For the last five consecutive Head of the Charles Regattas, Gevvie Stone went to line in the women's championship single confident that she would get to the line on time, and that she would have a good shot at winning.
This year was different. While she was still the defending champion and starting first, giving her the advantage of being able to see what everyone behind her was doing, she was filled with pre-race anxiety.
There were a few good reasons. Her season has not gone exactly the way she planned. She lost her seat in the US single to Kara Kohler, who took bronze at this year's World Championship, and was starting right behind her.
If that wasn't enough, three-time Olympian Emma Twigg was starting two boats back from Kohler, and between them was Cicely Madden, who rowed the double with Stone in the finals at Worlds this summer, and is also fast and talented.
But wait. There was more.
Emily Kallfelz, was in the back of the pack, starting 18th. Kallfelz, like Stone and Madden, is a Cambridge Boat Club sculler and knows the course the same way Stone does, and she is having a fast season. She was second in the Under 23 World Championships in the single, this summer.
And - oh, yea - Stone was going for her sixth consecutive win, her 10th title overall title in the champ single, and had made the decision that this would be her final race in the championship single.
There is an Olympic year coming that she is hoping to race in and when that is done, she needs to finish two more years of medical residency to complete. This, she said, was the last one.
"I was particularly nervous for this year," Stone said. "I had a lot of anxiety dreams in the last week, including one last night where I missed the start."
She didn't. She was there on time, started first. Finished first. Nailed the sixth consecutive, and 10th overall title, and tied the record of six consecutive win in the event set between 1969 and 1974 by Gail Pierson, the first women to win the race.
"I think I put a lot pressure on myself for this race because I know that I know the river and I have so much amazing support, and I want to make the supporters who helped me get here proud," she said.
"They were just lining the banks the whole way," she said. "It's so awesome because I know that I have their support, but also I feel that I owe them a little bit because there are so many people at every single boat house all the way down the course.
"I put pressure on myself to make them proud. So, there was all the anxiety and pressure, and also knowing that this is probably my last year in the champ single, double digits is amazing to get there.
"I wanted to end on a good note. I knew that it was a really fast field. Kara is moving well, Cecily is moving well, and Emily Kallfelz has been right on my tail all season, and so I was doing everything I could all the way down the course to put a little bit more into my legs and empty the tank."
And empty it she did. Stone took advantage of all her home-grown knowledge of the Boston course she has been rowing on since she was a kid, and watched the pack behind her - at least the ones she could.
When she rounded the end of the last big turn, and made the approach to Elliot Bridge and the final stretch to home, she hugged the line tight and pressed. By then she had good distance on Kohler, her was wider in the last turn.
What she did not know, and what would hold up the knowledge that she had won was that Kallfelz was mowing through the field and had picked up enough tie to have moved into second place. It was not quite enough and Kallfelz finished second 3.8 seconds behind Stone.
"I knew that Emily has been close to me all season," Stone said. "That is the big challenge of head racing, knowing that she has been on my tail all season, knowing that she is in the back of the pack, which could be a disadvantage because you could crash into crews, but knowing it can also be real fun because you get to pass crews as you go.
"And sometimes the weather changes between bow number one and bow number 17. That's definitely happened to me in the past. So, knowing that she was back there, that's part of the frustration and part of the challenge and the fun of head racing because you are really racing yourself and the clock, while knowing that anyone out there in the back of the pack could be going fast. And so, you're really racing your own pain in a way."
It was a perfect way to go out for Stone and a fitting cap to the first day of the iconic two-day Boston fall rowing classic, which draws spectators and rowers from around the world to the banks of the Charles River.
And it was a beautiful day. The weather was a predicted - and welcomed - break from a week of cold and wind highlighted by a mid-week storm that brought heavy rains and damaging winds to the Northeast.
While the temperatures were still cool, the day was sun filled and conditions were excellent for racing on the Charles. And the conditions just kept getting better and warmer as the day went on.
As for the racing, the majority of the early events of the 40 scheduled for the day belonged to the masters and alumni events.
