Watching crews do their last pre-race rows this morning, and even during their warmups on the way to the line, several of the crews' morning rows looked just awesome, and I reflected on how it is always bittersweet when you have just got your boat to go really well, and then everything is suddenly completely and utterly over and done.
The 2014 World Championships came to a close with a men's eight winning out of the reps, two ongoing single scull rivalries playing out dramatically, and the US women's eight extending their Worlds and Olympic winning streak to nine years – yipes.
Add to that a men's double that went six flat, the New Zealand women's double found redemption after losing on the last stroke last year, and the Danes continued their country's legacy of crazy good light men's fours going back at least a couple decades in a nutty close race, and you have a pretty darn good day of racing.
Starting off with the biggest race of the day for our home audience, if the US women's eight looked a bit vulnerable in the first 1500m in Aiguebelette, and then perhaps again in the heats here in Amsterdam based on the splits, they had surely shored things up by the time their 1:48pm local time final came. The crew's main competition was going to be the Canadian crew, which had led them for most of the race in Aiguebelette, and as reported earlier in the week, posted the exact same time as the US in the heats.
Come the final, the two crews ran even for about 400 meters, and then the US stepped on the gas, and it was all but over. For the second and third 500s, the US extended continuously – for a spell taking almost seat as every buoy went by (the buoys are spaced 10 meters apart).
Although they could not make a serious dent in the US lead, Canada kept pushing the pace to take silver, followed by China.
Read what members of the US crew had to say here.
If doubles are born and not made, as the saying goes, the Sincovic brothers of Croatia are the stone proof.
When there is a crew in your doubles final that went under six minutes a couple days ago, few would be faulted at conceding the gold and fighting for the silver and bronze – though it might not be the case that they had any choice in it. Croatia went 6:00.52
After that, it was pandemonium, with 0.6 from second to fifth at the line. Check it out:
See the photo here.
I spoke to stroke brother Valent Sinkovic after the racing:
You set a world record in the semis, and then almost again today. Were you shooting for it today?
Yeah, we were so close, but we weren’t worried about the times. We just want to be world champions, so we just look at the position of the other crews, and when they attacked we moved them back.
So when you got way out were you thinking about charging as hard as you could to the line, or more like maybe don’t make a mistake?
It was more like don’t make a mistake (laughs) - just clean rowing - but we enjoy it very much. We were so much in front that we can look at everyone and it was a great feeling.
What is it that’s making this boat go so fast?
I don’t know, tough training, great coach, that’s the most important thing. And of course physiologically. We train a lot, and everything we do we just think about technique, and we are so concentrated on training.
Not so long ago no one would ever think a double under six minutes.
I can honestly say we didn’t think it’s possible. We looked at the course and we saw that it’s fast and we said in semi-final okay, we are going marks and then we’ll see.
The New Zealand started the race in the back of the pack, but churned steadily through the field, reaching the 500 in fifth, the 1000 in fourth, the 1500 in third, and blasting through to take gold by the finish. The crew undoubtedly took inspiration from having lost last year's doubles gold on the last stroke, and won it pulling away.
The US crew was in the mix through about the halfway point in their final, but never really became a threat to the leaders or medal position, and finished the race in sixth overall.
Light Men's Four
The Danish crew reached the 500 in first, but then New Zealand and the Brits came through, and even the Danes were pretty worried.
"I saw New Zealand and British really moving, and I thought, woah, shit!" said Danish stroke Morten Joergensen. " Then the tailwind came again, and I could tell when we reached 1500 meters that it was ours, that they didn’t have enough to hold us the last thousand meters."
"I think we had a not so good start but the basic rhythm over the middle of the course was very good today," three-seat Jacob Barsoe said. "We were sitting easy and just pushed the boat along, and not use too much energy on the other stuff, and we can always row skillful when it is like this. After the first 1500 meters I said okay, now it’s business time!"
Joergensen was asked if the crew was peaking for Worlds.
"No we’re not peaking right now, we plan to peak in 2016," he said. "Last year and this year we have worked besides the rowing 30 hours a week, and we (his family) had a baby. Next year we start to train a little bit more, and then 2016, that’s where we should peak."
They set a world record in the semis, so if that is not peaking, they could be even more dangerous in a couple years.
Ondrej Synek and Mahe Drysdale have an epic rivalry going – which is admittedly interrupted at times by Marcel Hacker of Germany, and has Angel Fournier Rodriguez of Cuba knocking on the door. Drysdale beat Synek twice this year already, but Synek took the last and biggest spoils at Worlds. After Drysdale got off to a bit of a slow start, the Kiwi came back on Synek, and threatened to overtake him constantly, rowing within half a second of the leader for what seemed like forever, but never got through.
