A Worlds Week starts with a palpable sense of "what could be"--rife with both hope and anxiety in equal measure--but by the end of a Thursday, the "what will be" is largely laid bare. For some crews, it is good news: they are "hitting it right," have good speed and their shot at the medals awaits, but for the others there comes a moment, mid week, when the focus inevitably and abruptly shifts away from progressing.
So here we are at that turning point, and we have that very clear picture of who could get into the medals, and a very definite sense of everyone who will not.
The US sent seven crews to todays A/B Semis. The Women's Pair, in second, and the Light Women's Double, with a win, made it through. The Men's Pair and Four, the Women's Four and Quad, and Mary Jones Nabel in the Light Single did not, and will regroup for their respective B Finals.
In the afternoon, the US had two scullers and the Light Men's double racing in their C/D Semis, and all advanced to the C Final: Kara Kohler winning outright with what looked to be a comfortable row, the Light Men's Double in a blanket three boat finish that went China-Mexico-USA, and Jimmy McCullough also grabbed third in what might have been the race of the afternoon.
Why? Well, it featured McCullough and Germany's Finn Wolter going through Poland's Lukasz Sawicki:
The Polish sculler faded to fourth after leading nearly the whole way, but then getting passed--after a bow-to-bow battle--by the winner, Iraq's Mohammed Al-Khafaji. (Interestingly, at least to the wonks in the press center, Iran's Amirhossein Mahmoodpour won the other C/D Semi just minutes later for an Iraq-Iran "sweep").
Women's Pair - to A Final
Claire Collins and Maddie Wanamaker hopped back in the pair for the A/B Semi and ran right with Olympic Champs from New Zealand today to make their final. The Kiwis got out smoothly, as one might expect, but the US was equally at ease in second place, qualifying comfortably ahead of the British pair in third. To be fair, the Brits had an open water lead as well--over Australia--so there is likely a lot of dry powder in all three of these crews. Romania, the Dutch and Croatia came out of the other, slightly tighter, semi, eliminating the Czechs and the Irish.
"Our goal was to go out, stay with everyone through the 1000, and then kind of attack through the middle," said bow seat Maddie Wanamaker. "It went according to plan, and it's great to be right around the same time as the Olympic champions. It's a good confidence boost and we'll tune it up for the Final.
"These were the last couple of crews [we hadn't seen] because we raced the Romanians in the heat and the Dutch at the World Cup, so we've kind of seen everyone and watched their tendencies. But it doesn't really change what you're going to do. We're going to go out and race our race, but it's definitely a hopeful the sign to have matched up well against a lot of these crews."
Collins and Wanamaker will race the Pair final on Saturday, before turning their full attention back to the eight's final on Sunday.
Light Women's Double Wins Semi to Head to A Final
The USA LW2x put another marker down today: winning their semi, largely on the strength of a massive mid-race move that dropped France and turned what had been a close contest at the 1000 into an open water statement by Michelle Sechser and Molly Reckford.
"We're so stoked to be here," said Reckford afterwards. "This has been a regatta that threw a lot of challenges at us, with the weather: we came in heat-trained expecting it to be hot and sunny, but we got cold and rain. But Michelle and I have trained in a lot of different conditions. Michelle has always had a great attitude about weather: big waves, big wind, it's just a learning tool.
"So I felt super prepared coming in for the windy days [here] and then today we were treated to a beautiful sunny day, and beautiful flatwater. It was an absolute pleasure to be out there.
"It was great to see a lot of these boats again: the Olympic gold medalists, the Olympic silver medalists, and everybody came out with speed. I looked out of the boat at about 1000 meters and we were all still in a line and I though, 'Okay, we're gonna really have to work if we want this.' I made the calls and Michelle was there responding, backing us up and setting a great rhythm.
"We always have something to work on, but that was a really exciting race to be in."
Sechser, on her tenth National team, took a longer view of what the duo accomplished in making their second A Final in as many years with such an emphatic win:
"You know, the final at the Tokyo Olympics was one of the most exciting and fun and gutsy and heartbreaking races I have ever had. It took Molly and I, and probably a lot of people in that final, some time to be able to look back on it with pride and gratitude.
"It's really fun now, to have moved past those emotions and have the opportunity to do what feels like almost a mulligan: to get to race these fantastic crews again--the gold standard of the lightweight women's double. I'm so glad that all of these combinations are here, intact: the Irish, GB, France, Italy, us.
