For today's racing at the 2006 World Rowing Champs in Eton, we had perhaps the rarest of all possible conditions; sunshine and very light winds for the duration of the racing. After yesterday's conditions, it's nice to have fewer potential disasters to worry about. (as evidence, see the sunrise photos of the course today in the worlds galleries, provided by local volunteer coordinator Judith Packer.)
With increased attendance expected today, and for the Saturday and Sunday finals, and parking space at an absolute premium on racecourse territory, the local organizers have added a new wrinkle to the transportation arrangements for athletes, coaches, officials and media; we are now delivered to a parking area on the Windsor side of the river Thames, then take a ferry across the river to the Eton side and walk the remaining 100 yards to the boating area.
So: you get on a bus, so you can ride a boat, so you can walk to the boathouse, so you can row a boat, then you walk to a dock, ride a boat, so you can get on a bus. Got all that?
Who says that Worlds has to be all work: on yesterday's ride home from the course, row2k and another photog were joined in the van ride home by a European lightweight women's quad and their coach. The photog amused the crew and the coach by showing them photos of themselves, then offered the following: "I've got a lot of shots of other crews as well. What boys to you like?" to which came the reply, "Where do we start? We might need to steal your laptop!"
The so-called "porn-star mustaches" sported by a number of rowers earlier this week seem to have disappeared; by the semis today, US LM4- rower Simon Carcagno was clean-shaven, as was CAN M8+ stroke Kip McDaniel.
Let's do the time warp again: several US team parents are staying at the Oakley Court Hotel here near London, which provided the location/backdrop for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
Adaptive racing got underway today, and by all accounts the adaptive field has grown considerably; the adaptive athletes now race a three-day slate of heats, reps and finals. US crews did well today, with the Men's and Women's Singles of Ron Harvey and Pat Rollison, respectively, winning their heats with ease, while the US adaptive pace-setters and three-time gold medallist crew of Angela Madsen and Scott Brown also put themselves through to the final. The US Adaptive Coxed four (or LTA, "Legs, Trunk and Arms Mixed Four" in official parlance) finished second and will race in tomorrow's rep.
The adaptive racing also produced this curious situation: the Chinese Men's Adaptive Single suffered equipment breakage before his heat and was towed back to the boatshed by a safety launch. FISA rules mandate that a crew finish the race in order to advance to the repechage, so the CHN AM1x will row the course by himself this afternoon to "experience a similar fatigue as the other rowers who completed the race," and will then be allowed to race in the rep.
Adaptive racing has come along from its beginnings a few years ago; times between the heats show that there are now 4-5 crews in every event moving at similar speeds, which bodes well for exciting racing in the finals, something that the adaptive competitions have sorely missed in the past and will definitely benefit from.
Down to the elite racing: today's semis were mostly frustrating for US crews, with only the Men's Eight advancing to the A-Final. This race went exactly to the recent form for the first 1500m, with the US crew advancing to almost a length lead on the field, then controlling the tempo, but in the last 500m the Germans, who have been chasing the US for the last couple of years, ratcheted up their tempo a notch and made it a boatrace; with 10 strokes to go the Germans seemed to briefly have their bowball in front, but at the line, the US took it by the closest margin of the day: 0.01 seconds. The Italians qualified in third position, meaning that all three crews that medalled in Japan last year rowed in the same semi.
The eights semis had some of the tighest racing all day; in the second semi, Australia took it over the GB crew and surprise finalists Poland, who pushed through a wilting Canadian crew in the last quarter to take the final A Final spot by 0.03. This is a tough loss for Canada and coach Mike Spracklen, who now sees both his M4- and M8+ in the Petites.
The US folks seemed satisfied, though perhaps not totally pleased with the result, but there's never any reason to be uptight over a win; both the German and US Eights have been off since Monday, and may have had differing strategies for today's race. In any event, the second semi of the M8+ was a full 6 seconds slower than the USA/Germany tussle in the other semi, so this final should be interesting.
No US performance today was perhaps more disappointing than that of the LW2x of Julia Nichols/Renee Hykel, defending silver medallists in their event but B-Final bound after today's semis. The US crew never seemed to find their way in the race that saw a vintage darkhorse performance from the hometown GB crew, and the US crew faded over the second half of the race to finish 4th. According to their coaches, there wasn't a physical problem with the crew, just a bad race on the wrong day. Here's hoping the crew can regroup for the B-Final on Sunday.
As an indication of how continually competitive the Olympic class lightweight events have become, both the defending gold and silver medallists in the LW2x, Germany and US, missed out on the A Final here at Eton.
The Lightweight Men's Double saw a similar depth of competitiveness today. As the only event at this championship racing three semis, meaning that spots in the A/B/C Finals are at stake in a single semi, the LM2x is possibly the most brutal event here. Today's racing saw the difference between folks racing for the medals and folks headed to the C-Finals coming in at about 8 seconds.
The US entry in this event, Cody Lowry and Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg finished 6th in their semi, and are headed to the C-Final.
The Light Men's Four saw similarly close racing, with the three finishers in Semi 1, France, GB and Ireland finishing within 1 second of each other, and the qualifiers in Semi 2, China, Canada and Australia separated by 2.7 seconds. As we've said in the past, the racing in the Light Four has evolved into a full sprint at a furious pace; into a slight cross-head, the course announcers were calling just about every crew on the course as rating in the very high 30s.
The US LM4- pushed the pace in their semi early, running 2nd at halfway, but couldn't quite finish it; a glance at the times from both semis shows the crews that survived were those that could really churn in the last 500; several crews in these two semis had final 500s that were 5-6 seconds faster than the preceeding quarter. The US entry of Tom Paradiso, Simon Carcagno, Matt Muffelman and Colin Farrell will race in the B-Final as well.
Racing in the faster of the two semis didn't help the US Men's 4x, nor did having the top four finishers from Lucerne in the same race, but whatever the circumstance, this crew also raced slightly off their game today, finishing 6th in their semi. They too are headed to the Petite.
The other US crew in action today was the Men's Lightweight Pair of Rich Montgomery and Andrew Bolton, who also finished 6th in their semi and are bound for the Petite.
Surprise crews/squads of these championships made themselves felt today, as the Chinese qualified their LM4- and LW2x for the A-Finals, each crew winning their respective semi in superb form (in fact, the Chinese LW2x was the fastest qualifier in their event). As we've said, Beijing looms large, and these will be crews to watch in the Olympic qualifying scenarios next year.
The hometown Brits gave the partisan crowd a few reasons to smile today, as they qualified well in the LW2x, LM4- and M8+. All together, the Brit squad has reason to be fairly optimistic that they will have a few good medal results on home water this weekend.
Hopefully this weather, truly enjoyable by mid-afternoon, can hold: the first round of medals finals are on tap for tomorrow.