A speedy set of semifinals set the finals at NSR 1 today, with the first potential spots on the 2022 US National team on the line tomorrow.
Rain during the initial regatta postponement to open the day gave way to calm, almost tranquil conditions at the start, then lumping up progressively down the course. The conditions didn't seem to slow the competitors at all, as all semis winners clocked in the low- to mid-90th percentile of their respective gold medal standards.
Kara Kohler, the 2021 Olympic US women's single sculler, posted the fastest time out of the two women's semis, with fellow Tokyo W2x Olympian finishing behind her.
"It's great to be back racing. I'm so impressed with the level of racing by everyone this week. It's great to see such a big field in the women's single and I'm just having fun trying to go as fast as I can," said Wagner after the racing.
"I have to give a shout out to my ARION teammates who I think have been having an awesome regatta. Last week when we were getting ready to race we were looking at the list of open women and decided to go through and say something nice about everyone racing. I feel strongly that we can build each other up while we climb, and am grateful to have teammates who feel the same way. I saw a great sign at OARS high school a few weeks ago that said 'be easy to row with and hard to row against,' and I believe it's pretty much that simple."
The other semi was won by Sophia Vitas, Kohler's Texas Rowing Center training partner, ahead of Boston's Maggie Fellows.
Fellows reflected on the past year, and echoed men's sculler Tom Peszek's favorable view of the state of US sculling in 2022.
"I think it's great to see so many people really trying to push themselves to a new level," said Fellows. "It raises in group as a whole, which is a really exciting prospect for the future, especially in the women's sculling side of things for the US. Also, with Josy [Verdonkschot, US High Performance Director] coming in, he seems to have the team building perspective, as opposed to how the prior system was where you try to break each other down and fight to get a seat."
"It seems to be more collaborative, like 'let's all work together and see how high we can go,' which is actually the true meaning of the word competition, which is to 'strive together,' which I really like. It makes it more fun to be able to work really hard and push each other. At the end of the day, we're all friends, we all have the same goal to go really fast together."
Kohler, Wagner, and Grace Joyce rowed through pelicans on the course during the race; these birds are no joke.
On the men's side, Ben Davison, who raced in the US eight in Tokyo, continued his strong run back in the single, winning his semi and posting the fastest time on the day.
"After we finished Tokyo, I wasn't really sure where I was going to go, but I just wanted to get back into training," said Davison. "I'm just looking for the best situation possible. I'm definitely realistic about it, about what's going to get me to Paris? And what's going to give me the best chance of performing well."
Despite heading the field in the time trial and semi, Davison is taking things one race at a time. "Depending on what happens tomorrow, I'll sit down with my coaches at CRC and we'll discuss and analyze and decide what's best moving forward. I'm definitely not committed to anything yet."
The second semi in the men's single was won by Jacob Plihal. Plihal has been on the sculling scene in recent years, but not so much in the single.
"It's been a while since I've given the single an honest go," said Plihal. "I think the last time racing 2k in the single was trials #5 in 2019."
Like the other scullers, Plihal was looking to test his speed in the single in Sarasota, but wasn't ruling out other opportunities outside the skiff. " "I'm 6'10", a little bit taller for what might fit well into a quad, So I feel like I have a lot better capability in the single or double."
Plihal agreed that the size of the men's singles field was a huge positive. "It's exciting to see, as a whole, that's really great for us in sculling, but also for sweeping. I feel like a lot of these guys can translate the speed to sweep boats. It's going to be exciting to see who ends up where, and how fast everyone can go come September."
As a reminder, the winners of the Men's and Women's singles at this NSR have the ability to make the US team by attending World Cup II in Poznan, Poland from June 17-19, where a top six (or top 50% of the field) finish would allow them to named to the US team for Worlds in September.
The lightweights racing in Sarasota this week are in speed-check mode, with athletes positioning themselves for selection later this spring.
Tokyo Light women's double Olympian Molly Reckford led the field in the light single, and confirmed after the racing that her primary goal is still to be back in the double with her 2021 partner Michelle Sechser, who is not racing here this week.
"The goal is absolutely the 2x with Michelle," said Reckford after the racing. "I wanted to race the 1x for experience! I wanted to have a regatta where I am on the hook for everything, instead of being able to share the responsibilities with my partner. It felt like a good learning opportunity so I took it.
"Tokyo feels pretty far away these days. Racing is my one true love and I've missed it. And then with the humidity and tail wind this morning it was like I was right back to the Sea Forest Waterway
"For right now, my goal is to make the team and see where that takes me! It may be a new quadrennial, but I'm still taking it one step at a time."
Sophia Luwis, who is racing unaffiliated in Sarasota, won the other light women's semifinal.
Texas Rowing Center training partners Jasper Liu and Zach Heese each won their semis in the Men's Lightweight single, with nearly identical times. Only 23/100s of a second separated the teammates across the two races. Heese and Liu won the '21 Olympic trials together in the Light Men's 2x, but came up short at the Final Olympic Qualifying regatta in their bid for Tokyo.
"I think we're happy to see that result," said Liu. "I think we put in the work this winter and it's nice to see a payoff, for me and Zach and Jimmy [James McCullogh]."
For Liu, it wasn't surprising that four of today's eight semis were won by athletes training at the Texas Rowing Center in Austin.
"We have we have a great group, it's a lot of fun to train every day. We're not there to just see how fast you can go, we're there to do a job and every day I'm here because I want to go to the Olympics and do well next time.
"The culture [at TRC] is huge. We have great coach and great athletes, everyone's really competitive, but also we get along really well. So it's it's fun to come to practice, it's fun to work next to each other. And that's a huge part of doing all these meters that we're doing, which is really what it takes is the training itself.
"Lady Bird Lake is an awesome place to train in the winter. We have 8.5km of water from dam to dam, so if you're gonna do 28k, you only have to spin three or four times.
"Another big part of our success is our coach, Peter Mansfeld," added Liu. "All the athletes moved to Texas because we think he's the best sculling coach in the country, and his training plan, attitude, and technical sculling expertise are huge factors in our results."