"You don't get second chances in rowing, and that's why we love it, but somehow this almost feels like a little bit of a second chance. So, yeah, you know, a couple of days to go just rest and tune it out. You know, maybe sharpen some tiny points, but then you just show up at the start to do what we do best.
"It's tough to say until the final because you've never really fully been tested, but I think getting to have this extra year with Molly makes a difference. Last year, the Olympic year, was so rushed for us. We got back together January 1, 2021 in Sarasota, did a quick build for Olympic trials, then a quick trip up to Princeton for heavyweight trials. We had to go to Lucerne [to qualify]. We went to Hawaii. Suddenly, we were just on the start line of the Olympics. It was all let's just survive to the next milestone. So now, to have removed those excuses--it's our first year, its our first time on the blocks together--we don't have those crutches anymore. Now it really just feels like a good test of how we've grown and how much stronger we've gotten."
"A lot of it is our attitude," Reckford added. "We took COVID as a year that we could be grateful for and an extra year to train together for Tokyo. Then, having the gratitude that we both still wanted to keep rowing, that neither of us wanted to go do other things and we were still excited and hungry. I think that showing up every day excited and hungry really shows itself at a regatta like this."
Their final looks on paper to be every bit as epic as the one in Tokyo. Ten of the 12 athletes in the final are Olympians, all rowing in the same lineups from a year ago: Great Britain, France, and the USA from the Olympic A Final, and Switzerland and Ireland who finished 1 and 2 in the B Final there. The only newcomer is Greece, with newly-minted U23 LW1x champ Evangelia Anastasiadou aboard. Whew!
Men's Four - to B Final
The youth of the USA's Men's Four may have played a part in how they fell to fifth, on the wrong side of the standard, today, but this crew actually closed strongly in the second half of the race, dropping France and getting up on the sterns of both Ireland and the Swiss crew that took the 3rd and final spot on offer.
With three athletes aboard in Rhett Burns, Gus Rodriguez, and Henry Hollingsworth who just finished college, got themselves onto the California Rowing Club's radar, and then earned the notice of the selectors at the final US sweep camp, this is a crew with upside--even if their next set of lessons won't involve the medal stand this year.
Jesse Foglia, their coach, has worked with all four of these athletes a few times over the years with the U23 team, and even crossed paths with Rodriguez and the senior man in the boat, Olympian Nick Mead, during their U19 days.
"They've done like a really remarkable job on keeping the focus on progression," said Foglia, while he waited for the crew to come off the water. "We certainly have not had the best days every day, but when we've had a day that's a little bit off, we've been able to do a really good job of identifying some things to work on and progressing day to day.
"Obviously things didn't quite go our way today, but I think that's part of the process of progression. We have to analyze what we did well, what we didn't, and try to make an adjustment.
"We talked a lot about the fact that they're probably not the most physical crew on the course, and that they needed to put themselves in the race first and then build momentum. If you look at the third 500 and fourth 500, we did a really nice job of building all the way through the line. I don't think they've raced immaturely, in the sense of trying to do something too much, too soon. But I do think we just left a little bit more out there than we could reel back in that first 500."
As a deep event, even the B Final features some heavy hitters: in addition to the USA, we will see Ireland, South Africa, Germany, France and Poland racing in this one on Saturday.
Women's Quad - to B Final
The US Women's Quad gave their semi one heck of a go, especially considering that it was literally the first 2k for the crew after the sculling spare, Grace Joyce, had to hop in the 2 seat this morning as a medical substitution. The crew did not miss a beat, coming into the last 500 still within striking distance of the Dutch who were running in third. Even the announcers were excited by the US charge, and the rhythm being put down by USA stroke Emily Kallfelz, but the Dutch did hold on and the Americans will race the B Final.
We did mention after the spare racing on Saturday that the most important part of their job was to stay ready, and Joyce, a two time A Finalist at the U23 level, in the light double and quad no less, went from spare to experienced Senior Team racer in the space of a few hours today. Well rowed.
In Other News, With Other Crews
- One Olympic Champ that will not reach their final? The Italian LW2x: just a year removed from Tokyo gold, the Italians were just off pace all week, taking 3rd in their heat behind the young German duo and then just 2nd in their Rep. That was enough to make the semi, but they took 4th today--by just .22 seconds to the Swiss--and will head to the B Final.
