With 25 entries, only the men's single boasted the requisite 24+ participating countries to warrant Wednesday heats, so the honor, thrill, and potentially rattling responsibility of opening the 2016 Olympic rowing test event (one year to the day of the opening of the Games, no less) fell to the solo gladiators of the men's single event.
As such, it was a quick morning – six men's single races and done. That didn't leave US rowing fans without a really nice bright spot, however, as US men's sculler Andrew Morley rowed the kind of race you want to see in the heats of the junior single, were the speed of the competition is all but unknown, creating a lot of uncertainty about how to approach it, how hard you might have to go, whether to go for the win or just qualify, etc.
The qualification terms were pretty easy – top four from each five-boat heat going to the quarterfinals, but Morley put the shot down the course to good use, taking the lead from the start, going into a solid cruise mode, then winding it up a little bit at the end just to keep the blade edges sharp, coming in 11 seconds ahead of second place with the third-fastest time of the morning.
"The goal was to go out there and win the heat, so I had a one seed for the quarterfinals," Morley told USRowing after the race. "After 250 meters, I was up by about a length, so I kept a calm rhythm and cruised through the middle 1000. I took it up a little bit in the last 250, but really once I was ahead, I knew I just had to stay ahead to maintain my placing."
"I'm definitely excited to go into the quarterfinal," he said. "I know I have a lot more energy in the tank. I'm excited to go out there and hopefully qualify for the A/B semifinal."
Major Schedule Change
Morley would have had tomorrow (Thursday) off, but and his competitors will be racing a day earlier than expected due to a major overhaul to the schedule that was announced midday today. The weather report for the weekend shows the possibility of high winds of up to 10 meters per second (20+ mph) starting Saturday afternoon, so all racing previously scheduled for Friday has been moved to Thursday afternoon.
The Friday schedule would have included all the reps from tomorrow morning's heats, and the quarterfinals for the men's single. At noon on Thursday, FISA will announce the schedule for the rest of the week.
The weather report indicates 'breezy in the afternoon" for both Saturday and Sunday; it is fair to assume that it is under consideration is to have all qualifying races done by Friday, allowing maximum flexibility for the finals, including having all the finals run and the whole regatta completed on Saturday morning if needed. That would be the most extreme outcome, but you will want to track the schedule carefully so you don't miss any races.
How it will play out is uncertain, but one thing is not – there is heaps of racing on tap for tomorrow!
See the new schedule here.
Preparation of the course continued through the morning today as crews out for the 6-9am practice sessions still could not access the top 100 meters of the course in lanes 4-6 while dredging crews and divers tried to make it possible to get the starting system installed. The problem is that the system needs two to three meters of clear water to be installed, and the depth in the first 50 meters of the course is more like three feet (you could see the divers standing up in waist-deep water). Several FISA and LOCOG folks were up there supervising all morning, but it became clear it wasn't ready for today's heats, so the men's singles did it the old-fashioned way – back into a stakeboat, get your point, and go. It is how almost every other race anyone does worldwide is started, so the scullers were wholly unphased, but it would be good to see the system get installed before the racing ends, as the urgency and attention seems like it is helpful to progress.
The looseness of the overall site is both jarring and refreshing; until 20 minutes before racing, the pathway between the starting tower and the pontoons was open to the public, with folks running and walking to worka>, walking dogs, riding with their kids on their bikes, and more; the birds also are keeping themselves in the know. As racing approached, a couple hundred meters of the path was closed, and within 10 minutes after the last race ended, it was opened again to the stream of runners, kids, dogs – and even a little playdate for future garotas de Ipanema in the shade of the start tower.
More on the Water
As promised in yesterday's report, I promised to keep after the water quality issue; today the focus was on the start of racing, but this also gave me my first trip to the starting line and walk out onto the pontoons. It helped that the starting area was still being dredged and tweaked this morning, as the activity kicked up some muck that might have been hiding beneath the reflections of what was a golden Rio sunrise.
At the start, you could see small, puddle-sized slicks on the water in places, and the water wasn't as clear as it was near the finish line a couple days ago – but you could still see two-three feet deep into the water to watch small schools of fish and eel-like swimmers poking around.
It is well worth noting that the issue that the widely published AP report raised was not so much about murk and bacteria, however, as it was about viruses coming down streams from poor communities on the hills. The results are worrying, but you have to assume it's not that different from farm runoff in many places, or the heaps upon heaps of goose shit in New Jersey. Even the gasoline and street runoff here doesn't seem much worse than what I have surfed (and gotten sick from) in Asbury Park, with the difference that you are paddling and sitting and getting tumbled on wipeouts out in that water.
As yesterday, I'm not saying it's clean, and I'm not saying it's healthy, and I'm especially not saying that athletes have zero to worry about and deal with – in fact, at least a couple of the crews who have not been hit by a stomach bug of any kind have been extremely proactive, keeping hand wipes on hand (oof) at all times, gargling with Listerine after each row, and more. It seems like a smart move to me.
But overall I am saying that there's nothing extremely shocking here, at least for rowers. All of that said, I would not want to do a marathon swim in these waters, that is for sure. My general sense is that if you care about clean water, the water you row on is worth almost as much attention as is the water here (hence FISA's partnership with the WWF, including really ambitious projects like this one. Athletes at next year's Olympics may still want to arm themselves with hand wipes and Listerine, for sure.
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