LORTON, VA — LORTON, Va. -- There is only one small building, a shed and about 10 port-a-pots surrounded by acres of woods and the Occoquan Reservoir. Inside the building are some barbells, a few weightlifting plates, a lot of rowing machines and some homemade fitness apparatus.
The shed is filled with seemingly hundreds of customed-designed canoes, some stacked to the ceiling. There
are 10 cars on a parking lot, but no one is on the docks. The only sound is a voice echoing about 100 yards down the reservoir, and it sounds like Burgess Meredith.
And finally they come into focus. Four women rowing in graceful unison and a short, pot-bellied, middle-aged man behind them in a motorboat yelling instructions while video-recording every stroke.
Veins are bulging from Michelle Knox-Zaloom's biceps, and her face is red. She has just completed another psyche-out session with harsh-rap group NWA and another workout by national sculls coach Igor Grinko.
"NWA plays hard, aggressive rap," said Knox-Zaloom. "Afteabout 16 strokes, you hit that brick wall in your back and lungs. The lyrics help me deal with the surroundings.
"And Igor, well, he's just Russian. He's very demanding, makes you think every stroke is your last. He's very unemotional, and it took a while to get used to him. He only smiles with his eyes."
Knox-Zaloom, 27, from Annapolis, smiles a lot these days. She has been named to the U.S. women's Olympic quadruple and double sculls teams. Earlier this month, Knox-Zaloom and Serena Eddy-Moulton won a major upset in the women's doubles, beating two-time defending champions Alison Townley and Kris Karlson in 7:04.59.
Despite a daily routine that includes three workouts (20 miles of rowing), 200 one-legged squats and 200 pullups, she likes Grinko and gives him credit for her recent success.
Plus, he has never made her eat lard and onion sandwiches.
"The Soviet men's quad team came over last spring, and that's what they ate. We couldn't get into that," said Knox-Zaloom. "Last year, everything was new, and it took a while to adjust. It took me six months to get comfortable with his techniques.
"But you can already see the impact Igor has had on this team. We've already cut about 10 seconds off our 2,000-meter Pan Am quad team that won the gold medal in Cuba. The men started to emerge in the 1991 World Championship games in Vienna. I'm very confident in him, and I think we'll medal in Barcelona."
Grinko, 46, became the U.S. coach in January 1991 after successful 11-year run as coach of the Soviet national sculls team. He had seven gold medal boats during World Championship competitions, and his women's quadruples sculls team won a silver medal in the 1988 Olympic Games.
Meanwhile, the Americans struggled, often a distant third behind the Soviets and the East Germans.
Grinko left his wife, Kiro, and son, Oleg, in Kiev, Ukraine, when he brought his one-motion style and work ethic to the United States. In the past, Americans paced themselves through a three-phase rowing technique using the legs, back and arms, with most of the force coming from the upper body.
Grinko wanted an all-out effort every time. He emphasized one motion with the arms, back and legs, with most of the force coming from the lower body. He tripled the workouts, and he was strict on the diet. Mass met more force. During his first meeting in January with Knox-Zaloom, who is 5 feet 10, 150 pounds, he gave her four words of advice: "Eat meat, get big."
It didn't work, but Zaloom is nearly all muscle. She said she has only 11 percent body fat, and her upper body comes into a V-shape at a 26-inch waist.
"For a small person, she has good technique," said Grinko. "She has worked very hard, making good progress in her strength work. She has developed well within the last year. At the recent competition in San Diego, she was the second-best woman athlete there.
"The biggest factor we needed to improve on here was in preparation. In Russia, athletes had special training. There was a winter base for preparation, altitude base for preparation, and it was like a job, professionalism in preparation. It will take five to six years to turn this program around, but it will get done. I took the job because of the conditions. Here, Americans must train and work at same time."
Knox-Zaloom left her job as a program auditor for the U.S. General Accounting Office in January. She had some vacation and sick time, plus $1,800 from the U.S. Olympic Committee, to carry her over for a while, but the last few months she has been living off the salary of her husband, Charlie, a consultant for the State Department.
"You've got to be able to give up some of your life savings, and scrap for every penny," said Eddy-Moulton, who, along with Andrea Theis and Kris Karlson, rows with Knox-Zaloom on the quadruple squad. "Michelle has done that, and her husband has been very supportive."