A building tailwind turned Dorney Lake lumpy again today, and probably blew a few crews to victory and a few others off their game; that said, the racing was ferocious and more than a few races came down to the last few strokes, if not the last stroke.
The US Women's 8+ had a huge win today; a strong start got them close to a length on the field, but a bulletproof raceplan and tremendous focus kept them in front as the Germans and Australians crews started to press back into the lead. Unlike last year, when the ordnance to finish out the piece with bombs going off around them wasn't quite there, this crew closed the door in the 3rd 500 and was not going to be denied.
The US Women's 8+ might resent this insinuation, but they in effect used the same raceplan used by the US Men in Athens; get in front, control, and finish. Anna Goodale summed the race up thusly: "That was pretty damn hot! Simpy awesome. We were up after 500m and then kept at it all the way."
Icing on the cake for the US women: in addition to the gold medal, they set a new world best time of 5:55.5, bettering their own world best time, set at Athens in 2004, by just over a second.
The win in the 8+, on top of doubling two crews, the pair and the double, into the boat is a pretty good indication of the depth and overall can-do of the current US women's squad; incidentally, all three medal-winning crews in the W8+ doubled up, with the Aussies and Germans winning medals in both of their doubling events.
Here's the final tally for doubling women's sweep rowers:
USA: gold eight, 4th pair, 12th double
Germany: silver eight, bronze pair
Australia: bronze eight, gold four
At first glance, the final medal haul would indicate that the doubling wasn't a real success; however, as the first such extensive doubling on the US team that I can remember, especially with a gold in the eight at the end of it, you'd have to say that, not only are the goods there athletically for the US team to double athletes into two events at a world championships, but that the "first domino" of having success while doubling has gone over: this is a success that can be repeated.
The Men's 8+ went down in much the same way as the women's eight did; the Germans got out in front (though it took a bit longer than in the women's 8), controlled the field, and at the finish had a similar margin on the field, about half a length. This is a big win for the Germans as well; make no mistake, the Germans love the eight as much as some other nations do, and this win is one they've been scrapping for since their last win in 1995.
A look at the splits for this race (and, indeed, for several of today's races) would seem to show that, while the tailwind made for fast conditions, the wind and chop combined just enough to make it difficult for crews to generate the speed required to change the momentum of the race; a lot of crews that found themselves running third or fourth early in these finals seemed to stay there, as was the case for the US Men's 8+.
The final played out much as times from the two semifinals might have indicated, as two races: the US, Germany and Italy separated themselves from the field, and at the finish it was nearly two lengths of open water back to Australia in fourth place.
On the podium, the US Men's Eight were visibly disappointed but also extremely graceful in defeat; it's never easy if you row in the US Men's Eight to expect anything less than a win, just by nature of the USA's history in the event; the US doesn't have a perfect string of wins, but they've won a lot over the past 10 years. This group seemed to take bronze as well as bronze can be taken. On the whole, the performance of the M8+/M4- taken together as a group result has to be impressive; besides the germans, who won the eight and came 2nd in the four, no other men's sweep team did as well as the US at these championships.
A few row2k readers pointed this out during the week, and a quick visual double-check confirmed that the Italian M8+ was in fact rowing a Hudson with the familiar white hull/blue stripe markings of a Filippi; this had us fooled too, until we took a closer look. Apparently, the color scheme is a concession to the arrangement between Filippi and the Italian rowing federation.
Curiously, at the halfway point of the last Olympic cycle in 2002, the US Women won the 8 and the US Men came 3rd also.
The new kid on the block, for lightweights anyways, are the Chinese. Folks have seen this coming as China prepares to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but boy did this come quickly: the Chinese claimed gold in two of the three Olympic class lightweight events (LM4- and LW2x), and won the LW4x going away so can be accorded the mantle of supremacy in lightweight rowing, at least for the year. The LW4x actually improved the world best time twice at this regatta, having also done so in the heat.
Where the win in the LW2x was hard-fought, the win the LM4- was emphatic; this crew beat a pretty outstanding field. The lightweight events are so deep that it would have seemed nearly impossible to come out of nowhere and win the world title, but the Chinese did so today, beating the defending world champs France in the process. The crew let the Irish, who have been streaky all year, get out in front by a bit, then put on the burners to get their bow ahead and stay there.
