It took a few minutes for Andrew Campbell, Jr. to find the legs to get up off the recovery dock and walk to the medals area after finishing third in the lightweight men's single Friday morning.
His race in the final and his battle with two of the fastest and fittest lightweight scullers in his field this week came after taking off a full year and change following the 2016 Olympics, and a fifth-place finish in the finals of the lightweight double there.
When he did make it to the interview area, he needed a place to sit in the shade to gather his thoughts. "My fitness goals this year were to be as fit was I was my freshman year in college.
"Tough race," Campbell said. "I only started training again in earnest in January or February of this year. I'm probably lacking a little bit in fitness, so altogether, I'm pretty happy with the performance I put in," he said.
Campbell's performance, and bronze medal, was the highlight of the day for the US, which took home three medals from the first day of finals at the 2018 World Rowing Championships. Campbell finished third behind Germany's Jason Osborne and Switzerland's Michael Schmidt.
Also, taking home medals were the lightweight women's pair of Jennifer Sager and Jillian Zieff, which earned a silver medal, and the lightweight men's pair of Thomas Foster and David Smith, which took home bronze.
Four other US crews raced Friday in finals, but missed the podium, including lightweight women's sculler Michelle Sechser, the lightweight women's quad, the PR3 mixed double and PR2 women's single sculler Laura Goodkind.
A bronze medal in the lightweight single is exactly where Campbell left off the last time he came to Bulgaria after missing out on the 2012 Olympics in the light double. He came to Plovdiv that year to race the Senior World Championships and get back into international racing. It was the beginning of his 2016 Olympic campaign.
Campbell has a similar plan in mind for this cycle and was using Plovdiv to get things going.
The men's lightweight single has been a hot contest all week. Schmidt came into the regatta the favorite and beat Campbell in the first heat. Osborne not only won his heat, he set a new world's best time in the process. Then in the semifinal, Osborne won a tight battle with Campbell and walked away from the course determined to row a better race.
In the Friday final, Osborne flew off the line - as he has all week - and held the lead. Canada's Aaron Lattimer went after Osborne and held second until he was passed by Campbell in the second 500-meters.
Campbell, held onto the silver going into the third 500-meters, but could not answer a late charge by Schmidt. After the race, all three scullers sat together on the dock trying to recover enough to get to the interview area and medal stand.
"I kept up at the start and kind of tried to get right into my efficient rhythm," Campbell said.
"I watched the tape of the (Thursday semifinal) and figured I was rowing more efficiently than anyone out there, so I was trying to use that to my advantage. But the pace kicked up about 750 to go, and I just couldn't go with Michael," he said.
Campbell crossing the line third
For Schmidt, the race unfolded about as he had expected.
"I knew Jason will be very strong. He won the first two World Cups and then he didn't start in Lucerne or the Europeans, so I did not beat him this year," Schmidt said. "For me he was the favorite.
"I tried to win, it was close, but I'm really happy with second place. I really tried in the third 500. Ten after ten, I tried to get back to Jason, and I saw I was coming back, but he responded and I was a bit stiff at the end. But it was good."
Of the three, Osborne, had a little more pep in his walk to the medals.
"After the semis, I thought to myself that I had to go out quick, as I did in the semis, but then continue, and don't let the others close the gap," Osborne said. "This one went really well, like I thought it would, and then it was just holding this distance to the finish.
"I felt like if it would come down to the line there would be something left. The week started with the world record, and the long break wasn't good for me because it's hard to hold up the focus and tension. Then after (Thursday), I was activated again, and today was another race, a completely different race."
Following Campbell's race came Sechser's, who finished second to Great Britain's Imogen Grant in Thursday's racing to make the final, but just missed the podium Friday. Laura Tarantola of France won, Italy's Clara Guerra was second and Grant finished third.
"My race was amazing," said Guerra. "I started very well and in the finish, I saw Italy and Great Britain accelerate, and I just hoped to hold on to the end and it was amazing."
Grant, who is having a great summer in the women's lightweight single - she won the event at the Under-23 worlds earlier in July - said; "Coming to senior worlds is sort of an addition to the end of my season after the Under-23 championships. So, this is an exciting bonus."
Also finishing just out of the medals was the lightweight women's quad that placed fourth behind behind China, Denmark and Germany.
"It's been really fantastic to row with this group of women," said Margaret Bertasi. "I think if you asked us a couple of months ago if we would be here in this quad, none of us would have predicted that, so we have to be proud of what we've done," she said.
"We've had some good races here," she said. "Of course, it's always a bummer to come out on the end we did, but it's on to next year. There is a lot of stuff to be worked on and a lot of speed to be gained.
Lightweight women's quad
The medal races began with the para events.
Of the those races, Canada had a solid performance, taking silver in the men's PR2 single and winning the PR3 pair. Single sculler Jeremy Hall, who went from sledge hockey to rowing and was racing in this first World Championships, said he was more than happy to win a silver medal.
"This is my first season on the water in a row boat," said Hall. "I came from sledge hockey in Canada, and words can't even explain how I feel right now to make the podium. In regard to the race, with such little experience, my focus was just on keeping my composure out there, rowing technically sound.
"I've talked repeatedly with my coach and trainers about having the physical attributes to race, but it's just about being able to row technically well."
The next races were the lightweight pairs.
The last time the lightweight women's pair was contested at a World Rowing Championships was 15 years ago. That was at the 2003 event held in Milan, Italy. The US finished fourth in the final, and then the boat class was dropped from the schedule when entries dropped.
In the last two years, increasing the number of women competing in the sport has become a priority for FISA, rowing's world governing body, and the lightweight women's pair was added back in. Still, getting crews to enter has been a struggle.
There were no entries in any of the three World Cup events this year, but for the 2018 World Rowing Championships, two countries stepped up and entered - Italy and the US. There is no telling if the event will gain traction and build in the coming years.
But after finishing second to Italy's Serena and Giorgia Lo Bue, and leaving the Plovdiv race course with silver medals, Sager and Zieff felt both proud of their racing and hopeful that they will serve as pioneers of sorts and help lead other countries to the table next season.
"I think it's good that the event is back and I hope that next year it's more subscribed," said Zieff. "I think lightweight deserve more entries. They work really hard, and I think it's scary to go into a new event," she said. 'It's a scary thing to come to do something you are uncomfortable with and I'm sure a lot of other countries will come to this, but want to see what it's like first.
"But you have to do it. If we didn't race this year, that might have been a reason to not continue it," Zeiff said.
"We're proud of what we put together," Sager said. "There is no other pair that we would have wanted to race whether it was 20 entries or two. We enjoyed this training block, we enjoyed racing here, we enjoyed rowing together. We fell short of what our goal was, but I don't think we fell short of making ourselves really proud."