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"Wow, that was an incredible race," observed a spectator after the DIII grand qualifier, in which less than a length separated all six boats for the entire 2k, said spectator was talking to one of the on-water announcers, who agreed wholeheartedly, noting "I don't think there was one dull race today."
This goes back to row2k's observation that, no matter how they get to NCAA's, the athletes almost invariably bring it on when they get between the lanes.
Unimpeachably perfect and fair racing conditions and a heap of very well-prepared crews marked the stellar opening of the NCAA Women's Rowing Championships this morning at the Caspersen Rowing Center on Mercer Lake. An all but imperceptible headwind and flat water marked the majority of the heats. Just minutes before the first crews launched, an announcement was made that, due to threats of an afternoon thunderstorm, the three afternoon repechages would be moved forward three hours to start at 1pm instead of the scheduled 4pm. The announcement might as well have said "Your attention please: AVOID THE REPS."
And it turned out that many crews tried to do just that, although some in less likely fashion than others.
Although the afterburn of the DIII qualifier (a version of a semi in which the top four go to the A final, fifth and sixth to the B final) provided a fitting cap to the day's racing, the buzz of the morning had to be the "dead heat" in the first heat of the DI Varsity Eight. At the close of a nasty brawl between Brown, Ohio State, USC and Yale, one of the last two was declared the third semifinal advancer by 1/100th of a second. However, when a request was made to see the photo finish (a reasonable request, and one that is standard at regattas right up to the Olympics), the request was denied, but the verdict on the race for third place was reversed and declared a dead heat. As a result, both Yale and USC will advance to the same semifinal tomorrow morning.
It wasn't the only close race of the day; 30 minutes later UCLA nipped Tennessee by a half-second; a bit later Dowling topped FIT in the DII heats by 0.4; in the DI 2V8, Cal, Princeton and WSU fought over a qualifying spot to a half-second between all three crews, with Cal coming out on top; in the two-boat DII four Barry topped UCSD by 0.1; and in the DI eights rep Stanford took the final semi qualifying spot by 0.75 over Tennessee. And then we got to the DIII grand qualifier, evidence of which you can see at the top of this feature.
In the DI V8 heats, it would be difficult to compare times directly, as the headwind was so light and variable that a second or two per 500 here or there might not tell the whole story. Brown took the first heat of the day in the race featuring the dead heat; anyone who has been in a race like that knows how tough it is to be cool out front when people are racing for their lives behind you. Next up, Princeton tried to make good on their top seed by posting the best time of the day, bulldozing to an early lead in the heat; this might have been one of the few races on the entire day that had any kind of separation between all the qualifiers. And finally Cal took two Pac-10 comrades with them on a romp down the course that produced the UCLA-Tennessee photo finish.
The DI V8 rep was a heater as well – at the 1000 meter mark, on-water play-by-play caller Joe Murtaugh announced that there was "less than a deck" separating the top four crews; and it was topped only by the DIII grand qualifier in which the six crews raced within a length of closed water right to the line for four spots in tomorrow's grand final. Two crews had already advanced from the morning racing – Ithaca and Williams I – and Williams II just barely nipped the Tufts V8, followed by Trinity and Smith. That's right, Williams has both their 1V and 2V in the grand final; an impressive day for the crews.
Rather than going through every event – you can find results here:http://row2k.com/results/resultspage.cfm?UID=5158463&cat=2 - and given that row2k spent most of the day on the starting pontoon, I'll resort to one of row2k's favorite traditions: Gossip from the Starting Blocks.
It is worth a pause to note that Brown won every one of its three heats - the only crew to do anything even close to dominating here.
To get the regatta started, I got to engage in another row2k tradition – help get the stakeboat folks underway by running up and down the pontoons adjusting the piers in all the lanes for the first couple races so the crews could be aligned. It was like a reunion from last year with Bob Whitford, and I enjoy and don't think I would feel right without this ritual; it's a great way to burn off energy, nerves, and the first tense minutes of a long morning of racing.
I would say a couple crews, especially some of the lower-ranked DI V8's making the short turnaround to an early rep, cruised a bit in the heats, doing more like a starting five and settling rather than burning it out of the gates. It's always a tricky tactic.
The process in the starting area took on a reliable rhythm very quickly, so much so that along about the middle of the morning program, several crews were in their lanes and locked on with 10 minutes until race time. Given the complexity of running a championship event – first of all, the previous race has to finish, then any results issues must be reviewed; then officials launches need to get into place for the next race, etc. etc. – the procedure is to start the race according to the official schedule. The starter announced very clearly "TEN MINUTES TO RACE TIME," but no one budged; "NINE MINUTES TO RACE TIME," and not a flinch. Seven crews sat in their lanes for the entire 10+ minutes, and after about five minutes of near-perfect silence, nerves got the better of them, and the giddiness kicked in. Crew members started to chat, gossip, and laugh; this went on for a few more minutes until the stroke of one crew let out a belch that resounded throughout the entire starting area. Almost everyone in the field lost it at that point – helpfully bringing us to the two-minute mark, and the starting procedures began. Whew, that was an excruciating stretch for a while there.
A few of the coxswains displayed very rhythmic race calling, but several people on the docks remarked on the FIT coxswains call of their start, which seemed to come in about halfway between a drill sergeant and 50 Cent.
A few crews got called on the "matching headgear" rule – all headgear must be of the same color – but the Ohio State 2V had it covered, with eight matching Skull and Crossbone headbands.
As mentioned above, the DII fours offered a very stark tableau – two crews lane by lane, mano a mano, or "side by each," as Gavin White would put it.
And talk about pitching in – with wife (and double Olympic gold-medalist) Kay Worthington working hard as host in her role as executive director of the PNRA, US Olympic men's coach Mike Teti was seen hauling water bottles, delivering lunch, and stringing out extension cords. It takes an (Olympic) village...