Two seminfinals in the women's double and a rep in the men's quad completed the lineups for the finals at Olympic Trials II this morning. Due to the uncertain weather, the finals have been moved up to tomorrow morning, while the finals for three Paralympic events were held today, earning four athletes berths on the US Paralympic team for Tokyo.
The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo begin 100 days from today.
Things we've learned from the semifinals of the Women's Double: big starts matter, experience does too, and the Lightweight duo of Michelle Sechser and Molly Reckford got game.
Jen Forbes and Sophia Vitas gambled on a big start in the first semifinal of the event, and it paid off, but only just; Forbes and Vitas had to withstand a withering charge from both the lightweight combo of Sechser/Reckford and Maggie Fellows and Cicely Madden all the way to the line, with Forbes and Vitas prevailing by just 2/10s of a second to take the win, just ahead of Sechser & Reckford.
"We are continuing to focus on the basics, keeping it simple, and having fun in the moment," said Forbes, clearly keeping it on keel. "Every day is a new opportunity to race and we are both enjoying being present for each stroke."
Sechser and Reckford are making the most of their racing at trials, and using every opportunity to get faster.
"We hadn't practiced a big sprint like today's beforehand, but we trust our training and our fitness to get us there if we need it," said bow seat Reckford after the racing. "Cicely [Madden] and Maggie [Fellows] absolutely crushed that sprint, they did a fantastic job and really pushed us.
"Competing at Trials II has given us a great learning opportunity. During trials we learned what we are capable of producing, so now we are learning how we handle challenging conditions, new competition, and more condensed racing. It has been a great experience so far and we're looking forward to tomorrow and another opportunity to push ourselves against amazing athletes."
Molly Reckford and Michelle Sechser, the US LW2x, pushed the pace
Reckford also explained how the experience of going through a fully dynamic regatta was helping the crew improve.
"I think being able to roll with weather and schedule changes is really important, and this week has proved it," she said. "So far, my takeaway is that you have to be ready for anything. I also personally learned that pogies for the warmup can make a big difference!"
For Fellows & Madden, who won Monday's time trial, missing out on the final will be a bitter disappointment for a crew that had started the week brightly with a win in the time trial.
In the second semifinal, Ellen Tomek and Meghan O'Leary, the 2016 US Olympic Women's Double, set the early pace, but were methodically overhauled in the 2nd 500 by Dr. Gevvie Stone and Kristi Wagner. Wagner and Stone looked strong, long and composed throughout, and looked to be finding just that extra bit of water at the catch to row to what was, in the end, a relatively untroubled win.
Kristi Wagner and Dr. Gevvie Stone won semifinal 2...
"Today was about getting the job done; to have a solid race and to get into the final," said O'Leary after the race. "Not having raced in over a year, Ellen and I have approached each race of this regatta as a learning opportunity and to try and go a little bit faster, finding speed with efficiency and consistency."
Likewise, Stone was less concerned with the result that the fact that her crew was making progress.
"We approach each race as its own individual race: an opportunity to go fast down the course and to improve but also an opportunity to use our competitive drive and react to the competition," she said. "We're excited for tomorrow and this strong field, and another chance to race hard, to have fun, and to go fast."
It is a deep field for certain: during today's semifinals, fully six crews finished above 92% of the gold medal time standard, rowing in relatively calm conditions, an almost absurdly competitive grouping.
...ahead of Meghan O'Leary and Ellen Tomek
"It's incredibly exciting to have so much talent in women's sculling right now," said O'Leary. "Case in point, we have our LW2x Trials winners racing in the final of the W2x Trials. If the race tomorrow was a six-lane final, I have no doubt that there would be six boats across coming down the course. That is something we've never seen before for the U.S. women's double talent pool. Ellen and I have been at this for a while now, believing and proving that Team USA can win multiple medals in sculling boats. We are proud and excited to be a part of such a strong field of athletes."
"At this point in the regatta and with such a tight field, and it is anybody's race in the final, which makes for the best kind of racing."
Tight racing could also offer crews that don't win the trials another shot at going to the Games; any crew that finishes within 1% of the Gold Medal Standard (GMS) of the trials winner earns an invitation to the camp for the women's quad.
The Green Racing Project combination of Matt O'Leary, Jacob Plihal, Lucas Bellows and Travis Taaffe took first in today's rep, ahead of Penn AC's Chris Shirley, Thaddeus Babiec, Casey Fuller and David Judah. Both crews move on to tomorrow's final.
att O'Leary, Jacob Plihal, Lucas Bellows and Travis Taaffe of the Green Racing Project combo M4x
GRP's Jacob Plihal probably spoke to the path that most of the late-formed quads are taking through the regatta, as all of the top four crews have only begun rowing and training together recently.
"Since most of us have come from singles and doubles, we have had to focus on the synchronization of our power application and shifting it to be more front end oriented," said Plihal. "The main takeaway for our crew is that the regatta is a good opportunity to have every race be better than the last. Since our lineup is quite fresh, each race is a new chance to execute and improve upon what we have previously done. Maintaining an upward trajectory is one of the biggest focal points for our crew."
Three crews earned berths on the US Paralympic team today; Hallie Smith and Blake Haxton, both racing unopposed, took the berths in the Women's and Men's PR1 1x events, while Russell Gernaat and Laura Goodkind earned the Paralympic spot in the PR2 Mix2x.
Hallie Smith, US PR1 W1x
"I have been dreaming about being a Paralympian ever since I became disabled, 7 years ago," said Smith. "I've been thinking about it ever since; I was working at that time even out without a sport in mind, and now it's real. It's very exciting and still sinking in."
"It's hard to race unopposed, because you want to do your best race, but without an opponent it's a lot harder to do your full on sprint," said Smith of her experience at trials.
Blake Haxton, US PR1 M1x
Now two-time Paralympian Haxton expressed elation and relief.
"It's been a tough time for everyone and I'm glad to get back to something that feels normal, even with the covid protocols," said Haxton. "I'm excited to get back to racing and am thrilled to make the team for Tokyo. It hasn't sunk in yet but I'm looking forward to building up for the Paralympics."
Russell Geernat and Laura Goodkind, similarly, had hoped for more competition, but were grateful to even get the opportunity to race.
"We appreciated being able to race down a buoyed course against another boat," said Goodkind. "It doesn't happen often in the States, and being able to represent the country after the completion of this race is a great honor."
All three winning para crews also qualified the boats for the US at the 2019 World Championships in the same lineups, and all expressed strong feelings for being able to continue the journey that they started.
Laura Goodkind and Russell Geernat, USA PR2 Mix2x
Notes from the Course