Filippo Mondelli was trying to find the right words to talk about the race Italy had just won in the men's quad final in the 2018 World Rowing Championships. He can manage some English, but only just about enough for a brief interview with the English speaking media.
There was also the issue of oxygen, or trying to find the right amount of it to talk.
Mondelli had expended just about everything he had in his lungs rowing bow in the last medal race of the Saturday finals. The race went stroke for stroke across the full six boat field for what looked like the entire course.
It was a race that needed a photo to determine who had taken the bronze - the crew from the Ukraine with three guys who helped set the World Best Time in the event in 2015, or the crew from New Zealand that has five-time Olympian and defending London and Rio single champion Mahe Drysdale powering two-seat.
Italy needed a sprint through the final 500 meters to hold off Australia to win, and while Australia clearly took silver, the difference between Ukraine and the Kiwis was determined to be 0.11 of a second.
Men's Quad finish
After listening to a few questions about what had just happened, Mondelli summed things up this way: "This is beautiful water, this is beautiful crew, this is a beautiful situation. This is all very, very beautiful."
There was probably no better way to sum up the level of racing that took place in Plovdiv Saturday, or the way the crews and athletes rowed in the second day of finals in this World Championships.
It was the kind of morning that will be hard to top when the regatta resumes Sunday morning for the last day, but with some of the highest, and most anticipated boat classes in the schedule, there is clearly the potential.
There is always that hope, because Saturday morning's 10 finals were packed with races that brought fans out of their seats and had announcers in high pitch, excited voices - again and again.
It was the kind of morning that saw photo finishes, crews cement their intentions to be the boat to beat through the next two years of the current 2020 Olympic cycle, late charges from behind that succeeded in dramatic fashion, or failed, that were driven by athletes who put so much into their strokes that they were rendered oblivious.
Australian men's four
Spencer Turrin, Australia's two seat in the four left the venue on a stretcher, waving weakly to try and stop from being taken away so he could join his teammates as they walked to the awards dock to accept their gold medals, and his, without him.
"Yea, that Spencer, he really puts his body on the line for us," said Australian bowman Josh Hicks. "He's the Danny Amendola of this four, so to speak," said Hicks, who spent his undergraduate collegiate season in the US at Harvard University and over those years, became "a massive new England Patriots fan."
Hicks was referencing the Patriots wide receiver who is known for laying his body out in big games. "When it comes down to the end of the season, we know that he is going to absolutely bury himself and do everything he can for the team.
Of the the crews that were hoping to make an Olympic cycle statement, Ireland's O'Donovan brothers lightweight men's double team won gold, their first ever World Championship.
The Olympic silver medalists had this race on their minds since the start of the season and they had a stand full of supporters from their home town of Skibbereen to watch them win, including their mother, Trish O'Donovan, who was waving her Irish flag madly as they crossed the line.
"We haven't seen her yet," said Paul O'Donovan. "God Almighty, she comes to all the rowing races, shouting, and crying, and doing all the motherly stuff she does since we started," he said.
Another crew looking to become the standard of their boat class, the Croatian brothers Martin and Valent Sinkovic - already Olympic champions in the double sculls - won without ever really being challenged. Or as Martin put it, "we didn't even need a sprint finish to win. Now, we are the favorites. We will have to train extra hard, but now we are the favorites."
Saturday morning was full of breathless racing, and endless emotion, from every crew that came down the course in an A final.
And the United States was game to be part of the fun, taking four medals - two gold and two silver, to add to the three medals won Friday to bring the US total to seven.
Of the events the US raced in, the women's four won, running in the lead wire-to-wire. They went after it from the first stroke, were never relenting, and when it was over and they wore their medals on the awards dock, stood facing the Stars and Stripes as it was raised to the top of the middle flag pole, belted out an off-key, but from-the-heart rendition of the national anthem.
The lightweight women's double went two events before them and put out a powerful sprint that pulled them from fifth place to a silver medal in the last 500-meters.
Both Emily Schmeig and Mary Nabel slid themselves off their seats and onto the recovery dock where they stayed down long enough to find the energy to get up. Both were rendered to tears of obvious joy, but also exhaustion and pain.
Emily Schmeig and Mary Nabel
The para coxed mixed four came oh so close to finally beating Great Britain, a crew that has been a balloon popper for them for at least the last four years, including the 2016 Paralympics, but were overtaken in the second half of their race and took silver for the fourth consecutive year.
Stroke seat Dani Hansen has been in all four of those crews, but her day did not end there. She rowed again in the final of the PR3 women's pair with Jaclyn Smith. It was the first year for the new para event, and after Russia and Italy withdrew their entries, Hansen and Smith were left to row uncontested.
Rather than row by themselves, they opted for the option FISA offered them to row in the C final of the women's pair, and were then awarded gold medals in a side ceremony hours after the official medals ceremony was finished.
That was the kind effort and determination it took to medal in Plovdiv Saturday.
And to quote Italy's Mondelli one last time - it was "a beautiful situation."
