The athletes in the Women's Doubles and Men's Quads at the Olympic Trials II got down to business today in the heats. It's not quite "win or go home" yet, although the one-to-advance progression in both events comes pretty close.
Impending poor weather later in the week led USRowing to alter the schedule, which means that the heats and reps in the Women's Double will both run today, with the semifinals moved up from Thursday to tomorrow morning.
Even as the venue showed itself dead flat calm as crews were launching, a headwind came up promptly for the first race. This did not make the going any easier; that's New Jersey in April.
The top four finishers from Monday's time trials all took care of business today, winning their respective heats to advance directly to tomorrow's semifinal, which will also be the first time that the top crews will line up next to one another.
Kristina Wagner and Dr. Gevvie Stone paced the W2x field today
The headwind faced by all of the crews stretched the margins today, and really showed up the differences across the field, with the top crews and their closest pursuers quite a ways ahead of their competitors. Time-wise, the top performers today were Dr. Gevvie Stone and Kristina Wagner, although they were pushed all the way to the line by the Trials-winning Lightweight Women's Double of Michelle Sechser and Molly Reckford, who ended up posting the second fastest time in the event today.
So, do the times really matter unless you are racing head to head?
"It's hard to compare times across heats because of the variability in races and also in weather," Stone said. "I look at times but don't put too much stake in them. This is our first regatta together--we're taking it race by race, and we're excited to race again tomorrow."
Most of the other competitors had the same view.
"Our efforts remain focused on the things we have control over," said Jen Forbes, who along with partner Sophia Vitas won her heat fairly easily. "Today we aimed to establish an early lead followed by a clean and simple remainder, and to remember to have some fun while we're out there."
Cicely Madden and Maggie Fellows
Maggie Fellows and Cicely Madden, Monday's top performers in the time trial, also made the point that they weren't necessarily looking at times.
"Our focus today was on transitioning from the time trial into side by side racing and progressing to the next race," said Fellows. "We think it's important to keep learning from each race, and we're looking forward to more of it!"
In tomorrow's two semifinals, the top two crews will advance to Friday's final.
In the men's quad, the two top crews from the time trial, Penn AC and USTC-Oakland, made short work of their heats to progress directly to Friday's final. As they were yesterday, the two crews were fairly closely matched across races, with just two seconds separating the crews.
These two boats will also not directly race each other until Friday's final, but the two crew's coaches did not seem fazed by this.
USTC-Oakland M4x of Oliver Bub, Spencer Furey, Michael Knippen and Andrew Gaard
"Because there have been so few racing opportunities, we look at each piece as a chance to work on race elements in context, for when we will need them in upcoming pieces," said Penn AC coach Sean Hall. "I think guys will always compare times - it's a necessary result of being an erg culture - but obviously advancing is the first priority."
As far as long-range goals go, Hall was succinct. "There is no doubt in my mind these guys are here to win trials, but I think even higher on their list is to build a fast boat," Hall said.
Hall's counterpart, Skip Kielt, coach of the USTC Oakland crew, said his crew saw things similarly. "Every race is a good opportunity to try to row the most complete race you can," said Kielt after the heat.
"Today was an improvement from yesterday. Conditions constantly change from one heat to the next, I don't think you can make a direct comparison between each race. The guys seem motivated to improve over the next two days."
The crew that wins trials this week will still have to qualify the boat for Tokyo via the Final Olympic Qualifier at Lucerne in May.
Four crews moved on to tomorrow's semis in the W2x via the reps this afternoon; the combinations of Savannah Brija & Hannah Paynter (Arion), Alie Rusher and Mary Nabel (Cambridge), Cristina Pretto & Emily Delleman (Green Racing/Vesper) and the lightweight duo of Michelle Sechser and Emily Reckford (Sarasota).
Notes from the Course
- Fist bumps are allowed in your team boat bubble
- Dept. of Still Getting Used to This Again: at least two crews had major bobbles a few strokes into the start of today's racing
- This tracks with my personal experience; lightweight rowers react to cooler temperatures differently
- Cindy Ching Whitehead let us know that three of the country's six female Asian American refs are working the Olympic trials, and adds "Representation at the highest level. A shoutout to diversity in the referee corps; this week's Olympic Trials referee jury boasts three Asian-American women! AAPIlove #diversityandinclusion #represent"
- The Mercer bald eagles are back (as are some other Mercer beasts)