A betting man would have lost his shirt today at the Worlds in Eton, hoo boy. Racing in fast conditions, between a few big guys going over, crews betting the farm on a quick start, and a few crushing upsets, all bets were off at Dorney Lake today.
Yesterday's pleasant weather proved to be a fluke as the tailwind and rough water returned to Eton today, perhaps to the detriment of some crews and their tactics. Thankfully, the rain stayed away, but conditions in any event were less than perfect.
Straight up, the race of the day had to be the Final of the M1x. True to form, the big guns from the past few years showed up, though not quite in the same way you might have expected. Marcel Hacker, who, as we've mentioned in this space, seemed to have been on a mission this week, blasted out of the blocks and sculled powerfully away from a bevy of insanely good scullers, NZ's Mahe Drysdale, the Czech Ondrej Synek and Olaf Tufte.
Many expected Hacker to fold, but at 1500m, the German still had about bow to stern on Drysdale and Synek; that's when the NZ sculler started to wind it up, and with both scullers bashing towards the line it was not obvious who would win; at the line, Drysdale took it by .09 seconds over Hacker, with Synek a good two seconds back. Both Hacker and Drysdale shaved nearly a second off Hacker's old world best time.
Hacker immediately sculled over to Drysdale to congratulate him; he seems to have matured greatly as a competitor without losing his manic drive for success. On land however, the medal ceremony took a turn for the bizarre as Hacker, as he has done a few times in the past, collapsed while waiting to go on the medals podium and was carted away by ambulance; his coach, Andreas Maul, stood in for him on the awards stand alongside Drysdale and Synek and accepted his medal, looking a little out of place next to these two giants (but, he did participate in the now-familiar tradition of hoisting the winner up, lifting Drysdale up with some help from Synek).
We're told Hacker was ultimately not taken the the hospital, and is doing OK (he did have surgery for a hernia just eight weeks before Worlds). A dock volunteer had the unenviable task of rowing Hacker's boat from the medals dock back to the boathouse.
The very next race saw an upset of seismic proportions as Australia took the W2x, ahead of Germany, who in turn nipped the Evers-Swindell sisters of NZ, undefeated in this event since 2001, for the silver. The Australian crew, a completely new combination (with one rower at her first worlds, whew), followed what seemed to be the raceplan of the day; they got out early, rowing very long in the tailwind, and when the field began to apply pressure late in the race, exhibited impressive composure that kept them in control enough to win it.
The contrast of emotions on the dock couldn't have been greater as the Aussies and Germans were elated with their medals, while the Evers-Swindells were even more stolid and impassive than usual, and seemingly couldn't leave the dock quick enough. If there had been a sure thing going into the regatta, the Evers-Swindells would have had to be it; they've dominated this event for a half-decade and showed no sign of slowing down. With this loss, there's some speculation among folks here that this is the last we've seen of this combo, as both are considered very independent minded and may go their separate ways.
The understatement of the day, from winning AUS W2x bow Liz Kell -speaking of her stroke, Brooke Pratley, Kell offered this: "Brooke is not bad to follow."
The Men's Four race was the local media favorite of the day, with the defending champs and local GB crew under what must have been near unimaginable media scrutiny. The GB crew did win, but the US, the Germans and Dutch crews pushed the pace something fierce, making this far less of a gimme than I suspect the GB quartet would have liked.
The US Men's Four, a group of young guys that gave this regatta a wicked good whirl, gave the Final all that they had. One could speculate that Thursday's rerow, in effect sending the crew through the rep after finishing one second down on the eventual winner of the event in the heat, might have gassed the crew a bit today, but they sure didn't show it early in the race. Off the line, as they had in the heat, the US crew shadowed the leading Brits to the 1000m mark, keeping it as close as two seats, before finding themselves unable to move as the Germans and Dutch crews cranked it up in chasing the Brits to the line.
In the end, a close fourth is bitter result for this outfit, especially given the circumstances of regatta week; nevertheless, fourth in the M4- mid-quadrennium is a pretty outstanding finish for such a young crew.
Other darkhorse wins today; the CAN W2- of Darcy Marquardt and Jane Rumball, as did several other winning crews today, raged off the line and controlled the field from the front, winning a very surprising gold medal for Canada. Just one year ago, in the run up to the Worlds at Gifu, Rowing Canada elected to take no openweight women to Worlds because it felt that none of the crews were up to sufficient standard; this year, Canada has brought a fairly full women's team to Eton, and this gold medal is a testament to the patient approach.
These horses are less dark, but their win was not really expected either; Drew Ginn and Duncan Free of Australia in the M2-, who dethroned the reigning champs from NZ. Coming in for bronze in this event was another surprise Canadian crew, the pair of Malcom Howard and Kevin Light, who did it in the sprint; they came from fifth to third in the last 500m to capture a well-deserved bronze.
