Whereas yesterday's heats offered exceptionally generous advancement schemes, today was a different story, with all races allowing only two crews to avoid the reps, or even, in the case of the men's four, only one. As very few junior crews have raced entirely intact at a high level before the Junior Worlds heats, a day like this is when all the hopes and dreams of potential speed come up against the harsh realities of a full 2k burn.
That said, there were only a couple races that resulted in extremely close times being on opposite sides of the critical double line on the results summary that separates advancing crews from reps-bound crews; a 0.17 margin between Greece and Austria in the men's quad was one, a 0.55 result between China and Belarus in the women's eight was another. The truth is that it simply sets up tomorrow's reps (and quarterfinals for crews that raced yesterday) to be do or die races for a heap of crews.
On the good side of the double line, however, the US men's eight was involved in a very close race with Germany and Russia in which the US led for the majority of the race before Germany and Russia both pressed, with Germany getting through to win by 0.68 seconds with the US followed by Russia, who were not given an official finishing time due to having their boat come in under the allowable minimum weight, earning them a BUW (Boat Under Weight) verdict, eek. They were officially "relegated to the reps," as the term goes, as a result.
(The US women's quad also advanced from their heat today, also in a tight race that saw Russia place third only to be given no official result, but a BUW verdict instead – double eek.)
It is worth noting that in the other men's eight heat, the GB eight posted a time that nearly splits the difference between Germany and the US; the final is going to be hot.
US five-seat Trey Holterman was in the US eight that missed gold by 0.03 seconds last year, so knows well that small margins can add up to a big difference, and require a seemingly disproportionate amount of effort to overcome.
"I think what I learned last year is that three hundredths of a second doesn't come from the last stroke, it doesn't come from the first stroke," he said after the race. "It's just about getting after every stroke, who commits earlier, and who commits for longer. Having lost by 3/100th of a second, I now value that one second is a big deal. It's not just a little bit more; it’s more like 5% more pain during the entire race."
Holterman noted that last year's crew felt like they had everything going for them heading into the final, and then in a final where the top crews were within a whisper of each other the whole second half of the race, did not find a way to break the race open.
"I'm pretty excited for the final because unlike last year, this year I feel like we made our mistakes," he said. "We learned so much from that heat. We know where to take it I think, and it's just going to be a matter of putting it together."
Holterman also talked about being one of the veterans this year, noting that this year's rookies are probably better than last years, himself included.
"Last year my confidence stemmed from knowing there were the very experienced guys in the boat, and this year I think confidence stems from the fact that the inexperienced guys, so to speak, are so much stronger than I was last year when I was in their position.
"We're all confident in the system, we're confident in Jesse (Foglia, the crew’s coach) and we know that we're all capable of doing it, as there's no weak link in our boat."
Men's coxed four
In a similar story with a bit better ending to the heats chapter, the US men's four won their heat from the lead, holding off a charge by still another German sweep crew by 0.56 – and it is worth checking the heat times from the coxed four, as the four advancing crews were all within 1.5 seconds of one another.
The USA JM4+ won their heat to advance directly to the A-Final
The US coxed four's win makes two heats wins in two days for three-seat Clark Dean, who won his singles heat yesterday. Correct me if I am wrong, but I doubt the record books will produce anyone who doubled into the single and a sweep four and won both heats. Dean is unfazed by the feat.
"Back in Sarasota we often switch from boat to boat, so this summer hasn't been too odd for me," he said. "I'm just glad I can help out in a team boat while pursuing my own goals in the single."
The US women's four locked up a spot in the A/B semis with a strong third 500, which is indicative of the crew's strengths, stroke Kaitlyn Kynast said. Despite not having a perfect piece, the crew feels like they are in a good position.
"We weren't super-psyched about anything in particular, but I definitely walked off the water feeling way more confident," she said. "We have a strong base rhythm, and that is where our confidence comes from. We’re not extremely confident off the start, extremely confident in our sprint, but we feel like if we do our base piece correctly, everyone is unbelievably confident. We all know what the exact rhythm is. I wouldn't say it's a completely mindless thing, but in a way it is; it comes from the ‘focus on pulling’ part."
The USA JW4- is on the the semifinals
"We haven't done a 2k in a long time, so we were curious about how we were going to do," she continued. "We were very excited to get down the course, and we're happy that that middle base part of the race was went well for us."
The first time Kaitlyn Kynast was on the US junior team, she had been rowing for only a few months; this time, she's a three-time member with a gold in the four and a bronze in the pair who is joined by three rowers spending their first year in the "priority" boat, although, a bit like Holterman, Kynast says they are ready.