- The Women's Quad for China and Britain have themselves on a collision course, winning their respective semis handily. China had the better of the Brits at the Lucerne World Cup, but the Brits went on to win Europeans (sans China, of course), so this next round should be fun to watch.
- In the LW1x, New Zealand's doubling-up threat Jackie Kiddle won her singles Semi emphatically and, since she did not make the A Final in the Light Double, taking sixth there (in her second semi in just 85 minutes, woah), one can imagine she will be fully focused on her Light Singles Final now.
- Also in the LW1x, one of the names we previewed, 2019 champ Marie-Louise Drager of Germany, withdrew before her Rep yesterday with an injury and then announced that she will retire altogether, just one of a number of issues besieging the German team here in Racice, as we covered in Tuesday's Notes.
- The Czech LM2x CZE--4th in the Tokyo Olympic final--only took 5th at Euros last month, but these home waters seem to suit them: they won their semi today, and the quarterfinal yesterday, and look to be the flagship for the CZE team here for the regatta.
Media Availability Time with Jean-Christophe Rolland
FISA held a press conference with Jean Christophe Rolland in the media center today.
row2k asked if there had been any consideration of shortening the race distance for the Olympic qualification events at the 2023 World Championships and subsequent continental qualifiers, given that the 2028 course in Long Beach can only accommodate a 1500 meter race.
Rolland replied that the 2028 distance was intended as a 'unique' occurrence, and that in extensive discussions with federations and especially with international coaches, who Rolland characterized as important stakeholders, all had expressed a desire not to alter the 2000 meter distance for any other events save the 2028 Games, and that there would be no changes to other events. Rolland did say that if athletes expressed serious concerns, WorldRowing would be receptive, but that all indications thus far have been not to change the race distance for other events.
Rolland addressed a question about the current ban on Russian participation, and said that it is an 'ongoing situation' that they continue to review.
Rolland also shared details about the status of coastal rowing, which remains a proposed new Olympic event, and explained that the IOC decision whether to allow the events is due in December 2023. He also mentioned that WorldRowing is seeing an embrace of coastal events in many places. He did not say whether he thought the events would be accepted, but did express some optimism about WorldRowing's proposal to the IOC.
Worlds Friday brings us to medals: all the events that are not on the Olympic and Paralympic program will go for medals tomorrow, 11 in all, including the lightweight races that "raced for lanes" earlier in the week. We also get the US Men's Eight in their rep--at 6:45am EDT, by the way, which is a nearly reasonable time--and semis for the singles and doubles. The US Light singles will have their finals as well.
Notes From the Course
Fun with Themes: The production team has been having fun with the music played between and before races, though the Baywatch theme before a Women's Four semi seemed a bit much. The Mission Impossible theme was also on the playlist, and it inspired this call about one qualifying crew: "They were Tom Cruising through the line." Oof.
Bike Path Improvements: Not sure if it was the plan all along for the finals, or just caving to how people are using the venue in actuality, but organizers created a special bike lane for coaches that extends all the way to the first Jumbotron. It will now let coaches follow races all the way to a place where they can at least watch the last 100 meters on a screen: they had been forced to hop off their bikes further up the course and either run with their bike or use the old "stand on one pedal and scooter it" trick to see the last 250 meters.
A Dry Run for Paris '24: We learned today that the Czech broadcaster covering this Championships is the same company that won the contact for the Olympic rowing coverage--in part on the strength of their experience broadcasting Canoe Slalom events, a huge sport here in Czechia, and one that will be contested on a man-made course adjacent to the rowing venue for the Paris Games. The upside? They are here in force, using all sorts of expensive toys, including a huge boom camera that will provide a sweeping aerial shot of the podium ceremonies.
And The Dry Run for Medals: Today was also the always entertaining medal ceremony rehearsal, with the sonorous announcing that goes like this: "And the Silver Medal: Country!...Bow Seat: Name! Two Seat: Name!" - etc...
And, you know we had to ask: So Molly Reckford, can tell us about the Stars and Stripes? "I have a great teammate, who was willing to be a barber for one night," said Reckford, and, for the record, it was not Sechser. "I think that it's a fun way to show my pride in my country and I take this so seriously, so sometimes I need to let out steam. And, you know, hair grows back but photos are forever." Indeed, they are: