We arrived at the course to find the regatta volunteers using what looked like a silicone broom to sweep the water out of the royal blue rug used by athletes on their way to the medal ceremony; the only reminder of yesterday's downpour on this sunny and very hot day. Despite the heat, everyone was in good spirits. The grandstands were full of fans—some local folks, athlete's families and friends, coaches and teammates, and they are all very energetic, but one team rises above the rest when they have a boat in the race—the Brazilians. They are the most charismatic; their success is incredibly important for them this quadrennial as they will be hosting the next Olympic games. Starting off strong now, and developing some fast athletes means more qualified boats and more chances at the podium in Rio.
In the race for lanes for the W4- final, it was hard to tell if the USA was dominating a field of racing crews, or if they were the only ones putting out a competitive piece—finishing three and a half lengths up. As the first final of the day, and one of the few finals containing a South Korean crew, the grandstands were deafening as the race came down. A shaky start for the US crew of Felice Muller, Tessa Gobbo, Olivia Coffey and Emily Huelskamp, left them in third by 500m down, but it didn't get to these first timers on the senior national team. Throughout second 500m of the race, the top three crews—USA, Canada and Australia—sat next to one another as they battled for the top spot. As they approach the halfway mark, the US crew took off leaving the Canadians and Aussies to fight for the silver medal—our North American neighbors took the second spot, followed by the crew from Down Under.
"We were in the buoys in the first 250 and down a length off the start which isn’t where we envisioned ourselves," said Coffey, "but we trusted our base speed and just chipped away at the leaders. In the last 250 all I could think was, 'pull hard, don’t screw this up'."
"Liv made some great calls," added Huelskamp. "Felice set a really good rhythm--we just went with it." When did the emotion of their first Worlds gold set in? "When the National Anthem began to play," said Huelskamp. "That was really special."
Another really fantastic, edge-of-seat race in the LW4x. Through the first 500 meters of the race it was virtually impossible to tell which of the leading crews—Netherlands, USA or Italy, was out front. They pushed one another out down the course, each taking the top spot through a 500. The Italian crew was the initial leader, but they fell to the USA through the 1000m and as the 1500 approached, the Netherlands picked up speed and walked away. The US entered the last 250 comfortably in second with the Italians taking bronze.
As they landed on the medals dock, the three boats greeted one another with congratulations; the American girls with handshakes, the Italians with two cheek kisses, and the Dutch with three cheek kisses—don't pull away too soon!
Hillary Saeger, Nancy Miles, Helen Tompkins, and Rachel Stortvedt were giddy with excitement.
"Wow. That was awesome, so much power going down! You could feel it, and we just took it all the way home, said Saegar. This is her fourth Worlds, and best finish. "It's awesome how the level of competition keeps getting harder every year and we keep going at it. Silver medal for the first time—finally moving up on the podium!"
"A huge part of being here and being in this boat was Hillary who has the experience," chimed in Miles. "Each time she just called a stellar race and having her there I never looked out. I just kept thinking 'Hillary's got it, Hillary's got it'."
For Miles, being in Chungju holds extra significance—she has a super fan nearby; her family hosted a South Korean woman for four years when she was a child. "She was even there when my brother was born—she was my big sister. It's so special to have her here."
The third US medal came in the Lightweight Men’s 8+; a three boat final at Chungju this year.
"We had a good start," said coxswain Michael Hwang of the LM8+ "We were right with the pack, and these are two fast starting crews, so when you can hang with them on the start it usually bodes well."
The US crew raced the Italy and Australia; both have had recent success in this event while the USA had not medaled since 2009.
As they raced further down the course, the Italians stayed in first followed by the Aussies then Americans. The positions remained the same through the finish line; Italy taking the gold, with Australia four seconds back, and the Americans trailing them by another four seconds.
"We just kind of slipped in the middle 1000, and couldn't quite attack at the end," added Hwang.
The M2+ is a bit of a funny race—one that remains despite the elimination of all other non-eight coxed events. The US crew of coxswain Stephen Young, Matthew Wheeler and Rob Munn, were down from the start as the European crews went off quick,
"We didn’t really get as clean off the line as we hoped," said Young. "We knew Italy was going to be fast off the line, so weren’t really shocked, but we weren't expecting France and Germany to go with them as fast as they did."
By 500 the three Euro crews were four seconds up and racing together, with the Americans trailing.
"We recommitted the piece a thousand meters in and started charging. We had the fastest second thousand of all the crews. Too little too late on the effort but we are really proud of the last thousand. A lot of really valuable lessons were learned," he added.
