After the cancellations of the eights heats last night, it was a bit of a hodgepodge of events today on the third day of racing at the 2008 Olympic regatta - heats, then quarterfinals, then reps, then consolation semis - but the racing was anything but hodgepodge. In the offing, fully four US crews won their races today, and another advanced in an extremely hard fought race
The eights heats were raced today, but not without a hitch - the Australian crew had their rudder jam shortly after the start of the race, veered wildly, and had to limp the rest of the way down the course to complete the race so not to be excluded going forward. Vet James Tomkins was circumspect and forward-looking after the race. "We thought we got off to a good start, but it was a malfunction of the steering. Marty had a real hard time. We were lucky we didn't hit any other crews; if we had we would have been up in the jury room." Tomkins also mentioned after the long row home that "at least we'll be fresh for the reps."
Australian coach Noel Donaldson was slightly more to the point: "James showed his experience today but he's probably the most pissed off. If we can get over tomorrow we are going to go hunting for the medals." Sam Loch said "We were not going anywhere straight, but our cox maintained the course. We were feeling really good at the start, for the first 200m we were traveling really fast. After about a quarter of the race, there was no choice but to bat it down, we were going nine degrees the wrong way." The crew finished a full minute and a half behind the winners.
Canadian stroke Kyle Hamilton was asked if he noticed the Australians problems "Well it's hard not to notice what was happening to them when they almost hit us," he said. "Brian asked for a surge at that point, and once we got clear we focused on the other competitors."
The Canadian crew won the heat with a commanding piece; Kyle Hamilton said "It's great to get the first race out of the way, especially after the delay. We've been waiting four years for this moment." Jake Wetzel, who was in the four in Athens, said "Athens was four years ago. It doesn't matter now, it feels like a lifetime ago. It's ancient history." And Malcolm Howard didn't even mention it: "I think I bring some youth and vitality, and keep things interesting. I want to push the older guys all the way."
Also, when the Canadian eight pulled into the starting gate, they bumped into the bucket and knocked off their bowball. after a minute, the officials said the race would proceed without a bowball; they might have not wanted yet another delay in the eights. good thing it didn't come down to a photo finish tho, oof. to lose by a bowball when you don't have a bowball would have been more reason to end up in the jury's office. An Empacher rep was overheard to mutter "Martinoli..."
In the other heat, Great Britain assembled a superb piece to counter the US crew's lead off the start, and earned the sole advancing spot by a small patch of open water. Tom Stallard said "I have no doubt we were in control of the race." From this vantage point, based on the times, the race for the medals will be an English-speaking affair (well, unless you count Quebec), with GB, Canada, the US and you would expect the Aussies vying for the medals.
"Great Britain sort of controlled the middle 1,000 meters, and obviously, we have to go back and try to find a way to contain them there," US four seat Wyatt Allen said. "We're going to go into the rep tomorrow and just try to row a fast race and hopefully get ourselves into the final. Hats off to them, they controlled the race and beat us out there."
The US women laid down a nice piece, posting the fastest first 1500, although by the end the Romanian time in the other heat, which was a much tighter race, took honors for fastest of the W8 heats. "It was really good; we got our goal out of the way," coxswain Mary Whipple said. "We wanted to go straight to the final. Yesterday, we had a great race rehearsal due to the weather, and I think that really helped us visualize. We got to the line very calm. We just wanted to trust each other and just think about us. We just thought about maximizing our boat speed and driving it the whole way."
Erin Cafaro said "It was a solid race; we had a lot of energy, we've been tapering quite a bit, so we were excited just to come out of the gates and get into a great rhythm. I think there's more in there, it's good and we're grooving pretty well. Every time Anna is in the boat with us we're getting faster, and we're having fun.
Our heads are screwed on straight, and so it's just a matter of a gut check. We'll have to see how much we can pull out. It will be fun. I think that is what we're looking for, we want a close race, we don't want to walk away with it, we want it to be well worth it."
The GB women wanted to take a shot at the US crew: "It was disappointing not to row through the USA," said stroke Katie Greves. "We need to improve our final sprint. Other crews doubling up should have time to recover. This is my first Olympics and it's so exciting; we watched Rebecca Adlington swimming to win this morning, it was inspiring. It's going to be all about the girls for GB this Olympics!" Caroline O'Connor said "It wasn't perfect, but we'd be worried if it was."
Michelle Guerette rowed a mature, controlled, and ultimately nearly flawless quarterfinal, leading the whole way, and posting the fastest time in three of the four 500s. She didn't' blast away from the field, but rowed a patient race and held off a charge by the Polish sculler in the third 500, slowing edging out to a convincing lead over the course of the 2k. "It was not easy, but at 1000m I knew I had the potential to be in control," she said. "This regatta feels different because no one mellows out at the Olympic Games, even if ahead. Today I took it over better than in my heat. I felt good and it was exciting. The humidity is tough to deal with but it's starting to feel more like normal racing. I'm going to rest up, get ready to go again. All athletes will be taking it up a level and I have to make sure I do too."
Karsten recalled her winning q'final thusly: I'm very content with this race, and did everything that I had planned with my coach. The quarterfinal system makes for an extra race, which is not easy. For me, the first two races weren't too hard, but it will be more difficult in the semifinal. My coach's last words were "Viel Spass und viel Gluck" ( Enjoy the race and good luck). My daughter is not here with me because she starts school in Germany today."
Her coach Norbert Ladermann: "So far everything is okay. We are satisfied with the time and the result." On whether she fears her competitors: "I don't think it's fear. I prefer to say she has respect for her competitors." On Zhang: "She is very good. I think she will be our main rival."
