His firing, on April 18, stunned the Stanford rowing community, which had been planning to honor him at a retirement barbecue at the boathouse nine days later, to coincide with the annual Big Row against the University of California, Berkeley. Organizers scrambled to find another venue, but attendees described the event as awkward, with Amerkhanian complaining that he was a victim of Stanford’s post-scandal vigilance.
For years, Amerkhanian and Vandemoer operated out of a contemporary boathouse on the edge of San Francisco Bay named for the developer John Arrillaga Sr., a former Stanford basketball player and one of the university’s largest benefactors. His children, John Jr. and Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, attended college and graduate school at Stanford.
Inside the two-story, 16,500-foot facility, sculls are stacked in four bays on the ground floor, while a fifth is set aside for sailing. Upstairs, along with million-dollar views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Bair Island Ecological Reserve and the bay, are rowing machines, stationary bikes and weights, along with a kitchen, laundry room and offices.
If sailing requires mental and physical dexterity, reading the wind and the opponent, and moving decisively on a small boat, then Vandemoer, 41, was a fitting avatar: short, serious, hardworking and quiet, with dark sunglasses and a Red Sox cap typically pulled tight over his brow out on the water.
Conversely, rowing requires long levers, brute strength and fierce determination to push through searing pain on the water. If experience is crucial in a sailboat, rowers can be made — and over the last 15 years, few have cranked out Olympians like Amerkhanian.