The finish of this race also saw a near calamity as the German M2-, who had gunned it to the line, collapsed in the boat and was just stopped from flipping completely over by a safety launch.
The closest thing to a foregone conclusion today was Ekaterina Karsten's win in the W1x; this gold medal is Karsten's 6th world or olympic gold medal since 1997, which is the best current run going I believe. Karsten also put one of the largest margins of victory on the books today, at least in the Olympic events, winning by a commanding 4 seconds.
After last years' near-death experience, when only two crews raced, the LM8+ was back this year and provided one of the most entertaining races of the day with several lead changes and a bang-bang-bang finish that had all 6 crews within a length and a half. Italy took it ahead of the Germans, and bronze went to a surprising (and appropriately jubilant) crew from Poland.
GB LM1x Zac Purchase hit the daily double today, winning in front of a home crowd and setting a new World Best Time in the process. That's two years running that the LM1x has seen the record improved; either this race always happens in a tailwind, or the level is really starting to heat up as folks use it as a proving ground or jumping off point for getting into the lightweight double.
Curious fact flogged to the press today: by the end of Friday, the FISA control commission had weighed in 57.9 metric tonnes of lightweight athletes; according to the FISA folks, this equates to 98.35% of the maximum possible weight that these athletes could be.
Serbia rower (and former Brown U. collegian) Nik Stojic had the turnaround of the day, racing in the B-Final of the Men's Pairs (admittedly, the crew made only a pretense of racing, finishing at half-speed), then filling in for an injured teammate to win the M2+ in races starting only 80 minutes apart.
Today's "Bring your Kid to Worlds" event was the Men's 2x; French gold medal stroke Adrien Hardy brought his young 'un to the podium, but silver-medallist Iztok Cop of Slovenia one-upped him by bringing both of his moppetts up to the awards platform. No word on whether these guys arranged it this way, but the photogs loved it.
Good money if you can get it: the Cuban M1x was seen offering his uni for sale for £100.
Overall, NZ managed to defend only one of four world titles won last year, ouch, while the Aussies jumped to the top of the medals table on day one with three golds (W4-, M2-, W2x).
From a US perspective, the day was about just barely falling short; after taking a bronze medal in the W4-, in the first race of the day, US crews racing in the A-Finals finished fourth (M4-, W2-, M2+), fifth (Michelle Guerette in the W1x, and the LM8+), and sixth (Lisa Schlenker, LW1x).
The bronze medal in the W4- was a welcome start to the day; early handicappers had the US crew coming in anywhere from third to fifth, and indeed, during the race the US crew worked their way from fifth place early in the race to the bronze medal at the finish. While the Women's Four isn't on the top of anybody's A-list anymore, it's still a great place to get some good strokes in.
Apropos of the W4-, today's over-the-top quote comes from Cal's Erin Cafaro and US W4- two seat: "We just wish it was a 3,000m piece. I think we're kind of young. Once we've finally settled down, it's game on!"
The W4- was the first medal race of the day, so the local folks had a few kinks to work out, in this case literally; the flagpole rope holding the US flag for this medal ceremony got tangled in something, which meant that only the Aussie and Chinese flags went up for the anthems, while the Stars and Stripes held steady at one quarter mast.
The US Women's Pair of Anna Mickelson and Megan Cooke had a solid, unspectacular row, and stood 4th at every marker. Perhaps going through the rep in the pair in addition to doubling in the eight did hurt them a bit; the German pair that finished 3rd today is also doubling into the eight, as are several Aussie athletes. The Germans won the heat in the pair, and rowed the rep in the eight, so they rowed the same amount of races as the US crew overall.
After a solid run last year in Japan, Michelle Guerette may have paid the price for her relative inexperience this year; both the semis and the finals were run in conditions that really didn't seem to favor Michelle, and her final position of fifth possibly goes down to water more than anything else.
Other US crews racing today included the W2x of Brett Sickler and Susan Francia, who finished 6th in the B-Final, Jamie Schroeder who finished in the same position in his Petite, and Dan Beery and Sam Burns, who suffered a disastrous mishap just a few strokes into their B-Final early this morning, which led to the crew needing a tow to shore and Dan needing medical attention. We've been told that Dan is doing OK, and is suffering from back spasms.
The US LM2x of Cody Lowry and Dan Urevick-Acklesberg raced in the C-Final of the LM2x, and finished 17th overall.
With one day to go, folks are starting to glaze over a bit; even the locals must be losing it a little bit as well: today's reveille across the PA system at the course this morning was a booming "Goooooooooood Mooooooooorning Dorneeeeey Laaaaake," followed by The Clash's "London Calling" at full blast.
row2k will bring you a full rundown of the Sunday Finals tomorrow, stay tuned!