Synek emphasized that the World Champs is the race he hopes to win, and he dedicated his victory to his father, who passed away during the Aiguebelette World Cup.
"There is one race in the year for me and it is this," he said. "All the workouts are preparation for this competition. I am very happy and I cannot be more. Mahe beat me twice in the season during World Cups, and it was close, half of a length, and today it was the same, but for me. It cannot be better. This season my father died, which is great tragedy for me but it’s life, so we are continuing and this winning victory is for him and for my family who support me."
New Zealand sculler Emma Twigg has been declared ineligible for the single next year by the NZ governing body because she will be studying for a degree in Switzerland, and will not be in NZ for selection. It's hard not to think that provided some motivation for Twigg in trying to win this year.
But it came down to another single sculler rivalry in the end as Twigg got ahead of defending world champ Kim Crow from neighboring Australia for the win.
"I love Amsterdam, I love Dutchies, they always put on a great party so there's a great atmosphere," Twigg said. "I love coming here. The conditions have been trying this week, but that all adds to it, and it's nice to achieve my goal for this year. Kim's an amazing competitor, and that's why she was world champion last year," Twigg said. We've had some great battles, and today was another one of them. It's a really great thing for sculling to have a bit of a rivalry, especially Australia- New Zealand. It's one all so we have another couple years to battle it out!
"I've learned a lot of things this year, including how far I can push myself in training, but next year is going to be slightly different for me, which I am excited about. I'm looking forward to Rio; I think it's all there, it's just a matter of putting into practice all the things I have learned in training."
The British crew came through the reps to win the world title, which is rare but not unheard of – especially for British crews. The 2000 Olympic champion eight did the same thing, and the current British crew definitely has not forgotten.
"We’ve learned everything from every race, from the heat to the rep to the final," coxswain Phelan Hill said. "Today we just talked about being tough, being brave, especially through that second 500. We saw what happened in the heat with the Germans, and today we were not going to let them get away. We were there in the mix, and then coming through the thousand I said guys, this is our moment, this is our moment, we can have it here; sniff the blood. Then from then on we just rowed so strong, it was just great in the boat, great.
"Our first real race was Lucerne," Hill continued. "That’s the first time we had the crew together, and it gave us an indication of where we were, what we needed to do. We always knew there was quite a lot of raw power in the boat, and it was just about harnessing it. We went away, we sat down for a while, messed around with the crew order a little bit, and came out with our final lineup. Then from there on I think just the heat, the rep and then the final, every day we’ve been learning. This crew is really amazing, all the way along. We’ve always talked about let’s go out and do this today, and every single time we’ve asked for it everyone’s delivered on it.
"The rep was really healthy for us," he said. "You look at history a little bit, the reps never a bad thing at a world champs or Olympics. I take the British 8 from 2000. They didn't have a great heat, and then went to the rep to the final. In the rep, we thought about learning something from that rep, attacking the start more. We did that. We're always taught that none of the races previously had to be perfect. The only thing that matters is the final today, and just building up for that. And then every single day it’s just been turning the dial a little bit more, a little bit more, looking for that one more percent here and there."
Hill described the last strokes of the race: "We had a two-man lead coming in to the last 250. I was aware the Germans were starting to charge, but I felt as long as we stuck to what we did together we’d come through. Then with 150 to go I thought yeah, this is it. Although still when we came over the line I still had to double check - then I was pretty excited over the line."
The US men struggled to run with the leaders, rowing in fourth for most of the course and finishing about a length out of the medals. After having won the World Cup in Aiguebelette rowing away, the US men were clearly disappointed with the result after the racing.
"I thought the guys did a pretty good job," coach Luke McGee said after the racing. "We feel it’s a young group, and lessons they learned here could be pretty valuable down the road. There are a few guys who have never been on a team before, a few guys on their first senior team, and we're (the coaches) new as well. Some of the guys who beat us have already won big races, some of them a lot of big races. We need to learn a little bit more about what it takes to win big races, to understand how hard it is.
"I think we had a couple missteps in the heat and then the rep, but I hope coming out of it they’ve learned more about what it takes to put their bow in front. And then obviously there’s a lot of things that they need to keep improving over the course of the next couple of years. It will take a bit of time, but I think we have a good group, and we'll work hard to get there."
Notes from the course