Thursday saw the highest drama at the Worlds thus far, with the US and NZ Men's Four involved in a dead heat, an application of FISA Rule 75, a protest and a late-afternoon match race for all the marbles.
In the first semi of the Men's Four, the US was running second to the French, and just ahead of the Dutch and NZ crews coming into the last 300 meters or so; the Kiwis put on a tremendous push to close water on the US, with both crews revving it to the line and crossing at exactly the same time--both the live TV and slow mo replay showed no difference between the crews, and even when the FISA officials subjected the digital finish photo to a few rounds of enlargement, the crews stayed dead even at any magnification.
FISA then invoked rarely-used Rule 75, with the full text of the rule below:
Rule 75 - Dead-Heats
When the order of finish between two or more crews cannot be determined, then the result is declared a dead heat between the crews involved. If there is a dead-heat, the following procedure shall operate:
- In a heat, a repêchage or a semi-final if a dead-heat occurs between crews and if only one of the crews progresses into the next round, then there must be a re-row over the full course between the crews involved. The re-row must take place on the same day as the dead-heat and not less than two hours after the race in which the dead-heat occurred. If all crews involved in the dead-heat progress anyway into the next round, there will be no re-row and their relative positions in the next round shall be decided by lot.
- In a final, if a dead-heat occurs between crews, then they shall be given equal placing in the final order and the next placing(s) shall be left vacant. If the tied placing is for a medal position then the Organising Committee shall provide additional medals.
With regards to precedent, the clearest comparision seems to be with the situation that occured at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where the US and Norway M2x crews dead-heated in the semi and subsequently both raced in a seven-boat A-Final.
In any event, the US and NZ coaches and team managers convened in a quick scrum outside the FISA trailer, with both teams filing protests to avoid the rerow and get both crews into a seven boat final on Saturday. Both of these protests were denied by FISA. In addition, the US filed a protest to allow a review of the video of the race, with a US team manager present, which was allowed, and also did not produce any conclusive evidence of a difference between the crews.
As I understand it, the difference in FISA's interpretation of Rule 75 between this situation and the one in Athens is that, in Athens, there was a protest filed against a posted order of finish, which was then reviewed, and a dead heat declared, allowing both the US and Norway to race in a seven boat final. In this case, because there was never a question of order of finish, for FISA the application of Rule 75 was academic, although judging by the reactions of those close to the NZ and US teams that row2k talked to, both sides were disappointed by the ruling and had hoped that the efforts of both crews would have been rewarded by placing both in saturday's A-Final.
The re-row was a stark affair; the lake was cleared of crews practicing, the grandstands emptied, and the US and NZ crews took to the water again, as two distinct pods of US and NZ athletes, coaches, parents and friends, both groups flexed with anticipation, filed up along both sides of the course.
The US crew rowed this one from the gut, as the crew started hard, moved out to a formidable lead by the 1000m mark and ended up winning by close to a length. Though the NZ crew moved back in the last 600 meters or so, given how different the dynamics of a dual race can be from those of a six-boater, this outcome was probably never really in doubt. This is a big win for a young US crew; they'll hope to use this experience to their advantage in the final.
On the way back up the course after the racing to file this report, row2k encountered the same two groups of US and NZ supporters headed back to the boating area; faces of one group read relief, whilte the others were tight with disappointment.
The unfortunate outcome of the whole situation is that of four boats within 0.7 seconds in the semi, one of those crews will not be a part of what would have been an intrinsically much more interesting and potentially absurdly exciting final. But, as they say in New York, them's the rules.
On to the rest of the day:
As reps/semis/C-D finals racing started at Eton on Thursday morning, the weather had actually taken a turn for the worse Wednesday night; a straight tail progressed from slight ripples at the start to downright swampy at the finish. The wind was deemed fair across the lanes, so racing proceeded according to schedule.
The racing itself was run in mostly awful conditions. As one wag commented, "the course is fair...the water is equally terrible in every lane!" row2k saw a slough of crabs and crablets during the racing, including a few game-changers, as the chop from the 1000m on gave all crews tremendous trouble.
Late fallout from the racing cancellation on Wednesday caused a bit of a flap between the New Zealand rowing federation and FISA; the NZ folks lodged a complaint with the FISA Fairness Committee after the first race of the day, alledging that the NZ Men's Coxed four, racing Lane 1 during the Wednesday race for lanes, had been disadvantaged by the conditions. FISA eventually cancelled the racing out of a combination of factors towards the end of racing, primarily out of a concern over reports of electrical storms in the area, but taking fairness into account as well. However, later in the day, a posting on the Rowing NZ website alleged that racing had taken place in unfair conditions during the day and that the NZ complaint had directly led to the cancellation of racing.