Leading off the day was former British Olympian, Tom Bishop. He came into the race as the defending champion, and had to hold off former Olympian US Olympian Jim Dietz, who started right behind him and was racing in his first year of the senior veteran singles. Bishop was pressed hard, but won by one second to retain the title, and the bow one, race one, position he has held the last several years.
"I didn't think it was so close," Bishop said. "But it was quite close. I thought I pushed him away, but it was one second in each of the check points along the way. It maxed me out. I'm very tired."
Because the Head of the Charles is significant draw among rowers from across the country, and around the world, the masters crews are sometimes rowed and won by people who only see each other once a year when they come to Boston.
One such crew was Narragansett Boat Club's senior master double of Michael Smith and Daniel Gorriaran. They only row together once or twice a year - including Boston - but they have won 15 of the last 17 races together here.
"Here's the thing," Smith said. "We only row once or twice a year together, and this is it. Seems like every year is a miracle, like every year is an incredible effort and really good competition. We had our closest race this year. The next boat was six seconds behind us.
"Every year is an effort and every year we think, how is this possible and we pull it out. Being in bow one is a huge advantage, being in front and seeing the rest of the field."
When the under-card races were finished, the championship events scheduled for Saturday began. Stone was certainly a highlight of those, but so was the men's championship single.
That got off to an intriguing beginning, even before the race began.
Andrew Campbell, Jr., who holds the course record and was among the favorites to win, tweeted a few hours before the race that he was not coming.
"For the first time in 12 years, I’m not making it to the Head of the Charles start line," Campbell tweeted. "Bummed I won’t see everyone, but feeling the need for a break. I’ll be back next year!"
Also among the favorites was Danish sculler Sverri Nielsen, who won silver in the men's single at this year World Championship, and John Graves, who has been on the podium in Boston four times but never won.
Because Campbell had scratched, Graves went off first and first US 2019 team men's single Kevin Meador and the Nielsen behind him.
And he kept his eye on both, particularly Nielsen, who jumped ahead of Meador before the first checkpoint at Riverside Boat Club. Had Nielsen been better at navigating the difficult Charles River course, he might have gotten past Graves.
But he made several mistakes on the twisting course, and it cost him.
Graves won and finished off his year on a high note. Like Stone, Graves, also had a difficult year, finishing out of the running at US singles trials and landing in the US men's quad for the World Championships, only to finish 13th overall.
With the Last Chance Olympic Qualifier coming up and not a single US sculling crew yet qualified for Tokyo, there are a total of seven open weight sculling seats open for a ticket to Japan, for Graves to go for and winning Boston can only help.
"It was awesome," Graves said. "Definitely the best piece I have ever had in Boston. It's my first time winning here. I would say my goal for the day was to just have the best piece I could. There have been so many times that a tenth of a second could go the other way, and it was cool to get off the water and have people say it went my way. I just wanted to lay it all out there and the cherry on top was it was all being what it was," he said.
"It's been probably the craziest year of rowing I've been a part of. I would say that after worlds this year, I really wanted to kind of get back in the single, to spend some time getting feeling good in the single, and having this as my goal, just coming here, and seeing what I could do. And it was really good to feel like I was kind of back on track.
"Honestly, I wasn't so concerned about the result. I wanted more to feel like I was going fast and able to execute a good race. Winning was kind of a cherry on top.
"It's definitely nice to have some momentum going forward into 2020, setting myself up to have great year. All the boat classes are on the table, single, double quad, and they're all going to be equally tough to qualify but the single is definitely something I am thinking about."
Graves conceded that having Nielsen in his sight was helpful.
"It was huge. I don't think I've seen anyone go as fast, as far as raw speed," Graves said. "He was all over the place steering wise, which I'm thankful for. But, he was going unbelievably fast. It was pretty cool to watch, and I think I was able to kind of respond to the things he was doing, but his raw speed was pretty unbelievable.
"I had a great last two minutes or so of the race to pull ahead, but I was able to capitalize on some of his mistakes and pull ahead. It was his first time in the single and he did a really amazing job all things considered."
NOTES FROM THE COURSE
It seems that even the Head of the Charles is not immune to low-end behavior these days. row2k heard from Linda Muri that several warmup ergs and personal oars, predominantly Croker sculls, were stolen from the FALS launch site overnight from Friday into Saturday.
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