The U.S. won its first-ever World Rowing Beach Sprint Finals medal on Saturday as the mixed coxed quad claimed the bronze medal, beating Sweden by two-tenths of a second to win the B final at the 2021 World Rowing Beach Sprint Finals in Oeiras, Portugal.
The B final between the U.S. crew of coxswain Bennett Rossell (Sarasota, Fla./Stetson University), John Olbrys (Arlington, Va./United States Coast Guard Academy), Christine Cavallo (Windermere, Fla./Stanford University), Hannah Huppi (Bellingham, Wash./Tulane University) and John Huppi (Reston, Va./Tulane University) and Sweden was neck-and-neck the entire way through the out-and-back course. The Americans hit the beach on the return with a slight lead, but John Huppi lost his footing on the exit from the shell. However, he was able to recover quickly and won the sprint back to the finish line, finishing 0.21 seconds ahead of Sweden in a 2:26.31.
"That whole race was a boxing match," John Huppi said. "The lead seemed like it changed over and over, especially on the way back in. I think both boats were catching waves and falling off of them at different times, so it just felt like we were jockeying for position the whole time.
"Coming into the last buoy to the sand, I knew it was going to be a battle on the beach, so when we were surfing into the sand, I had to take a little bit of a risk and come out a step earlier than I usually would. That's when I absolutely face planted, but I kept my legs moving and that was the most important thing. It's a good metaphor to how the last two years has been - just keep moving."
"Well, first I saw the face plant, but I had faith in him. I know he's fast," Hannah Huppi said about seeing John cross the finish line to finish off the bronze-medal win. "It's really unreal. Everything that we've put into this over the last couple of years – everything paid off. I'm proud of him; I'm proud of our team; I'm proud of everyone who's here trying this for the first time."
After finishing second in yesterday's time trial, the crew came out in its first race today, dominating Italy in the quarterfinal to advance to the semifinals against France. However, the French crew was able to best the American boat in the semis, forcing the U.S. to the bronze-medal matchup where the U.S. crew was able to edge out Sweden to reach the podium. Spain defeated France in the gold-medal race.
"I think throughout the progression, each race got better and better," Rossell said. "I couldn't be more happy with the result that we got. I really didn't know what to expect when I got here. I really didn't know what the competition was going to look like. Every step of the way was a learning process for me, and I'm definitely looking to keep moving forward in Beach Sprints and coastal rowing in general. I'm just excited to see how this goes. It's a blast."
Both Huppis said the experience has been tremendous and it's been one of the best team atmospheres they've ever been around.
"The team support from the coaches to the staff to the boat handlers have all been absolutely professional, excellent," John said. "I have never been on a team this supportive before - all the way to the junior athletes. This is an incredible team environment."
In the women's solo event, Cassidy Norton (Hamilton, Ohio/Robert Morris University) opened today's racing for the U.S. by dominating her repechage race against Japan's Kotori Sawada to advance to the quarterfinals. Norton got off the start line quickly in the sprint to the boat and then used a textbook entry to take a large lead before the first buoy. Norton continued to row a strong course to pull away from Sawada. At the line, Norton clocked a 3:25.12 to finish more than 35 seconds ahead of Sawada.
"Today's race was a little bit stressful," Norton said. "You had the experience yesterday, and now today is like, 'Okay, I've done this before. I can do this.' The current got in the way a little bit, so I went a little bit too wide on the second buoy, but other than that, it felt really clean. If you know what to expect, then you won't be too surprised. You just have to know how the ocean is moving and how it's going to change your next race."
"It's been really amazing," Norton said of the overall experience. "Getting to meet people from all of the different countries. You get to go out on the ocean and do something you love."
Tomorrow, Norton will take on the sculler from Spain in the fourth quarterfinal as she eyes the chance to advance towards the medal races.
In the junior women's solo event, Britt Wotovich (Redington Beach, Fla./Berkeley Preparatory School) reached the B final for a chance at the bronze medal before falling to Portugal's Madalena Peca. Wotovich recorded an easy, 18-second victory in her quarterfinal over Germany's Anouk Eichelberger to advance to the semifinals. But, France's Zuzanna Sarek was able to earn a victory over Wotovich in the semis, sending the American to the B final. In the bronze-medal race, Wotovich got off course early, and Peca was able to row to the victory. In the A final, Tunisia's Hela Belhaje Mohamed defeated Sarek to win the gold medal by over 11 seconds.
In the junior men's solo event, Brian O'Leary (Port Charlotte, Fla./Jesuit High School) was knocked out in the quarterfinals by Spain's Miguel Salas by just a couple of strides. The Spaniard got off to a good start and held about a length on O'Leary as the two approached the turn buoy. But, O'Leary used a strong turn and a straighter line back to the beach to cut into Salas' margin, hitting the shore just after the Spanish sculler. In the sprint to the finish line. Salas hit the button just ahead of O'Leary to move on to the semifinals. O'Leary finished with a time of 2:59.67, while Salas finished exactly one second ahead in a 2:58.67. In the medal races, Portugal's Afonso Santos defeated France's Mathias Soldati to win the gold medal. Tunisia's Bilal Frigui defeated Salas to win the bronze.
In the mixed double sculls, Elizabeth Hinley (McHenry County, Ill./University of North Texas) and Kory Rogers (The Woodlands, Texas/Temple University) missed advancing to the semifinals by only a few steps. Racing in the third of four quarterfinals, Hinley and Rogers were in a tight race the entire course, but France was able to hit the beach just ahead of the Americans and win the sprint to the line. Hinley and Rogers finished with a time of 2:25.96, with France finishing 0.85 seconds in front. France finished behind Spain in the gold-medal matchup, while Greece took the bronze medal.
Sunday's racing is highlighted by finals in the junior men's, women's and mixed double sculls events, as well as the open men's and women's solo events.
In the men's solo event, Christopher Bak (Cincinnati, Ohio/University of Cincinnati) posted the fastest time in the time trials to advance to Round Three (Round of 16). Bak will take on the sculler from Ireland in the first race of the day.
Aidan Ehrismann (Portland, Ore./Leodis V. McDaniel High School) and Joshua Li (Lake Oswego, Ore./Lakeridge High School) clocked the fastest time in the junior men's double sculls time trials, earning the top seed in the quarterfinals. The duo will take on France in the first quarterfinal.
After racing today in the junior solo events, Wotovich and O'Leary will race in the quarterfinals of the junior mixed double sculls. The duo finished third in yesterday's time trials and will take on Germany in the third quarterfinal.
Beach Sprint racing is contested in a run, row, run combination over a 250-meter, out-and-back buoyed course and uses a time trial and knock-out progression system. The format debuted in 2015 at the Mediterranean Beach Games, and the first global event was the 2019 World Rowing Beach Sprint Finals in Shenzhen, China.
In total, nine boat classes are being contested in Portugal. The U.S. has entries in every category with the exception of the junior women's double sculls.