The USA JW2x celebrates the first-ever medal, a gold, for the US in the event (photo: Maren Derlien)
Six medals coupled with a few historic firsts for the USA Juniors made for a great final day at the 2016 World Rowing Championships, as #megaworlds wound down with a suitably mega-tastic day of racing.
On a day where the US juniors won a best-ever six medals in a best-ever nine A finals, the highlight has to be the historic win for the USA's Emily Delleman and Caroline Sharis, who not only won the Junior Women's Double, but in the process became the first US crew to medal in the event. Racing in a close field, the USA switched gears in the third 500, and within a few strokes it was really all over but the shouting.
"We didn't go super hard off the start," said bow seat Caroline Sharis. "We toned it back a little bit and we just had a really great move at 1250, it's our signature move. It's called The Kraken."
"We killed it," added stroke Emily Delleman. "We just took it home from there. I think Caroline did an amazing job for her first world championships!"
Was there an extra expectation because the US had never medaled in the event before? "We were definitely just like, 'Let's make history,'" said Delleman. "Even just if we medaled alone we would have made history, so to get a gold medal is pretty cool."
Delleman and Sharis enjoying the podium (photo: Maren Derlien)
Coach (and Caroline's dad) Pete Sharis echoed his crew's sentiments. "Overjoyed. They just executed a great race," said Sharis. "They've prepared over the last couple months unbelievably well. They've done everything right in their training. We've practiced in difficult conditions because we knew it would be windy here. We row on the Mississippi, so the afternoons especially can get extremely choppy, so we figured that in the last thousand meters when the water got really rough, if they could be in the mix and then take their big move with 750 to go, hopefully it would work well. And it worked extremely well and they just executed it."
Not that he's a stranger to performances like this; Pete Sharis won gold in the USA JM8+ at the '87 Junior Worlds in Cologne, Germany.
Check out our full interview with the crew here.
This caps an incredible year for Delleman, who also won CRASH-Bs in February and Youth Nationals (with Sharis) in June; occasionally, ergs really do float.
History also knocked for the US Junior Men's Quad with the highest finish and first medal ever in this event with a bronze behind the Czechs and Germany. In an extremely fast race, the crew ran in fourth for much of the first 1250, pacing the French, then dropped the hammer, moving through and into the second place Germans in the last 500 meters.
The crew looked set to do that from the moment they locked on to the stakeboats, right down to the fired up, fierce fist bump that went down the lineup on the starting line.
"In the United States, sculling isn't considered as important as sweep rowing," said three-seat Zach Skypek. "So, for us to come and set a new precedent for our country and have the best performance any boat ever had, it's pretty amazing."
The USA JM4x also won a first-ever medal for the US in their event (photo: Maren Derlien)
Coach Casey Galvanek reflected on the crew's selection situation, which he felt contributed a great deal to the boat's eventual finish.
"This year, it was kind of a unique situation for us," he said. "The stern three of the boat had been rowing together at Sarasota crew for part of the year. It did give us a head start. The selection process was pretty neat. The people that opened themselves up for the process and actually participated, it was pretty exciting. We are still looking for more people to want to participate in the selection process, and hopefully this opens some people's eyes that the selection process is open, fair, and can make competitive boats."
Check out our full interview with the crew here.
In the 432nd and final race of the eight days of #MegaWorlds, the Junior Men's Eight, Germany and the US waged and absolutely nuts back and forth battle open water ahead of the field, with the lead switching every few strokes it seemed. On the line, the Germans took it by a third of a bowball at the line.
The crew handled the close loss well; across the board, the USA Juniors drew raves for the way they represented themselves and their team here in Rotterdam.
"I think you can never be disappointed with a medal performance," said USA JM8+ coach Brian de Regt after the race. "I'm sure we would have all been happier if we were a couple inches faster, but it's hard to be too disappointed. The guys had a phenomenal regatta, both times were very good, both under 5:40, which is the standard that we set at the start of the summer. I don't know how many races I've had the last thousand separated by that little, as we were .02 at the 1k."
de Regt also expressed his satisfaction with the performance of the entire USA Juniors team. "I think as a team, this is the best that we've ever done as a camp," he said "Two bronzes, a silver and two fourths; as a staff we're very happy. The quality of athlete that we have is very high. When you have good athletes, then it's easy to be a good coach."
Check out our full interview with Brian here.
A little bit of letdown perhaps as well for the US Junior Women's pair of Kaitlin Kynast and Kailani Marchak, who were blitzed off the line by the Italian women (who also set a new world best time today, upending the time that Kynast & Marchak set on Wednesday). Kynast and Marchak settled for bronze, but handled the loss and disappointment with a huge amount of class.
"The conditions were not at all what we expected," said stroke Kynast. "We trained yesterday expecting kind of a headwind on port and we got the complete opposite. I'm just happy that we we're able to actually get through the conditions to win a medal. Yeah, it's not what we wanted, but honestly, it wasn't our best race, and we both accept that. After the race we were like, we love each other no matter what. We knew that we wanted to perform at our very best, do it together, and finish together as a team."
The crew is going opposite ways after today; Kynast has one further year of Junior eligibility remaining, and is looking to attack the course at the Junior worlds in Trakai, Lithuania next year; Marchak is off to her freshman year at Cal in a few days.
