Glenn Ochal ’08, right, with his Olympic teammates in 2012.
John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports
When Glenn Ochal ’08 was recruited from high school for the Princeton rowing team, he was already “doing things on a rowing machine that were never seen out of a high school athlete,” said Greg Hughes ’96, head coach of the heavyweight men.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 205-pound Ochal soon would learn that to succeed at the next level, he would need more than just brute strength.

In the summer after his freshman year at Princeton, Ochal joined teammate Pier DeRoo ’06 for the 2005 Under 23 World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam. Their quadruple scull finished last in the final.

Confronted with the challenge of better competition, Ochal did not become discouraged. “A bad day didn’t bring him down,” said Hughes. “That was his value to the group. Princeton students are so results-driven, but for Glenn it was OK to fail every once in a while.”

“He’s like Skynet,” said teammate Bill Mongan ’06, referencing the indefatigable artificial-intelligence system of the Terminator movies. “He learns. He watches. He pays attention.”

The watching and learning quickly paid off. In October, a few months after the Under 23 World Championships, Ochal rowed what he still considers his favorite race, the 2005 Head of the Charles Regatta. Princeton became the first collegiate crew to win the Championship Eights in 20 years.

DeRoo noticed a change in Ochal that fall. He was more determined and calmer under pressure. His workout scores made a dramatic jump.

“What impresses me most about him is that most people get 10 to 15 seconds faster after freshman year and maybe 10 to 15 seconds faster by senior year — but Glenn keeps getting better and faster,” said DeRoo.

Ochal won a bronze medal with the U.S. men’s four without coxswain at the 2012 Olympics in London. Then, Great Britain, the winner of the men’s four in 2012, jumped out to an early lead in the first 400 meters, seizing a significant strategic advantage.

If Ochal makes the Olympic team again this year, he’ll aim to do things differently.

“We’re not risk takers, but we’re going to put our necks out there a little more on the line and dictate the race,” Ochal said.