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Finding Inspiration to Shine at the 2017 World Rowing Championships
Sunday, October 1, 2017
Ed Moran, row2k.com (Ed Hewitt also contributed to this report)
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Men's eights cross the finsh line on the final day the World Championships

For Ondrej Synek, inspiration came from a promise he made to Olympic champion Vera Caslavska, who died of cancer just over two weeks after the Czech men's single sculler won a bronze medal in the Rio Olympic final.

For US women's double scullers Meghan O'Leary and Ellen Tomek, it was the passion they drew from feeling like they had not yet accomplished what they felt they were capable of over the last four-years, which fueled their drive to race another international season.

And for the US men's eight, the campaign they began earlier this summer was driven by a personal belief in themselves, and then in the trust their coach, Mike Teti, expressed to them just the night before their final race in the 2017 World Rowing Championships

In each case, the personal ambition to succeed was rooted by different causes and desires, but they all had one thing in common - the medals each of those athletes wore when they ended their international seasons on the last day of racing in Nathan Benderson Park Sunday.

"Starting in August, we knew we were pretty fast," said Nicholas Mead, who rowed in the US men's eight in his first senior World Championships. "We were hitting good splits in practice and we also had confidence in ourselves. Mike said there were only 10 guys out there that thought we could do well in that race, and that gave us a lot of confidence going into the final."

The ten Teti referred to was the nine athletes in the eight, and himself.

"The last week of August, I told them there are nine people who think they can win," Teti said. "They asked if that included me. I told them 'not yet.'"

Teti said he watched the crew perform through the heat and rep, and then, "I told them last night, now there are 10, including me."

Since the eight-day regatta began, all the athletes who competed rowed to the start with their own personal inspiration. In some cases, they were rewarded with a medal. And some were rewarded by knowing that had rowed to the best of their own abilities and that they had built foundations on which to stand and look through the coming three remaining years of the Olympic cycle that began this week in Florida and will cumulate in Tokyo in 2020.

Over 900 athletes from 69 countries competed in 26 events for 78 medals. Today, on the last day of racing, the final 24 were won in racing contested in the United States for the first time in over twenty years.

The grandstands were filled with an abundance of US fans and family, but they were surrounded by people from around the world who celebrated the efforts of the athletes they came to support.

"I'm beyond ecstatic," said US men's coxswain Julian Venonsky. "I'm very proud of what we accomplished. This being in the United States and with my family here it was more special. My sister is in the stands and it's her birthday, so my winning this silver medal is my birthday present to her."

The racing was run in heat and humidity that left some athletes lying prone on the medals dock, spent and overheated. They were challenging conditions for athletes used to rowing a full two-thousand meters, they were even more challenging for para athletes who were rowing a full pull for the first time in a World Championship.

"It's something that I've been wanting for a long time," said Australian Erik Horrie who won the gold in the men's arms and shoulders single and notched the new world men's standard in the event with a time of 9:39.48, which beat the previous time of 9:59.54 set by 2016 Paralympic champion Roman Polianskyi of Ukraine in the semifinals earlier in the week.

"Rowing the 2k was the opportunity to be able to prove to a lot of people that were doubting the 2k distance. Now, they need to get on board. Any of the athletes that have turned out for this have proven to the world that we should have gone 2k a long time ago, and it's just going to go faster and faster.

"The times we've seen over the last three days of the championships are very fast, and I think in the next couple of years, leading up to Tokyo, you're going to see the times come down a lot more also."

The regatta featured a week filled with dramatic racing and row2k was on hand all week to record and photograph the efforts of the athletes here this week. Here are the stories from Sunday.

Women's Para Single

Norway's Birgit Skarstein was facing reigning Paralympic champion Samuel Moran from Israel, and made sure she took the lead from the start, which she held the full distance to take gold. Moran claimed silver and Germany's Sylvia Pille-Steppart won bronze. US sculler Hallie Smith reached the final and finished sixth.

“It was a really, really hard race," Skarstein said. "I had a tough start and had to make my way through the field. But I'm super happy now."

