Recent Cal graduate Alexander Wallis might have had a few reasons to look a bit on his heels in the boatyard at the famous Lucerne Regatta race course.
Nearly every big, international name that has rowed to Olympic fame since the first regatta was raced on the Rotsee in 1903 has made an appearance in Lucerne. And in keeping with the tradition of the what is now World Rowing Cup III, the last of three lead up regattas to the World Rowing Championships, some of the most famous names in rowing were gathering again in Lucerne and were on the course for a morning practice.
"It's kind of an overwhelming experience, coming here and seeing so many of the celebrities of rowing in one spot," Wallis said.
For many of the athletes here, World Cup III is a hugely important step in either the process of getting race ready for the World Championships, or for securing a place on a national team.
The US has nearly the entire women's training center selection camp from Princeton entered. Except for athletes still back in Princeton who were unable to make the trip or are resting injuries, this is the last chance to show that they can perform in race situations.
Not long after they return home, the team will be named and those that are not selected to a team boat can opt to go to trials and try for a spot in one of the crews that will be selected in the final senior trials in early August.
US women's four
Wallis and his men's U23 teammates don't have that concern, not this week anyway. All of them that are racing in the eight and the four here have already been named to the 2018 Under 23 team, and they will be heading off to the Under 23 World Rowing Championships once they are finished racing Lucerne against the top senior boats in the world.
Talk about pressure. Or not.
This is a first for the US, sending a selected Under 23 team to race at what is really a senior national team level event, and it has as much or more to do with building the senior men's team toward the 2020 Olympics as it does with getting results at World Cup III.
The intention is to put the top US collegiate rowers in a situation where they can experience the highest levels of international competition to give them an idea of where they stand and what they could potentially accomplish as a US national team athlete.
But as far as the racing goes, it's a little like the situation the U23 women's eight just experienced at the Henley Royal Regatta - race to see how best you can perform, how fast you can go at the highest levels and then take that experience and head to Poznan, Poland and the World Rowing Under 23 Championships just a little more than a week from now.
US men's under23 eight
"This was one of the pitches for the under 23 group," said U23 head coach Mike Callahan. Callahan, who spend most of his time coaching the men's program at Washington, is heading up the Under 23 program this summer and is fully in on the idea that US college men need an enticement to get them into the men's system early, either before they are finished college or just after.
"I think this is incredibly important," Callahan said. "You have to have the best guys for the national team, and they have to have the experience. They have to want to go to the Olympics, and realize how cool the national team is, and how amazing an opportunity this is. These guys are from Stanford and Cal and Harvard and Princeton; they have a lot of career potential in them so they have a lot of options."
And rowing on the national team, especially at the senior team level, can cost a lot of money. "You have to have a draw for these guys," Callahan said. "Otherwise, guys are going to opt to go to Henley, and their school alumni are going to pay for it. Rowing for the national team is very expensive.
"People need careers, and it's a stretch to for families to pay thousands of dollars to go to the Under 23 camp."
This year, a decision was made to seek support from USRowing and to fund part of the project from outside supporters and donors. With that goal accomplished, Wallis and rising US Naval Academy junior Andrew Knoll found themselves looking around at the some of the fastest male and female rowing athletes in the world.
"This is my first international regatta, my first experience on the U23 team and it's amazing to be here competing with some great guys," Knoll said. "There are obviously some amazing people here, and we're going to be racing the best in the world.
"There is a little bit of pressure, but we're just seeing how fast we can go. We have no idea how fast we're going to be, but we're going to find out."
There are more than aspiring US national sweep camp athletes entered for the US that will begin competition Friday morning in the opening heats. The US has multiple crews racing, including the men's and women's double that just earned their places on the 2018 World Championship squad at the first senior trials last week in Princeton, New Jersey.
Among them are men's sculler John Graves and Ben Davison, and women's double veterans Megan O'Leary and Ellen Tomek, who won silver at last year's World Championships in Sarasota, Florida and have been together for the last six years, competing at every World Championship and the Rio Olympics in that time.
John Graves and Ben Davison
But this Lucerne regatta places less pressure on them since their place on the team is already decided, and they are not trying for a top performance that will qualify them for a bid, or looking to go back to race a trials.
"Lucerne is always great," O'Leary said. "It's kind of unique to have trials backed up against Lucerne. We're just coming out here trying to get race ready for Worlds, and we're obviously excited about making the team.
"This is the sixth consecutive year for us being in the double and we truly feel like we are building on each year, trying to get a little bit better. After this many years, we kind of know what we don’t do well and what we still need to improve, and the great thing is we're committed to that and that's been sort of our secret sauce. We have the same goal, we know how to work together," she said.
"You always want to show up to Lucerne and perform, but we kind of get to relax and enjoy it and perform the best we can without concern about if it's a qualification race or you have to compete at trials. It's just about going to the line and seeing what you can do," she said.
Ellen Tomek and Megan O'Leary
Read about the 12 US crews competing in Lucerne this week.
Read a World Rowing Who to Watch in World Cup III report here.
Check out who is on the roster of the just announced US Under23 squad here.