When the US men's and women's national team training centers put together the lineups for their Head of the Charles crews, they stressed that they wanted to race even eights.
For the men's group, head coach Mike Teti said that he based his selection first on who could come, and then moved the guys he had with him at the worlds championships in the eight and the four around, and then sprinkled in some of the newer guys who have come up from the U23 men's team.
For the women, the selections were left up to the coxswains, who flipped a coin to first choose who got to pick the crews, and then flipped which crew would start first.
In both the men's and women's championship eight events, the US crews were the defending winners from 2018 and got to start their races first. If even was what they were looking for they apparently got what they wanted with both squads finishing first and second.
"How's that for even boats," said Teti, whose "B" entry started seventh and had to wind their way up through a bunch of solid crews, including Harvard, Yale, Brown and the Dutch and Italian national teams and won the race, 0.67 of a second ahead of the "A" entry.
"We wanted to send two boats, and we just got back from the worlds, so you don't want to do a big selection," said Teti, who was headed right from the course to Logan Airport for a flight back home to the Oakland Training Center and the long winter training and lead up to the selection of the eight and four that will row in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo next summer.
"I thought when they raced in practice, they've been very close, and I'm happy that they finished so close. I think that bodes well for the team. They're all solid candidates for the eight and four and we're excited about having them. So, I'm pretty excited about this."
Not only was it a good way to end the US team's season before going into the long lead up to Tokyo, and the final year of the 2020 Olympic cycle, it was an entertaining way to wind down the racing schedule of the 55th Head of the Charles Regatta, which by most accounts was a good one for racing and spectating.
Head of the Charles weekend in Boston in October is always a weather roll of the dice. It can be warm and sunny, and it can be cold and windy. Some years it rains, and some years there has even been bursts of snow.
But then there are weekends like this one, where it is sunny throughout, the winds are mostly calm, the racing fun, and the crowds on the shore and on the bridges, are plentiful.
Even with a week that saw a powerful Northeast coastal system arrive Wednesday with heavy rain and damaging winds, the 55th Head of the Charles was spectacular both days.
And the river was packed with crews, start to finish. Over the two-day event, 2,263 crews raced the three-mile course down the Charles River, and just about everything was a highlight to the majority of the crews that raced, especially the winners.
And, as there always is at the Head of the Charles, some of the highlights for the crowd, were low-lights for the crews when the turns got tight and bridges became immovable objects.
The big headlines from the first day of championship racing was Gevvie Stone's 10th win in the women's championship single, and on Sunday it was the one-two punch the US men and women threw.
But there were highlights throughout for crews of all ages and levels of racing skills. With the masters events wrapped up Saturday, Sunday morning belonged to the high school and youth crews, followed by the championship team boat divisions in the afternoon.
If there was a single program that was going to come away from this Head of the Charles knowing that what they are doing is working, it is the RowAmerica Rye, which won both the men's and women's youth eights and the women's youth four.
The men's boat was a repeat winner, and capped off a full season that saw them take the Youth National Championship in the spring sprint final. For the women, it was the program's first.
"It's an amazing feeling," said senior Grace Mensi. "It's just awesome to be where we are right now, because a couple of years ago we weren't in this position and now we are. It's taken a lot of hard work and definitely the right girls. And it's just an amazing feeling.
"This all comes from inside," she said. "I mean we all want it really badly. And I know that it's easy to say you want it, but after practice seeing people do extra work, you know that we were all working so hard for it.
"No one ever gives up at our club, no matter what," she said. "This is the best feeling ever. It's a crazy experience. I never thought I would be standing here."
While Mensi and her teammates were gathering in the awards tent to get their medals, the championship eights events were coming down the course.
The men's eights were first and when the US "A" entry went past the awards tent, they were rowing out front and looked like they were headed toward a win.
"I thought the race was good, and we attacked all the straightaways really well. We had a solid race and I think we felt pretty good about it over all. It's definitely a big step up from last year when we were first and eighth, I believe," said Alex Richards.
"So, we've got a lot of young guys coming in and obviously bringing a lot to the entire group, it really helps set us up for the next seven or eight months. I'm really excited. It was good to go one-two today."
What no one in the first eight could know right away was how fast the men's "B" boat had rowed and how well they threaded the needle through the course, and the eights that started ahead of them.
Clark Dean, who stroked the Harvard men's eight as a freshman last year, but is taking the year off to go for a seat in one of the Olympic boats, is familiar with the course and felt the boat and coxswain Colette Lucas-Conwell had nailed the race.
"We had our work cut out for us," Dean said. "We caught Harvard on that big turn before (Cambridge Boat Club) and had to manage to be on the inside on the turn through Elliot, and then hop on the other side on the turn at Belmont Hill, and deal with the Italians after.
"Sure, it probably would have been better to start first, but it's always more fun to be in the thick of it, and it makes the race a lot more exciting," he said.
If Dean was the rookie in the crew, Tom Dethlefs was holding the mantle of seasoned veteran.
"I have a few years on the other guys in the boat," he said. "But it was great, they bring a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm. It's really good racing with those guys. We had a good run down the course so we're pretty happy with the result, but mostly excited that have two solid US eights out there.
"There were a couple of tight spots down the course with Harvard and the Italian boats and I think Collette did a great job and the guys stayed internal and kind of stepped on it when we needed to," he said.
For the two US women's crews the decision about which crew would row with bow number one, the spot that comes with being the defending champions, was left to a coin toss between coxswain Leigh Warner and her counterpart at the training center, coxswain Katelin Guregian.
Warner won that toss and picked bow number one, leaving bow three to the second US women's crew.
"The racing was great, pretty painful, but it was a beautiful day on the Charles, maybe one of the best days I've ever raced," said Vicky Opitz. "Molly (Bruggeman) set an amazing rhythm up in stern, and (Megan) Kalmoe kicked us around the Weeks turn and it was a great race. It was a lot of fun. This says that training is going to a be lot of fun this year. It's going to be a good time," she said.
In the second US women's entry, it was Guregian who had to manage rowing through the crowd, or at least past the Stanford women's crew. She did not have the same amount of success as the men's second crew, but still finished a tight second.
"Leigh and I decided together that we were going to make two even lineups, now you tell me. One second apart? Pretty even? Now, all I am saying is my boat would have won if we didn't have to row in Stanford's wake for two-thirds of a race.
"I would say as the co-maker of two of the lineups, I helped win this regatta. We made two even lineups, and we did an incredible job. We flipped a coin. The winner of the coin toss got to pick her boat. And then we did another coin toss to say who would be lane one and lane three," she said.
"I think that it's exciting to think that we have a really competitive team, and that we're competitive against each other. Obviously, we're thinking about the long-term goal, which is the Olympics," she said.
"That can sometime seem like it's far off. To me it seems like it's right around the corner. But when you're sitting down to do a hard erg workout, or it's at the end of a long week, it can be easier to think about your teammates, and how fast they are, and how hard they are pushing you," she said.
"It's very tangible, and very in the moment. That's a great thing for our team to have."
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