Just before the last two B finals were going to be run Saturday at the World Rowing Championships, a news flash went up on the big broadcast screen in front of the grandstands at the bottom of the race course in Linz-Ottensheim.
"Rowing suspended" was the message.
Sometime between the start of racing just after 9 AM, a head wind kicked up that turned the pre-race lane seedings upside down. Crews that entered their finals with the best results from the semifinals were allocated to the favored lanes, but as the morning progressed it became obvious that the lanes allocated to the lower seeded crews were suddenly having unexpected success.
The change was noticed, and the FISA Fairness Committee stopped racing and redid the lane assignments. What happened next was an immediate call by some of the coaches to make a few quick adjustments to deal with the conditions. Some made the changes early, and some crews just waited until the last few minutes to see how the heavier conditions the headwind caused would impact the racing.
The Polish men's four was one of those crews that made a change, and it worked. Poland gained an immediate lead off their start, led to the finish, and won the gold medal. Romania finished second and Great Britain finished third.
The US, which raced in 6th through most of the race, closed on Italy in the last 500 meters and came within a hair of taking fourth. Australia, which entered the regatta as a favorite to medal, if not win, fell off the pace and finished 6th.
"I'm very happy for this because we changed our oars five minutes before the race and this was a good tactic because of the strong head wind," said Marcin Brzezinski, who rowed in the Polish three-seat. "We did that to make the oars a little bit lighter, so we can pull a higher rate, and you see the result. We were able to lead the race start to finish."
Changes in weather conditions are all part of the sport, and every experienced coach and athlete knows that last minute adjustments are often a roll of the dice. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. For the Polish crew Saturday, it worked. Or so they said when they were on the medals podium waiting to be awarded their medals and doing media interviews.
They were not the only crew that made oar changes. The US men's four also adjusted their oars, said US coach Tim McLaren, who is overseeing the four and men's pair. But he did not think the adjustments had much to do with how the US four finished today.
McLaren said he was pleased with the result. It wasn't what they were hoping for, but given the fact the crew had qualified their boat for Tokyo, which was the most important priority for this World Championship, he was pleased.
That was a feeling - glad to have qualified their boats, disappointed with the result - that was shared pretty much across the board for all the US crews that raced in the A finals Saturday, with the notable exception of the para mixed four with coxswain, which took silver again behind Great Britain for the fifth consecutive year, including the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
"I'm proud of us," said Dani Hansen who has rowed in every one of those finals and has been part of the rivalry since it began in 2014. "That was the best race we had this year. And I know that GB will be thinking about us all through next year. I'm excited about that," she said.
"I like to think that this very friendly duel that we've been having is really a big reason why para is going a lot faster, and I'm just really proud to be part of that for sure." While Hansen has been part of the crew since the rivalry started, she is the only one. In fact, just a few weeks ago, the crew had to make a quick adjustment, when one of the crew from last year who was named to this year's boat had to withdraw.
Called into the mix in mid-August was John Tanguay. With the boat qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics, and a silver medal in hand, Tanguay said he is happy with his whirlwind ride through the 2019 World Championships and hoping he will be back next year.
"GB is a good boat," Tanguay said. "We'll see them again next year. Considering the time we have all had together, and the result, and how it has all gone this year, I think in a little bit more time we'll be right with them, if not ahead."
Considering the mission of every team here - to qualify Olympic class boats for the coming summer in Tokyo - the next to last day of racing in this World Championship was not a bust. The reactions of the athletes, except for the para four, were all tempered by the fact that making the finals had accomplished that goal for each of the crews, including the women's pair, and men's and women's fours.
But the responses always came back to the fact that, as racers who had made the final, they were disappointed.
For those US Olympic class crews, the day's racing began with the women's pair of Tracy Eisser and Megan Kalmoe, who battled with Canada the length of the race, while Australia and eventual winner New Zealand fought for first place through most of the middle thousand, and at one point were going bow ball to bow ball.
The US rowed into third in the first five-hundred and then Canada gradually overtook them in the second quarter to finish in front in the last medal position.
"We were really happy to qualify, that was our primary goal in coming here," Eisser said. "That was definitely our first goal for this regatta, to make sure we qualified these two seats for next year.
"And so being able to get that done was, I don't want to say a relief, but something that we wanted to make sure we accomplished. I think we knew it was going to be really challenging.
"The top three crews have all shown themselves to be very fast and so we knew that we were going to have our work cut out for us. And we got a race. Now, we have a couple of weeks to relax, and then get ready to start gearing up for next year."
Following the women's pair in racing for the US was the para four, the men's four and finally the women's four.
The US men's four had hoped to be in the medal hunt, but with just a few weeks together as a crew, they had some minor issues with steering early in the race.
"They're a good group of kids," McLaren said. "They have a bit of experience, but as a crew, they're pretty green. We had four good races here. I think if you said we were going to get fourth or fifth and be 1.6 seconds of the medal before the regatta started, you would have been happy.
"We're still making mistakes steering, and various other crew things that we know we can improve on. So, there are a lot of positives," he said.
Of the positives, the crew agreed.
"Our priority number one was accomplished, to qualify the boat for America to go to Tokyo," said Tom Dethlefs. "We can kind of rest easy for doing that, and then we tried to come out here and have a great race and put ourselves on the medals dock.
"We fought from the start to the finish, but we came up a little short. We'll be trying to come up with a better finish in about 300 days from now," Dethlefs said.
"This campaign started about a month ago when the boat was named and going into it we knew it was going to be a process," added Andrew Reed. "I'm really proud of what we were able to do in one month.
"I think we really came together, we didn't have a ton of experience - I think probably up to six weeks ago, I don't think any of us had even met Clark (Dean) - and it was a lot of fun. We always want it to get better, but it's not the Olympic final, so there is still time."
