After yesterday’s two-fer Olympic finals day, a day with only four Olympic finals feels almost easy (though, in today’s rain, I’m not sure anyone on or off the water really felt that way). With the US kept off the scoresheet in the two medal finals they qualified in today, here’s what went down on the Lagoa today.
Women’s Pair under Pressure
If there was any thought that the GB women’s pair of Heather Stanning and Helen Glover might be off at this regatta, or in any way shook up after a heat that saw them need to go to the well to catch the Danes for the win, the first 20 strokes of the final probably set you straight; GB was not going to lose today.
Behind them, however, the battle was epic; the US crew of Grace Luczak and Felice Mueller was pacing the chasing pack, but when the New Zealand crew of Rebecca Scown and Genevieve Behrent and the Danish crew of Hedvig Rasmussen and Anne Anderson ratcheted up the pressure, it became a question of who was going to be able to gear up the best. New Zealand won that battle, almost catching GB on the line, while the Danish crew, who really hadn’t been on anyone’s radar before Rio, finished third.
Prior to today, GB had never had a female double-Olympic gold medalist in rowing; Glover and Stanning, who took the first-ever gold for GB women’s rowing in London, made history for GB again, and, like in London, they won the first gold medal for GB at the regatta.
It’s short rest for Scown and Behrent, who are going again in the New Zealand women’s eight in tomorrow’s final, and will look for another medal to go with their silvers in the pair today.
The young Danish pair was delighted with their bronze medal; to come more or less out of nowhere onto the Olympic podium, winning the first medal ever for your country in the event in the process, is a pretty big deal.
Big disappointment for Luczak and Mueller for sure, and really, it’s tough to point exactly at what might have gone wrong in Rio. The crew won the NSR, won Lucerne, then opted to take the women’s pair place on the U.S. Olympic team rather than focus on eights selection, and really were able to prepare fully for the Olympic campaign.
“Extremely disappointed,” responded Mueller, when asked about her race. “I didn't feel like it was a bad race, personally. I commend our competitors. They're incredible athletes. But this isn't the race, this isn't the day that Grace and I were setting up to have.”
Luczak agreed. “I felt like we could've had a much better race. It was some great competition. We're very happy for the teams that excelled. But I don't think we put our best performance out there.”
As far as the decision between the pair and the eight, it was not a decision for Mueller at all. “I have no regrets going into the pair at all,” she said. “This is my favorite boat. This is a really competitive event. I wanted to come out here and show what we could do, and so this is exactly what I wanted.”
A Big “Grip and Rip” Not Quite Enough
At the 1000m mark of the Olympic final, Josh Konieczny and Andrew Campbell in the USA LM2x were running a close second, their rating was about the same as everybody else, and you just got the sense that a lot of questions would be answered in that next 500. They were, but unfortunately not quite in the way that the US crew (and their fans) might’ve hoped.
After a big start and a really solid first 1000m, a race to make the pace became a race to just hang on, and when the six crews crossed 500 to go, and the lead crews geared up, the US found themselves with nowhere to go, ultimately finishing fifth after being as close to the lead as a few 1/10s of a second at a few points.
Any disappointment the crew may have had were tempered by the size of their accomplishments here; rowing to the top finish ever for the US in a lightweight sculling event is no small feat, and the comments of the crew after the racing reflected this.
US LM2x Josh Konieczny and Andrew Campbell
“My legs were not super fresh after the semi-final, and at the thousand I could feel it and I was just like, ugh, this sprint is going to be horrible,” said bow seat Josh Konieczny after the racing. “I just kept telling myself, ’you've got to hang on, you've got to keep pushing,’ and that was pretty much the only thing going through my mind. Getting fifth and beating Poland, I can't be happier than that. I think you never want to be dead last in any race, so to have made the A final and not be in last is great.”
