The first strokes of the qualification battles for Paris left puddles on the Sava Lake in the men's and women's singles and the men's doubles and pairs. While no one was eliminated today, racing was intense enough as crews attempted to avoid the reps, which could make a big difference come finals days.
The US had a very good day, advancing six of seven boats through to the next round, with only the men's single going to the reps.
Looking ahead to Monday, weather has already prompted a schedule change, but compressed centers and moving the events with preliminary races for lanes to Tuesday should get the full day done before the bad afternoon weather arrives. See an updated schedule here.
Advancing on Sunday with a heat win were Kara Kohler in the women's single, Ben Davison and Sorin Koszyk in the men's double, and Sophia Luwis in the light women's single.
USA M2x won their heat
Joining them thanks to a trio of strong second place finishes will be the light men's double of Zach Heese and Jimmy McCullough, light men's single Sam Melvin, and the men's pair of Evan Olson and William Bender.
Kohler Wins Heats
"I felt like I got off the line pretty well," Kohler told USRowing after the racing. "I got into my base. I had a nice lead to watch the field, so obviously that was what I was looking for. On to the next one. Each race is going to really heat up, so I'll prepare for closer races where you have to dig deep and remember why you're doing this and why you enjoy it."
USA W1x Kara Kohler
Sophia Luwis, who won her heat in the light single, did so on the one year anniversary of the car accident that nearly ended her rowing career, and you can read a feature on her race and making it to the start line one year later here.
Wins are great of course, but each boat in that second group came in unseeded and beat at least one more-highly regarded entry to lay down a marker to start the week. The three light men in the double and single all moved through the field to establish themselves in second to advance, while the men's pair, who just hopped in a boat together ahead of Trials in late July, ripped off a start that initially put them in the lead, ahead even of the world champs from Romania, and then they held off everyone else to sew up their spot in the quarterfinals.
US Men's Pair Takes a Good Look Across the Lanes
We asked the men's pair what it felt like to look out of the boat after that start to find themselves up on Romania.
"Well, most coaches would say, 'Evan, don't look out of the boat,'" laughed stroke Evan Olson, "but [our coach] Bill Manning said, DO look out of the boat, and so I looked out of the boat and saw 'Oh, wow, that's Romania right there.' We didn't change our plan, and we didn't do anything differently, but it really did give us confidence.
"Racing is fun, and when you execute your plan well it's fun, and I think that we had a really good time out there."
The pair heads to the quarterfinal round next.
"It's top 11 to qualify for the Olympics, and that's definitely our goal, so the next race is the big one," Olson added. "We have to go top three in that. Today was just a good opportunity to stretch the legs and see how fast the field is, see how fast we are. I'm really optimistic going into the quarter final, but we'll see what happens."
Even the one US athlete headed to the reps, sculler Finn Putnam, rowed a strong piece in his first international singles race to finish third. He also beat a seeded sculler, Hungary's Bendeguz Petervari-Molnar, Putnam put up a time that matched a few of the scullers who did advance across the eight (!) heats of men's singles--but happened to be in the fastest heat, the race where a duel between Dutchman Simon Van Dorp and Kiwi Thomas Mackintosh pushed the pace and set a time four seconds faster than best of the heats, including the world champ Ollie Zeidler's winning time.
'Iron Sharpens Iron:' Sparring with Teammates Back Home Helps Light Men's Double to Advance
One of the new combinations to emerge from the US team's selection camps this spring, the light men's double of Zach Heese and Jimmy McCullough had a strong international debut together on Sunday. There is a lot more racing left to go, but with the speed they showed today, the new lineup arguably has a shot at A/B Semis, critical to making a run at the top 7 finish to qualify the boat for Paris
Heese and McCullough, teammates at the Texas Rowing Center have trained in the same group for a long time, but this summer is their first extended time in the same boat, in a combination that emerged after each had raced at the Varese World Cup with other partners.
Today might have been their first shot at the LM2x field, but Heese pointed out that they have been doing plenty of racing within the US team.
"Since World Cup 2, we've been working with the women's heavyweight quad and they have the same GMS [gold medal standard] time as us, so we've actually had a lot of experience of side by side, duking it out with the someone of similar speed," Heese noted. "I actually credit the group that we got brought into this summer, between World Cup 2 and now. It really helped us like, and didn't feel like anything novel today, being out there with a bunch of crews that were the same speed."
The light men's and women's doubles were rolled into the camp boat selection system this year, whereas in the past they have been trial boats.
"I think the vision that Josy [Verdonkschot, the High Performance Director] is laying out is trying to get resources to as many athletes as possible, and the trials system, the decentralized system, just makes it really hard to do that," said Heese. "I feel like that was a big advantage of the selection camp.
"The disadvantage is we were on the road for seven months this year, which was tough, but at the same time, we got access to PT, we got access to resources, and we got the competition with the other boat classes. The coaches that have helped in looking at us offered some advice have been great, too."
McCullough, who raced the light single last year, agreed that the selection camp had been a good process for the boat and their speed here in Belgrade.
"I think the selection process was really good the way we did it," said McCullough. "It was definitely tough because when we did the selection, there was no clear, best boat, but [camp] gave us the ability to try different combinations throughout this year, and gave combinations time to match and click. That's been really great, because Zach and I have had times rowing together, but we've never had an extended period of time rowing together and I think we've been able to make the most of that extended period of time."
They noted that this crew has been a group effort throughout: "Iron sharpens iron," said McCullough.
"That's why Zach, Jasper [Liu, who was in last years LM2x] and I all went to Texas together," added McCullough, "because we all knew we needed to be together to train. What we're seeing now isn't just the selection camp that happened this year, but it's also the years before, too, training together and pushing each other. There's still more steps to go but it's definitely been everyone all along."
The lightweight women's double--also a new lineup as we discussed in our event preview--gets their debut in a heat on Monday.
Notes From The Course
Peleton, Under Escort - because the path along the lake is crowded with bars, beaches, and Belgrade natives out for a stroll in the park, the coaching peleton gets its own moped escort, which clears the path of pedestrians with a lot of whistle-blowing.
That show should get really exciting as the bigger, faster boats hit the course and the coach peleton really has a head of steam
Have Credential, Will Paddle? One single sculler made it all the way to the starting line still wearing his credential today. His secret identity is safe with us, but here is a PSA for the athletes to make sure they do a "is anything hanging around my neck" check before they launch.
Ugh, Weeds - We saw volunteers up near the grandstand raking weeds out of the water early in the week, and they cropped up again at the start today. Kara Kohler got her hands wet doing some weeding, as you can see here:
Happens to the Best of Us - World Champ though he may be, Ollie Zeidler still trembles while sitting at the catch waiting for the first stroke. He is, of course, pretty good after that first stroke, but it is wild to watch from up close.
Macon Blade Check - Yes, Swiss sculler Aurelia Janzen is still rockin' the macon blades that brought her a fair amount of attention when she debuted at U23s in 2021. Of course, she used then to win two U23 silvers, a U19 gold, and--just this year--a U23 gold, so we guess they will suit her just fine in her Senior Worlds debut. She finished third today in Kara Kohler's heat to advance to the quarterfinals.
Maybe World Rowing Needs A Certain Rowing Hack - watching US LM1x Sam Melvin lose his bow number, maybe we should let World Rowing in on the old electrical tape trick for bow card security.
wild2k, Belgrade - Does anyone know, is this a beaver, or Nutria, that swam by the start dock. We're stumped.
Best Boat Name, Worlds Edition - So far, has to go the Belgium LM1x, Marlon Colpaert: