The CRASH-Bs in an Olympic year always have a mellower flair to them, but maybe only if you are looking at the Open events; for Juniors and Masters, the CRASH-Bs are still the biggest, fullest roomful of hurt you can imagine.
The "Olympic effect" was mainly seen in this years times, where the fastest men's time on the day came out of the Men's Masters 40-49 category (Graham Benton, 5:48), and Michelle Lazorchak's winning time of 6:43.1 in the Open Women's event was just a few ticks faster than Emily Delleman's 6:43.8 in the Junior Women's category.
Still, mellow doesn't mean low energy, and the over 2,300 competitors in attendance were all looking to hang, survive, or hopefully crush out a PR on the day.
Open & Lightweight Events
Jim Letten of the University of Wisconsin came into this years CRASH-B with a blistering seed time of 5:47, and while he didn't match that on the floor this weekend, he still threw down an impressive piece, winning the Men's Open in 5:49, going away ahead of the Ukraine's Andriy Pryveda and Germany's Christian von Warburg.
Wisconsin's Jim Letten took the Open Men's event
"Everyone was telling me horror stories about how dry the air was going to be, so I thought it was going to be a really challenging piece," said Letten. "I went off a little conservative because I didn't want to die at the end, so I was able to have fun with it."
Letten is relatively new to rowing, having first picked up an oar at Villanova three years ago, before transferring to Wisconsin. "Doing well on the erg is point of pride for me," said Letten, who stands 6-10. "I'm a big guy, people expect big things from big guys, so it's more that I don't want to let myself down."
Letten was one of the few top finishers on Sunday who rowed without anyone coxing him. "To be honest, when doing a 2k, once I hear 'Go' I don't recognize anything around me," said Letten. "I see the numbers I want to see and it's goal oriented after that point."
As a transfer student, Letten no longer has eligibility remaining to represent Wisconsin this spring, but his rowing goals remain high. "I'm sending my application to Cambridge University tonight," said Letten.
Michelle Lazorchak, the Open Women's winner, also owned one of the biggest margins on the day, winning the event by over 11 seconds in her first CRASH-B. A former volleyball player at Murray State, Lazorchak took up rowing during her studies at Purdue, and has evidently taken to it, pulling a 6:43.1 for the win.
"I first picked up an oar about 18 months ago, and really fell in love with the competitive aspect," said Lazorchak. "The work ethic that comes with rowing is something that carries over regardless of the sport. It's all very self-motivating, the work that you put in is the work that you get out of it."
Lazorchak plans on attending the Olympic trials in the single to test the actual waters, so to speak, and is approaching her next steps in rowing with openess and humility. "It's all very promising, but at the same time I am going to go as far as I can, because I have nothing to lose. My next goal would be national team selection, and hopefully keeping everything--rowing, erging, training--fun, because if it stops being fun, it's time to stop what you are doing."
Steffen Bonde of Denmark claimed the lightweight men's title, ahead of Jose Gomez-Feria of Spain and UPenn senior Jake Ford. Ford's haul from 3rd place was impressive nonetheless, as he picked up the College and Under-23 gold medals in the event in addition to the overall bronze.
"I was shooting for somewhere between 6:11 and 6:15, so I'm very happy to fall in that range," said Ford, who went 6:14 today. "I've never been to CRASH-Bs before, but we have been doing a lot of 2k prep work." Ford was quick to credit his teammates for some of his success. "It's important to remember that the Penn Lights had a great showing as a team here today, and at the end of the day, that's what matters."
Robyn Hart-Winks of the Edinburgh University Boat Club claimed the Lightweight Women's title in a 7:06, ahead of Leonie Pieper of Germany and Megan McHugh of All-American.
One of the most confident rows of the day came from Y-Quad Cities athlete Emily Delleman in the Junior Women's race. Delleman started strong, stayed strong, and finished stronger to finish in 6:43.8, the 2nd fastest women's time in the building on the day. Some folks can get pretty dialed in on the erg, but Delleman was impressive.
"My coach, Dr. Sharis has formulas for everything we do, we have training paces," said Delleman. "Everything we do is very planned out, so that definitely helped me with my race today."
Grimace or smile? Y Quad Cities' Emily Delleman won the Junior Women's event
What also set Delleman's row apart was that she seemed to really enjoy herself, cracking a smile (or was it a grimace?) coming into the last 400 meters or so of her piece. "Definitely a smile!," said Delleman. "I think I felt like, 'Yeah, I can do this!' and felt like I could really go for it!"
Delleman's result was roughly a 3-second PR for her, so "go for it" she did.
It's fairly well known that Gonzaga College HS out of Washington, DC has a good thing going with its boys crew program, but that did not make Sunday's one-two finish in the Junior Men's event by Gonzaga's Christian Tabash and Joe Johnson any less special. Tabash finished in 6:01, and Johnson in 6:01.7, both PR-ed on the day (by 2.5 and almost 7 seconds, respectively), and both credited their teammates and their coach, Marc Mandel for their performance.
"There are a lot of guys at school doing a lot of great work, and this is the result," said Tabash. His coach, Mandel concurred. "It's just a result of all of the hard work they have put in," he said. "It's not like they are doing two hours of steady state on the erg every day, it's just good, focused work."
Drake Deuel (Dallas United), Charle Kwitchoff (St. Joe's Buffalo) and Jakob Lillelund (Denmark) took the top spots for lightweight junior men, while Luise Asmussen (Germany), Caroline Sharis (Y Quad Cities) and Caitlin Cleary (Unaffiliated USA) led the way for the lightweight junior women.
Quietly (or perhaps not so, given the noise made by supporters, teammates and parents during the junior events, whew), CRASH-B is becoming one of the broadest Junior rowing events in the country, and perhaps the world--almost half of the 2,300 competitors in attendance were Junior athletes, and probably not surprisingly, the Junior Women's event was the largest at the regatta.
Now in its third year, the Four Minute event for Boys and Girls 12 and 13 years of age continues to grow, as the next generation of ergers takes their turns on the machine. And they are not messing around, either; the younger athletes row a 4 minute piece for total meters, which worked out for a 1:39 for 13 year-old boys winner Evans Spence (Amadeusz Rowing Academy), who went 1212 meters, while girls winner Mead Hailey (Artemis Rowing) managed 1060 meters (1:53) in her piece.
Definitely great to see younger athletes get a chance to compete on what is arguably the biggest stage in indoor rowing.
Masters, Seniors & Veterans
If the CRASH-B racing at the Junior and Open levels is about "performance," then you could say that racing for the Masters, Seniors and Veterans competitors is about "life." Watching older competitors battle the erg is by turns profoundly inspiring and intimidating as the 30 and over set (right up through the 95 and over set today, actually) continually demonstrate that age is just a number.
It's in the 30+ events that you can see the biggest growth and change in our sport as well; the Top 10 in both the Men's and Women's 30-39 events featured ample top-shelf performances by folks coming to rowing "late" via CrossFit or indoor rowing organizations.
Certainly headlining the day both for older competitors and in general was Graham Benton's row in the Men's 40-49 category; Benton (or @TheErgDaddy on twitter) lived up to his name and his billing, throwing down the fastest overall erg in the building on Sunday (5:48), and setting a new world record for his age group (breaking his own record, naturally).
The 'Erg Daddy', Graham Benton, sets a worlds record in the Men's 40-49, pulling a 5:48
"I died at the end, but I committed to putting the work in early," said Benton of his record-setting row. "I tried to put the race beyond doubt early."
Benton features in some lively twitter exchanges on the subject of erging, and readily tweets out screenshots of his C2. "There's an element of showing off in it, obviously, an element of 'sending messages' as well," said Benton. "You also get a lot of interaction with people, and a lot of feedback that people find it really motivating, so I try and interact as much as I can. What can I say, I am addicted to social media!"
Also setting a world record on Sunday was Steve Richardson, who set the first recorded WR in the Men's 95-99 age category; Richardson is 95 years old, and all smiles on the podium. (Check out USRowing's video interview with Steve here).
The Masters Lightweight men also saw a few great performances on Sunday. Riverside Boat Club president Mike Farry rowed down a pack of competitors in the last 300 meters or so to seize the Men's 30-39 Lightweight division. "I did not expect that today," said Farry. "I train hard day in, day out, but that's why you race, and it took every ounce of strength."