Koniecnzy reflected on the crew’s history-making run here in Rio. “I try to not get a swelled head. I know I was just lucky to have a really good support group and really good coaches. Everything just kind of came together and it just worked. I don't think that makes me necessarily better than anybody else. It's just the satisfaction that I was able to come to the Olympics and compete.”
The British Machine
For the third Olympics in a row, GB and Australia finished gold-silver in the men’s four; much like London, this was a great race, with the GB getting out early, Australia challenging in the middle, and then GB finishing strongly for the win.
GB Mens 4-
In a sport where some folks are scraping for coaches, resources, etc., even at the highest level of the sport, for some it can occasionally be a hard pill to watch the British Rowing “machine” at work, highlighted by enviable media coverage (although as in many countries, even in Britain the major newspapers are bailing on rowing, and rowing still ends up in the "Other" category most days). That said, on the water, you can’t argue with how well all those resources are being put to work by the athletes and coaches— that GB four was exceptional to watch, as good technically as any boat rowing today.
Their win today gives the GB five straight Olympic championships in the M4-, 14 medals overall in the event (9 gold), and the five straight golds is the longest current event streak going.
Pity the Aussies though, who have finished second to the GB four in each of the last three Olympics. Even in this rivalry, the level of respect GB have for the Australians is huge.
“There's no personal hostility or anything,” said GB three-seat George Nash. “There's an extra sense of satisfaction knowing that we've beaten really high quality opposition and we had to have a really great row out there. The Olympics is never won easily, and to be pushed like that by such a quality crew just makes the experience a lot sweeter. It's not about anyone's loss, for us, it's about our accomplishment.”
Bow seat Alex Gregory echoed the assessment. “I count these guys as my mates, I see them in other competitions throughout the year, and it's hard racing your mates. You know, out there on the water we don't hold back, of course. It's rivalry, as it is in sport, but it's nice to be able to come off the water and congratulate each other. We're all after the same thing. We're all here. We all spend the same amount of time training after setting goals. We all have the same dreams, and it's been a pleasure racing these guys over the last four years. Sometimes I wish they'd just go a little bit slower! But they are proper, proper good guys and real good competitors, and it's been a pleasure racing them.”
Dutch Orange Magic
Did we say that the GB men’s four rowed well? The Dutch LW2x of Ilse Paulis and Maaike Head put on a sculling clinic all the way to the middle of the podium in Rio, and were probably more in control of the race than the final margin over Canada and China would suggest.
For Canada’s Patricia Obee and Lindsay Jennerich, this silver medal result is a pretty sweet turnaround from London, where they raced in the petites; it also might be as good an argument for taking care of your mental game as much as you do the physical part. In their “Four Year Later” interviews, Obee and Jennerich both addressed this, talking about the pressure they’d put on themselves during their preparations for London, and how they had changed things up this time around; job well done, I’d say.
Semis and B-Finals
Gevvie Stone rowed a really smart piece in the faster of the two women’s single semis, not getting thrown at all by the strength of the field (which would be an understandable if you were lining up against two former Olympic gold medalists in your event in your semi, in Mirka Knapkova (2012) and Ekaterina Karsten (1996 and 2000)).
US W1x Gevvie Stone
“Once it was the last 500, I knew Jingli was close to me and I knew Magdalena was close to her, and it wasn't a matter of beating any one person,” said Stone after the race. “It was a matter of getting the boat to the line as fast as possible. All four of us were close enough that I wasn't trying to pick and choose which people I beat. I was just trying to get to the line as fast as possible.”
