Former Olympic qualifier reminisces on U.S. Rowing dream

GOLD HILL, Ore. — A Gold Hill man is watching the Tokyo Olympics in a special light.

Steve Kiesling successfully qualified for the U.S. Olympic Rowing team back in 1980, but the Cold War prevented him from getting his shot to compete and live out his dream.

“Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and President Carter decided we shouldn’t go, I mostly like Carter, but that was just the stupidest thing in the world – it’s still painful,” said Kiesling.

His Olympic dream died hard.

“It was pretty awful… it was that moment… that I put all this effort, and wait a minute, we’re not going anywhere,” he said.

Kiesling says he attempted to row for the U.S. again in 1984 but just missed the qualifying mark.

“I started [rowing] as a freshman at Yale, I was a football player, bicycle racer, and I got to Yale on the rowing team and everything clicked.”

He says he’s still in contact with his former rowing teammates. They’re close enough that they’re reuniting in Boston this fall for a small rowing competition.

“We’re trading medical stories as much as training tips,” Kiesling said, laughing.

He’s still very active on the water. He runs the Gold Hill Whitewater Center and still occasionally gets a workout on a rowing machine at his home.

He says his love for the sport will never fade.

“It really is a lifelong endeavor, hopefully. If you’re really lucky, that’s the nice thing about kayaking and rowing, you can just keep doing it.”

Kiesling says he’s not an avid Olympic viewer but says he occasionally tunes in.

“I watch some of the rowing, it’s really great.”

Kiesling’s Olympic dream isn’t completely over – his mission at the moment is creating an Olympic rowing course on the Rogue River.

He says the City of Gold Hill has already approved his application to do so.

NBC5 News reporter Mariah Mills is a Medford native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelor's Degree in journalism. She also minored in sociology. In school, she covered Oregon athletics for the student-run television station, Duck TV. When she's not reporting, she’s reading, hiking and rooting for her favorite teams, the Seattle Seahawks and the Oregon Ducks.
Skip to content