The LM1x final was a reminder to always keep an eye out on all lanes, and never only focus on one competitor. Denmark's Henrik Stephansen had led the field early leaving Jeremie Azou from France and the Portuguese sculler Peter Fraga battling in his wake. Coming into the last 250, Fraga was so focused on moving past Azou for the silver, that he hardly noticed when Peter Galambos from Hungary made a massive move stealing away the bronze medal.
The lightweight men's four was a tight race all the way down the course, with France, Italy and the USA battling for third place in the second thousand. The commentator announced that "You'd have to be a betting man if you're willing to put more than 100 won on 3rd and 4th places." (100 won is equivalent to about $0.09) As the boats began to pass in front of the grandstand, the crowd went nuts: drums, horns and U-S-A chants; for the first time since 2000, the American crew made a go for the line taking the third spot to the final. It really was a thrilling race as the grandstands shook and a bit of history was made.
Leading the field in the W1x race were Australian Kim Crow and New Zealander Emma Twigg—two time Olympians (Crow left London with two medals in the 1x and 2x). The announcer called it the "Battle betwixt Down Under and Kiwi." American sweeper-gone-sculler, Elle Logan stayed close behind for the second half of the race, guaranteeing her spot in the A final. This event is guaranteed to have a nail-biting final; Crow won in Lucerne with Logan taking the silver.
Both the M2x and W2x crews from the USA just missed out on the A final in their semi this afternoon. Women's crew of Meghan O'Leary and Ellen Tomek finished fourth, and men's crew of Benjamin Dann and John Graves finished sixth. Both boats will be racing in the B final on Sunday.
Despite the afternoon cloud cover, crews going for a cool down lap after their races first stopped at a dock to pick up ice cold vests to wear over their unis and cool their core temperature. The medals docks had ice packs for the athlete's heads as well along with cold water.
Hotter than the racers were probably the costumed mascot ducks that made reappearance at the course when racing was over to teach the crowd the 'rowing dance.' The giant plush costumes had to be pretty toasty inside—hope they're taking good care of those volunteers!
Another fantastic moment this afternoon occurred when a few girls from the winning women's four were walking around the venue and continued to be stopped by volunteers who wanted their photos taken with the new World Champions. They were amused but gladly obliged; nothing wrong with a few days of really enjoying the limelight.
Today's momentum will surely carry on through the weekend for all the athletes and fans. We will report back on the new batch of World Champions that will be medaled tomorrow on the shores of Lake Tangeum.
Finally, as it should be, the athletes have the last word. Here are today’s Athlete Quick Quotes from FISA:
Gavin Bellis (TAMix2x) – AUS – Gold "Saying we’re ecstatic is an understatement. We crossed the finish line and Kathryn had to tell me how we did."
Kathryn Ross (TAMix2x) – AUS – Gold "We worked at it all week, we came from the winter at home where it was -3 degrees so it was a bit of a shock. After 7 years it’s the first time we’ve won the championships."
Iryna Kyrychenko (Silver) – UKR – TAMix2x "We are very happy with the finish and this medal. We’ve trained so many years together (7)."
Erik Horrie (ASM1x) – AUS – Gold "An amazing start by the Ukrainian, this boat class has really stepped up to another level. I am absolutely speechless about winning and setting the World Best Time ."
Igor Bondar (ASM1x) – UKR – Silver "I am an old man, but a master. My race went to plan, but I knew that Horrie would win, he is very strong with great technique."
Birgit Skarstein (ASW1x) – NOR – Silver "It was great, I worked so hard and it worked! I love the fact that rowing is such an integrated sport. It’s something that all sports can learn from, it really mirrors society and I think that rowing is the introduction to an ideal world."
Kateryna Morozova (LTAMix2x) – UKR – Gold "The race went pretty good, but we made some mistakes. We wanted to row better. The water was good, but it was very hot and humid which makes it really tough."
Dmytro Aleksieiev (LTAMix2x) – UKR – Gold "I used to be a swimmer and in swimming everything is alone. In rowing, I have a team and a boat, that’s why I’m rowing."
Anke Molkenthin (LTAMix2x) – GER – Silver "It was a perfect race. We did exactly what we wanted to do. They (Ukraine) were faster than us, so it was a fair end to the race. We came to the double from the four because there was no four anymore. The combination was difficult to start as it is a combination of TA and LTA, but we have found a middle ground."
Natalie McCarthy (LTAMix2x) – USA – Bronze "We are going to continue to keep training through 2014. We were both training before, but separately, and we started training together in June. I’ve been training for this for eight years, it’s a dream come true. I’m living the dream."
James C. Fox (LTAMix4+) – GBR – Gold "It is such a relief, a weight lifted off my shoulders. I am so happy. It’s been a tough year juggling work and training. We’ve only come together in the last couple of months."
