Even if it was the least surprising gold medal today, it was pretty great watching the NZ men’s pair of Eric Murray and Hamish Bond win today; we are seeing one of the great crews of all times doing their thing. 69 straight wins in any sport is crazy good.
“There was a lot of expectation on us. And fair game, because we haven't been beaten, there's always the pressure to perform,” said Eric Murray after the race. “But, we put that pressure on ourselves. We would be the most disappointed if we hadn't lived up to our expectation, and now we can just enjoy the fact that we've put so much time and effort into it to get to that race.”
Murray continued, “that race was just about going out there and executing it. We're far prouder of what we have done before that to get to this point than we are of that actual race. And that's the biggest thing, you know. Cake's not very good without icing on it, but you can't have just icing. You want to have a really nice, big cake that tastes really good with the icing and the cherry on top.”
Finishing strongly behind NZ was South Africa, with cancer survivor Lawrence Brittain (who survived cancer in 2014) and Shaun Keeling, and Italy’s Giovanni Abagnale and Marco Di Costanzo.
NZ Men's Pair
The Sinkovic brothers, a favorite win gold in the men’s double coming into these games, lived up to their expectations as well. Though it took a really hard series of strokes to get the lead back after the Lithuanians pressed into the lead right around 500m to go.
Olaf Tufte and Kjetil Borch of Norway finished third in the men’s double, with Tufte winning his fourth Olympic medal in his 6th Olympics. He has the full set now; two golds in the single (2004 & 2008), and a silver (2000) and a bronze (2016) in the double. Could Norway find two more guys so that he can row the quad in Tokyo?
It’s a little unusual to go through almost half of any Olympic regatta without seeing the GB on the podium at all, and it was doubly stunning to see the first GB medal come from the crew of Kath Grainger and Vicky Thornley. Grainger and Thornley were practically discarded by the GB setup in the run-up to the games, but have responded fiercely at this regatta, and their silver medal in the women’s double is as “in your face” a performance to selectors and know-it-alls in the sport as any that we’ve seen.
With this medal, her fourth Olympic silver to go along with her gold from London 2012, GB’s Grainger becomes the GB’s most decorated living female Olympian. At the age of 40 this will be Grainger’s last Olympics. When asked on whether she may make a run at rowing in Tokyo she turned to one of the TV cameras and said, “I promise you mum, I will NOT put you through that!”
Germans Know How to Row Quads
Germany successfully repeated as the Olympic champs in the Men’s Quad, despite what by all accounts was a really rough 2016 for that crew up to this point. The Olympic final was the first regatta win for the German M4x since the 2015 worlds and the crew only qualified for the final from the reps.
Australia made a huge run at the Germans in the last 250, but had to settle for silver. Estonia, one of those strong rowing countries no one really ever talks about, claimed bronze.
Germany also won the women’s quad, after a similarly uneven year; getting your act together in the Olympic final is definitely the place to do it. The Netherlands claimed a surprise silver, and Poland, who led the race for 1750, settled for bronze. This is Poland’s first Olympic medal in this event.
Since 1992, Germany has medaled in the women’s quad at every Olympics games. With 5 golds and 7 medals overall in the event, the German women have the most Olympic medals in the women’s quad of any country.
US Crews Struggle In The Finals
For the US women’s double of Ellen Tomek and Meghan O’Leary, it was not their day. After their stunning finish in the semifinal, when they came through in the final few strokes (if not the last stroke) to claim a spot in the final, the US crew found the Lagoa rough going and faded to sixth in the final.
After the race, O’Leary wish they could have found the speed they had on Tuesday. “We’re disappointed. Today was not the performance that we know we are capable of. Nasty day of conditions again. It was a performance where we feel like we didn’t get beat; we beat ourselves. We know we’re fast. We proved it in the semi. We just can’t handle those conditions as well as we should be able to, and it took us out of the race”
The US women’s quad of Adrienne Martelli, Megan Kalmoe, Tracy Eisser and Grace Latz ran well with the field, but could not shift speeds when the leading crews went; the crew finished fifth.