Conditions at the top of the course were breezy and Moran said it was hard keeping her boat set. "The conditions today were a little rough with the wind, but I was determined to give it a good fight," she said. "I had a lot of questions about this season, going to 2k.

"I wasn't sure how it would go, but I decided to kind of give it a try and I am happy I did. Birgit is a wonderful competitor and she keeps improving and I think this is very good for the sport."

Men's Para Single

Erik Horrie wins the men's Para Single

Australia's Horrie finished second to Polianskyi in Rio last year, but took the World Championship this time down. Ukraine's Polianskyi was second and Russia's Alexey Chuvashev was third. Blake Haxton of the US reached the final and finished sixth.

"Racing 2k is certainly different than racing 1k," Horrie said. "You've got to be very technical coming out of the gate. Certainly no one has gone out of the gate slowly in this regatta, we've all sort of come out at a high rate and kept that high rate all the way down the course.

"It's sort of hard to explain the whole race because I don't really remember too much except where it really started to hurt. That last 250 couldn't come quick enough."

Polianskyi said he was still adjusting to the new distance. "This is the first year for the 2k and I don't think my muscles are ready. It was quite a quick change to 2k and I didn't adapt the right way. So I have a lot of work to do. I will try to do my best in the future."

Men's Lightweight Four

This is the first World Championship since the boat class was dropped from the Olympic schedule and the field was reduced to only six crews. Italy lead the whole race and won gold, followed by Russia in second and Germany, which won bronze. The US raced to sixth place.

"We had a really good race, especially with the very tough competition from Russia, Germany and China. At the end of the race, the only thing we could think was stay up high and go,” said Piero Sfiligoi, the Italian stroke.

Women's Double

Megan O'Leary and Ellen Tomek take silver in the double

Meghan O'Leary and Ellen Tomek have raced together in this event since 2013. They have raced in five championship finals, including the 2016 Olympics and had yet to finish above sixth in those races.

Yesterday, they ended that streak and took silver. New Zealand's Olivia Loe and Brooke Donoghue won and Australia's Olympia Aldersey and Madeleine won bronze.

"I'm stoked," said Loe. "We wanted to win this race and we wanted to do the whole season undefeated, so it's pretty intense." Said Donoghue, "That was a really a good start for our career. It's kind of overwhelming to think of a four-year cycle, but it's certainly a good way to start things off and I couldn't be happier."

Neither could O'Leary and Tomek, who left Rio last season unsure what they would do this year. The never really committed to the racing the season again until January, and then had to deal with distractions and an injury to Tomek that kept them from training together until just before they went to Lucerne to race World Cup III, where they finished sixth.

"We were pretty gutted by our final in the Olympics last year," O'Leary said. "So we decided to race again to see what we could do, and we've just done something pretty great so we'll take a couple of days and talk about what happens next," she said.

"Honestly, we didn't sort of go more than 75 percent in until January," said Tomek, "and then it wasn't 100 percent until Lucerne. We were both disappointed after Rio and we both felt like we were missing out on our families, friends, fun things, so it was a tough decision. But I think we made the right decision."

Men's Double

New Zealand's John Storey and Chris Harris came to Sarasota favored to win following their wins at both World Cup I and World Cup II. They did not disappoint, but they did make it an exciting race.

After falling into fourth in the first 500 meters, the Kiwis moved into third and stayed there until the final quarter where they sprinted through Poland and Italy to win. Poland took silver. Italy won bronze.

"I honestly didn't know where we were in the last 500 hundred," Storey said. "I think I had my eyes closed. I was pulling the whole way down, just trying to keep pace with Chris. I probably had my eyes open. But I don't know because it went all black there in the end. We were just trying to keep moving," he said.

"It was an amazing year," Harris said. "It's like a dream come true. I've rowed for so many years trying to win a gold and be a champion now; it hasn't really sunk in yet."

Women's Single

Another favorite to win before the regatta was Swiss sculler Jeannine Gmelin, a Rio finalist who has not lost this season. Gmelin started in fourth but took the lead in the second 500 meters and held on through the finish line.