FISA's description of the Italian Junior Women's race strategy was nothing if not novel.
The USA Junior Women's Four got the party started in the first A-Final of the morning, capturing an extremely hard-earned bronze by 4/100s ahead of the GB, and were followed just one final later by the US Junior Men's Coxed Four, who captured a wholly unexpected bronze, also just 1/10s ahead of Serbia.
"Off this start I remember looking side to side and seeing just water," said JW4- stroke India Robinson. "I didn't see any boats, and I think that that was one of the scariest moments of my life, and I think that what helped us get through the first thousand and get past that, the initial shock of being down off the start, was just remembering to stay calm. And we had been training with that in mind, staying calm and coming back, from the back of the pack, and so I think that that really helped us to surge forward."
"At the 750, I called the lift and said, 'We have to go right now!'," said Abigail Tarquinio. "We just kept moving and then it was literally every ten strokes it was another lift, and that's all I remember, just lifting."
"When we crossed the line, we thought we got fourth," said Kelsey McGinley. "We waited ten seconds, and it came up on the screen and we saw we got third, and we were so excited because we've been working for this the entire summer."
The Junior Men's Coxed Four expressed similar sentiments.
"In our heats, we were down off the start, I think last through the 500, so we realized we were going to be down," said stroke Harrison Burke. "Our strength was through the middle of the piece, and in the last couple of days leading up to it we worked on really building it up, and then you look at the margins. I think we were able to dig deep towards the end to squeeze it out."
Bow seat Kenny Copeland agreed. "I just have to thank the coaches, they really prepared me especially. On the start line, I just thought, 'I'm prepared,; this is what we've been training for for the last eleven weeks and let's get a reward for the blood, sweat, and tears we've put in," and I felt that we got the reward we worked for. I'm very happy with that."
USA JM4+ and coach Jesse Foglia (photo: Verena Meyer zu Westrup)
Coach Jesse Foglia deflected all praise back to his crew. "I can't say enough good things about these guys. We've definitely pushed them to the point of past breaking a few times, but I think that was an important part of the development process. I think everybody played a really critical role. They made my job really easy and made it a lot of fun to work with, even if I didn't always seem like I was having fun."
Check out our interviews with the Junior Women's Pair, Junior Women's Four and Junior Men's Four here!
Most impressive win today had to be the Romanian Junior Men's Straight Four; clean, powerful, understroking the field by a full six beats, and set a new world best time of 5:58 in winning by two lengths of open water.
The US took fourth in this race.
In the same race, a true HS-level rowing disaster unfolded behind the Romanians as the Italians, sprinting for bronze, crabbed, stopped dead, turned sideways, and took out the crew from Greece in the next lane over, just 10 strokes from the line, complete with an epic crew meltdown/tantrum in the Italian boat, oof.
It may not have been a medal, but Joe Johnson and Christian Tabash in the USA Junior Men's Pair equalled the best US finish ever in the event in finishing fourth.
For the three US crews in the B-Finals this morning, the race for pride was on and the USA juniors responded accordingly. Eliza Kallfelz in the JW1x took her petite with a strong row and 7th overall, while the US Junior Women's Quad also saved their best race for last, coming in third in the B-Final for 9th. Jack Luby in the JM1x took sixth in the petite for 12th.
"I think Eliza had something to prove today," said Andrew Kallfelz, Eliza's coach. "I don't think she was quite satisfied with how she did yesterday in the semis, so it's good to come back with a little bit of feeling that she has something to show, and I think she did. She's happy. I'm very happy for her and I hope that she comes back next year and ready to do even better."
It does seem like headwind vs. tailwind conditions really are a flavor/preference question for some crews; today's quick conditions saw several crews in outside lanes take absolute flyers down the course, perhaps upsetting the pre-race formbook a little bit.
That said, if you're not in the final you wanted to be in, really banging one out seems like the thing to do, well done!
We've documented all sorts of doublings-up and Rio-to-Rotterdam turnarounds in this space, but one of the best would have to be that of Armandas Kelmelis of Lithunia, who was drafted into the single in Rio at the last minute due to an injury in the LTU double; Kelmelis finished his summer today winning the JM1x.
There were a few crabs in the rough water today, but probably few more disastrous than the one in the German Junior Women's Quad; rowing in the lead at the 1250, the crew caught a full, scull-vertical boatstopper that dropped them to dead last, where they also finished, ugh.
Though it was not the golden sweep they'd hoped for, the GB eights really performed a treat this summer.
Italy topped the Juniors medal table in Rotterdam with a total of seven medals, three gold. Germany won two gold and ten medals overall, while the Czech Republic was third with two gold and one bronze medal. The US was fourth, with one gold, one silver and four bronze.
Finally, as if to remind everyone that nothing about putting on #megaworlds would be easy, the last day of racing started off with a weather delay as all kinds of weather rolled in during the AM practice.
A thunderstorm/downpour sent the entire regatta huddling in the boathouse to wait out the weather for an impromptu Junior Worlds group hug.
And, if anyone deserved a hug, a handshake, or a high five, it was the Rotterdam organizers; 432 races, 41 events, and a big pile of crews over eight days is no mean feat, and by all accounts it was great, really well done. Same days, same time in 2020?
It's a huddle in the boathouse prior to the morning's racing (photo: Verena Meyer zu Westrup)