The final race for the day for the US was the women's four. Racing off the start, the US was in fourth and never really got it going, ultimately finishing sixth. New Zealand won, the Dutch were second and Denmark was third.
"We came to this regatta, and ultimately we did the most important thing, which was qualify our boat for Tokyo," said Vicky Opitz. "We're disappointed with the result today, but we're sure as heck going to keep on trying hard. Honestly at this point I can't quite pinpoint a lot of things I'm thinking about, but I'm going to keep on."
With the women's quad winning the B final of their event, the US women have qualified all but the last two Olympic class crews.
The regatta set to finish Sunday, and the margins for the last final qualifying spots for Tokyo are even tighter than they were today. The number of places for the eights were reduced for this Olympic cycle to only five boats each from seven previously.
Also on the line for a qualification for Tokyo will be the para men's PR1 single. There were a total of eight Olympic class boats racing in the A finals today.
Here is a quick break down how the rest of the crews did, in order of finish.
The Croatian brothers, Valent and Martin Sinkovic, held onto the World Crown and seem well on their way to achieving a second Olympic medal - but in a different boat class than in Rio, where they were the Olympic champions in the double.
New Zealand was second and Australia finished third.
"It was a hard and long race for us," said Valent. "But we had a plan to go out hard at the start. New Zealand were really strong in the middle one thousand meters, so in the last five hundred meters, we had to go really hard ourselves. We are delighted to have won," he said.
Finishing second "wasn't really our game plan," said Kiwi Thomas Murray. "Croatia raced their best. We did what we came here to do today, but it wasn't enough," he said.
"It was very heavy because there was a headwind," said Australia's Sam Hardy. "So, we just tried to hold the wave as best as we could. We are very excited about the result."
Lightweight Women's Double
New Zealand took gold, the Dutch were second, and Great Britain was third.
"This is surreal," said Kiwi stroke Jackie Kiddle. "We've been waiting a long time for this, and last year was a bit of a disappointment. I am absolutely stoked."
Ilse Paulis, who stroked the Dutch double said: "I think it is the maximum results for today. I think we want more and can do more. We'll be back in Tokyo," she said.
Great Britain bow seat Emily Craig said, "I knew that there would be at least one race this season where we wouldn't know our position. At 250 meters to go, I just shouted for us to go for it. We pushed as hard as possible, but I looked up and there were boats in front and behind us, so I didn't know where we were."
Lightweight Men's Double
The Irish also retained their crown, but this time with only one of the O'Donovan brothers. Italy was second and Germany was third.
"We couldn't quite believe it but it's always really nice to win,' said Paul O'Donovan. "Our start wasn't great, but we finished well. We will take a lot of confidence with this moving forward."
"We know that Germany and Norway are very strong," said Italy's Stefano Oppo. "Then we've focused on our race, but Ireland was fantastic."
Said Germany's Jason Osborne, who rowed in an undefeated boat leading up to this regatta. "We are very happy, despite our other successes this season. This is a great success for us and the German federation."
China won, followed by Poland in second. The Dutch finished third.
"We've stayed on our rhythm," said Yang Lyu. "We were focused on our race, and never being influenced by the other lanes. We got this result by great efforts, and we deserve it."
Poland's Agnieszka Kobus said she crossed in second and saw the result it was, "pure euphoria, when I saw that we came second on the screen! I don't like to make predictions, but let me say that I am confident about the Tokyo 2020 games."
The Netherlands Sophia Souwer said that the crew did not have a good start, "but at 750 meters, we became more fluid and the boat ran better. We kept pushing and got back into the race. Perhaps another 50 meters and the result would have been different, but we had a good race and we should be pleased to be on the podium."
In what was a very good day for the Dutch, the men's quad took home the gold medal. Poland, was second, and Italy third
"That was our best ever race," said Tone Wieten. "We kept cool, and it went to plan. We had a great push at 1000 meters and we saved the best until last."
Poland's Wiktor Chabel, said his crew's plan did not go according to plan. "The plan from the very start was to keep up with the Italians and the Dutch, but it didn't go as planned. After 1000 meters we were able to get back on track, but the Dutch were too far away. We still managed to beat the Italians, now it's time to rest."
Speaking for his crew, Filippo Mondelli said, "We had a hard time with the crosswind. Normally a high stroke rate and quick drive is what we do, but with a crosswind this is hard. We've had an up and down year, but we're happy with this, and happy to have a qualification spot for next year in Tokyo."
Notes From the Course
Sculling legend, and two-time Olympic champion, Olaf Tufte was in the Norway eight that won the B final and qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Games. This will be his seventh Olympic Games if he is in the boat next summer.
Hottest Day Yet
The weather has been hard for all out racing this week. The docks had to be repeatedly cooled with buckets of water so the athletes could walk to the medal podium, and boat being rowed back to the recovery dock missing rowers was a common site all afternoon.
Of the three women's pairs that rowed and medaled in that heat, all six women will be rowing in their respective eight in the Sunday final. Whew!
Lost and Found
A gold medal turned up in the press center after having been found on the ground on the venue. A photo of the lost medal was posted on a variety of social media site, including row2k's Instagram. The owner saw the post and the medal has been reunited with its owner, one of the women from the Australian women's four.
The Italian women's quad was so happy about having finished second in their B final and grabbing the final available Olympic qualification, they held an extended celebration - on the recovery dock - while the US quad sat in the boat and waited for several minutes. They finally got the message when a FISA official walked out and asked them to please vacate.
Nothing Stop the Dutch from Swimming
Dutch fans love to swim out to celebrate their crews from winning, even when they are all forced to wait on the opposite side of the lake. Here's a shot of them getting a jump on the action and jumping in just as the Dutch men's quad was crossing the finish line.
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