Part 2 of the row2k interview with Marc Oria, the coach of the US Coastal team, ahead of this weekend's Beach Sprints Finals in Barletta, Italy, where racing starts today.
You can read Part 1 of this interview here; in this part, Oria talks about two of the returning medalists from 2022 on this year's team: singles world champ Chris Bak and U19 bronze medalist Annelise Hahl, who became the first US athlete to qualify for both the flat water and coastal national teams in the same year in 2023.
In the first round of the coastal singles racing early Friday morning, Hahl won her time trial for the junior women, while Bak took second ahead of European champ Gio Ficarra. Both also advanced in their second event: Bak and the US mixed quad took fifth to earn a quarterfinal spot, while Hahl's double took 6th and will race a repechage round on Saturday morning.
The US team collected four time trial wins in all, and all nine American crews moved on to the next knockout round during Friday's AM session--full details on the results tab of the Beach Sprints coverage page on worldrowing.com.
'Bak' Story of a Champion
Chris Bak, the first American to win a Beach Sprints Final gold--which he earned in the men's single last year--has featured on all three teams the US has sent to the Beach Sprints Finals. In addition to his gold medal in 2022, he also collected a bronze in the mixed quad, and he will be racing in both those events again this year in Barletta.
Bak got started in coastal with Oria, who has been working with him for eight years.
"I proposed that Chris do coastal because he was the perfect athlete for the sport," remembers Oria.
"He's very athletic, he's extremely strong. He was trying to do lightweight flat water rowing, but he was really struggling to make weight, so that is when I said, 'Chris, you are the perfect candidate to succeed and you have the skills to be able to do it.' So that is when we started, working inland [in Cincinnati, where both are based], working on the water when we were able to at that time, just to develop, little by little, the skills of coastal and beach sprints. And he loved it.
"He went from not qualifying in the flat water lightweight double and almost leaving the sport to getting motivated for rowing again and becoming a professional. By professional, I mean, I quit my job and I am going to try to do full-time training, getting a little bit of help from the sponsors, just to fulfill a dream.
"That's a perfect example of the kind of athletes that we need to really help because they're giving everything. Yes, it is to fulfill their own dreams, but they're also giving everything for their country, representing us at the world level.
"Chris has three years experience racing in coastal and, right now, at Coastal Worlds, if you have experience that makes a big difference, and Chris is really fast these year," Oria adds. "He's PR'd on his tests on the Concept2, and when you have an athlete born in 1996 who is performing better now and is in peak athletic condition, after all this time, it means a lot. When you can make a plan for someone that is just training, sleeping, and thinking about rowing and performing, it makes a big difference.
"We have a lot of athletes like Chris, who are in college or rowing post-college, but there is a big gap there where we are not offering opportunities to these athletes, and I think coastal and beach sprints can fulfill that need and that gap.
"Those are amazing years for training. You're in your prime age, [with maybe] not as many years of experience, but coastal can give you international experience and experience of continued training, so I think it could be a great opportunity to see these athletes continue training after college, and to be happy, to enjoy rowing, to enjoy the sport, and to continue that development."
Hahl: Winning Spots at Two Worlds
On the juniors side, Annelise Hahl won a bronze medal last year in the women's double with Annalie Duncomb, on her first Beach Sprints team. This year she will team up with Duncomb again, and double up to race the coastal junior women's single (CJW1x).
Hahl also raced the women's single at Junior Worlds in Paris this past August, a spot she earned by following a plan she and Oria formulated to balance a full season of flat water racing, and Junior Worlds Trials, with her determination to return to Beach Sprints as well. She just missed making the A Final in Paris in the JW1x, and finished 11th overall.
As Oria mentions in Part 1 of our interview, he sees Hahl's success at both disciplines this year as important for "showing that you can qualify and go to flat water worlds, and you can still do the summer national team in coastal."
"After Worlds [last year], talking with Annelise and her dad about the opportunity to go to trials, she was willing to try the single at trials. So we already had a big goal for this year when we finished Worlds in October last year. She was excited for trying to make the national team in the single and we made our plan to feed [and train for] flat water and coastal in the same year.
"She came to Cincinnati to do a flat water camp before Worlds and she came to Cincinnati early in the year, in March, to do a coastal camp. We put the pieces together with her coach at Triangle Rowing Club (TRC) and said, 'Okay, you have a flat water season. I don't want to go against your coach or your club.' Because for the clubs, it's important to have athletes of this caliber.
"When she was racing for TRC during the year, it was mostly in the eight, but she was also always racing the single during the season. She was doubling up at most of the regattas that she did, just trying to get those miles, those kilometers, in the single.
"She had a great trials, qualifying in the single at Trials after nationals, and that's when she was completely focused in on the single for flat water, training at home. We also made a plan for her to go to train in OKC, and then after Summer Nationals, she stayed in Cincinnati to train flat water until she went to France, to Paris. That was the plan that we put together and it worked out pretty well.
The key to Hahl's ability to do both was the fact that she won the flat water trials, and could set her own schedule in the single. Had she accepted her invite to selection camp instead and gone after a spot in a bigger boat, she would have missed out on the chance to compete at the Beach Sprints Trials that were also held in June. Qualifying in the single kept her on track, and gave her this chance to compete in both disciplines this year.
"She had plenty of time after Worlds to prepare for coastal," says Oria. "It is just feeding everything in the right order, at the right time, and everything is possible."
Racing at the 2023 Beach Sprint Finals continues, with medal finals scheduled for Saturday and Sunday afternoon and livestreamed on www.worldrowing.com. Bak will also compete in two of the endurance events--the single and men's double--at the Coastal Worlds; those begin a week later, with heats on Friday and Saturday, October 6th and 7th, and all medal finals on Sunday the 8th.