It may be that no one shows up to see our sport's Olympic trials, but there's one thing you can't count on - it ain't dull.
It was like Groundhog Day in the women's pair today; the same people watching the race, the same names being called out, the same mind-blowing finish. For the second day in a row, Kate MacKenzie and Sarah Jones trailed Liane Malcos and Portia Johnson until the final 10-12 meters of the second final to win by a hair with a final surge for the second day in a row.
I'll let these photos tell the story (truly incredible):
Finish line yesterday
Finish line today
After just barely holding off a late charge by Dan Walsh and Jamie Schroeder yesterday, the winning pair of Artour Samsonov and Luke Walton built a little more comfortable lead today, and 15 strokes from the line, knew they had the race . I asked Artour what he remember of the last 15 strokes of the race.
"First five strokes of the last 15 strokes I remember thinking to myself, okay, we got it. The last 10 strokes, I remember hearing Luke screaming "We're going, we're going!"
(To quote Luke verbatim: "Yeah, we're going, baby, we're going to the Games! Last ten, let's light it up!")
"Yeah, I got a little excited," Walton admitted. "At that point it was moving well, and that just came out. It's embarrassing now, because I barely remember saying it, but now I'll never live it down!"
The crew turned back a few serious charges over the past few days, and chalks up their ability to repel them with a couple old adages of rowing coaches: what you do in training, you do in a race; and to get faster, you have to race faster crews.
Artour: "To hold them off, it took what it took in training: staying consistent and having our head in the game, doing what we trained to do.
Luke: "We've been fortunate to train with Steve and Greg and Henry and Aquil in the doubles. A double is going to be a lot faster than a pair, and Charlie would start us with a lead, and we would try to minimize how much they could come back on us. So to be a position where we gradually worked into the lead, and then to hold that lead was something that we trained to do by rowing with the doubles and trying to hold off their charges."
Henry and Aquil looked a little better every time they came down the course this week, and by today's final were able to build up enough of a cushion over Adam and Ken that they were really never under threat in the final 300 meters. I asked Aquil how the crew came together over the past several days.
"I think number one was relaxation," he said. "One thing that both Henry and I have is a lot of race experience. As we get more comfortable and as we do more rowing, we kind of get into our rhythm. It helps that we've had the last couple of months to put in the time to really build a base. We rowed better over the regatta, but we also knew that the finals were going to be tough. We went out with the idea that we would try to win every race, but hoping that we wouldn't have to go flat out until we needed it."
After missing the Sydney Games by a bowball in the third of three final showdown in Camden four years ago against Don Smith, where Don Smith took the last final in a photo finish, Aquil made his first Olympic team today. His Mom and friends on the shore certainly remembered that day today; a family friend shouted "Nice job Aquil, you made your mama happy..." before walking out into the water in celebration - but Aquil only flashed on it briefly this week.
"I hadn't even - well, I thought about it once last night when my mind was going through all the scenarios, but once I arrived at the race course this morning, everything became clear of what we had to do to win," he said today.
Women's Light Double
They say doubles are born, not made, and Stacey and Lisa seemed to prove this wisdom when they finally, after a long, rough road, got together just over a week ago, and found that their boat had some natural speed. After the racing, Lisa commented on how the boat seemed to gel right away.
"We've been training together whether or not we've been in the same boat, in the same vicinity with the same techniques, for a really long time," she said. "And there was a certain amount of confidence, that, while there was some uncertainty about how each other races, being competitors, rowing against each other, we know the strengths and weaknesses. We rowed to our strengths, so you can just go!"
The double raced all but uncontested this week, winning both finals by open water, and used the races to work out some kinks and become more familiar with each other. Lisa hopes to find more speed in the next few weeks.
"Yesterday when we first went down the racecourse in a race - where they say 'Attention Go,' and it's not a coach in a coaching launch, it's for real - there was a little nervousness just to get a race finished, to get from point a to point b, to see how each other reacts," she said. "But just by having some immediate speed, we can build upon that; there's so much we can do. We can definitely clean it up."
Another Olympic Trials passes, and to the victor go the spoils; but tremendous kudos to all who raced. This is apparently the first ever Olympic trials in the best-of-three era not to go to a third day - and after today everything is new again, but old as the water in Mercer Lake. For example, when I arrived at the course, it was just Jeff Klepacki and I at the finish line, along with perennial flag person Barbara Johnson reading the New York Times. Even at the peak of racing, I counted 24 people on the starboard-side shore, and another 8-9 on the other shore. As Klepacki, who began his National Team career in 1989 with a win in at four at trials on this same course, and quite possibly ended his career here yesterday, said "It still amazes me; it's the Olympic trials, and all you can hear are the crickets."
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