NERD POWER TAKEN LIGHTLY, ROWERS DELIGHT IN SILVER MEDAL

Monday, July 29th 1996, 2:00AM

GAINESVILLE, Ga. It was Revenge of the Nerd Rowers yesterday on lovely Lake Lanier, where the little guys with the inner tubes did just fine and the big guys washed out with a humiliating splash.

"They're a bunch of frat boys," said Brian Jamieson about the men's eights that finished a disappointing fifth. "They have their inside jokes. They go out together. The rest of us, we're just a bunch of screwballs out on our own."

Jamieson, from Livingston, N.J., was in the quadruple scull that rowed second behind Germany to take the first United States medal ever in that event. Nice, unexpected stuff, coming on a day when expectations were clearly loaded into the wrong boats.

Jamieson is a Yalie who canoed with his dad down the Delaware River as a kid and then segued into this Olympic sport in college.

"I was an athlete in waiting," Jamieson said.

He couldn't make the eights, so Jamieson went out and won an oversized medal without the benefit of a giant boat, with half the men inside.

"We're more individualistic, and in all of our hearts we want to win a gold in the singles," Jamieson said. "The eights are in it because they want to be together in the eights."

Six days after closing ceremonies, Jamieson will get married to a woman, Sarah Clay, he met while training two years ago in Washington, D.C.

"I took her out in a scull. That's what you do when you're broke," he said. "She took one look at my hands and thought I was a construction worker."

While the men's and women's eights got all the pre-event publicity, the medal-winning boats yesterday were not packed with such beef. The women's lightweight double sculls won silver. The men's lightweight coxless four took bronze.

Jamieson's teammates were Jason Gailes, Eric Mueller and Tim Young of Moorestown, N.J.

Lindsay Burns and Teresa Bell won the silver in double sculls. Bill Carlucci, Marc Schneider, Jeff Pfaendtner and David Collins rowed to the lightweight bronze.

The greatest disappointment was the women's eights, who had trained for three years together in Chattanooga, Tenn., sacrificing their lives for this moment. They had been heavy gold-medal favorites, but were upset in their first heat. They managed only a fourth-place finish yesterday, far behind winner Romania.

"Fourth is the worst," said Farooq Yasmin, the coxswain out of the University of Wisconsin. "I feel like we dug a ditch and we couldn't get out."

If the American women could forgive themselves a loss to the strong Romanians, it was harder to finish so far behind the Canadians and the Belarussians as well.

Both the men's and women's eights suffered through similarly uninspired performances. They started slowly, then never gained back lost water.

"We didn't have the race of our lives," James Koven said. "That's what we needed."

The coaches of both eights are particularly high-powered and relatively high-salaried within their world. They now have a lot of explaining to do.

"We had no indication before we came here we'd have problems," said Harmut Buschbacher, the German coach of the U.S. women's eights. "No injuries. Fast times. We trained three years. I wouldn't throw everything away. We had a good system."

There was no need for apologies from Igor Grinko, the lame-duck coach for the men's scullers. Before the Olympics began, Grinko told his rowers that he probably would not be invited back.

"It's a shame," Jamieson said. "He's not a warm personality. He's not Mr. Political. He's cold and prickly. He irritates people. And yeah, he's a pain in the butt.

"But he's done a great job with us," Jamieson said.

Whether they are nerds or frat kids, the U.S. rowers have pedigrees that few other athletes own. Many went to Ivy schools, and some have occupations that are startling in their scope.

Burns graduated from Harvard, then went to Cambridge for her Ph.D. in neuropsychology She is involved in post-doctoral work that has resulted in clinical trials for a potential new therapy for Parkinson's disease: Neurotransplantation of procine fetal neural cells.

She has a silver medal now, too.

Carlucci attended Johns Hopkins, no slouch school. He is such a nerd, he can't even swim.

He also weighs only 160 pounds, which once would have kept him out of the Olympics. Then the rowing competition was restructured to allow smaller athletes in.

Unfortunately, that meant that others were evicted.

"There's a lot of resentment against us, because when they first put us in, they eliminated some heavyweight events," said Carlucci, from Rye Brook, N.Y.

"But if you want this to be an international sport in Asia and South America, you have to include the lighter weights," said Carlucci, who steers the rudder of the boat with a flick of his foot.

When he was told about the theme of this column, Carlucci feigned nerd-like fear. "If you write that, those guys will come and toilet-paper my house," he said.

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