FISA officials took a fair bit of offense at this insinuation; according to FISA folks, the Fairness Committee has representatives that follow every race down the course and continuously make judgements regarding fair conditions, in addition to monitoring race results to make sure that results aren't favoring particular lanes. During the World Cup regatta held here at Eton in 2005, the competition was dogged with claims of unfair conditions, and FISA are especially sensitive, particularly since recent FISA athlete surveys have made fairness of conditions one of their top concerns.
The dome-like fairings that made their debut in Athens and fit over the bow splashguard were out in force today, as a dozen crews from a hodgepodge of nations had the boats mods in place for the conditions.
Most fun name for the TV folks to say today had to be that of the Spanish LM1x, who won his semi: his name is Juan Zunzunegui Guimerans.
US spares Gabe Winkler and Luke McGee caused a fair bit of mirth dock-side this morning as they practiced wearing UK Police "Bobbie" Helmets.
Celebrity sighting of the day had to be two-time GB Olympic Gold Medallist James Cracknell, wandering around the media centre with a cardboard box, serving journalists with coffee. That's akin to Bill Parcells giving out the donuts at Dallas Cowboys media day.
The course also enjoyed a visit from royalty today, with Princess Anne paying her announced visit to the course today, meeting with a select group of the volumnious contingent of junior volunteers. The scene was a touch surreal as HRH did the royal visit with the juniors on the land behind the starting pontoons as the second semifinal of the LW1x was lining up. The starter called "four minutes," then "two minutes," then the start as HRH moved down the line of juniors, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, oblivious to the race starting behind them. Full anti-paparazzo measures were in effect for this visit, with bodyguards giving firm instructions about where photogs could and could not be.
From the US point of view, Thursday's racing was a mixed bag, with three crews making it through to the A-Finals, and another three falling short of the medal round.
Along with the performance of the M4-, both US women's scullers, Michelle Guerette in the W1x and Lisa Schlenker in the LW1x, finished third in their respective semis to lock up spots in the A-Final. Michelle got into a good gear early behind Belarus' Ekaterina Karsten and Sweden's Frida Svensson, then looked to have some trouble with the chop coming into the last 500 and had to give it a pretty good fight to hold off the Italian sculler for the last qualifying spot. Judging from the times in both semis, it looks to be a class field in the W1x this, and every stroke will count. That said, Michele has a quality medal from last year's worlds, and should have a good deal of confidence going into Saturday's final.
Lisa on the other hand has loads of experience to call on, and did so today, rowing a smart, contained piece to snag a place in the Final. A look at Lisa's splits next to those of the French sculler, who led Lisa to the 1000m mark, shows just how well Lisa understands pacing:
|Lisa Schlenker (US)||1:51.83||1:59.51||1:59.53||1:59.19|
|Coralie Ribeil (FRA)||1:51.03||1:59.97||2:04.14||2:05.54|
After the two women's singles, US crews found themselves close, but not close enough to make the finals they wanted to. Jamie Schroeder gave it a terrific go early in his semi, running second at the 500m mark, but then found the going a little hotter than he could manage and faded to 6th in a semi that included Olympic Gold medallist Olaf Tufte, larger-than-life Czech Ondrej Synek and rising Brit sculler Alan Campbell.
A semi earlier, German Marcel Hacker and reigning World Champ Mahe Drysdale banged out a classic sculler's duel, with Hacker forcing the pace early, Drysdale slowing eating back into his lead, and then the two scullers trading blows for 600 meters until Hacker, either through nerves or bad luck, caught a little digger with his starboard blade that allowed Drysdale to go by the German in two quick strokes, and it was over. These two will likely see each other again on Saturday, and Hacker, who normally broadcasts his emotions pretty openly, for good or ill, was impassive, so there might have even been a little gamesmanship going on here.
The Men's Pairs semis were the scene of some of the gnarliest bad-water action of these championships thus far, with crews bobbling, busting through, or breaking down...we saw the fairly succesful South African pair of di Clemente/Cech hit a bad patch in a tight race, then stop rowing completely, to finally paddle dejectly across the line well behind the pack. In the other semi, Aussie rowing legend Drew Ginn lost, then quickly recovered his oar enroute to a win in his semi.
The US crew of Sam Burns and Dan Beery finished 4th in their semi, and will row in the B-Finals on Saturday.
Bulk sometime pays in conditions like these, and the US W2x of Susan Francia and Brett Sickler may have been a bit undersized and overmatched today, as the crew kept it close early until the slightly larger crews from the GB, Germany and Belarus just started to pull away, and Francia/Sickler will left to play catch-up. This crew will also row in the B-Final on Saturday.
The other US crews in action today was the Men's 2x of Shane O'Mara and Fran Cuddy, who finished 3rd in their semi to clinch a spot in the C-Final, then turned around a few hours later and finished 4th in the C-Final to conclude their 2006 worlds campaign in 16th place overall.
Signing off from a long news day in Eton, we'll bring you the second half of semis starting tomorrow.