If there is one thing you learn after attending every trials for going on 15 years, it’s that things almost never go according to the script – especially a script that was as wild as that being sketched out for performance today. Surprises today were potentially born of rowing power, passion, and politics - and very likely a mix of all three in some cases – and possibly by some unfriendly course conditions as well.
To address the conditions, a spitting, needling rain darted across the course on a strong tailwind that rendered the water conditions by the finish line somewhere between bumpy and terrible; in a lot of rowing towns, this was an “erg morning,” if that helps. On to the racing, from the top:
I had intended to report the results in the order of racing, as I did yesterday, but it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge the extraordinary events surrounding the women’s sculling events; so that’s where we start, with apologies to everyone else who made or who continues to strive to make the 2010 US team.
It is impossible to know exactly what went on as the women’s lightweight single came down the course – there were simply far too many extraordinary variables in play - but let’s start with today’s winner, Julia Nichols, who is mounting a comeback that should not be discounted in the controversial and admittedly circus-like circumstances surrounding this trial. Having come through from third yesterday to place second to get to today’s final, today she rowed her own race, and it came through for her.
Immediately after yesterday’s Final One, Grobler and coach Carlos Dinares had decided not to accept the single if Grobler were to win, based to a large extent on the comments from the rowing community on boards and the poll run this past week. Insistent on seeing the positive side of the controversy surrounding the poll, Dinares shared yesterday that “we discovered that people are really passionate about and excited for us in the double, so we have decided not to do the single and focus on the double and quad.”
As for Grobler, folks have asked if she was tired, saving herself for the quad, unable to rally for an event she had already decided she was not going to race at Worlds, or was she just outrowed? Dinares said today that he wanted “to push Ursula to the limit” to see how she responded to multiple races and multiple weigh-ins during the trials, and that the process had been worthwhile toward figuring out whether a triple medal attempt was viable and desireable. “The intention was to win the single this morning, but no one is unbeatable,” he said after the racing. “She raced her best, but Julia won the race; she is a very good sculler.”
As for scratching the third final, Dinares said that “Ursula said she felt she has done her job here, and wants to go back and work in the double for New Zealand,” hence the scratch in the third final.
Did it all make sense? Was it all worth it? With respect to figuring out if a triple medal effort was the way to go, certainly everyone learned a whole heap of a lot this weekend. For Meghan Sarbanis in particular, who has shown unequivocally she can compete on the international stage, the double jeopardy of Grobler’s participation along with a simple rule change for 2010 – that only the top two from Final One shall advance to Final Two, where it had previously been the top three – turned out to be fatal to her hopes of rowing the single this year. And for Julia Nichols, fate bended her way, this year at least; which has not always been the case in her career thus far, so it is not hard to root for her these next four-five weeks.
In the men’s single, Ken Jurkowski pushed out to a lead in the men’s 1x and never gave any quarter whatsoever; Tom Graves gave like gangbusters down the course (as always – Graves gives it, no question) but could not drag himself back into Jurkowski’s water; in truth the splits that show Graves recovering some ground in the second 1000 reflect more Jurkowski’s shift into cruising mode than anything else, as he was several beats lower in the last 200 meters.
In the women’s single (the first of fully three events headed to a third final tomorrow morning, wow), Lindsey Meyer checked Gevvie Stone’s considerable momentum of late, helped quite possibly by the conditions, which neutralized some of Stone’s skill and natural length. Stone led in the first 1000, but the two scullers were dead even at the 1000, and Meyer bore down in the conditions such that Stone could not answer. Tomorrow’s third final could be a truly epic showdown in many respects.
In the men’s pair, Monaghan and McEachern dispensed with some of the suspense that yesterday’s final offered by pushing out to a length’s lead in the early going and staying there all the way to the line. They did not need the big sprint they unleashed yesterday, and probably thankfully so given the water conditions; it was a tactically smart move to avoid needing to up the ante in the same place the chop would do the same.
The women’s pair was a rowover for Susan Francia and Erin Cafaro; the duo will not be doubling into the eight this year due to scheduling issues, and today’s row was just a formality to satisfy the selection rules. The crew looked good and composed in the chop, and finished the race, turned around, and rowed back to the dock, no drama.
In the light single, Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg looked steadfast and determined today; winning by over 10 seconds coming into the finish line, Dan still drove hard to the line, yelling out in exertion and victory as he crossed the line. Hey, if you’re headed to Worlds on Karapiro and you have an honest race day in some chop, you best use it, and Dan U-A did.
In the men’s light pair, Mike Nucci and Evan Tsourtsoulas blew it out today, leading by open water at the 1000 and staying there until they qualified for the 2010 team across the finish line. Tsourtsoulas gave a long victory yell in what it is fair to assume was Greek; anyone know what he said? (Tsourtsoulas has rowed for Greece in the past; see his background here http://evantsourtsoulas.webs.com/aboutme.htm)
The men’s coxed pair –woah. Yesterday I mentioned that the crew of Steve Kasprzyk, Troy Kepper, and coxswain Marcus McElhenney “seemed like they owned” the length they had won by in each race this week, but today they had to share that length with Steve Young, Nareg Guregian, and Justin Stangel all the way down the course, and then to watch it get nicked entirely on the very last stroke of the race. The race came down to an “all-in” sprint by Young/Guregian/Stangel, and after following this event this week, I don’t think even Pete Rose would bet on tomorrow’s rubber match.
According to the splits, the men’s light quad was even at the finish line; you sure couldn’t tell from the finish line where I was, because you couldn’t see that far at this point in the morning; for the light men’s quad, a rain and wind squall rolled in that turned the mean black chop everyone else rowed in into whitecaps. Coming down to the finish, the Carey/Mickelson/Morelli/Tryon had taken control of the race, making a significant crab in the second place crew with five strokes to pretty much a non-factor.
The wind seemed to abate a bit for the light women’s quad, although perhaps not quite enough, as a crab in the two seat of the Broughton/Grobler/Hedstrom/Burke quad at the halfway point threatened to send Grobler to still another Final Three tomorrow. The crew recovered fairly quickly and powered out to a three-second win that was anything but effortless or arguably even dominant, which I think speaks somewhat to the quality of the lightweight athlete pool at the moment, which seems deeper than it has been for a while – always a good thing.
Finally, single-crew rowovers in the women’s straight four of Ali Cox (speaking of comebacks!), Grace Luczak, Adrienne Martelli, and Mara Allen and the light men’s eight of Stephen Young, Jim Sopko, Skip Dise, Matt Kochem, Kenny McMahon, Michael Kerrigan, Julian Bowling, Robert Duff, and Matt Muffelman iced their positions on the 2010 team.
Third final up tomorrow – these rank among the most stark tableaus in all of sport.