A huge batch of Olympic qualifier spots were booked today, as the qualification count on all the events was 11 with the exception of the men's quad, which was eight – which meant that if you made the A final, you locked in the Olympic spot. As you would expect, it made for some furious racing—and would be some incentive to blast off to a huge lead for sure.
Here is what we saw and heard, in order of racing.
The US women's pair rowed in the first race of the day, and quickly made it interesting if not exciting, powering out to a massive margin an almost Kiwi-pair margin relatively quickly – five seconds on the field at the 1000, eight seconds at the 1500 (then they cruised it in a little to win by 6.77 seconds).
In the other semi, the defending World Champ GB crew was pushed a bit by New Zealand, and as a result had a little more reason to stay on the blades a bit and posted a little bit better time than the US crew. The race for the gold this weekend could be truly epic.
But US stroke Elle Logan said that their approach wasn't really governed by the need to qualify, although it was definitely on their minds.
"As a team our biggest goal this summer was to qualify as many boats as we can, so it was definitely important going into today’s race," she said. "But we treat every race as important, so that when it really is important like it was today, it’s the same."
It was also important for the crew to keep working on their race.
"Since we haven’t had a whole lot of time together, it’s really important every race to just stay within ourselves," she said. "It's true there’s a lot of things going on, but we are really seeing if we can get better every time we go out. That’s the biggest goal that we have every time. I really believe if we focus on that, that’s all that matters. It seems like a novice thing, but if we really follow it and believe it, things happen. I think we made a step in the right direction, and there’s always more to be had."
Light Men's Pair
The overwhelming size and athletic equality in the light men's pair can sometimes produce some really intense races, and this morning we saw some of them. In the second semi, the French pair led all the way, providing the local schoolkids who have been given a couple vacation/school trip days to come out to the championship a great reason to make a lot of noise – not that they needed it.
What looked like a fairly comfortable wedge of France, Germany, and the US in the three advancing spots started to pull away and seemed ready to settle in for a glide to the finish when the Spanish pair started sprinting really early and turned it into a brawl, with Germany, the US, and Spain absolutely even going through at least three or four buoy lines early in the last 500 meters. In response, the US crew had to throw their race plan out the window.
"Through the middle we thought we were getting in a really comfortable rhythm," stroke seat Peter Gibson said. "We thought we might run down the course with the top three crews and just be comfortable, but Spain was just going for it and they really made it close at the end. I’m glad Robin saw that, because he said alright, we’ve just got to go."
I asked bow seat Robin Prendes what he saw, and how he responded.
"The top three boats were pretty close, so it seemed like any push that anyone was making was just for position," he said. "But then I saw Spain just sprinting through the Russians. They had a pretty fast speed coming through the last 500, and we had a plan to just maintain that length through the last 500, try to get a good rhythm, push it a little bit more before the sprint. But when I saw Spain coming, I thought, 'that isn’t going to work.' So I just said 'Pete, get ready to go for it.' So we had to change the race plan last minute."
"Or last 20 seconds!" Gibson added with a laugh.
"It was uncomfortably close, but predictably so for a lightweight race," Prendes added. " I’m just glad we were able to come in the good side of this, and all that matters is that we qualified."
Asbolustely, as it's been a while since that has happened; the last US light men's pair to make the A final was in 2003.
Light Men's Single, Light Women's Single
Nick Trojan's semi in the light men's single had a similar dynamic except that Trojan was the one staging a charge, not defending one. Coming through the last 500 in fourth a solid 1.5 seconds out of third, and thanks to rowing in lane five not always visible on the TV screens, Trojan fired off a last 500 that was the second fastest 500 of any of the six scullers anywhere in the race, putting him into the A final.
Trojan trains under coach Carlos Dinares along with US light women's single sculler Kate Bertko, who had just the opposite experience of getting out to a big lead, and then having to defend it almost all the way down the course. I spoke to both in separate conversations about their opposing experiences; you can read what they had to say here.
