The emotions on display at a junior world championship are refreshingly honest and unpracticed; the athletes have not made multiple trips to medal stands, don't have long winning streaks going, and probably had no clue whether they could win the event or not coming in, there being no historical results almost whatsoever pitting the current contestants against one another, given the turnover in athletes from year to year due to the age limits.
So when the crews get to the stand, you see it all – tough guy stuff, big guys weeping, scullers shaking in joy, kids almost catatonic and stunned – wow.
Turn around and look at the audience, and you see a lot more of the same, and it doesn't take long to realize that these are the same folks, a generation on – the fans at jr worlds are the parents of the kids, and pretty much display the same emotions, tinged with the mix of pride and loss unique to watching their kids grow up. Think the Stotesbury grandstands, in 35 different languages, with a bit more organized cheering and actual songs, and add a medieval castle in the background.
And a whole lot of kindred spirit and sportsmanship; the cheering on the day sometimes became a contest between German and Italian fans (and kids who were done rowing after yesterday's events), but it wasn't purely team and national pride in play; both contingents cheered liberally for other teams (the Germans slapping their folded posters) as they rowed home past the medals podium without having the honor of stopping and getting out of the boat, especially crews and scullers from the host Lithuanian country.
For US fans, it was a tough day; in particular the US men's quad raced in the thick of a crazy tight pack for two-thirds of the race, then staged a charge that pushed them into medal position, and seemed poised to grab a rare US sculling medal when a cataclysmic crab at just under 500 to go ended their bid for the podium; they rallied to race it home, but the damage was done, and the crew finished sixth. For US junior quads, just making the final was a solid achievement, but to have their final race go down the way it did had to have been hard to swallow. Well done boys.
Not every race at a junior worlds is a "cracking" race as reports from some realms might have you believe, but the men's eight final sure was, with the top four crews crossing the line within 1.8 seconds of each other. After crossing the line, the medalists didn't have a clue who won; the Italians were celebrating powerfully, but the stroke was standing in the boat pointing questioningly to himself; and when the Germans were revealed to have won, the German two-seat began shouting at the Italians that they had not won (some 'honest' emotion there as well). In the end, 0.23 seconds separated the three crews, what a race.
It was tough not to see the US crew in the hunt on this one; although comparisons are not helpful due to the long time between races, and the tailwind had subsided midday, their time nonetheless bested everyone in the final, and they led the B final wire to wire to a big open water lead. It is not unusual to see a crew row a great B final, and it happened a number of times this weekend, due in some part to occasional lopsided semis due to the inaccuracy of trying to seed a junior championship.
As the US men's eight rowed home after their last race, they looked crisp and powerful; the steep learning curve of junior worlds had finally been climbed, albeit one race too late. With only one returnee in this boat from last year, it can be steep indeed; hopefully they take some solace in a solid last race.
The US women's eight had an unfortunately flat race on the day, coming out of the blocks in fourth place and never really making a bid for the medals as Romanian, Germany and Italy raced hard out front, demanding a special effort from anyone hoping to go with them, which the US crew could not produce. After winning their heat, the crew seemed not to have the same spark in the final, alas.
Notes from the course:
The GB women's single sculler won her event rowing away to win the GB's first ever medal of any kind in the event; not bad. The medalist women's scullers were unexpectedly compact group; the tallest of the three was around 5'9", or not much more than that. The men's scullers, on the other hand, were just the opposite; the winning Polish sculler is a towering, long-limbed guy of very reserved demeanor; I bet we see more of him in the future.
Some of the teams from smaller countries are truly tight; the kids train in the same clubs, in the same cities, go to the same schools, everything, and this was obvious in the celebrations on the docks both with and without medals involved.
The gear-trading scrum was at full strength today, starting with the athletes who were done yesterday, and growing with each additional final race until it looked like a weekend souk of lycra and national colors. Some athletes were reluctant, wallflower participants; others varied in style from a passive street vendor to Fifth Avenue shoppers. What a scene.
Looking back a day, I missed the mention in my notes of the US men's coxed four's B final row; referred to as the "babies" of the team, the crew really put in a redeeming and promising race to take second in the B final. All of the guys in the boat have at least another year's junior eligibility, so along with any other youngsters in the other boats, maybe we have to wait until Hamburg next year to see their very best.
Now on Monday morning, regatta staff is out on the lake pulling warmdown area buoys, while what I would guess is the Lietuva senior team is out doing hard work on the racecourse. No doubt some juniors made optimistic plans to go out for one last row today, but come morning the juniors were all gone from the course, steeped today in the bittersweet emotions of ending your season just as your crew was really getting going - a rite of elite and perhaps all summer rowing known by many.
The Lithuanian term for "thank you" is aciu , which is pronounced, more or less, "achoo" – pretty easy to remember, especially for American kids. So aciu for following the coverage, we hope you enjoyed it.