If anyone attending the Junior World Rowing Championship finals on Sunday did not know tune to the German national anthem before they arrived, they do now (some folks may know it as a Hayden string quartet, or perhaps as Stand, Columbia...). Germany won fully seven of the 13 events, more than half of the entire program, and took silver in two more.
And not really quite kidding, all credit to the German fans, who were enthusiastic and loud, but not overbearing, and always kind of fun. When a host country has a run like the Germans did here, it can get to be a bit much, but it wasn't the case this weekend. The Hamburger character doesn't seem inclined to that sort of thing, which made it a great place to have a junior championships (despite formidable wind problems at the course on Sunday, on which I will elaborate below).
Unfortunately for general fans of rowing, a huge cross headwind from lane 6 all but locked in the winners of the semi (and the luck of the re-draw) as the winners of the event; in the afternoon finals docket (the first four A Finals were run in the morning, followed by a lunch break and then nine more A Finals), every race until the women's eight came across the lane in reverse lane order number: lane 6 won gold, lane 5 silver, lane 4 bronze, lane 3 came fourth, etc. Some of the events looked more like an air show fleet in flank position; the women's double, for example, had margins from lane six to one of five, 10, 14, 11, and 19 lane by lane.
The winning times were even brutally slow; the winning German women's eight winner went 7:15, which is pretty rough, until you realize that the winning German men's eight went 7:39. Figuring that junior men's eights get into the 5:40s or thereabout, that is a solid two minute headwind. The women's single went 9:45, owwww. The wind created eerie whistling noises through the ropes every time the flags were hoisted during the medal ceremonies.
So yeah, the wind problems were formidable – although this doesn't seem like an issue that is endemic to this course, but more just to bad luck on the day, as prior to Sunday the fairness commission people were overheard talking on the bus how they truly had nothing to talk about in their meeting, oof.
But enough of the conditions, on to the racing.
The A finals were kicked off by a courageous bid by the US women's four to foil China's second-thousand loaded race plan, and they made a bold go of it; by the 500 they had clear water, and at around the 1000 more like a length and a half. But the long, long race (7:44 to the line) gave China some water to work with, and by 500 to go the US lead was a little under a second. As China nudged ahead with about 400 to go, the US crew scrapped to go with them but couldn't make up any water, and took the silver a couple seconds from gold, with open water behind them to the Italians.
"We knew China had a fast finish, and we knew we had a fast start, so we weren't going to try and change our weaknesses; we were just going to try to push our strengths to the furthest of their capacity," stroke seat Marlee Blue said. "We just tried to get as far ahead as possible and stay ahead. We stopped them the best we could. "
"It was probably the windiest race we've ever raced before," two-seat Dana Moffat said. "It was super windy at the start, really rocky, but we used our power to our advantage in the headwind. We got out to a nice lead by the 1000. As China kept creeping up on us, we tried our best to hold them off but in the last 500 they got ahead. It was one of the hardest races I've ever done."
The crew took inspiration from their coach Liz Trond and men's senior team member Mike Gennaro, who had gone out with the crew a few times during the summer.
"We fed off the power of Mike Gennaro and we thought back to when he was coaching us," Blue said. "And we were thinking 'Mike, he believes in us!' So we took a ten for Mike Gennaro, and a ten for Liz Trond."
"At the 500, we would usually say something like 'legs ready,' but instead I said "Gennaro!" and then 15 second later I yelled 'Liz!'" bow-seat Mia Croonquist said. "We just kind of used them to throw us into it, because it's as simple as just going all out the hardest we could do, and try to hold them off as long as we could. I think we had a brilliant race and I couldn't be any happier. It was awesome."
"To get on the race horse with these girls is the best thing ever," Blue said. "That's why we cheer for those people's names, because we were out there racing for the people that believe in us, and we're out there racing for each other..."
"I'd say it came out pretty great," Claire Collins said to complete the thought.
This is Croonquist's third junior medal, and I asked how this one feels alongside the others.
"Each medal, it's got its own story and journey and happiness," she said. "It never feels old, it's just as exciting as the last one. Each one's just as sweet because I know we've all pushed ourselves the hardest we can. This one is up there."
That makes five consecutive medals in the women's four event for the US at Junior Worlds.
The USA's other medal on the day came in the women's pair, which came down as the women's four was rowing away from the medals dock, so they got to make themselves heard from fairly close proximity and right down on the finish line. The pair came together at the camp earlier this year, and have gone from strength to strength since, resulting in a bronze medal, only the second medal ever in the event for the US.
The pair of Lily Lindsay and Meghan Galloway both rowed in the US women's eight last year that came fifth, and used the result as fuel this year.
"Coming off of a disappointing result from last year, this is the greatest redemption I could ask for," Lindsay said. "Being able to share this with a girl who was in my boat last year and understands the difference between being on the medal podium and being in the bottom three at the A finals, it's worth every ounce of pain you put yourself through in a race."
The crew got to the starting line just as the fairness committee changed the lanes for the second time on the day, but just got to business in the conditions, which are especially difficult to handle in a pair.
"It was kind of a curveball race," Galloway said. "We got up to the start and all of a sudden they changed lanes, but I think we just did a really good job of taking a deep breath and just say you know what? We know how to row in a head wind. So we just used it as an advantage."
"I think we tried to look at the headwind as an advantage because we've practiced it so many times," Lindsay said of the conditions. "Especially getting to the course earlier this week when the wind was rough, I think just having that confidence knowing that you can feel the head wind pushing you, you can feel the others pushing you. It's no different than any other race, just push the water into the bow, get ahead and just do it. It was the longest race of my life, the hardest race of my life but I think we did a good job getting through it."