Pamela Relph (LTAMix4+) – GBR – Gold "We stuck to our race plan which was to stay relaxed and row in the race as we do in training. We are very relieved we did what we set out to do."
Giuseppe Di Capua (LTAMix4+) – ITA – Silver "I haven’t counted my medals, but this one is the most important one, it has been 20 years since my last medal, which was also a silver."
Paola Protopapa (LTAMix4+) – ITA – Silver "It was really great work, it didn’t go exactly as planned because everyone wants to win, but it was still great. We’ve made really good progress having been together for three months."
Gavin Kilpatrick (LTAMix4+) – RSA – Bronze "It’s the first time for two of us to race internationally and the first time as a crew to race internationally. It was a lot closer than our race yesterday and we had work a lot harder, but we are very, very happy with our results."
Rebecca Scown (W2-) – NZL – Semifinal "We did what we needed to do. The main objective was getting into the final. All the crews are good so they all have a good chance to win a medal in the final."
Roxana Cogianu and Nicoleta Albu (W2-) – ROU – Semifinal "Everything went according to plan. We had a perfect race in perfect weather conditions – like glass. We will see for the final as anything is possible."
Olivia van Rooijen (W2-) – NED – Semifinal "It wasn’t our best race and we hope for a better one in the final, but we made it through and that was our first objective. We beat New Zealand in the heat and we were a little bit surprised by that so everything is possible if we have our best race."
Germain Chardin (M2-) – FRA – Semifinal "The weather conditions were excellent which enabled us to row technically well. Our plan was just to take a place in the final. In the final we’ll try to stay with New Zealand for a longer period of the race and see what happens."
Mitchel Steenman (M2-) – NED – Semifinal "We wanted to get ahead along with New Zealand and France and we knew that the Serbs are also an excellent crew as they won the European Championships. The final will be a great race. We are five evenly-matched crews. New Zealand will have to make a big mistake not to win and the rest of the pairs will be very close."
Grant James (M4-) – USA – Semifinal "We got ahead as planned and expected the field to come back at us but we knew we could hold them. It will be an exciting final race from start to finish."
Jan Pilc (M4-) – CZE – Semifinal "We had a good start to go with the field and the plan was to push at the half way point. The last 200m we were just satisfied with holding a qualifying spot. The final will be very tough as everybody has a chance to win a medal."
Paolo Perino and Mario Paonessa (M4-) – ITA – Semifinal "We had a very good start with Australia and we fought with them until the 1500 and then we decided to attack in the last 500. Australia tried to push past us, but we responded well. It will be a war in the final from 0 to 2000m."
Alan Sinclair (M4-) – GBR – Semifinal "We needed to make sure we weren’t in a risky position in the last part of the race. Our crew’s goal here was just to make it to the final, but now we’ll try to take a step forward for the final."
Joshue Dunkley-Smith (M4-) – AUS – Semifinal "We expected a tight race with the Italians as we raced them in Lucerne. They are a young crew so you can always expect some kind of a surprise. Our goal is to go faster in the final and we are happy how we have been going through this regatta week."
Lauritz Schoof (M4x) – GER – Semifinal "We knew Switzerland are good at fast starts so we needed to be quick. Our start was better and more aggressive than in our heat and I believe we can go even better in the final. We came to Korea ten days ago and we are completely acclimatised to this weather."
Barnabe Delarze (M4x) – SUI – Semifinal "We knew we would get in the final if we did everything well. We had a really good first thousand but we lacked a bit of power at the finish to hold off the British crew."
Martin Sinkovic (M4x) – CRO – Semifinal "I’m happy with the way we rowed today. We have more in reserve for the middle part of the race as well as for the finish. In our race, probably because of the wind and some motorboats in the last 500, we had some wakes and that disturbed us a bit."
Alla Raja (M4x) – EST – Semifinal "Our aim was to get into the final. The Ukrainians surprised us with their speed in the first half of the race and also at the finish we had to hold them off. The second 1000m there was some wakes that upset the rhythm a little bit."
Mirte Kraaijkamp (LW4x) – NED – Gold "I looked up once at 500m and once at 1000m. We’ve got a strong second thousand, so I knew we were going to be fine."
Marie-Anne Frenken (LW4x) – NED – Gold "Awesome race – and it should be an Olympic boat class."
Marie-Anne Frenken (LW4x) – NED – Gold "Awesome race – and it should be an Olympic boat class."
Marie-Anne Frenken (LW4x) – NED – Gold "Awesome race – and it should be an Olympic boat class."