Xiuyun Zhang, CHN: "Rumyana Neykova is the third seed and a strong competitor, so it's tough, but I used the q'final to find my own level. My performance was good although I made some mistakes. If I can pull it out at 1000m I should be able to challenge the Bulgarian, but you can never tell. The conditions are pretty comfortable, better than the last two days. I put in 100% effort, next time it will be 120%. I wear a jade bracelet and necklace because jade brings luck and helps people; the purple stripe is even luckier. The pig motif and the purple stripe in my necklace are very lucky in China."
Ken Jurkowski rowed a great race to take the third of three advancing positions from his quarterfinal; the race was every bit as close as the splits show it to be. The Dutch sculler blasted out on the whole field, and was completely gassed by the end; while Drysdale fought his way to the front, Jurkowski had his eye on the Swede Lassi Karonen, but you could see that when he saw that the Dutchman was in trouble, he shifted his attention and bore down for the line. Karonen started sprinting early, and held on for second; he trains with Drysdale regularly. "We're good friends, we get on very well," he said. "I've managed to beat him once before in a quarterfinal, so I've got one point on him; hopefully I can make it two!"
In the quarterfinal that included Alan Campbell and Marcel Hacker, Hacker played his hand exactly opposite from the heats, putting the hammer down late in the race to top Campbell by almost four seconds. You never know what you are getting with Hacker, whew. He had the following to say: "I haven't changed my technique but after the first 200 meters I stayed on the pedal and pushed a little harder. It was fun to be up front again. Joining in the Olympic spirit and having fun has always been part of my ethos." Of the competition, he said "We can go for a drink when we're off the water, but on the water it's a whole different story."
Campbell, who seems to be in good form despite a very major knee injury this year, described his race thusly: "I was really pleased everything went o plan; I gave a bit of a push to force Hacker to his own limits, but by that time he had it under wrap; Marcel did an excellent job. I was rowing well within myself; for the semifinal I've just got to come in the top three. I put a bit more in off the start this time but still had an early settle, keeping the rate a bit lower - just long and strong. I the next race I'll rate a bit higher. I can't let them slip ahead like that or even have a sniff. I had no problem lifting my rate as far as my knee is concerned, and I'd have got it in the neck if I'd gone any harder in the middle"
Drysdale, Hacker, Synek and Tufte won the races today, as did Guerette, Karsten, Neykova, and Knapkova; lots of familiar names at the top of the heap so far.
The US women's double of Ellen Tomek and Megan Kalmoe led the entire way in their rep; putting together a very solid race in which they had the fastest 500m split in every 500 save the last, at by then they were mostly protecting their lead, which had piled up for nearly four seconds on the field by the 500 to go mark. They had made some adjustments from the heats - "We wanted to be able to have a last 500 meters that was as good as our first 1500 meters," Kalmoe said after the race. Tomek said that the cheers had egged them on: "We could hear the cheers Go USA, Go USA; we're so used to racing with complete silence from the shores, so it was great." A question followed: "You could hear it?" (which of course is what she just said); "There were no Chinese in the race, so they had to cheer for someone!" she joked.
"First of all, our goal was to qualify, and our second goal was to win," Tomek said. "We just went out there and wanted to execute a full 2,000 meters this time instead of 1,500 and hang on for dear life (like the heat). It was good. We improved from our heat. We've been working on some technical things, and we have a couple more days to improve on some more things. Hopefully, it gets even better."
The US men's double of Wes Piermarini and Elliot Hovey gave it a decent go today, racing in the third qualifying position into the final 500m, but fell victim to a nasty, blistering second 1000 by the Bulgarian Yanakiev brothers, who rowed from last in the early going into the third qualifying position by the finish line; their third and fourth 500s were the fastest of all the five boats. They will race in the C Final on Wednesday; in a brutal irony no one can be too happy about, the two-boat race will be the US vs. Iraq.
After a lackluster heat, the US men's pair has clearly made some progress over the past couple days, winning their rep in a fairly stylish way: last off the line, they posted the fastest split in each of the last three 500s, and rowed from fifth into third by the 1000, and from third with 500 to go to first by the finish. Stroke seat Cameron Winklevoss said the crew rowed very much the same race plan that they did in the heats, but worked on rowing incrementally better each day, and with each stroke, and worked their way through the field. "Through the body of the race, we just tried to go a little faster," he said; "go maybe one percent faster, then a little more again, and see if you can work your way up into the pack. As we started to come through the field, it really came together. It felt almost easy; it always feels better when you get yourself ahead."
"Sometimes you go up to the line, and you never know how it's going to play out," he said. "But once the race got underway, we locked into a good rhythm, and the more strokes that we made, the more confident we got."
Tyler said "We're very happy with this race; we couldn't have done much better - it was all we could ask for. We executed the race we practiced and tried to approach it much more calmly than our first race here, when we tried to do too much. It's only our second international race together and we don't have too many expectations. It's just great to be here and race the others, we've got nothing to lose. One way to take the pressure off for us is to separate the race into small bits. Rowing with my twin brother works well; we have a good match mentally and physically." The crew advances to the A/B semifinal.
Due to the delays in the eights, and the fact that athletes are doubling into the pair, the women's pair reps will be held on Tuesday.
I was able to follow a couple races from the launch today; it's a long roundtrip, as each official takes only every sixth race, and to keep down wakes requires the full hour to make the roundtrip to return to the start. The ride back up is an experience in itself, though; if you raise your camera toward the stands, the whole place goes nuts waving hands, arms, and flags, giving the peace and thumbs up signs, smiling, and jumping up and down. In addition to a LOT of locals, US Olympic silver medalist Eric Mueller was in the ranks; I will be posting some of these photos in our galleries. The crowds are on the increase; I would say the stands were about half full, maybe a bit better?