Today was the first day of Olympic A finals, and the athletes showed up for sure - to the extent that a heap ended up in, well, a heap. Blankets, people sitting with their legs in the water, and even smelling salts all made appearances on the medals landing dock, whew.
For US crews, the day started off with a series of bittersweet B final efforts for a bunch of Rio qualification spots, but we couldn't start off with anything but the gold medal won by the US women women's quad, the first ever US gold in the event, and the bronze medal won by the US women's pair. So dispensing with the "order of racing" format of the past several days for a little homerism, let's save the best for first.
Shortly before the women's pair semis last year, I was having a casual conversation with Charley Butt, and as we broke it off he said "I'm heading over to watch the best crew in the world." He was talking about the British women's pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, who are the mainstays of a crew that has not lost since 2011.
In the semis, the US crew of Felice Mueller and Elle Logan posted a nearly identical time to the GB pair, and despite having only a few month together instead of a few years, the crew went out today to give it a go. Read their thoughts about rowing the pair, rowing the pair together, and about their race here.
Heather Stanning (s), - GBR - gold: "It was pretty flat out there. We were exactly where we want to be, we will peak only next year. It is great to win here. "We have worked very, very hard and it's exciting because we feel there are more improvements to come".
Helen Glover - GBR - gold: "We wanted to feel the pressure here of defending a title because that is what we will have to do in Rio."
Grace Prendergast (b) - NZL - silver: "We had a good race, we are very happy about this silver. GB went out very quickly, we look forward to the eight tomorrow."
Gold Medal? Check. Olympic Qualification? Check. History? Check!!! The USA W4x on top of the world
After placing second in the heats, and then clawing their way to the second of two advancing spots in the rep, the crew came out today shadowing the storied German quad for about 800 meters, pulled even before the 1000, and then put their bow ahead for good. Read what they had to say about the race, about a call from Tracey Eisser that gave them the chills, and how it ended with a huge spray of water and the riggers in the water here.
Annekatrin Thiele (b) - GER - silver "We had a positive week and preparation for the World Champs. I don't really know why we lost today, we did not have a very good race."
Nicole Beukers (b)- NED - bronze "It was not really our perfect race, the first part should have been stronger. I knew we could win a medal, I said go and we went."
61 wins and counting, the NZ M2- of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray are still taking nothing for granted.
The Kiwi pair had still another row for the ages and the record books, now having won 61 races consecutively going back to 2009 - and not to mention the spreadsheet, as their 6.5 second win added a bit more to their average winning margin of 5.2 seconds during that time, and that's just in A finals; if you add in all the qualifying races, it's a lot more.
That doesn't mean that the crew is taking winning for granted.
"6:15 is a pretty good time for the conditions, we are pleased with that and especially to do it on race day. We made some good improvements in our rhythm these last weeks, and I'm really pleased that we could go out there today and execute with a good rhythm," stroke Hamish Bond said. "It's a good time, but even more satisfying than the time is just putting a good race together. We do it so many times in training - it's one of my biggest fears, not being able to pull it out on race day so I was really pleased with that performance.
James Foad (b) - GBR - silver: "We went out there to race the kiwis. Unfortunately, we couldn't get into our rhythm to hold on. I've now got four silver medals. I am not here for silver any more, I wanted to win. I thought it would be a lot closer today. They are a class act."
Matt Langridge: GBR: "We didn't want to get silver. It's hard to take. But credit to them. We upped our game at training camp but they have upped theirs too."
Nenad Bedik (s) - SRB - bronze: "It's really tough, but a really good race. We managed to stay with GB, but they had the better finish. We are so happy, it is our first World Championship medal."
The US men's double placed third in their rep for ninth overall, locking up a spot for Rio in the boat class.