"My first year I was still a novice, so I think I was definitely more wondering 'What’s happening here?'" she said. "I had three girls who were unbelievably experienced and all seniors; I was such a youngling that I was just the duckling following everyone around paying attention to learn how we’re supposed to do things. And even though I stroked the boat, even in the races it was more like me figuring out the vibe I was getting from the people behind me for me to know what to do.
"Comparing that to now, all the girls in the boat are very strong individuals. Even the youngest (bow Kelsey McGinley), she’s our coxswain, and she has a very large personality. Unlike my first year when I was thinking 'what am I doing here,' everyone is pretty established in their rowing careers, has their own accomplishments and own personality. I feel like it’s more of an equal share."
The vast majority of crews at a junior worlds have little to no racing experience against boats of the same speed; maybe they do some pieces with the senior team and get beat up a bit, or start pieces staggered so they all finish at the same time, or some other tactic; but the US women's pair has been duking it out with the US spare pair of Tori Del Valle and Julia Abruezzese all summer, and has had their hands full. Despite making for a much tougher summer on the Carnegie (some of which we showed in our team galleries), here in Trakai, they take solace in the experience.
The USA JW2- of Kate Burns and Kate Knifton
"It’s been amazing to have them as partners because we both have different strengths and different weaknesses, we’ve been able to work off them," bow seat Kate Burns said. "They have a really strong start, and at the beginning our start was not good at all, so we’ve just been able to work against them and with them to get better."
"Normally I’m so stressed racing because it’s such a jump from practices, but it just felt like a normal competitive practice," stroke seat Kate Knifton said. "Every practice we have with them is competitive, every practice we have you go in with a race mentality, so it was a really easy transition to make to have boats right beside you, we had practiced that so many times so we just knew exactly what to do."
Not that it was easy.
"Definitely there were practices where we took a lot of hits, but it was good because we were able to bounce back," Burns said.
"Personally I’m always most competitive with my friends," Knifton said with a laugh. "Off the water you’re best friends, but on the water you’re really trying to compete. It definitely was very competitive."
The pairs remain tight off the water; in fact, both came out to launch and watch each other's races (the spare pair raced on Tuesday in the spares race). As row2k spoke with Burns and Knifton, they were walking toward the team bus in a tight group with none other than Del Valle and Abruezzese.
"We're definitely a pair family," Burns said.
"We call ourselves a pair pair," Knifton said as the four wrapped their arms around each others' shoulders and headed off to the bus.
Heats day can also be a brutal day of reckoning for many crews, and the US women's eight found themselves in that number today, placing fourth of four in their heat. Coach Bill Manning talked about the crew's race after a debrief.
"I didn’t have them ready," he said. "We did not race our race, and did not row our stroke. I simply did not have them ready to face the standard of International racing. We’ve gone much faster in practice, times in practices were good.
The USA JW8+ is looking to bounce back from a tough race
"I look at it that, okay, we got a good kick in the pants because of our failure to race the way that we have at home. It’s a bigger stage, it’s the sense that there’s more at stake than there has been at home, and we’re racing good crews rather than racing the clock. We needed to find a way before the heat to really prepare for that, and I didn’t adequately prepare them for it. The nine of them have been absolutely outstanding, and the attitude, focus, and the commitment is everything a coach could ever want. I’m very confident that they’re going to respond and race the way that they have been racing in practice tomorrow."
Notes from the course
- The rockiest starts at a junior worlds are unquestionably the pairs, for the obvious reasons amplified by the fact that every little wake or breeze or twitch gets amplified massively in a thin boat with one oar on each side of the boat, squared and buried. It does make you think that the Kiwi Pair's tactic of going out in the back of the pack and slowly and then powerfully storming through may be an a priori approach for the boat.
- There are no bowball gates on the start either, making the light winds all the more welcome.
- Chinese crews have long been known to shout on each stroke of the start, but neighboring Russian crews have taken to the practice, counting to ten in unison at full throat for the first ten strokes of every start.
- One of the water birds got into the act as well; the birds make a piercing whistle at regular, steady intervals, and in one case perfectly matched the race rating of one of the women's pairs; the stakeboat kids all briefly thought that it was one of the rowers blasting out the sound for the first 20 strokes.
- row2k spends a lot of time at the start, and has previously noted that the environment at the starting line often sounds quiet, almost serene all day – until the men's eights show up. This year the men's eights were actually pretty quiet, but the men's fours were a different story. Middle-sized boats wanted in on the noise act.
- One of the starters unfortunately pronounces "coxless fours" with a 'k' sound instead of an 'x' sound. Not kidding, sorry; triple eek.
- Giant, long braids are in this year in junior women's rowing worldwide, no question.