Rianne Sigmond (LW4x) – NED – Gold "It was a long wait to race (because the regatta was so long). We were a bit nervous for the final so we weren’t as controlled as we wanted to be in the first half, but made a decisive push at the 1000m and got the gold."
Helen Tompkins (LW4x) – USA – Silver "I am really happy, there was a bit of shift in the wind after the thousand, so we struggled with the rhythm. But it was our best race so far and we have the silver!"
Eleonora Trivella (LW4x) – ITA – Bronze "It was a very hard race because the others were very strong, especially the Dutch (Olympians). We had a good start and managed to stay with the others for the first thousand. Then they were stronger, but we are very happy with bronze."
Leone Barbaro (LM8+) – ITA – Gold "We are very happy because it’s the first time for us at World Champs. Seven of us are under 23, so it’s a very young crew. There was so much emotion at the finish line!"
John Price (LM8+) – AUS – Silver "We wanted to go out for a smooth row, but it was a bit frantic at the start. All credit goes to the Italians for their race. I am really happy to even be in the boat and now I have a silver medal. We’re aiming for gold next year."
Tobin McGee (LM8+) – USA – Bronze "We really focused on the start and we were moving on Australia, but we couldn’t match their pace. We had a good race."
Panagiotis Magdanis (LM4x) – GRE – Gold "It was difficult because of the head wind. But it was very, very good for us in the last minutes."
Spyridon Giannaros (LM4x) – GRE – Gold "The organisation of the regatta is very good, in fact it’s perfect."
Jason Osborne (LM4x) – GER – Silver "In the first 1000m, we raced really aggressively and it went really well, but we had nothing left, so in the end the Greeks were better. The World Championships is much bigger than anything else I’ve been to. It has a great atmosphere and it’s great to have experience on this level. Me and Moritz (Moos) are still U23, so we want to win next at under 23 champs next year and maybe race in the lightweight quad at the senior level. The eventual goal is to end up in the lightweight double in Rio 2016."
Francesco Rigon (LM4x) – ITA – Bronze "We didn’t have a good start. There was a head wind which made it difficult for us to execute our plan. We wanted to show that we were the fastest crew, we gave it everything, so we’re happy with the results."
Simon Niepmann (LM2-) – SUI – Gold "It was different. Normally we’re really fast off the start, this time we were calm and confident off the start and then it came together during the race."
Elia Luini (LM2-) – ITA – Silver "We weren’t really together at the start, but we found our rhythm, which gave us confidence. It was a good race. We’ve only been together for two months and Martino was only 60 kg 4 weeks ago because of surgery."
Mark Aldred (LM2-) – GBR – Bronze "All in all it was a good race. We had a good season at Dorney and Lucerne, we aimed for gold, but at my first World Champs I am happy with a medal."
Henrik Stephansen (LM1x) – DEN – Gold "It’s getting better and better. Maybe it’s because the pressure is rising. Not being the underdog feels tougher and tougher."
Jeremie Azou (LM1x) – FRA – Silver "Being in a single wasn’t the plan for the season. Because of the accident I ended up in the single and it was a real challenge. This medal was a dream, I really wanted to beat Stephansen but it wasn’t my day today, he was quicker."
Peter Galambos (LM1x) – HUN – Bronze "I am very happy with the result. All the others in the race were very strong, so it was a very special final. I was at my maximum and I couldn’t have caught Azou. I am currently looking for a partner to row the double at the Rio Olympics in 2016”"
Emily Heulskamp (W4-) – USA – Gold "We had a rough start, but everything else went to plan we trusted one another and we trusted our fitness."
Sarah Black (W4-) – CAN – Silver "It was a real gutsy race – we pushed hard in the start and kept pushing. The heat wasn’t a factor, we’ve been training here for 2 weeks, it felt natural. Tomorrow we won’t get a day off, straight to the eight."
Christine Roper (W4-) – CAN – Silver "Very proud of what we achieved and proud of each other."
Charlotte Sutherland (W4-) – AUS – Bronze "We really went out on our race plan, it’s exactly what we wanted to do and a massive step up from the heat. We were going for the podium, we wanted to get something out of the race, which we did."
Vincenzo Abbagnale (M2+) – ITA – Gold "We hoped for a better technical race, but we are still happy."
Jonas Wiesen (M2+) – GER – Silver "The French were really strong, they attacked us from the start. We thought we could keep up with the Italians a bit more, but I’m really happy with the result."
Benjamin Manceau (M2+) – FRA – Bronze "During the first 1000 metres we didn’t try to attack very aggressively, but we tried to move in the 3rd 500 metres because the Americans were moving. We are satisfied with the result."