With only one spot available in the B final to qualify for the 2020 Paralympics and a very aggressive plan to try and row in two sports in Tokyo next summer, US PR1 single sculler Blake Haxton woke up Sunday morning with one thought.
Win today and go home to rest.
It's been a long few weeks for Haxton, who did not come to Linz-Ottensheim until Saturday, the day before his first race. He was busy in Hungary at the Canoe Sprint World Championships the entire week before, racing there and trying to set himself up to row in two sports at next year's Paralympics.
He did not reach one of the canoe sprints qualification spots but was encouraged enough by the results to make plans to go to that last chance qualifier. The last thing he wanted was to have to row in two final qualification regattas next spring in addition to the US Para trials and woke up Sunday morning, thinking this has to be the day.
He was coming off a disappointing semifinal in which he finished fifth, missed the final and rowed behind China's Jie Yang. So, Sunday morning, Haxton decided that if he was going to win and qualify, he was going to do it not thinking about anyone, or anything else but his race.
It was the right plan. Haxton let Yang go off the line and just focused on rowing his race, and won the B-final, capturing the seventh and last available Tokyo qualification available at the 2019 World Rowing Championships.
"I decided that I just had to row my best race,” Haxton said. “Ican't play defense and the top boat goes. There is nothing to save it for. There is really no tomorrow here. The difference between first and second here meant another international race to qualify.
"That's the regatta of death, and a whole lot of things can go wrong. I started thinking about all the ways things that can break down, and I just thought, nope, I'm done with all that. Just qualify it now and go home."
Haxton said he believed that Yang would go for the win early and decided not to look for him until at least halfway through the race, at the thousand-meter buoy. He guessed correctly because Yang did take the lead and held it until the third 500, when he fell off the pace and into third, behind Poland's Jaroslav Kailing.
"Over the course of the week, I really didn't think I had done a good job rowing the middle thousand," he said. "I had relatively good starts all week, but I didn't feel like I had settled in well through that middle.
"Today I felt like I rowed my best middle thousand by far. I didn't get ahead of myself, and I didn't look until the thousand, and I think that was about right. I didn't mean to push anything up until the last five hundred. I was telling myself, really all morning, to just row a great middle thousand, and then go for broke in the last five. I got ahead and then I felt Yang come back about the 1250. I thought 'ok, maybe now.' I put in a little bit to get to where he couldn't see me anymore, and maybe that will help, and I think it did."