Six minutes, three seconds: the past ten months of training, the hundreds of kilometers on the water, the gallons and gallons of sweat… and it all came down to the six minutes and three-point-six-five seconds. The competition was tight, and the rowing wasn’t always pretty, but when those six-odd minutes were over, it was the American bowball that crossed the finish line first.
At the close of our prerace pep talk, Coach reminded us of Olympic qualification. “Just try to get top five,” he said, only half-joking. We were strong and fast enough to contend for the gold, he told us, but if a catastrophe should occur (as it did in 2003), we should fight to the death for that fifth qualifying position. So when we crossed the 500m mark in fifth place, I suppose Coach might’ve worried that we took his final advice a little too seriously!
Great Britain, Netherlands, Canada, Romania, and China were all extremely fast off the start, and the first few minutes found us in the back of the pack (eek!). However, Mary kept us from panicking or becoming frazzled. Our lane was right in between Great Britain and Canada; the two English-speaking coxswains could’ve rattled our concentration, but we had prepared for the distractions during our pre-race visualization… amidst all the yelling coxswains and splashing oars and cheering spectators, Mary’s voice was the only sound we heard. And because all eight rowers were absolutely focused on their coxswain, when she told us to move, we MOVED!
Gradually, seat by seat, we worked our way back through the field. We pushed our way through Great Britain and the Netherlands, but the Canadian crew was determined to hold our charge. As we crossed the 1500m mark, we were neck and neck. I don’t remember too much of the next ninety-seconds: exercise-induced amnesia, if you will. My lungs were burning, I couldn’t feel my legs, I heard Mary call for the final build, and I just prayed that we would make it to the line before my arms fell off!
But all of our training paid off during that final sprint, and the Americans earned the gold medal by point-seven seconds! An absolutely thrilling race!
As we stood on the medals dock and listened to the national anthem, I felt so honored and proud to be wearing the red, white, and blue. This 2011 Final was a telling preview of the tight and intense racing we can expect at the 2012 Olympics. This was not an easy victory for the Americans: Canada fought us for every single inch. In fact, every boat in our final displayed impressive speed and racing strategy, as evidenced by the tight margins between first and fifth place. We will have to work especially diligently during the next eleven months to defend our title!
What’s on tap for the next few weeks? Well, under the new Worlds schedule, there are still two days of finals. So I plan to cheer on my teammates, enjoy the sunshine, and sample Bled’s many tourist attractions. Then Mom and I are off for a week’s tour of the Slovenian Alps (!!), before I head back to New Jersey to recommence training. Thank you so much for all your messages and positive support! I could not have achieved this success without all your encouragement!
P.S. I just discovered that I might or might not have added the wrong postage to all my postcards. Oops. But never fear, they should arrive by Christmas…