Light Men's Double
The French light men's pair was the class of the event here, but it might be that the French crowd was the highlight of the race. Stomping feet, waving flags, cheering, wearing face paint and hair dye, banging thunderstix, and wearing the ubiquitous hats, the French crowd went tres fou for their 2014 silver medalists countrymen, and helped them to a world championship on home waters, followed by Great Britain and Norway.
Stany Delayre (b) - FRA - gold: "We tried to save as much energy as possible in the first half and then give everything in the second half. It's only intense joy to finally be World Champion."
William Fletcher (b), R- GBR - silver: "At the end of the race, I just thought, cross the line, don't catch a crab. It is brilliant, I am so happy. We rowed the race we wanted to and now we need to find a few more metres for next year. I am happy with that result today it was a good start for the boat.
And in reply to the oft-heard FISA quote team question about their plans after the championship: "I have three weeks to go away from rowing with my girlfriend."
Are Strandli (s) - NOR - bronze: "It was very painful, but a good race. We reached our limit and a little bit beyond."
The NZ LW2x of Julia Edward and Sophie MackKenzie prevailed in the tightest final of the day
Light Women's Double
The Kiwis continued their run of small boat medals and wins with an even split-ish row from fifth into first to repeat as world champions, followed by Great Britain and South Africa in a thrilling race in which only a few feet separated the three with 500 meters to go. The crews are well aware that there isn't that much in it between them.
"The good thing about our event this season is that the results have switched and changed and no-one has really dominated", said Charlotte Taylor of the GB double, in which she raced today's final with Olympic Champion Kat Copeland. "Anyone's game plan can win and if we are in the mix towards the end, I've got confidence in what we have got in our turn of speed."
The South African double doesn't have the luxury of spending the summer in Europe and racing World Cups as do some of the other crews in the event, but they race one another enough at home that they don't feel disadvantaged by it too much.
"We train in singles for part of the season, we really bang it out against each other and another lightweight," said South African bow seat Kirsten McCann. "I think that we develop a huge fight in competition and that's to our benefit, it teaches us close hard core racing. Then when you race against these other girls it's not too far in terms of close competition."
"We race each other constantly, and our coach does his best with our limited resources to create that environment so we don't stay out of touch with it," stroke seat Ursula Grobler said. "Of course we'd love to come and race the other World Cups, but that's okay because in the meantime he just does our best to keep us racing each other so that we are not too far from it."
The competitive spirit continued after the double was selected, and even extends to their warmups and cooldowns on the erg here in Aiguebelette.
"We were saying last night, even when the double was selected we still want to beat on the ergo," McCann said. "But it's a constructive way of doing it, not destructive, it's very constructive.
"When I see her going at a lower split than I, I'm like no, I you can do that too," Grobler agreed. "I know she's watching my screen as much as I'm watching hers, so it is competitive!"
Julia Edward (s) - NZL - gold: "We are so happy to be twice World Champion. We are just over the moon, we can't believe it."
Charlotte Taylor (b) - GBR - silver: "Today was about knowing how well we could do, it was a test for the Olympics next year. We are so happy, it is game on."
Kirsten Mccann (b) - RSA - bronze: "We banged against each other in the single during the winter to be able to race at such a high level event. Credit to the entire field."
After having lost a crew member to a busted collarbone earlier in the summer (while riding a bike, another in the string of elite rowers who have wiped out on a bike, whew), new member Joshua Dunkley-Smith and the Australian crew looked like they hadn't missed a step, leading the race to 500 to go. But the Italian crew pretty much went bonkers in the closing strokes, bursting into the lead - and subsequently into a celebration where three of the rowers were all standing in the boat with their hands off the oars at the same time, not bad.
Italian M4- got ups
"Our start was the best we've had all regatta and we put our all out there," Australian bowman Will Lockwood said. "We had a great middle kilometer but we just didn't have the juice when it came to the final 500 metres to overtake the Italians.
"We've been rowing together for four weeks which is no time at all, the Italians have been together for three years and it showed in the cleanliness of their row. Credit to them, it was an awesome race and we raced well and I'm incredibly proud of the boys for what they did today."