Almost unlike any other boat, a pair can be a tricky partnership. There is so much give and take with power, steering, balance, and more - at least in a double if someone is having a bad row, the boat is usually more or less set up and still goes straight. All summer this pair has rowed like pros, from trials to practice to a gnarly final, so I asked about their relationship in the boat.
"I don't know how Meg would characterize this, but I think it came as quite a shock when we were first put together," Lindsay said. "We just got along so smoothly. We agree with everything; what the piece was like, what the row was like, how we're feeling, what we need to do, what we need to do better. There was no pettiness, no one got annoyed when we criticized each other and ourselves. We're very different off the water; we have very different mentalities and personalities and I think if anything we just bring out the best in each other and balance each other out pretty well."
Galloway had the word "INCHES" written on her left hand, and shared the significance of the temporary tat.
"There was a speech, you might know it, the Inches speech, and we listened to that before our race," she said. But there was more to it for the pair.
"I was telling Meg this story yesterday," Lindsay said; " had a teammate a few years ago in a quad who , it's the smallest thing she's ever done but it's the best thing in my rowing career. We had a tough winter season one year, and I came into practice one day after a rough day at school and taped to my erg was a piece of construction paper. It simply said "We take inches and push them back because we can." And that one thing stuck with me in every race. It really helps."
"I wrote this on my hand at Nationals and we came in second at Nationals," Galloway said, "so did it again today."
In the men's single, truly rough conditions made it more of a rock pull than a race; even coming over the line the medalists stopped pulling before the horn sounded, as the conditions were borderline sinking conditions. Few even celebrated much; one medalist threw up his hands in a "what the..." gesture. After a great run this week, US sculler Ben Davison had a disastrous start in the conditions and never really got back on terms with the field, finishing sixth. If there is a what-if result in the US ranks this year, this has to be it.
In the women's eight, the US crew was in the thick of the conditions out in lane two, and really suffered for it, finishing sixth.
Finally, the US women's quad bounced back from yesterday's hobbled semifinal to win the B final rowing away, finishing a full five seconds ahead of Italy in second (seventh overall).
"We knew in our hearts that we should have been in the A final, so we went into it with the kind of attitude that we needed to not race this race against the boats but race against our own time, what we know that we can race," three-seat Georgia Gray said. "We went into it with the attitude that we really just need to have the race of our lives, as if we would have been in the A finals."
"We said we could be sad for an hour, and then just to focus on the next race," bow seat Haley Zapolski said. "We weren't going to get anywhere by just being sad that we didn't make the A final. It's unfortunate, but at least we're still at World's racing in the B final. "
"We set a goal for ourselves, not even just for our coaches or just racing," stroke seat Emily Kallfelz said. "We just wanted to prove to ourselves that we're worth it and we could be in the A final."
On tactics under these conditions, two-seat Emily Delleman said they kept it simple.
"Kind of just go for it, get the time that we went out there to get," she said. "It was pretty hard in the headwind, definitely something that we haven't been practicing in very much at home, but it was a good row."
"Next year these three are coming back to win gold," Zapolski said. "I age out, so they have to find a replacement, but these three all worked hard. They're going to win the gold."
In a truly unprecedented feat, stroke seat Kallfelz only started rowing this past April, which puts her in her fifth month of rowing overall, at most. Kallfelz started rowing at Narragansett Boat Club three or four times a week when she could get a ride, erging other days, and then went to Northeast Regionals, where she won the single. GMS coach Guenter Beutter approached Kallfelz to try to get her to go to the selection camp; Kallfelz didn't even know if she liked rowing that much yet.
"G-man saw me racing there and tried to convince me to come to camp," she recalls. "At first I was a little hesitant because I just started, I wasn't really quite into it yet, but then I went to Nationals and I did pretty well there so I was thought okay, I'll try it out. I thought oh my gosh, it's the Junior Internationals, there's no way I'd be able to make it only after a few months, but I guess my hard work paid off."
Kallfelz had a classic "beginner's mind" about the whole experience, given her status as almost beyond rookie.
"Exactly; I didn't really know what to expect to be honest," she said. "I just wanted to come and see what it was like and obviously try to do well. That was the goal for everyone I think, it's always the goal. It was really just to get better coaching and meet a lot of people who I'd be rowing with. The rowing world is pretty small, so it's very intimate and really fun I think. I've enjoyed it a lot.
Asked if she had been doing any other sports before rowing, you can imagine she had.
"Mostly swimming, soccer and sailing for school, then outside of school I was doing a lot of long distance running and track," she said.
China's two medals, both gold, each came in four person women's boats, the four and the quad. The two crews row almost identically in every respect – same move to the water with the blades, same general length both outboard and inboard, and same strategy: do all the damage in the last 800 meters. And a lot of damage they did; in both events they trailed to the thousand, only to win running away, and by open water in the quad.
Notes from the course:
- Turkey had a rare A finalist in the men's double; well done
- The Romanian women's double was apparently anticipating a win, as they brought a flag with them in the boat
- The German men's eight didn't have to bring their own flag; a serious fan swam one out to them (giving the officials the rock and roll horns to boot)
- The us women's coaches were rocking the selfies on the day, good stuff (four and pair)
- The Italian coxswain escaped without a bloody head this year (vs last year)
- Some US parents brought some champagne (actually Rose) for the kids - though if you look closely, it says ALKOHOLFREE
- Just don't see this at junior events everywhere
The men's eight was delayed by some equipment damage, so the regatta ran overtime by about 45 minutes; thus, not long after the end of the last race and obligatory closing comments (while the men's eight stands up there on the podium waiting), wrapped boats and blades were toted out and rolling suitcases clattered down the path as everyone had headed for the Ausfahrts. I hope you have enjoyed our coverage from the Jr Worlds; next up, seniors in Amsterdam. Tschüss!