“I feel torn between really happy to have made it here and disappointed not to have a medal,” said bowseat Grace Latz after the race. “But, everything else has just been so great that I think I am more emotional because this is capping off four years of a lot of work. All four of us have had our own adversities getting here, and we were the four people for the job, so I’m really happy to have rowed with these four and really put it out there.”
The men’s pair of Anders Weiss and Nareg Guregian, whose trials performance seemed to indicate that the crew might be able to do something in Rio on sheer power and will, finished their regatta in the petites, 11th overall.
“We just didn’t have it today, and that’s incredibly frustrating, because we’ve been having very good practices leading up to it,” said Weiss after the race. “As the races were moving on, we sort of lost a little bit of our magic and a little bit of our touch throughout the regatta.”
Final Medals of The Day
Switzerland took the Light Men’s Four ahead of Denmark and France. The USA LM4-, who had a tough semi after a strong heat, finished fourth in the petite for 10th overall.
Finally, if there’s one thing we’ve seen in the first day of finals from Rio is that it appears unlikely that any one country will be running away with the rowing medal count, the way the GB did in London, or even the way NZ was predicted to do here. The 18 medals awarded during the first day of finals here went to 15 different countries (Germany, Poland and Lithuania were the only double medalists). Parity is a good thing.
Lightweights Have Their Ups and Downs
A big start was the way to go today, and Andrew Campbell and Josh Konieczny in the USA LM2x executed that strategy to perfection in their semifinal, sticking with the world champs from France out of the gates, keeping them close, and then slamming the door on the Irish and GB crews with 20 strokes to go to clinch their spot in the A-final, as the second-fastest qualifiers to boot.
“Yesterday watching the women's double go, I kind of thought after that race anything is possible. We are capable of more than we think we are,” said stroke Andrew Campbell after the race. “We talked a lot about putting together a complete race. We felt that in the last two years we've had starts, we've had bodies, we've had finishes, but we've yet to really put together a complete race. Going into the last 500 we had a complete race and all our thinking was just, make it perfect. This is the chance to lift and put together the race.”
The conditions would have been familiar to Campbell and Konieczny today…a little wind, a little bounce, just enough to make the going a little less comfortable. In other words, a lot like the Charles River basin in summertime, where Campbell and Konieczny did their training prior to Rio.
“It's way nicer than the basin… We've worked on rowing in the crosswind quite a lot this year. We spent a lot of time in Sarasota where this is a big crosswind, so I think it prepared us well,” said Koniecnzy. “It was just about normal. I mean, for certain it was not as bad as during the heat, so the difference being you really couldn't feel the waves moving the boat. So, it was nice to just be able to set up.”
After missing out on the Olympics in 2012, when the USA LM2x missed out at the Final Olympic Qualifier, getting to the final is a great result, and if the crew can hammer down another race like today in tomorrow’s final, anything is possible.
The crew is the first USA LM2x to reach the Olympic final. read our full interview with them here.
US Men's Light Double
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. There’s probably little in rowing that is more unforgiving than the Olympic lightweight events. The fields are packed, the racing is insane, and pedigree is out the window. Just ask the defending world champion LW2x from NZ, who had to hang on for dear life in the semi just to qualify today.
Under these circumstances, being at your absolute best for the Olympic regatta is an obvious must; for the US LW2x of Kate Bertko and Devery Karz, who posted the highest gold-standard percentages of any crew at the US Olympic trials in April, the painful result of a summer impacted by illness and interrupted preparation was a fifth place finish in the semi and a trip to the B-final tomorrow.
“I am disappointed, but I couldn’t ask to be here with someone that’s a better fighter, a tougher racer,” said Karz, nodding at Bertko.
Semifinals and Reps
The US Men’s eight did exactly what they said they were going to do today. The eight won the rep with a strong, start-to-finish piece, holding off Lucerne winners the Netherlands for the win. With the limited racing experience this crew has had, an extra race may not have been a bad thing at all.
“Going through the reps absolutely will help us in the long run,” said stroke Austin Hack. “I think this event is so much about building confidence, and we've got a lot of younger guys in our boat, so I think having another race was definitely beneficial for us.”