Great Britain's Victoria Thornley finished second and Austria's Magdalena Lobnig was third.

"It was very difficult," said Gmelin. "The conditions were hard; the wind was blowing sideways and every stroke disturbed the race plan. My only hope was to stay in my boat and race my race and it paid off. It was fantastic to end the year here in Sarasota."

Gmelin said the win was a special cap to the year that had a fair amount of pressure. "I think I need a moment to let this sink in. I think the pressure was there all year, but in the end, it's me who was responsible to take the pressure off and to do what I have to do. The pressure was there, but I think I managed it well and I did what I had to do."

Men's Eight

For the US, this was one of the most anticipated races of the year. Following a late start in building the Princeton training center with athletes after naming Mike Teti coach, the eight was largely an unknown crew. They did not race anywhere this season and the only result to go on was the fourth-place finish in the Rio final.

The US qualified for the final with a win in the rep and a chance to take on the favored German men, who came into the regatta unbeaten, having won the European Championship, World Cup II, and World Cup III. At World Cup II in Poznan, they set a new World's Best Time at 5:18.68.

Germany led from the start and the US came up from third in the first half and into second in the final thousand. Germany held their position despite repeated moves by the US to challenge. Italy rowed from fourth to third and won the bronze.

"Even though there were low expectations on us from everyone else, we knew we were pretty quick," said six seat Mead, who is rowing on the senior team for the first time. "As Mike (Teti) would say, we are happy, but not satisfied. We're really proud of what we've accomplished, but we know we have some more speed to gain and maybe next year, we'll get the Germans," he said.

Rio veteran Alex Karwoski said he was also happy to have won a medal, but said he wanted more.

"It's never fun losing," Karwoski said. "But it's just that we've got to get more. It's not that we were flying under the radar through the week, but we were staying internal, and just focusing on ourselves and what we could do to get better through the week.

"It's certainly better than last year," he said. "It's a process for sure. Obviously, it isn't where we wanted to be but coming off of fourth it is certainly going to be nice leaving with something."

Teti, who has said one focus of this summer was building a foundation for the next four years, said he was happy with how the crew raced through the week and stayed consistent.

"To me the important thing is they had three good races, races where they were very consistent. In each one they were tested in a little bit different way. In the heat it was good, but they went hard and were a little vulnerable. Today they got behind but they got second and I think the group is the start of a solid foundation."

German five seat Jakob Schneider said his crew was aware of the America's and Italian's speed and their aim was to row into a lead with a "really fast first thousand meters, and then control the field and that worked.

"We already had the world's best time for the season and we knew we were the favorites and we didn't lose a race in the World Cup season, but the Americans were really fast. For their first international regatta, they went from zero to a hundred pretty quick and then to second place.

"When they work again, I think we just have to keep an eye on them. But they also have to keep an eye on us."

Men's Single

Ondrej Synek takes gold
Czech Olympic bronze medalist Ondrej Synek rowed in his 16th straight A final Sunday and was looking for his fifth World Championship title. He rowed in first most of the race, and was only behind once. That was in the second 500 meters, when Cuba's Angel Fournier Rodriguez passed him.

Synek retook the lead in the second thousand and stayed there until he crossed the line. Fournier Rodriguez took silver and Great Britain's Thomas Barras won bronze.

After the race, Synek said that when he left Rio, he was in pain and had been rowing with a broken vertebra and ruptured discs in this back, and was unsure what he wanted to do this season. "I was in pain every row and every training." He said he was also unsure if he wanted to commit to another Olympic cycle.

But he visited his "good friend" Vera Caslavska, who was a Czech national Olympic hero who won seven total gold medals at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and the 1968 Games in Mexico City. She died aged 74 of pancreatic cancer last August 31.

"Tokyo is three years away and I am 35 almost. I am happy that I could be here and win here because this is my fifth title and that is the same as Mahe (Drysdale), my big friend. But this is my seventeenth-year racing and my sixteenth straight A final. I could go on top now, but I think a lot about Tokyo because two things: I am not an Olympic winner, and last year I promised Vera Caslavska I would go to Tokyo and try to win. I raced today in her honor. My heart is with her."