Farry would not substantiate rumors that he would use his CRASH-B hammer as a gavel during Riverside board meetings.
No less impressive was Mike Smith's win in the Men's 50-54 Lightweight category. Smith took that event by 14 seconds. "The older you get, these definitely do not get easier!" said Smith. "There is some great energy here, you get a great cross-section of people, you get rowers and non-rowers, and it's great to see that rowing is reaching out."
The Masters, Veterans and Seniors racing typically also produces some of the great CRASH-B stories each year. Take married couple Margaret and Jay French, who both won CRASH-B medals today, Margaret in the Women's 70-74 event, and Jay in the Men's 80-84 event.
"I did it for the first time last year, and then he decided he would do it too," said Margaret. "She's my inspiration," added Jay. "She's a little faster than me, but she's also 12 years younger."
While both Margaret and Jay medalling was not planned, it will definitely make things easier around the dinner table. "But as long as I continue to row a little bit faster, there will be peace in the family," said Margaret.
Another great story; there was a tie (a tie! on the erg!) for the win (and the hammer) in the Women's 60-64 age bracket between CRASH-B legend and former US Olympian Carie Graves and Ann Wopat; turns out both women, who had never met, had a ton in common; we'll have a full feature on them tomorrow.
Men's 70-74 winner (and new world record holder) Roger Borggaard mounted the podium wearing a laurel wreath. "When your daughter makes you a laurel wreath, you are required to wear it," he explained.
For folks traveling long distances to the CRASH-Bs, keeping training going while enjoying trip is always a challenge, but for a few Australian competitors, the solution was easy: "We toured Boston in the "Hop On, Hop Off" bus, so we didn't have to work too hard," they explained.
Perhaps Italian competitor Francesco Madotto, winner of the Men's 75-79 category, put it best. On the podium, Madotto asked for quiet, then reminded everyone (in really good English, by the way), that CRASH-Bs "is not just about first, second and third place. It is about all competitors! Congratulations to all!" Hear, hear.
Since the inclusion of adaptive rowing events at the CRASH-Bs over a decade ago, the "big tent" approach to adaptive racing, now up to 26 adaptive events at the regatta, has allowed more athletes and a greater variety of ages and disabilities to take part, which is a great thing. Adaptive athletes come from all backgrounds, and indeed, come to the erg for reasons that range from the competitive to those more hard to quantify, if easy to understand: a shot at transcending their disability and taking their place as athletes amongst others.
"The best part of it is that we're doing it on the same floor, the same water as everybody else," said Adaptive Masters competitor Dan Ahr. "It's basically the same sport, with a few minor modifications."
Just like with the able-bodied competitors, the adaptive events that started the day at the 2016 CRASH-Bs were filled with great results, gritty competitors and people staring down the erg; we'll have a full feature on the adaptive rowing at CRASH-B here on row2k tomorrow.
The Hungarian Adaptive rowers and supporters show us how to have fun at CRASH-Bs
The 2016 CRASH-Bs fell on the 40th anniversary year of the founding of Concept2, and 2016 also marked the 35th edition of the race overall; both are marks well worth commemorating, and looking forward to more. Hopefully we'll see you at Erg 9 next year!
The Olympic year also saw fewer international competitors than usual, but there were still well over 20 countries represented, including of course the ubiquitous and highly visible "Concept2 Germany" team, led by Boris Orlovski for the 21st consecutive year. Orlovski is practically a fixture at the CRASH-Bs now, and we'll have a full interview with him later this week.
Indoor rowing is one of those sports where you can really the widest range of post-competition reactions; we saw folks who were all jacked up, non-plussed, spacey, angry, lovey-dovey, quiet, yapping, meditative, dramatic...and of course sick.
Like wise, coxing styles at the CRASH-Bs are all over the place (ample evidence in our galleries): screaming, howling, angry, desperate, really intimate (a couple inches from the athletes face), or even bored out of their minds (yawning, checking phones and watches).
The CRASH-B rules discourage the wearing of headphones during the event, but what about scary masks?
The "CrossFit-ization" of indoor rowing continues apace; some of the "new" folks are definitely bringing an interesting vibe to our staid, old sport [slightly NSFW]