RowingNewsLiam Corrigan

At Stroke, Liam Corrigan Could Help The Men’s Four Win Team USA’s First Olympic Gold In 64 Years

by Peggy Shinn

Liam Corrigan competes during the coxless men's four heats at the 2023 World Rowing Championships on Sept. 4, 2023 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by row2k)

Last September, Olympian Liam Corrigan stroked the coxless men’s four to a silver medal at the 2023 World Rowing Championships, finishing 2.02 seconds behind Great Britain. It was the U.S.’s first world championships medal in the event in nine years—and the first worlds medal for a U.S. men’s sweep boat (eight, four, pair) since 2017.

At the time, Corrigan and the rest of the crew—fellow 2020 Olympians Michael Grady, Nick Mead and Justin Best—had only been rowing the four together for a couple of months. 

“I think that was their peak speed,” said Corrigan of the British four, “and that wasn’t necessarily our peak speed.”

Now Corrigan, Grady, Mead, and Best have another chance to win a medal, this time at the Olympic Games Paris 2024. They were named to the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team in late March and have perhaps Team USA’s best chance to win an Olympic gold medal in the boat class since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

This historical significance is not lost on Corrigan, who has competed in several of rowing’s most historic races. But the 26-year-old from Old Lyme, Connecticut, is a warm, down-to-earth athlete who is simply trying to make boats go fast.

Corrigan got his start in rowing like a lot of tall kids—when a crew coach noticed him playing basketball. At Lyme-Old Lyme High School, the JV basketball coach was also the head rowing coach, and he suggested that Corrigan, a freshman at the time, give rowing a shot. 

“He saw that I was tall, and I wasn’t destined for the NBA,” said Corrigan, who’s 6’5”. 

At first, Corrigan was not convinced. “How can that be a hard sport?” he joked to the coach. “You’re always sitting down.” 

That spring, Corrigan joined a team of three returning rowers in the school’s varsity four and sailed up the learning curve. At the end of May, the boys’ varsity four made the grand final at the New England Interscholastic Rowing Championships for the first time in years and finished third. They made the final during the rest of Corrigan’s high school career as well.

Between junior and senior years, Corrigan had his first taste of international competition, traveling first to Hamburg, Germany, for 2014 junior world championships, then to Nanjing, China, for the Youth Olympic Games. 

“I was relatively good for how little I had [rowed], so I stuck with it, and one thing led to another,” Corrigan said.

When it came time for college, Corrigan’s first choice was Harvard for its strong physics department and for the culture of the men’s crew.

“The guys at Harvard seemed a little more down to earth, a little more well-rounded and a little less exclusively focused on rowing,” he explained. “I don’t know if that perception is true, but that’s how I made that decision.”

He majored in physics and astrophysics—for the intellectual challenge, not for a potential career at NASA. And freshman year, he stroked the second varsity eight to an undefeated season and helped the boat win Harvard’s first Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national title since 2007. By sophomore year, he was stroking the first varsity eight.

After graduating from Harvard University in 2019, Corrigan had his eye on the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. He moved to Seattle to train with the national U23 team and competed in the men’s coxless four at 2019 U23 world championships. The boat finished eighth. But Corrigan was not discouraged. 

That fall, he moved to Oakland, California, to train with the men’s senior national team. In February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world, Corrigan and former Harvard teammate Conor Harrity won the national selection regatta—an important step in qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team. 

Although the 2020 Olympic Games were postponed for a year, Corrigan knew he was on track. The following year, he (and Harrity) were named to the men’s eight for the 2020 Olympic Games. In Tokyo, the boat finished fourth, 1.02 seconds out of the medals and just over 2 seconds from winning gold.

“It was close enough where you think, man, if we’d done a few things differently, we could make that up,” said Corrigan, who committed to training for another Olympic quad—in part because the “quad” between the 2020 and 2024 Games would only be three years.

“In the lead-up to 2021, I was still getting a lot better, my rate of improvement wasn’t stagnating,” he explained. “So I wanted to keep seeing if I could get better, if I can make boats go faster.”

(L-R) Justin Best, Nick Mead, Michael Grady and Liam Corrigan celebrate after winning silver in the coxless men's four at the 2023 World Rowing Championships on Sept. 9, 2023 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by row2k)

Rather than return to Oakland after the Tokyo Games, Corrigan moved to England to attend Oxford University—again partly for academics, partly for rowing. Like the Harvard-Yale Regatta—the oldest intercollegiate sporting event in the U.S. (held annually since 1859)—The Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities first started in 1829 and has been held almost every year since 1856. It’s a huge event with over a quarter-million people lining the Thames River and millions more watching on TV.

Corrigan first saw The Boat Race on TV when he was 10 or 11 years old. He had yet to be introduced to rowing but was intrigued by two boats going head-to-head on the river in London.

“From that moment on, there’s some part of me that was like I want to go do this,” he said.

Oxford’s graduate program in financial economics gave Corrigan the chance. On April 3, 2022, in an eight filled with Olympians, Corrigan helped Oxford defeat Cambridge in The Boat Race. Oxford’s time was the third-fastest in the history of the race.

The opportunity to study at Oxford also had other benefits. Rather than train in one location for three years between Olympiads, Corrigan embarked on another intellectual challenge in a new environment—one steeped in the academic history. And he had the opportunity to train and row with Olympians from four different countries.

A master’s in financial economics also set Corrigan on a career path. In September 2022, he started working as an analyst for Alpine Investors in San Francisco (one of the founders rowed at Princeton). The balance of training and work has been a good fit for Corrigan. 

Also in September 2022, Corrigan competed in the U.S. men’s eight at world championships, again finishing fourth. He was the only man in the boat with Olympic experience. His 2020 Olympic teammates Mead, Best and Grady competed in other boats at worlds that year (the four for Mead, the pair for Best and Grady).

With the Olympic Games less than two years away, Corrigan, Mead, Best and Grady decided to partner together in the four. At the time, they were the only rowers from the sweep boats who had committed to competing through the Paris Games. 

“It seemed like the case that we can make a really fast four,” said Corrigan.

He also likes the politics of rowing smaller boats.

“It’s hard to have a fully democratic decision-making process between nine people every time,” he said, explaining the difference between rowing an eight versus the coxless four. “It’s usually easier for the coach to say, ‘This is how we’re going to approach the race, this is how we’re going to train, shut up and row.’

“That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but in a four, you can talk to the guys in the boat and have more dialogue with the coach.”

With years of experience, the four men also have good feel for the boat and can adapt when needed.

Last June, at the 2023 World Rowing Cup II in Varese, Italy, the U.S. men’s four finished third, 6.67 seconds behind Britain. Three months later, the U.S. boat closed the gap to two seconds and won a silver medal at world championships.

After a winter training together with the same crew, Corrigan believes the U.S. men are rowing the four even better. A U.S. crew has not won the coxless men’s four since the Olympic Games Rome 1960.

“It will be a good race,” said Corrigan, looking ahead to Paris. “I’m pretty confident that if we keep pushing training the way we have been, we will be in a really good position.”