With all that said, here's the full finals race recap:
PR2 Mixed Double
The morning A finals started in the PR2 mixed double final with 2012 Paralympian Ron Harvey out of retirement to row with Laura Goodkind, an athlete he has been coaching though the last two years. Harvey could not find a suitable partner for Goodkind to row with, so he got back into the game to row with Goodkind.
After their preliminary race Sunday, Harvey said his expectations for the final were to gain experience in the boat class. The Netherlands won the race. Poland was second, Ukraine was third and the US finished sixth
PR3 Mixed Coxed Four
Para mixed coxed four
After finishing behind Great Britain in the last five seasons, starting in the 2014 World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, the US appeared to have an answer in Plovdiv. Off the start block, they took a lead and held GB in second for the first 1000-meters.
The Brits anticipated the US early speed, and held position until crossing into the second half, where they inched ahead and then overtook the US to nail another gold.
"We knew this was a really strong US crew," said Britain's Grace Clough, who rows in the GB two-seat. "We knew that we were going to be racing to the line, and we just knew at the start of that race that they probably were going to take us in the first thousand, maybe even the 1500, but we knew that with our boat speed, we should go past them and we just tried to keep that in our mind and stay strong right to the last stroke," she said.
"I've been in the last several boats," Clough said. "It's a good rivalry. They got really close in 2015, and I thought this time they could have us, but obviously, we dug deep and came out on top."
Of getting to the halfway point in first with a chance to win, Hansen said:
"You're always supposed to think it's going to happen, every stroke. Otherwise, it's never going to happen. You just have to believe you're putting all the watts you have on the water."
Added coxswain Jenny Sichel: "I thought we had a good fight, and sometimes you get edged out. But we'll be coming back stronger next year. This is my seventh year in the boat. Every time is different, every crew is different. I'm just excited for them to come back next year and get going again."
Going into the regatta, New Zealand's Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler and have been unbeaten the last two seasons including last year's World Championships. They started like they were going to defend, but Canada's Hillary Janssens and Caileigh Filmer had other ideas and passed them in the second 500 meters.
Canada won, Pendergast and Gowler were second and Spain's Aina Cid and Anna Boada Peiro were third.
"It was a really good race" said Canada's Janssens. "We knew that New Zealand would be with us in the first 500 meters, so we just stuck to our plan. We're still very young, so this winter we'll work on our technique and our fitness to keep getting better," she said.
"We're really pleased with how it went," said Pendergast. "It's a good place to kind of lead into the next two years and we know if we want to be on top of the podium we have to keep working. But we really enjoyed this World Champs and Plovdiv did a great job hosting it."
Spain's Cid, who rowed at Ohio State, said she was also happy with how her race went. "I'm definitely a Buckeye," Cid said when asked about her collegiate affiliation.
"I'm still a Buckeye. You just saw the race, Buckeyes never give up and always drive to the finish. We tried to be first, but today that was impossible. But we got on the podium, so for us today that is enough. As a Spanish national team rower, I'm very proud of what we did today."
Maartin and Valent Sinkovic
The Sinkovic brothers have never been shy about their rowing. They are loud and enthusiastic, and after winning the double in Rio, they announced their intention to switch to the pair with a tweet that showed their sculling blades being swapped for sweep blades.
They finished second behind Italy in last year's World Championships and before the racing started this week, Martin was clear that they intend to contest for another Olympic title in 2020. Yesterday, they backed that up with their first win in the new boat class. They led from the start and won without being challenged.
"We won a gold medal in a new boat class for the first time, and it's a great feeling," said Valent. "We executed the race almost perfectly, especially the first part. It was really good. We knew at the thousand that we knew we would get the gold," he said.
"It was a great feeling," said Martin. "This is our fifth gold in the World Championships in the third discipline, so I think it's a pretty good race. It was prefect for us. We did a good job to start and in the middle of the race. Then we didn't need a sprint finish.
"We thought everybody would be closer, and we thought maybe we would need a big sprint finish to win. But this is better, we didn't want to ruin our race with some crab or something in finish. Now we are favorites in the pair, it's good. But we know that we need to train even harder and try to go faster because everyone will be quicker the next two years."
Romania was second and France finished third.
Lightweight Women's Double
The US won a silver in this boat class last season. Emily Schmeig was in that boat, while her partner Mary Nabel was in the single and won bronze. Saturday, Schmeig and Nabel started behind and rowed in fifth into the final. They were not out of the pack, however, as the field was tight throughout the race.
Contesting all the way for a podium finish, the US first passed the third place crew from The Netherlands and then went after Romania, who won. "It was unbelievable," Nabel said. "We had a really well executed race. We feel like it was like every practice we've done before. We trusted each other and we made it happen," she said.
Schmeig said she never doubted they could finish in the medals. "It feels absolutely amazing," she said. "We put lots of work into practice again and again and again for this. I was gauging the field through the race and I saw that we were fourth or fifth, but I was just really telling Mary to hold, hold, hold because we were running right on pace.
"I needed every ounce of energy for that last 250, where I knew we could make the push through," she said. "I was watching the whole field and I just told her to go. And she listened to me the whole way and we just made it happen."