Women's Eight

Women's eight medal awards

In the final race of the day, the Romanian women's eight was favored to win, with Canada and New Zealand expected to challenge, and the US always a threat. That was exactly the way it played out. Romania won, Canada was second and New Zealand finished third.

The US women's eight, who completed an 11-year streak of World and Olympic Championships in Rio last summer, are young and part of a rebuilding period for the US women's training center. They were not expected to win, and finished fourth.

"I don't have words for this one," said Adelina Bogus of the Romanian eight. "After the race, I don't know what place we finished but then I learned that everything was OK, everything was fantastic. Our goal was to win this championship and we did it. It was hard with the travel of seven hours from here to Romania, but we're happy."

Kelsi Walters, the Kiwi five seat said she the New Zealand crew had given all they had. "We gave it everything we could," she said. "It wasn't what we wanted, but I think we're proud of that.

"We treated it like every other regatta, but I think it was tough completion. Our plan was to get out ahead of (Romania) or at least to keep in touch with them until the last 500 meters and to try and sprint through them, unfortunately they had that good of a sprint in them."

The US women were disappointed in the finish, but still felt like they had improved over the course of the regatta.

"We wanted to be more internal for this race and we were," said coxswain Katelin Guregian. "And that's what we set out to do. I feel really good that from the heat to the rep we had a goal to accomplish and from the rep to the final we had a different goal and we were able to build off of that for this race.

"I think we actually have a solid foundation built off of this regatta in the women's eight. We were able to really grow and make adjustments to our rhythm and make adjustment to our race and just five days and three races," she said.

"For me, I feel really good about this group training together for four years and taking steps forward instead of taking steps back and then scrambling, we will be in really good position when it matters."

Notes from the Course

A reader noted that the opposite sex coxswain medal won yesterday was the first senior medal, but not the first Worlds medal, as two junior coxswains did it this summer in Trakai (and I wrote it up myself, eek). Today the second Senior Worlds opposite sex coxswain won a medal as Sam Bosworth steered the NZ women's eight to bronze.

Romanian crews often cry a bit during their national anthem, and the translated lyrics may give a hint why (or hear and read it here); pretty intense.

Speaking of national anthems, New Zealand actually has two official anthems; God Save the Queen is used on occasions associated with the monarchy, and God Defend New Zealand on most other occasions, including sporting events. Before God Defend New Zealand enjoyed official status, however, the playing of the song after the 1972 Munich Games men's eight race marked a historic moment.

(Earlier versions of this article referred to this event occurring after the 1976 Olympic Women's Eights race, and has been updated.)

GB sculler Tom Barras showed up at the podium already sporting a plushie, in this case a dinosaur; it is the plushie of the child of his coach, who always brings one to races for luck. So he was double plush when it was all done.

Someone over in the VIP tents was sporting an Alex Karwoski mask.

We're pretty sure the infant in this photo is Baby Rigogne.

Eights selfie, and heaps of pics of eights selfie.

Medals photo 62 and photo 63 - nearly simultaneous.

Angel did best goofing for TV camera for sure; a heart and a group photo.

Rowing Dad gear of the year, hands down.

Two 'generations' of para doubles.

Spiderman is not so sure about all the sound waves.

But maybe he could have helped out with these photos; if you missed it, row2k went up in a copter today, check out the pics; pretty cool.

And it's over; thank you for following along, we hope you enjoyed the coverage!


Comments

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smatatat
10/02/2017  6:01:38 AM
"Before God Defend New Zealand enjoyed official status, however, the playing of the song after the 1976* Munich Games women's** eight race marked a historic moment." *1972 Munich games ** men's 8 race (just from the link you provided!)

row2k
10/02/2017  6:14:59 AM
Changed in the article now; thank you!


smatatat
10/03/2017  7:28:39 AM
Nice! Just one more edit (it was apparently the men's 8) and you'll be there! Great article all round :)



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