Tony Johnson receives the USRowing Medal, presented by long-time friend Mike Vespoli

November 25th, 2014 · General News

On Thursday, November 20, 2014, USRowing hosted the fourth-annual Golden Oars Awards Dinner at the New York Athletic Club in New York City, where Tony Johnson accepted the USRowing Medal of Honor.

  Long-time friend, Mike Vespoli, presented the award to Tony along with these incredible remarks:

“It is a privilege to stand here this evening to honor the sport I love and praise, to a man I revere. But first, I want to acknowledge USRowing and the NRF for all they do to nurture and grow our sport. I commend our governing body for understanding the importance of honoring and recognizing those who have labored in the shells and in the launches to preserve and grow the pastime we all hold so dear.

I am here to introduce to you, Tony Johnson, a man who has been one of the brightest beacons in the sport of rowing for more than half a century.

Tony rowed for Charlie Butt, Sr. in high school and rowed collegiately at Syracuse. Charlie was his mentor, and it was at Charlie’s urging that Tony took his first job. His coaching philosophy was shaped by Charlie and honed by competing at the international level. I had the great fortune of rowing for Tony at Georgetown and the privilege of being his freshman coach at Yale.

As a coach, Tony knew he could impose his will on a crew to make them fast. But that was not Tony. His experiences in the pair and the specific demands that boat requires, had taught him that rowers will only reach their fullest potential if they impose their own will to go their fastest.

He and his pair partner, Larry Hough, spectacularly demonstrated this self-reliance and the important of intrinsic motivation. They dominated the pair event for three consecutive years, and finished their career at the World Championships with a stunning 11 second victory.*

Tony would lay out the path for success to his rowers, but would never force anyone to take it. Rather, he created a competitive environment where each rower would discover there are truly “no limits.” It was hard, but it was fun. He let us discover that success could only be attained through a rower’s drive to achieve personal excellence.

That is why this award being given to Tony is so appropriate and meaningful. For the greatest among us are those who teach us not only technique and physical fitness. Who teach us not only how to row fast and win races. But who teach us discipline and model for us the virtues that allow us to impose our will on our lives so that we might be good and decent men and women. Tony gave fortitude to our rowing – make no mistake about that. But he also gave fortitude to our hearts and our souls.

And he has done that singularly well. Through his own down-home style of friendliness, storytelling, and philosophizing, he has taught generations of rowers that greater achievement – on and off the water – was always possible.

Tony’s lifelong contributions to rowing have gone well beyond the successes of his crews. His six decade long resume of commitment and accomplishment speaks to the best ideals of our sport. And he has always worn his achievement with grace and dignity and humility. Tony is a rowing champion, but he is also a champion human being.

Tonight, USRowing bestows its highest honor, the US Rowing Medal to Philip Anthony Johnson. It is given in the recognition to a member of the rowing community in the United States who has rendered conspicuous service to, or accomplished extraordinary feats in rowing. ”

- Mike Vespoli


*At this time, the World Championships were called the European Championships. The pair won gold at the 1967 championships in Vichy, France.

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