Lightweight Men's Double
The O'Donovan brothers had this race marked as the one to win from the start of the season. Leading into Plovdiv, they raced two World Cups and the European Championships with solid results. But, despite the earlier results, including a win in Lucerne, they wanted this one.
It did not come easy. Starting in third, they needed the full first thousand to catch and hold Italy. The Italians stayed with them through the last few hundred meters before the Irish put the race away in the sprint.
"It was good," said Gary. "It's my first World Championship final ever in any category and we planned to win this race. We didn't get all the results we wanted throughout the year. We won in Lucerne but we were missing some crews.
"Through all the World Cups and the Europeans, we knew this was the one we wanted to go the very fastest in. We wanted to take the best strokes and have the fastest race this time, and we managed to pull it off."
Italy finished second and Belgium was third.
Coming out of a young training center group, the women's four had two athletes in the boat from last year's fourth place crew, including Molly Bruggeman and Erin Reelick, and two new additions in Madeleine Wanamaker and Erin Boxberger.
Australia came into the regatta the defending champion, and favorite to repeat. But the US set an early tone with wins in both the heat and semifinal. Saturday, they led from start to finish.
"I've been around since 2014 and this is my first national team," said Boxberger, who has rowed on several successful US under 23 crews. "We've been doing all the training, and it's just about earning the opportunity among all those fast girls in Princeton to get in this boat and this really exciting event.
"We knew that American sweep rowing has the power for this event, and we just had to have a little time to iron it out," she said. Wanamaker was in Plovdiv last year and in the US women's eight that finished second and rowed the last 900 meters with a broken seat in the boat.
"I got second last year in the U23 eight and it's just some Bulgarian redemption," she said. "I can't believe we had such a great race. I was trusting my crew and I'm just excited to be here."
Australia finished second and Russia was third.
The men's four was another one of those races Saturday that had everyone in the stands holding their breath. Australia led off the start and stayed ahead of the field, but in the final 500 meters, Italy attacked and pushed the Aussies to the line. The race was so close the announcer at first called the win for Italy. The official result placed Australia first, Italy second and Great Britain was third.
The sprint took so much out of the Aussie's two-seat, he was taken off the venue on a stretcher.
Just after the race finished, Aussie bow man Josh Hicks, cocked an imaginary shotgun in the air and fired it at the Italian boat. "That was probably the hardest race that this combination has had in a couple of years," Hicks said. "I was really glad that the Italians chose to prioritize the four.
"The Dutch and the Italians knew that they could take it right to us. But, we were lucky that we had a really good warmup. We haven't been going great all regatta. But we had faith in each other, and we knew that if each of us does our job then we have a high level of confidence that we would be able to put down a good time.
"Whether Italians they beat us or not, that's kind of out of my hands," Hicks said. "I'm the bowman. My job is to back everyone up, to put as much power down as I can and keep the boat straight.
"The other guys, they're in charge of the race. They probably have more of an impact on boat speed, they're more powerful than I am. I just know that if I stayed in time with them, we would go as fast as we could in the last 500, and if the Italians beat us then, well, more power to them," he said.
The US quad struggled in the heat, but finished third and qualified for the semifinal. In that race they appeared to have found an answer and advanced into the final with renewed confidence. The final did not go well and they finished sixth.
In the Saturday final, Poland took control from the beginning and rowed in front the length of the course. Poland won the European Championships and now has a World title to end the season.
The race for the lesser medals was more of a battle and came down to fractions of seconds between second through fourth. Germany took silver and The Netherland's were bronze.
Giacomo Gentili going for a swim
This was the last regularly scheduled race of the day, and it was a burner from start to finish. Italy got out second in the first quarter, but moved into the lead in the second 500 meters. No crew really lost contact with the front of the pack and when it came into the sprint, Italy was holding on while Australia, Ukraine and New Zealand fought for medals. In the end it was Italy, Australia, and Ukraine.
The Italians like to celebrate their wins and stroke seat Giacomo Gentili obliged by jumping into the water.
"This is a good race, for us," said Luca Rambaldi. "It's been a good season. We won the Linz World Cup and the European Championship in Glasgow. It is hard to beat other crews like this, but we had a very strong race and now we are on the top," he said.
PR3 Women's Pair
Jaclyn Smith and Dani Hansen could have chosen to row their uncontested final earlier in the day as originally scheduled. But after seeking an exception from FISA, they were allowed to row their final as part of the women's C final.
The US pair finished fourth in the field, just under 10 seconds back from the C final women. They were awarded their gold medals in a small ceremony near the awards platform.
"We're disappointed that all the other nations scratched, but we're pretty excited that we were able to get into the C final and race other people," Smith said. "It would not have been the same kind of experience if we didn't have other boats with us. Big thanks to The Netherlands, Poland and France for letting us join them.
"We hope that next year, and years to come, that there are more and more entries. We're a little disappointed in the lack of entries, but we're hoping that next year Great Britain, Australia, Canada, all those other nations join us," she said.
Jaclyn Smith and Dani Hansen