But he wasn’t alone. His brother Peter, a 2012 Olympian himself, was there every step of the way -- well, almost. Peter ran the last half of the race with him, in flip flops. If love is pain, Peter’s has manifested in a scab between his big toe and second toe.

“In retrospect, it felt poetic to be there and I’m happy I was there with him,” Peter said.

Graves is now one race away from Olympic competition. If he finishes in the top two at the Final Olympic Qualifying Round in Lucerne, Switzerland, he’ll go to the Tokyo games.

Not bad for a baller.

“He’s always taken what we’ve done and taken it a step farther. I’m really excited for him,” Peter said. “No matter how it turns out, we’re all really proud of him.”

“Now I’ve earned the right to do what you want to do which is qualify the boat for the Olympics,” John said. “Definitely surreal. I’m focused on Switzerland to try and punch my ticket.”