Internal is a word that gets used a lot by rowers when they talk about racing. And different athletes have different ways to explain what it means.
But basically, the common meaning centers on focus, dialing in on what is happening inside an individual boat during racing, ignoring anything that could be distracting, and staying with a predetermined game plan.
It means ignoring expectations, external noise about what might or might not happen, prior races and results that came before and cannot be changed. And it means trusting that teammates are all doing everything they can to succeed equally.
"(Internal) means watching the person in front of you and supporting her, and that goes from stroke (Olivia Coffey) all the way down the boat," said Katelin Guregian, coxswain for the US women's eight. "It means not thinking about if you are ahead, if you are behind; it means are we feeling the boat, just thinking are we getting the best out of the strokes, and is the best that we can be."
Internal was a word that was being used a lot Wednesday morning by the three US crews that rowed their way into a final at the 2018 World Rowing Championship in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
For the first two crews to advance from the heats directly to the final, the external noise is always there - the men's and women's eight are considered the highest-profile team boats in rowing. That is a fact in most large rowing countries, and it is certainly a fact in the US, and what they do gets talked about - a lot.
The external noise for the men's eight comes from the near misses and failures of the last two Olympic cycles, and a complete rebuilding of the men's program, from the athletes, to where they train and who coaches them.
For the women's eight, the noise is about being able to defend the past three Olympic championships, and if they can come out of a rebuilding phase that saw them miss the medal stand at World Championship for the first time in 11-years, last year in the 2017 World Championships in Sarasota, Florida.
That is the kind of noise that can be distracting - but only if the athletes allow it to be part of their team culture. And in these two US eights, if they hear the external noise at all, it's not something that is acknowledged.
Wednesday, both those crews "stayed internal."
And they performed like two crews completely dialed into themselves and what they wanted to accomplish. Both crews gained the lead from the start, won their heats, advanced directly into the Sunday final, and both posted the best times of all the other crews that raced.
Following right behind them in another critical race was the lightweight women's quad, which was racing in a rep that meant the difference of the rowing a final or elimination.
They were not facing the same kind of external noise, but there was plenty of distraction going on around them on the course. But they also "stayed internal," and finished second in the five-boat race to advance to the Friday final.
Of the crews that gained finals this morning, the first was the always high profile women's eight. It is the priority crew for the US women's program, and has been for the last three Olympic cycles.
A larger than usual turnover following the Rio Olympic championship, their third consecutive Olympic gold, launched the Princeton women's training center into a rebuilding period, not one as dramatic as the men's, but a change nonetheless.
Among the women that raced the eight yesterday only two, coxswain Katelin Guregian and seven-seat Emily Regan, were in the boat that won in Rio. The rest of the crew were not necessarily new to the US senior women's team, as several had been in successful senior team crews - but still the eight, and the entire entire program, is young compared to the group that executed the last two Olympic cycles.
But like all the last groups that have raced for the US women's team, they all held to that one mantra spoken over and over again in postrace interviews Wednesday.
"I feel like this was a day that we got better during the warmup, and we just focused on executing our intentions during the race and staying very internal, and just seeing what could happen if we just focused on doing our best," Guregian said.
"We believed in ourselves," she said. "We just went out there hoping to be in a position to win and hoping that our best could be good enough to win, but you never know what's going to happen. I've seen these eights out here, everyone looks really sharp, everyone looks really good."
What that translated into was a lead from the start and executing a race plan that kept their bow ball out in front of the rest of a field that took turns testing their resolve. When they closed on the finish line, they had a clean lead.
China went with them first, but fell off the pace after the first 500 meters and were overtaken by The Netherlands, who pushed, but could not catch. Canada, which went into the race as the expected favorite in the heat, never really got going and rowed in fourth place the length of the race.
Finishing in 5:56.68, the US set the best time of the two heats. The Netherlands finished behind them in 5:59.51.
Australia won the second heat in 6:02.38 and will also advance to the final and avoid the rep.
Coffey is one of the veterans in the crew that is new to the boat, but has a World Championship on her resume from the 2015 World Rowing Championships rowing in the quad.
"It felt nice to race, because we've been here a long time, and it feels like everyone else got to race except for us," Coffey said. "It was nice to go down the track, because you just build up a lot of nerves sitting around all week watching other people go.