Earlier this summer, it looked like the men's pair was tightening up a bit, and if the times across semis mean anything, it does look like the British pair could give the NZ pair a good race on the weekend. The NZ pair went 6:26.0, while the British pair went 6:27.48, both with crews about a length off their stern throughout, so somewhat similar levels of pressure. The Kiwi pair often rows an even split race plan, so that factor alone may make the final something to see; if they come down the course in the back of the pack in the early going (as they did last year), it could make things interesting.
The US men's pair made a courageous bid for the final, hounding the Italian pair all the way down the course, and ultimately forcing the Italians to row the fastest last 500 of the race to advance.
Eleven crews qualify for Rio from this event, so the crew will head to the B final with the aim of a top five finish.
In each of our past two discussions with US men's pair stroke Dariush (Tim) Aghai, he mentioned how cool and collected his pair partner Mike DiSanto is, so I spoke to Mike to find out if he saw it the same way, and what his thoughts are about the obvious boat chemistry that this crew has. Read Mike's comments here.
Light Men's Double
The light men's double played out as this event will, with eight crews within five seconds across two semis, and the spread between advancing to the A vs B final at less than a second in both. The US crew rowed themselves from fourth into third for most of the race, and then found themselves in a bruising tangle with the German crew in the final 500, the difference in the end being that the Germans posted the fastest last 500 of the race, while the US crew posted the second fastest last 500 of the race. The US crew ended up fourth and out of the A final, so their Olympic qualification hopes are still to be sorted out in the B final, where they will have to beat at least one crew to make the required top 11.
Light Women's Double
If the light men's field is tight, the light women's field is like a vice. Fully 11 crews came in between 6:57 and 7:03 across two semis, and it took some real heroics to do it. The Canadian crew of Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee, for example, rowed from sixth to first all in the last 800 meters of the race, posting their fastest 500 in the final 500 by about four seconds (splits here)
The US was in somewhat the same situation, but couldn't find the speed in the second half of the race despite some promising stretches in the second 500, and placed fifth at the line. They will also go to the B final looking to beat at least one crew; they're rowing in the row2k boat, so we are pulling for them to the max.
The men's four was the heartbreaker of the session for US crews, as the crew had won World Cup II earlier this summer, and has three returning members from the 2012 bronze medal eight. The crew was arguably a potential favorite in the event, as well as the men's sweep team's top medal contender.
The crew had been plagued by illness for the past week, however, as first one crew member took ill, and then another followed. Ultimately yesterday afternoon Charlie Cole had to be replaced by Grant James, who had raced in the rep of the men's eight. James was in the silver medal four last year, so knew the drill for sure, but in today's semi the crew raced in third for most of the race before faltering in the sprint, and they ended up fifth, 0.63 out of an A final slot. The four has long been one of the most fiercely fought events, and the racing is simply too wild for a crew not to be at full strength and make an A final.
"That was a really bad break,”coach Bryan Volpenhein told USRowing. “At this level, any change like that, when you have one guy sick, can make a huge difference, and that’s an example of it. Even with a guy that’s been in there before. When the crews are on around you, and you have one bad day, it’s tough. Especially when you lose the guy that’s been your top guy all year, it makes it tough.
“There’s a lot of reasons, a lot of excuses, we can come up with for that, but the fact is, we lost a race and now we have to regroup and qualify this boat, get back on Saturday and see if we can win the B final and get some sort of redemption.”
We talked about the depth of the 2015 men's quad field in a previous report, and man did it show up today. In the second semi, only 3.1 seconds separated all six crews, and only 1.12 separated second from sixth. It was the most furious finish of the day bar none.
In the other semi, Ukraine led the whole way before coming apart in the final strokes as three crews blitzed over the line within 0.4 seconds. The US crew wasn't really able to get themselves in the mix today, and will be shooting for a top 2 in the B final to qualify the boat for Rio.
Notes from the course:
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09/03/2015 7:58:05 PM