The Canadian men were in the hunt, but when the windup came, couldn't quite get the lift from their boat that they needed.
"It's frustrating," three-seat Kai Langerfeld said. "This wasn't our best race. It felt like we were fighting each other a bit out there. We weren't responding as a unit to Will's calls."
Still, the Canadians did earn a spot for Rio.
"We have to remember that the goal is Rio and that remains our focus," continued Langerfeld. "The crew is moving in the right direction and we are looking forward to finding those extra seconds in the next twelve months."
The US men won their B final earlier in the day, locking up a spot in the boat class for Rio.
Matteo Castaldo (2) - ITA - gold: "It's a dream come true, something of once in a lifetime. We are a great group and good friends."
Joshua Dunkley-Smith (2) - AUS - silver: "The race was good and quick it was neck and neck all the way. The Italians were just explosive. It's a big challenge to be in a boat only for the World Championships."
Scott Durant (b) - GBR - bronze: "We believed we had the capability to win a medal, it was a question of doing it. We just stormed to the finish to win it."
Despite a building headwind, high stroke rates in the mid-40s characterized the end of the men's quad race, a fitting end to an intense day. Germany revved it a little bit better than anyone else, taking gold over Australia for silver and Estonia for bronze.
"Conditions are the start were quite different to how they were at the finish, there was a genuine cross head which meant that no crews could get out really fast," of the Australian men's quad. "As it got through the race we started off a little bit behind but we knew that and then we set about using our rhythm through the middle which we know is good and then really tacked together for a good finish which we probably haven't done since Varese and the first World Cup we competed in this season.
"We put ourselves in a good position, but Germany showed their class but we hung on for that second position, and it definitely gives us something to work on should we boat again together next season which I really hope it does happen.
"The younger two members of our crew in Cam (Girdlestone) and David (Watts) have really taken this whole experience in their stride and not been overawed by it all. It's a real measure of the two of them that they're able to do that, Cam has gone from a boat that was in the C-Final last year to one that has won a medal this year and that's a phenomenal thing for anyone.
"He's a class act and a great athlete and he deserves and to come from where he was, taking it in his stride and I believe our boat has really benefited from having both the older experience of myself and Karsten as well as the youth and exuberance of Cam and David."
Karl Schulze (b) - GER - gold "This was really fun, but a bit too long because of the head wind. We had a super finish. Our goal was to win gold, we had to beat ourselves."
Cameron Girdlestone (3) - AUS - silver: "It has been a long time to win this medal. We had some good things this week and we just put everything together today."
Allar Raja (2) - EST - silver: "The semi felt amazing, but today I don't realise it yet. We changed our race plan during the day and the finish was very good."
The US men finished 12th in the B final, and missed the nine-boat cutoff for Rio.
Notes from the course:
- The weather was quite different for these finals than for the (in this case appropriately named) heats; with temps into the 90s last weekend, this morning we woke up to temps of 45 degrees (or seven degrees as folks here noted).
- The French men's four won their C final, and the crowd didn't care that it wasn't for the medals or the Olympic qualification, giving them a full ovation as they passed by the grandstand. The four obliged them fully, waving and clapping, and finally standing up in the boat with arms raised. C final or not, not a bad way to end a championships.
- The US women's four are the spares for the women's eight, so instead of rocking the town for two days after their win, they are out practicing in their boat. That's not all bad; last year I wrote about how you train all year, and just when your boat is really going well, you race and it's over. So they get to go out and row around in a gold medal quality four on one of the prettiest racecourses in the world; anyone out there who would complain?
- The stroke of the German women's pair had to be taken out of the boat beyond the finish line and to a nearby pier for medical attention; her pair partner subsequently sculled the boat back herself
- In the same race, the stroke seat of the Belarus women's pair needed smelling salts, which were at first administered by her pair partner, who thought her reaction to be very funny; Phew!