Before getting into specific US results for the folks at home, let's step back to note that you could say Germany is having a decent regatta, and had an extraordinary Saturday – they qualified a crew in all nine A/B semis today, six of them by winning their semis. In fact, though two of their crews went through the reps, Germany has a crew in the finals in all 13 events. If there is a home course advantage, they have definitely put it to use here (and there may be – at least two or three of the country's biggest junior regattas take place on this course).
For the US, highlights on the day came from the women's four, who won their semi by two lengths, and men's single sculler Ben Davison, who posted the second fastest time of the day with a very solid row. Both go to tomorrow's A final, with solid medal hopes based on everything they have done so far.
How good is the US women's four looking here in Hamburg? So far at least, so pretty darn good. At the same time last in year in Trakai, the 2013 crew looked really good going into the finals, and a gold medal seemed perhaps within reach; this year they are looking even more poised, posting almost easy wins in both the heat and semi.
Of course, anyone who pays attention to international racing knows that finals day is a different animal; heck, it is even a different animal in high school and college racing, but elite racing takes it to a whole other level. Even at a senior event, a week's dominance can be wiped out by a crew that puts it all together on the day – I have seen crews that squeaked through qualifiers all week go and blitz the field on Sunday. Add to that the volatility of junior rowers, and you can almost expect some surprises tomorrow.
Because as the German saying goes, come Sunday- "jetzt geht's um die Wurst!" In other words, "now we're playing for the sausage!"
That said, this crew is looking good in a few important ways – business-like while going hard, continuing to execute and push when out in the lead, and dealing with imperfect races by building on the strengths and fixing weaknesses. Technically they look really nice; it may be that their professionalism isn't entirely a surprise with a three-time national team member and two-time Junior Worlds medalist in the bow making the calls.
"It's so different now to be – we're all leaders – but to be bow and to be in charge of different calls and to be grown-up and (to have) gone through this experience a few times now," said Mia Croonquist of being the veteran. "With them, they're just so amped that it's never like, 'Guys, let's get jacked up.' Everybody is always so excited. I just try to keep us all controlled and together. We all contribute to that.
"We definitely improved from our heat," Croonquist said. "We were a little more 'wobbly' as they kept calling it (yesterday). We definitely had more rhythm. We had a great warm-up, so that helped (us) improve a lot. Overall, we were more connected, more together. We are all really getting into the same mindset, which is so important for us. As a straight boat, Marlee and I have to be talking all the time, and it's becoming more of a mental thing. We just know automatically."
The crew took an early lead in the race, and continued to extend on the field most of the way down the course, posting the fastest split in each of the first three 500s, and finishing without much of a sprint to finish in 7:11.31. In the other semi, China won with a time of 7:09.44.
"We saw that China had a faster time in their semifinal, and we know that they like to stay behind or in the pack for the first 1,500 meters and then have a killer last 500," Dana Moffat said. "We were looking at our times, and our times got a little slower in the last 500, so we're going to work on getting in front, staying in front and really pushing it and increasing our speed, not just our rate, in the last 500 meters."
On Sunday, the U.S. will take on China, Italy, Belarus, Germany and France in the race for the medals.
"That fact that we are very capable," said Croonquist on what the crew will focus on going into the final. "We always talk about capacity. It's really about tapping in and knowing what we are capable of, because we have that ability. We've had little hints and glimmers of it in practices. To come out and do a full 2k and have a world championship-race that is good enough to win will definitely be our mindset and whatever the results end up being, just knowing that as long as we went all out and reached our capacity, we're going to be so happy."
Ben Davison continued his run of impressive outcomes this week with a second place finish in the men's single, which puts him in the A final tomorrow. Davison had a very solid race, rowing right at the front of the group all the way down the course, never more than a half-second from the front, and may have been in front a couple times. (It might be that the quick bite he had while still out in his boat after yesterday's semi helped a bit; he hadn't made a dock stop when he did it, so he definitely took it out there with him for the race.
"I felt it was a strong race," said Davison, who won both his heat and quarterfinal earlier this week. "(It was) not the strongest I've had while I've been here, but got out there and got the job done. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's race."
In addition to South Africa and Switzerland, Davison now will race scullers from Russia, Canada and Germany with medals on the line. Davison is trying to become only the third U.S. junior men's single sculler, and first since Andrew Campbell in 2010, to reach the medal stand.
"Just executing," said Davison about what he will focus on between now and the final. "I'm always looking to improve, always looking to have a stronger race every time. Tomorrow, I just have to try to peak and have the strongest race I can have."
Davison's was also the faster of the two semis by a fair patch, although you never know what is going on in these semis, especially in the single scull where there are more head games going on than in team boats. For example, Canadian sculler Daniel de Groot was winning the other semi almost comfortably when German Tim Ole Naske kicked off the kind of full bore, water-churning sprint that most sane (i.e., not single sculler) folks save for the finals. The Canadian seemed to wonder at notion and wisdom of the whole thing, but showed some nice sportsmanship by giving the German the thumbs up after the race.
The US junior men's four duked it out valiantly for one of the top three spots, racing in third to the 500, fourth to the 1000, and third again to the 1500, but in the final windup to the line, Croatia turned on the jets to come from fourth up to third, and the US crew didn't have quite enough left to reel in a faltering Italian crew, and finished 0.07 off of advancing to the A final, oof. Their fourth place finish puts them in the B final tomorrow.
The US women's quad's upward trajectory over the past several days came to an unfortunate halt in the first 500 of their semis today when a sticky crab took them out of the running in the very early going. Hopefully the crew is feeling resilient and maybe a little mad, both of which tend to factor very heavily when B finals come down the course.
And both Elizabeth Sharis in the single and the Campbell sisters in the double had trouble getting on terms with the field in their semis, finishing a couple lengths out of qualifying position, Sharis in fifth and the double in sixth. Both row in the B final tomorrow.
The US men's quad found themselves in the kind of semi where three crews break away from the field, find themselves a comfort zone in qualifying position, and row mostly just to stay there til the line. The US crew was never really able to get on terms with that group, racing in fourth for the length of the course. They will race in the B final tomorrow as well.
In the CD semis, the US men's pair and double both finished third to advance to the C finals – both by nudging out their Latvian counterparts in the event.
Notes from the course:
- Best boat name: Donkey Punch
- The Dutch women's quad that qualified for the A final today had to row home in a triple, but didn't seem too worried about it, as they were laughing and smiling both while rowing back, and with their families after the race
- Save for a some light showers as the crews were launching, and some drizzle here and there for the first half-dozen races, the wet weather predicted for the day never really materialized. No one was complaining, but most folks got the memo.
(Athlete quotes provided by Brett Johnson of USRowing)
The CDE finals proved to be anything but uneventful, and were characterized by a fair number of large winning margins, no doubt by crews that either did not, or thought they did not, necessarily belong in the C final. Most spectacular of these, if that is the right word, was the C final of the Ukrainian men's quad, in which the caught a full overhead crab with about 100 meters to go, and held off the charging field with three rowers absolutely hauling on it while their two-seat sat there helplessly holding the buried oar, looking over his shoulder praying for the finish line (sequence starts here). Whew.
After a building cross headwind all morning, winds came around fully to an almost direct and very strong tailwind, which caused whitecaps at the start of the racing that barely backed off through the rest of the session. The conditions were definitely crab-worthy, and the announcers were regularly noting scullers almost going in the water, water coming over riggers, and more.
The two US crews racing in the C final gave the conditions a go, as they were both clearly throwing everything they could at it, but there weren't able to run with the pack, and both finished fifth in their C finals.
A couple more notes from the course: