Sometimes it seems as if Tony Johnson has been everywhere and seen everything. From winning gold medals at the European Championships to an Olympic silver medal in 1968, he has an enviable record as an internationally renowned rower.

But today Johnson’s passion lies not in his personal accomplishments but in the accomplishments of his charges – young Georgetown rowers. As head coach of the Georgetown’s men’s heavyweight squad and the overall supervisor of Georgetown’s entire crew program, Johnson has watched the Hoyas rise to a national powerhouse.

It was 16 years ago that Johnson returned to coaching at Georgetown after a distinguished 20-year coaching career at Yale University – he had also coached the Hoyas briefly from 1967 to 1969. Back then, the Hoyas were relatively unknown on the national crew stage. But under Johnson’s watch, the team moved up from the relatively lowly Dad Vail level of rowing competition to the much more competitive Eastern Sprint level where they remain today.

Georgetown crew has achieved phenomenal success on the national level. From 1995 to 2001, several men’s teams won national championships, and after a few down years, the Hoyas are on the prowl again. The team is looking forward to the IRA national championships in June, and Johnson is optimistic about their chances for success. He partially credits Georgetown administrators for giving him the opportunity to succeed on the Hilltop – or, in his case, on the Potomac.

“I started coaching here a pretty long time ago and just formed a great association with Georgetown University and the people who are a part of the program,” he said. “That this has lasted so long and to have the ability to be here to grow the program is fulfilling.”

But Johnson knows that others, like men’s varsity lightweight coach Andy Belden, have also played key parts in the program’s slow but steady rise.

Belden, a Cornell graduate, arrived on the Georgetown crew scene only two years ago but since that time the men’s lightweight squad has had some of the greatest successes in its history. Last year, the team placed second nationally at the IRA national championships and medaled at the Eastern Sprints competition.

“When I got here the team was doing pretty well. I was lucky to inherit a program that was really solid, that had been coached by a guy who was really visionary,” Belden said. “I’m very lucky to have a team like this.”

Under Belden’s direction, the lightweight team qualified for the national championships again this year, and he has big plans for the future.

“The prospect is seeing what these guys can do at the national championships in two weeks, when they’re fully rested, tapered and ready to go,” he said.

According to Johnson, Belden is an indispensable part of Georgetown’s team.

“Andy went to Cornell, got into coaching and did very well for himself. He’s a young guy with a good rowing background,” Johnson said. “He’s thoughtful, a good leader, a good coach and has knowledge.”

Both coaches know that many individuals working together have made the crew team strong. They both say that they’re particularly thankful to the young men and women who have made the Hoyas a tough team to beat over the last few years.

And for their part, members of the crew team say that Belden and Johnson keep them focused on their ultimate goal – being the best in the nation.

According to sophomore lightweight rower Mike McGrath, Belden simply “motivates you.”

“He’s not a coach to scream and yell to you but more quiet and very focused,” McGrath said. “He expects a lot of us – not just on the water but representative as a crew team. He sets a high bar.”

Sophomore heavyweight Dave Carter called Johnson “laid back,” but said that his coach knows how to connect with his team.

“He’s very experienced so he’s got a lot of good advice [and] good wisdom,” he said. “Everyone likes him.”

Georgetown’s crew program faces numerous challenges in the near future. One of those challenges is an inevitability in college athletics – losing top-notch seniors. Belden says that the men’s lightweight team will be losing several key members to graduation, but he believes that through hard work, “We’re going to be all right.”

“Getting a couple new freshmen [and] transfers, I think in terms of where we’re going to be in the league, we’ll be in the same place next year,” he said. “It’s a solid group that knows how to work.”

And while Belden concentrates on keeping his team competitive, Johnson is focused on longer term goals. He’s played a major part in helping to raise more than $18 million for the crew team’s future boathouse. He’s also looking to create an even better team in the near future – a team that could win even more national titles.

“I enjoy pretty much everything about this,” Johnson said. “I enjoy providing some of the umbrella structure for other coaches, and I enjoy the tremendous amount of this job that is teaching. I’m doing something that I love.”

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