Friday at the Junior World Rowing Championships was largely spent sorting out the massive entry numbers we mentioned a couple days ago, with 35 reps and quarterfinals that saw a number of crews that don't always cross the line first do so; Mexico and Spain won their men's pair reps over Italy and Germany respectively; Spain also won a women's single quarterfinal while Mexico advanced in the same race; Chile topped Canada in the men's four rep (getting a bit into the act started by the gold medal-winning U23 Chile women's pair); Moldova won a men's single quarterfinal, and, yeah, sure, the USA won a men's single quarterfinal. The Junior Worlds can be a really interesting regatta, no question.
"Interesting" may or may not be the word the US junior men's pair would choose to describe their morning, but they got the "full boat," so to speak; first, they were slammed by a launch during the warmup, breaking an oar and nearly swamping; second, this naturally caused a racing delay for which they didn't just have to sit around, but were at the center of things; third, they had a massive combo digger/whiff stroke in the last 100 meters of a really close race; and finally, they recovered, dug in, and rowed themselves back into the second advancing position from the rep.
Stroke Danny Stoddard offered his recollections of the warmup calamity.
"At first I felt the impact, and I thought 'What the heck happened?'" he said. "Then I saw the launch and all the water that rushed over the side of the boat, and I realized 'oh jeez, we just got hit.' I looked back at Drew (bow seat Andrew Hickey) and asked him if he was OK, and after he had checked himself over he gave me confirmation that he was fine. Since there wasn't a lot of time until the race we had to rush through all the stages of grief in a couple of minutes, and then get our heads back in the game."
Hickey noted that past experience in the pair helped them hold things together.
"Once we got over the initial shock, we tried to laugh it off," he said. "We've had crazy things happen to us before in the pair like hitting stray buoys in the middle of races, so we had a sort of 'of course this would happen to us' mindset. We've always been good at keeping it light in situations like that. Coach Justin (Ochal) came by to replace the oar, and we thought we were good to go, but we later found out that the collision messed up the pin of my oarlock. The boat felt a little off before the race, but we decided just to go for it anyway."
A half hour's delay later, the crew found themselves in a brawl of a race with Argentina and South Africa, with really nothing in it for the second of two qualifying spots to the A/B semis.
"We thought it was going to be a battle with Argentina to the line, but then both of us moved up on South Africa a bit and we managed to pass them in the last 500," Hickey recalled. "Then we were just trying to do whatever we could to hold the small lead. Not really much thinking went on then, we were just hanging on for dear life."
With the finish line approaching, the pair took what looked like a disastrous stroke.
"I could barely see the stern of South Africa's boat but I knew they were there," Stoddard recalled. "At the 300 Drew called the all-out sprint, and shortly after I caught a digger, and he whiffed. I thought we were done, but I looked over and saw we were still in it. At the 150 Drew called that we were moving on South Africa and I just thought about all of our training this summer, and how we didn't come here to make the C final."
Hickey is looking forward to the days ahead.
"With some sort of illness affecting us in the heat yesterday and our equipment problems today, we feel like we still haven't raced at our full capacity," he said. "Hopefully we will be healthy and able to avoid collisions tomorrow so we can finally see what we're truly capable of doing. It's been a rough regatta so far, but we're both confident that we can do really well tomorrow."
A couple hours later, Clark Dean won his third race in three days: the singles heat, the coxed four heat, and today the singles quarterfinal. While that might make it seem like Dean is just bagging races with ease, his take on the day is a bit more careful, as well as strategic.
"This was more of a do or die race considering it was either get top 3 or it's over," he said. "That made me not want to stay in the middle of the pack and risk something unexpected happening."
He was also thinking ahead a bit.
"The water was a bit rougher today and is predicted to be just as bad tomorrow, so I was going for the win to put myself in a better lane in case they are reassigned tomorrow."
In between those races, the US men's quad was focused on learning from each race – sometimes the hard way, but learning nonetheless. After what they felt was a disappointing heat, the crew took the lessons learned to the rep today to keep themselves in a pack that would predict some very tight races in tomorrow's A/B semis. The crew was in a pile-up nearly all the way down the course, and had to start to attack early.
"I saw Austria and Russia on either side of us in my peripheral vision and I just knew we had to take it up," stroke Liam Galloway said. "We had to survive to make it to the next round."
There was no call, but the boat went together; it was just enough to get the crew through to the semifinals.
"We all just felt it. We all just realized where we were and knew we had to just really drop the hammer."
"Something that we've really been working on in practice is knowing when Liam goes and trying to back it up," two seat James Wright agreed. "I think that we did a better job today, and there's a lot of improvement and a lot of steps forward we can make in the further rounds."
On a 24-hour turnaround every day, big changes can be tough, but three-seat Gus Rodriguez said the crew is up to it.
"We're definitely capable of making the changes," he said. "These are some of the mistakes we have made in practice, so it's just a matter of execution on race day."
"We took what we did wrong in the heat and we made a pointed effort towards fixing all those errors from the heat into the rep," Galloway said, and bow seat Emory Sammons agreed.
"These are some things that we have worked out previously, but when the heats came we didn't really make it happen, so we were able to make the changes."
The crew is largely new to a four-race regatta including reps and semis, and are taking it a day at a time.
"Each race we get better and better and it's just another step forward," Galloway said. "You attack it like every other race, keep the same game plan, attack the race, and know you'll be recovered by the next one. Tomorrow we're looking to just improve upon today, and just keep going and going."
The US junior men's four hit a bad patch today, with an illness in the boat requiring Geoffrey Dettlinger, the stroke of the US eight, to sub into the crew. The crew challenged early but wasn't able to stay in it down the course, ultimately finishing third and out of the running for the A/B semis. They will race in the C/D semis tomorrow.
See full results and advancement from today's racing here
Notes from the course:
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