The Chinese too seemed to have shed some of their reticence as well; the Chinese LM4- was jubilant as they crossed the finish line, and their celebrations on the awards platform were as good as any you'd expect from Italians. The LW2x was a tad more reserved in their celebrations: the crew looked up, confirmed that they'd won, and then the bow seat gave a brief little wave to their gold-medal teammates in the LW4x who'd stuck around the finish line to watch the double race.
The Chinese LM4- are coached by former US sculling coach Igor Grinko, who was all proud papa in the stands. Igor sported both a still camera and a camcorder, and videotaped everything including medals, anthems, and clowning on the dock. It remains to be seen whether or not these wins are a one-off, or if the Chinese can mount a sustained assault on the medals dock. In any event, today's result was legit.
If the LM4- had a new crew added to the top of the pile, the field in the LW2x saw mass turnover this year, with the gold and silver medal winners from 2005 in the Petites and the bronze medallist way down at the bottom of the A-Final. Again, the Chinese were the surprise winners, with a competent, experienced Australian crew just running out of runway to catch them, and Greece, with a 2004 Olympian on board, coming third. China had to work for this one, but with no one closer than two seconds coming into the last 500m, no one was going to catch them.
Conventional wisdom holds that margins tend to compress a little in a tailwind, but the Danish LM2x made a hash of this assertion by schooling the deepest field at the regatta for the gold medal today. The Danes moved out at the start and just kept moving, holding over a length of open water by 1500m gone. At the finish, the Danes still had nearly four seconds on the silver-medal Italians, with the French in third.
In the Lightweight Men's Quad, the Italians won their 10th title in the last 11 years; the way these guys celebrate on the awards dock each time, you'd think they were rookies. In the other Lightweight "International" event, the Light Men's Pair, the Germans won it ahead of Spain and Italy. The Italians are really still very much around in men's lightweight rowing, medalling in four of six events.
Beyond the eights, US crews in action today were the Men's Coxed Four, who pulled a raging sprint but fell just short of a medal, finishing fourth. The Lightweight Men's and Women's Quads each finished fifth in their respective finals, while the women's Quad finished sixth in their final. In this race, Russia broke the hearts of the hosts GB, winning by half a second in an absolute seesaw battle that saw the GB and Russia briefly change leads, then change leads seemingly stroke for stroke in the last 200 meters or so. The Brits were visibly distraught at their loss; just last year they had claimed this title by a similarly close margin over Germany, who didn't even figure today. This is the first time in the history of the event, as far as I'm aware, that Germany hasn't medalled.
Overall, this regatta was less than kind to defending champions over the past two days of finals; in the 14 Olympic events, only five managed to defend their titles. The Polish Men's Quad was one of the repeaters, holding off the Ukraine and Estonia to claim gold again.
In the B-Final racing earlier in the day, US finished crews 2nd in the Men's Quad,3rd in the Lightweight Women's double, 3rd in the Lightweight Men's Four, and 5th in the Lightweight Men's Pair.
Celebrity sighting of the day: Cherie Blair, wife of British PM Tony Blair, was seen at the edge of the gear trading pit just before the start of the afternoon A-Finals.
High school coaches will know about this one: the adaptive races at the World Championships are run on floating starts from the 1000m mark of the course, and in the tailwinds of the last two days the aligners have had to do quite a bit of extra work to keep crews even across the course as they drifted down the lanes. Today this actually delayed the start of racing at the beginning of the elite A-Finals, and will surely be a topic of conversation among FISA and race organizers.
US Adaptive crews did very well today, with Scott Brown and Angela Madsen winning their 4th consecutive gold medal in the Adaptive Mixed double, while Patty Rollison and Ron Harvey each took silver in their respective arms-only singles events.
Quote of the day/week: "I can't wait to get out of England so that I can stop being so damn polite!" There's a kernel of truth there, despite transportation snafus and the occasional opaque rule or regulation, our British hosts have been unfailingly polite and hospitable.
On our way to the course early this morning, row2k was greeted at the gates to the compound with a "bloody 'ell boys, you're back and forf like a bloody fiddler's elbow!" Indeed, we've logged pretty good mileage this week. The Brits use the adjective "useful" to describe a rower who's versatile, spot-on or otherwise a good fit to his or her crew; we hope you've found our coverage this weekend "useful" in some way or another, it's been our pleasure bringing it to you.