Even before setting foot in a Penn shell, Sean P. Colgan was a rower to be reckoned with. Prior to coming to the University of Pennsylvania, Colgan represented the U.S. in the 1972 and 1973 Junior Olympics and was a four-time Junior National Champion during his days at La Salle Collegiate High School. Not traveling far from home, Colgan remained on the Schuylkill River throughout his collegiate tenure and helped Penn to four years of exciting rowing.
As a freshman in 1974, Colgan led the Penn frosh to a 3-3 overall record and a third place finish at the IRA National Championships. He began his varsity rowing career in 1975, helping the Quakers win the Childs Cup on Lake Carnegie and the Blackwell Cup on the Housatonic River. Penn won the Petite Final at the EARC Sprints that season. The Penn rowing program finished third in the race for the Ten Eyck Award, given to the school with the most overall points at the IRAs.
In Colgan's junior year, the Quakers won three Cup races, taking the Blackwell, Burk and Madeira Cups back to Philadelphia. Penn finished third at the EARC Sprints with a time of 6:12.9, right behind Harvard (6:07.4) and Wisconsin (6:11.1). Colgan then led the Quakers to a third- place finish at the National Championships, rowing a 6:36.8 in the varsity eight race on Lake Onondaga. Penn showed its overall team strength by winning the Ten Eyck Award for overall team supremacy.
Colgan and his comrades saved their best for last. In 1977, the Penn varsity eight boat brought home the gold medal at the annual San Diego Crew Classic on Mission Bay in San Diego, Calif. In a photo finish, the Quakers edged their way over the finish line by the length of a hand to give them their first victory in this West Coast championship. After returning to Philadelphia, the Quakers went on to win their third consecutive Blackwell Cup (with Colgan), the Adams Cup and the Burk Cup. Colgan raced with Penn to a second place finish at the Eastern Sprints with a time of 6:06.0. With that placing, the Penn rowing program won the Rowe Cup, for only the second time in Penn history, with 39 total points after both the junior varsity eight and freshman eight boats won their respective Grand Finals. The Quakers were primed heading into the National Championships and won their heat with a time of 6:39.8. Unfortunately, Cornell, which had defeated Penn in the Madeira Cup the previous week, squeaked out the win in the Grand Final with Penn racing a 6:34.9 and the Big Red finishing in 6:32.4. However the Quakers were again the winners of the Ten Eyck Trophy, as the national championship team, for overall points.
During his collegiate rowing career at Penn, Colgan won a silver medal at the 1975 World Championships with the U.S. lightweight eight and a bronze medal as the stroke and captain of the 1976 World Championship team. After graduating cum laude from the College in 1977, Colgan went on to more international acclaim, winning a gold medal in the heavyweight eight at the 1979 Pan-American Games and a bronze in the 1983 Games in the single scull as team captain. As a member of the 1980 Olympic heavyweight eight team, he won the silver medal at the Olympic equivalent regatta. Colgan also won gold medals at the Royal English Henley, the Dutch national championships and the Egyptian National Championships in 1980. In 1982, he was the national champion in single sculls and was a gold medalist at the 1986 Olympic Festival.
Colgan was the only oarsman in the world to have represented his country in the Junior Olympics, Olympics and World Championships in rowing, both port and starboard, sweep and sculling, and as a lightweight and heavyweight. Colgan was inducted into the U.S. Rowing Hall of Fame in 1990.