A quick look at the splits from the top four qualifiers would seem to indicate tomorrow’s final really is wide open:
|Semi 1 ||AUS ||BRENNAN Kimberley ||(1) 1:54.31 ||(1) 3:53.21 ||(1) 5:51.37 ||(1) 7:47.88 |
| || || || || 1:58.90 (1) ||1:58.16 (3) ||1:56.51 (4) |
| ||NZL ||TWIGG Emma ||(2) 1:56.52 ||(3) 3:56.66 ||(2) 5:53.28 ||(2) 7:48.20 |
| || || || || 2:00.14 (2) ||1:56.62 (1) ||1:54.92 (2) |
|Semi 2 ||CHN || DUAN Jingli ||1:55.47 ||(4) 3:53.29 ||(3) 5:51.01 ||(1) 7:43.97 |
| || || || ||1:57.82 (2) ||1:57.72 (1) ||1:52.96 (1) |
| ||USA ||STONE Genevra ||1:54.38 ||(3) 3:52.54 ||(2) 5:50.71 ||(2) 7:44.56 |
| || || || ||1:58.16 (4) ||1:58.17 (2) ||1:53.85 (2) |
“My semi was a little different, it was a fight for the top three,” said Stone. “It goes to show, though, that the mental game is really important. You're all in the same situation going into tomorrow. It's going to be hard, and that's what it's supposed to be. That's why we're here.”
Don’t forget to tighten your gates, it’s the Olympics! A loose gate and a popped oar stopped London silver medalist Fie Udby Erichsen of Denmark dead in her lane while leading Gevvie’s semi very early in the race; that’s a tough way to miss any final at this level.
About halfway through the first semi of the women’s single, the much-hyped duel between Australia’s Kim Brennan and New Zealand’s Emma Twigg looked to be a dud, with Brennan out to a huge lead. Then, over the second half of the race, Twigg reeled her in and pushed hard for the win. The margin for Brennan at the line was tiny, and both scullers definitely gave each other the death stare after crossing the line.
The men’s singles semis were a study in contrast; while semi one sorted itself out fairly quickly, with the Czech Synek, Croatia’s Damir Martin, and Cuba’s Angel Fournier Rodriguez stacking themselves in order and proceeding more or less in that order down the course, semi two had bombs going off behind Mahe Drysdale, with four scullers within about a second and a half at the 1000, then Stanislau Shcharbachenia of Belarus uncorked a huge move to push into second, with Belgium’s Hannes Obreno in third also making it.
The U.S. men’s four of Seth Weil, Charlie Cole, Matt Miller and Henrik Miller finished off their regatta in the strongest (and really only way) possible, by winning the B Final, and in a quick, sub 6:00 time to boot. After a very good start to the year, the US men’s priority boat could not meet their own high expectations here; coaches and athletes both expressed disappointment at the way the week ended for the US crew.
“This one obviously hurts a lot, but by the same token, to be anything other than 100% grateful would be unfathomable and disrespectful to other people who helped us get here,” said stroke Seth Weil. “It hurts, but I think I'm the luckiest person in the world, to even be able to attempt it. The fight is to just refuse to let the disappointment overshadow the opportunity, and the respect for getting that opportunity. I underestimated there are a lot of lessons to learn and I guess it'll just take some time to figure them out.”
The US Light Women’s 2x of Kate Bertko and Devery Karz finished off their regatta fourth in the B Final, for 10th place overall. The crew had come to Rio with high hopes, but did not have a great regatta.
Notes from the course:
- In Rio, apparently if you don’t get wind, you get wet, yeesh.
- The Chinese women’s pair had their stroke coach mounted on the front wing, pointed straight up; you would literally need to look straight down at the bottom of the boat every time you came to the catch to see your split and rating, I can’t imagine that would be easy to do. The crew won their petite final.
- I think the true test of any venue’s water quality: will it affect the Dutch swimmers who swim out to any Dutch crew that wins? On the evidence of today, Rio’s water is just fine.
- You know it’s bad when even the normally well-behaved rowing commentators start picking on you; “his chief task will be staying upright,” said the commentary team about Kazakhstan’s Vladislav Yakovlev, who has flipped twice here. Yakolev did stay upright this time, and won the two-boat F-final, for 31st overall.
- The Italian men’s 4 once again took a selfie with all of the medalist on the podium.
- Kim Brennan installed a massive bow foil on her single today! Better safe than sorry.
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau showing some love to his fellow Canadians.