Ondrei Synek climbed out of his single onto the recovery dock after his opening heat in the 2018 World Rowing Championships, and before reaching down to lift his boat out of the water and head to the boat yard, he took a moment to pose for a cellphone picture with a fellow competitor.
Synek is the defending World Champion in the event and despite having just raced his opening heat, he was in a relaxed mood and looked less stressed than a lot of the other single scullers who came off the water before him.
Maybe that was because he spent enough time on his cool down row, he did seem to be out there longer, and was one of the last men's singles to come off the water before the lunch break.
Or maybe it was that he was feeling confident with his performance, or because he felt he had handled the morning conditions better than some of the other crews that had raced all morning before him. He certainly looked like he had been less taxed, at least compared to the athletes who needed to take their time standing after climbing out of their boats.
"I'm feeling good," Synek said walking to the boat weighing area with his single on his shoulder. "I hope the next race will be even better because it's been a long period since Lucerne." Synek finished third there in July, behind New Zealand's Robbie Manson and German Oliver Zeidler.
Both of those scullers also raced in the heats of the men's single Sunday. Manson won his heat and was slightly faster (6:53.68 vs. Synek's 6:56.73). Zeidler was faster than both of them, and clocked in at 6:52.55.
And Zeidler was second in his heat after chasing Belarusian Dzianis Michal the length of the race course in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Both of those scullers came off the water a lot sooner than Synek, and had a noticeably more difficult time getting out of their boats and to their feet.
It was that kind of morning in the opening heats of this World Championships. A stiff tail wind blew down, across and - some athletes even thought it was a head wind at times - and combined with a relentless sun and heat, the race results, and athletes reactions to them, often depended on how the individual crews handled the conditions.
"Conditions were tricky" Synek said. "The first 1k was quite good, but the second k, the wind was changing every moment, so sometimes sideways, then head wind, then tail wind. But for everybody it was the same and I do like how I rowed. I have work to do, step by step, but I am going the right way."
And so it went yesterday on the first day of the eight-day event. Some crews were satisfied with the results of their first rows and how they handled the winds. Others were not, even some of those that advanced.
But being that this was just the first day of the regatta, no one was eliminated from getting a chance at advancing through their next pieces to the medal races and places on the podium. And some coaches and athletes sought solace in that. For the US contingent, which has 27 crews competing - the largest of the 62 countries at this regatta - 11 crews raced, 6 advanced, and five were relegated to the reps for a another chance to advance.
Of those US crews that moved on, the lightweights had the best showing. Emily Schmieg and Mary Nabel won their lightweight women's double heat and Andrew Campbell, Jr. and Michelle Sechser both advanced from their lightweight singles heats in second.
Andrew Campbell, Jr.
Both Sechser and Campbell are making return performances in the single. Sechser won bronze at last year's World Championships in Sarasota, Fla. in the light women's double and Campbell is making his return to international racing after taking time to recover from the 2016 Olympics, where he finished fifth in the light double.
"This is a comeback for me, and I'm kind of feeling everything out," said Campbell. "I've been away for what feels like a while now. I sort of followed this same pattern in the last quadrennial of rowing the single two years out then transitioning into the double in the pre-Olympic year.
"So, I'll definitely be looking to get into the double this coming year. But the single has been a great foray back into the sport. It was kind of my original love in the sport, and so it's nice to reconnect through that medium," he said.
Sechser has also raced in the single before and said she was happy to get back into action. "It was really exciting to finally get the regatta started," she said. "It's different this year because we had so much time between trials and worlds. It definitely gave me more time to get anxious to get started.
"It felt good to get the first step out of the way," she said. "It was pretty bouncy, but part of that is learning to stay calm in the chaos around you. I had a couple of slaps of the waves and some steering adjustments, but nothing worse than back home on Mercer Lake."
Of the US crews that advanced to semifinals, four came through in the morning session. Beside Campbell and Sechser, two on the US sweep crews rowed well enough to skip the reps, including Vicky Opitz and Gia Doonan, who finished third in the pair, and Michael Colella and Anders Weiss, who moved on in the men's pair in the last qualifying position of a heat that saw the top four advance.
Opitz and Doonan raced in second place for the first 1500 meters of the 2000 meter course before being passed by the Irish crew of Aifric Keogh and Emily Hegarty. Grace Pendergast and Kerri Gowler and the defending champion and favored Kiwi crew won easily.
Ireland's Aifric Keogh and Emily Hegarty
"It was a good race for us," said Ireland's Keogh. "We knew it would be fast out there and we wanted to attack it from the very start and not leave anything to later because I don't think that works in these conditions.
"It's exciting, we were the first race of the day for our team, so we really wanted to start off on a good note. The conditions were fast, we kind of broke it down into two parts. We knew the first part before the bridge was good, and we heard it got kind of messy once you rowed past the bridge and we were prepared for that and just reacted well to the different calls we made."
Following the US women's pair to the semifinals, Weiss and Colella advanced with an effort they would like to improve on.
Michael Colella and Anders Weiss
"We didn't handle the conditions as well as we wanted to," Weiss said. "We're pretty disappointed in our result, but it's always nice to advance. So, we're going to put our heads together, see what we can do to make changes, and handle these racing conditions a little better than we did. But at the end of the day we advanced and we're happy with that."
The last two US crews to race in the morning were the men's double of John Graves and Ben Davison and men's single sculler Kevin Meador. Graves and Davison finished third, but with only one crew advancing they will have to race in the reps on Wednesday.
"It was a tough race," said Davison. "We didn't row very well at all and we've got we've got a lot to build on over the next couple of days before our rep on Wednesday. So, that will be another tough one.
"We didn't fall into the rhythm that we know we've been doing. We came off a little bit slower than usual and then in the middle we just kind of diverted from what we've been doing and that just cost us in the end," he said.
Meador finished fourth in his race and goes to the reps Monday.
After a two-hour break, racing in the afternoon saw a slight improvement in conditions, with the relentless winds dropping slightly throughout out the afternoon.
The best result of the day came from Schmieg and Nabel, who got out at the start and stayed there. "It was a well-executed first race and we're very pleased with the result and looking forward to building on it," Schmeig.
"This definitely works well for the progression," she said. "It gives us three days to build and focus on the next step. It only gets faster from here."
Also rowing in the afternoon session were the US men's four, the men's and women's quad and the lightweight men's double sculls.
Of that group, the women's quad advanced by finishing third in their heat.
Notes From the Course
Early in the day when the wind increased to a howling tail, regatta observers began looking for record performances. There was only one. German men's lightweight single sculler Jason Osborne set a world's best time of 6:41.03. That is more than two seconds faster Marcello's Miani 2014 time.
Germany's Jason Osborne
Monday's racing will see the start of the para rowing events. The first four events will be in the PR3 (legs, trunk, and arms) mixed coxed fours and the PR2 (trunk and arms) men's singles. The complete schedule can found here.
Pit crew quick. That's how quickly US women's lightweight double bow Emily Schmieg fixed an apparent seat issue at the start line Sunday. With the announcer announcing three-minutes to go, Schmieg pulled her seat off the track, fixed whatever the issue was, popped it back on and was ready at go.
Yellow cards were a popular community yesterday due to frequent warmup lane violations. The same warm up lane issues included several near collisions under the bridge in the middle of the course.