Gevvie Stone and Cicely Madden were not thinking about rowing a double at the 2019 World Championships when they traveled together to the US women's singles trials in April.
Stone, who rowed the single at the past two Olympics, and won a silver medal in Rio, had her mind set on a third Olympics in the same boat. Madden, who was Stone's Cambridge Boat Club teammate and training partner in the run-up to Rio, was again Stone's partner on the Charles River, but also went to race trials with her only set goal being to see how fast she could go.
Madden had already competed internationally as a junior, taking silver twice in the quad at the World Junior Championships, and then continued sculling in the summer while also rowing at Brown University. She rowed the single at Under 23 World's in 2016 and the U23 double in 2017.
Her personal goal for trials was to reach the A final. From there, her next step at the elite level was not fully determined.
"My whole goal this year was a first step, be the fastest I could be personally, and make the A final," Madden said. She explained she did not have any particular race on her mind after trials, other than the Head of the Charles Regatta in the fall.
Then three things happened. First, Stone faltered in the final at trials, and lost her bid to regain the single for the coming World Championships to fellow 2012 Olympian Kara Kohler. Next, Madden finished third in the A final.
The third thing was an opportunity that came up on the car ride home from Sarasota and trials, with Madden listening to Stone and her father/coach Gregg Stone go from talking about what happened to what now.
The 'what now' became a decision to race at the next US trials in May in a Stone-Madden double. The two women from Cambridge Boat Club, who grew up rowing on the Charles River from the same Cambridge Boat Club dock, went from being training partners to partners in the double.
One door closed for Stone, and another opened for both women.
"When you put yourself in the best position, that opens up opportunities after that," said Madden. "After the final, I was proud of my result, getting third behind those two, but I just knew when we were driving back, and Gevvie mentioned the double, that we would put our heads down and get to work."
The opportunity was a surprise, but what happened after was not, at least to them.
An early morning row in Boston the week after winning trials
For Stone, who was reeling from the loss in the single and trying to determine what happened, the second trials was another chance to row in the World Championships as well as a shot at personal redemption, and it filled her with resolve.
To Madden, it was a chance to row with someone she had grown up admiring, and a fast track chance to the senior team. It was an idea Gregg Stone readily approved. Rather than have Stone linger in doubt and question after taking two-years off from medical residency to go after her third Olympic run, and not winning, the best answer was right there in the car.
"The double was absolutely the best choice," said Gregg Stone.
And so, the two women - one who has never rowed on the senior team, and the other a veteran of two full Olympic cycles - got in a boat together and began preparing for the next set of trials.
Just over three weeks later, on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, New Jersey, Stone and Madden went to trials again and raced against all entries, including Ellen Tomek and Meghan O'Leary, who had been in the double throughout the 2016 cycle, finished sixth in Rio, and then came back and medaled - first silver and then bronze - at the next two World Championships.
Stone and Madden won.
Stone and Madden closing in on the finishj line at trials April 18
Now, and for the past several weeks, Stone and Madden have become a regular sight on the Charles River again, putting in the miles and fine tuning the skills it will to blend two single rowers in a cohesive, competitive, double to prepare for their first-ever international race together at World Cup II in Poznan, Poland, on June 21-23.
"I have always had big goals," Madden said, being a senior team athlete was among them. "When you have an opportunity to potentially make them, it's really exciting. Ever since I was a junior, it was just one step, and then the next, and then next. Now, to be able to make my goal is incredible."
Unlike Madden, who going to row on the senior international level for the first time, Stone is veteran of six senior team campaigns, and raced in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Between her first Olympics in London, where she finished seventh, Stone made steps that advanced her up the ladder to her first podium appearance, a silver on Father's Day at World Cup II, in 2015.
She handed her medal to her dad that day, and then went back to training. She medaled again - bronze - at the next World Cup in Lucerne, and then missed the podium at the 2015 World Rowing Championships.
But her fourth-place finish at Worlds qualified the single for inclusion in Rio, and Stone defended the position the next spring in trials, going on to take silver at World Cup II, and again in Rio.
Most of her time as an international competitor, Stone saw herself as an underdog. She was racing seriously established women who had already proved themselves, including New Zealand's Emma Twigg and Australian Kim Brennan.
"When I got to international racing, I was the underdog still at those competitions. Everybody expected Kimmy, and Emma, and everyone else to beat me. So it was really fun," she said. "I had a real fire about proving people wrong."
After Rio, Stone stepped out of international training and was unsure about making a run at 2020 and Tokyo. She had already finished medical school during her international run in the single and was about to begin residency, which she did. But then she changed her mind, took time off from completing her residency, and began training for the April trials.
Still, something was missing, Stone said. While she was an international underdog, that was not a role she held at any US trials prior to this one. Stone was training hard - maybe harder - and she was going faster on both the erg and in her boat, and putting in the required reps in weight training.
By the time she got to trials, however, she was not in the same emotional form she was used too.
Stone and Kara Kohler after the finish at single's trials in March
"I think the single had gotten into my own head a little bit," she said. "I just put a lot of pressure on myself when it came towards the end of training, and closer to trials and the end of the winter training. I was stressing out about times and techniques, and thinking less thinking about just going hard, being in the moment out there."
So now, Stone has whole new underdog role to play into. And she is enjoying it.
"In the single, I think I was just a little less angry, a little less fired up than I needed to be. Singles trials made me angry, and fired up again, so it helped the double.
"It's an adjustment," Stone said. "I think I do better as an underdog, I get more joy racing as an underdog, and in that way the double was the best thing that could have happened to me. In the double, we got to be underdogs again, and I got to enjoy the thrill of racing with a new challenge, which I really love."
A year ago, Stone could have told anyone she asked what her intended goal was going to be in rowing for the next two years. She doesn't do that anymore. "It's just day-by-day now," she said. "I learned that lesson this year."
Madden is not coming in with any of that. And she is enjoying the experience and the opportunity. "It's cool because I grew up sculling on the Charles, and everyone knows Gevvie on the Charles. So, it's really cool to be able to row with someone I have always looked up to."
Morning training in Boston