"There are a lot of people who are new to the eight this year, but not new to the team. Except for Dana (Moffat), not all of us have been in the eight, but we've all been successful on the team before and so I felt confident that everyone could perform.
"I felt like everyone was excited to race in the eight because, obviously, the eight has been the priority boat for so many years that it's just exciting to race in it."
Men's eight start
Next to race were the men's eights, and like the women, the US was in the first of two heats. Lined up against Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand, the US men jumped into the lead off the line and led the field through the first thousand meters.
Australia and Great Britain chased in the second and third quarters, and while it didn't look like it - and no one in the US crew mentioned or seemed to recall that it actually happened - Australia pushed past them in the third 500 meters, however briefly.
The way both coxswain Julian Venonsky and stroke Patrick Eble recalled in their telling of the story, Australia made a move at about 700 and pushed into their lead, but the US answered, and neither mentioned ever being passed.
That could have been because, like the women's eight, they were solely focused on what they were doing in their piece - they were being "super internal," Venonsky said.
"Our main focus today, just because we haven't really been around other crews - and the starts are loud, people are yelling, it's crazy - we were just really keeping it internal for the first 250 meters so.
"I think through that first 250, we were right in the field, we were right with GB, we were right with Australia, so I was really confident knowing that coming off that start we were kind of in a good position coming into that middle thousand," he said.
"GB held on for a while, Australia didn't let up at all, so we held really great composure to stay in the mix for that middle thousand. Then about 700 to go, the Australian's really took their push, took a back few seats, but again we stayed really composed.
"I think just being aware, everyone was super internal, just knowing where they were coming, so we took our little push and started to eat back into them and then for about that last 300, 400 meters it was pretty much stroke for stroke.
"But, again, we kept it super within our rhythm, not too much concerned to much about what the crew next to us was doing, just keeping it really internal," Venonsky said.
US men's eight
In recalling the race, Eble reflected a similar mindset.
"I was locked in from the beginning definitely. We had a clean start, that's something we were working on just trying to be clean, and really driven off the high strokes, and then we settled into a really nice rhythm and then got really long.
"That was something else we were working on, having traction," Eble said. "I felt like we had traction coming through the 1K, and then Australia moved early but we were able to reel them back in, and then we were able to nip them in the end," he said.
"It was fun out there; it was a good first race, we did exactly what we wanted to do, which is go out there and have a full race on a fast course, and I think the time reflects that."
Whether or not anyone actually remembered Australia being in first at some point in the third 500, it didn't matter in the end, and from the shore it never seemed like the US would be overtaken.
But it was close. The US crossed the line in 5:19.20, a new World Championships Best Time, which is 0.52 seconds off the world's best time. Australia was next in 5:19.25 and both crews advanced into the final.
"That was a really hard race," said coach Mike Teti. "We expected it. All these other guys are really good. I thought we were going to pretty much have a perfect race to win, or to qualify, and we essentially rowed an even race to win.
"They're a good boat and the final is going to be a barn burner," he said. "These crews are really good. I still think the Germans are the class of the field. I've never felt more fortunate to get through a heat than I am right now.
"When you're in a really hard race you know it, and they know it. They know it. Nothing is going to be given to them out there. So they're going to have to somehow duplicate that performance again. Or maybe even take it a notch higher.
"I'm really proud of the way they held it together," Teti said. "They were challenged at least three times and kept their composure. I'm really proud of them for the way they did."
Lightweight women's quad
The final crew to qualify Wednesday morning was the lightweight women's quad. And they had plenty of external distractions to contend with, including eights warming up all around them on a very tight course and then a problem at the start bridge, where it appears that they are having trouble adjusting the position of the starting stakes, making it difficult to get crews in hulls of different lengths into the starting boots and evenly aligned.
"With the eights in front of us, it was definitely busy on the course, a lot more to disrupt us," said Christine Cavallo. "Then, the German boat is the only one that's not a Filippi, so it didn't fit into the boot the same way.
"At two minutes to go to the race, they had to stop things and readjust and get a taller stake boat holder over. They did a lot of stuff to get it aligned, so we stayed calm. We just zoned in, cracked a few jokes. It was pretty much the status quo for us.
"Then we focused and executed really well," she said. "I'm really grateful we had a rep because that was just the second time we lined up against another quad, so the experience was invaluable. With the progression the way it is, where it's racing every other day, the benefits far outweigh having to race one more time," Cavallo said.