While the men’s eight seemed happy with the results from today, at the end of the day the guys have maintained their focus and have kept the ultimate goal in front of them.
“You know that the heat didn’t put us out of the game. Winning the rep doesn’t put us on the medal stand,” said 5 seat Steve Kasprzyk. “It’s just trying to stay very level, right in the middle. Knowing that we’re going to have to go to the final, and we’re going to have to race well. Nothing is decided, but we’ve put a lot of work in over the last four years, and we have to rely on the work we’ve done, go and race, and get our bow ahead.”
The GB pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning had looked shaky in their first race in Rio, needing to go to the well to pull through a fierce, new combination from Denmark to win their heat. Today the pair showed no such jitters in the semi, pulling out to a big lead early and then letting the field sort it out. The US crew of Grace Luczak and Felice Mueller hung back, almost politely so, before closing the gap to about a length as the crews came to the finish.
Luczak and Mueller faced off against the GB for the second time this year, having previously finished just behind them in the semi at the World Cup in Lucerne. In that instance, Luczak and Mueller also finished behind the GB, then won the final the following day when the GB pulled out due to illness.
“It’s amazing. I think the women’s pair is an incredibly competitive event and the fact that we can race in the A final for the top six spots is incredible,” said Mueller. “(Today, we were) just trying to get top three and move on.”
Mueller continued, “I’ve been dreaming about this and racing this boat in the Olympics for a long time, but actually being here is surreal.”
US Women's Pair
The surprising Danes won the second semi, open water ahead of the NZ crew of Scown and Behrendt, who doubled into the NZ W8+ later in the morning. The second semi of the W2- was a full 7 seconds slower than the GB/US race.
It was a really tough day for the US M4-, who saw a promising race in their semi derailed late when the Italian and South African fours pulled through them with 250 meters to go. No one really saw this type of race coming from the South Africans. Even the South African families in the grand stands were losing their minds when they saw their team pull ahead. A quick look at the times shows that the US would have finished 2nd in the other semi, oof. In hindsight, that third place finish in the heat may really haunt this crew.
“The guys are pretty disappointed,” said coach Bryan Volpenhein after the race. “You know, we’re all a little bit let down, but I feel like they had a pretty tough race and I thought they raced it pretty well, actually. Our goal is to get out with Australia and try to get ahead of Italy, and we did that, and we weren’t expecting South Africa to have that kind of piece and they just had a scorcher out of nowhere. So, great for them! That can happen at this level, and it’s tough for the guys but I think they’ll be okay for the B final tomorrow. We got to race and we got to win tomorrow.”
“Canada looks like Canada again” was one comment we heard after the rep of the women’s eight, where the Canadian women led start to finish to win it; by contrast, the 70-minute turnaround between the women’s pair semis and the W8+ rep looked as if it really impacted the New Zealand women, who have the pair doubling into the eight.
The Kiwis qualified fourth out of the rep, but that won’t bother them. This kiwi eight is the first NZ women’s eight to ever make an Olympic final.
Notes from the course:
- Today, for the first time at the Rio Olympic Games, no one flipped!
- Today was another really packed day of racing, with 12 of the 14 Olympic events racing in some form or other. The US had nine of 11 crews in action (only the W1x and W8+ were off), and every single male member of the US Olympic rowing team was on the water. Just like practice on Carnegie!
- Even with two Olympic gold medals, Eric Murray wasn’t too proud to get a good giggle out of repeating that he was a “69-time winner of the coxless pairs,” whew.
- Kid podium count today: two, both from Olaf Tufte.
- Today’s A-Final tally: from the six finals, three reigning world champs repeated as Olympic champs today (NZ M2-, Croatia M2x, and Swiss LM4-)
- Making waves (not literally, thankfully) was the FB post earlier today by a British journalist, purportedly showing a baby whale on the venue.
- The car alarm that went off during the start sequence of the women’s lightweight semis sounded awfully like the “stop rowing” audio signal; great to see it did not throw anyone off today.