Hello from Amsterdam. It’s been a few days since we left Aiguebelette and this year’s World Cup II behind, but I’ve found myself pretty wiped out from last weekend (oh the joys of getting older) and haven’t yet spent much time or effort chronicling this year’s racing experience. We have pretty much picked right up with training here on the Bosbaan, and I don’t have any complaints except that I am very, very tired. But not without good reason. Last weekend was pretty awesome. There was a lot that happened over the course of three days, but here’s a little recap from my experiences in France. This year I was a part of the women’s sweep group that entered four pairs, all of whom also doubled up in to the women’s eight. I raced with Kerry Simmonds in the pair, the same woman I raced and won with at the NSR two months ago.
Day 1 : Time Trial
If you followed the World Cup this year at all, you probably heard that FISA decided to alter the format of the progression system for this regatta by implementing the time trial format for “heats” in all events. For anyone not familiar with this term, a time trial format has the boats racing individually down the course started thirty seconds apart; after all the boats have completed the 2k, times are compared for ranking/progression. Implementation of the time trial format meant different things for different events, since not all events had the same number of entries. More or fewer entries meant that you would either 1) be using your time trial results to progress you to the next round of racing or 2) your time trial results did not affect your progression (results in this case being like a “race for lanes”). Since I was racing the women’s pair in a field of fifteen entries, my time trial did affect my racing progression, and we were to have a full, good-faith effort for our first race in order to qualify for progression to the semis.
I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but suffice to say I thought using the time trial for this regatta was a huge waste of time and resources. I watched many crews paddle down the course during their time trials, not taking it seriously since it had no real impact on their racing for the weekend except that they had to get dressed up in their uniforms and show up to the start on time. FISA would argue that they have to run a time trial at at least one regatta each quadrennium in order to provide umpires with the proper logistical experience in the case that a time trial actually be necessary. However, why they chose to do so at this highly-subscribed regatta instead of a smaller one (such as World Cup I..?) is beyond me. As an athlete who only gets the opportunity to race one World Cup regatta each year (unlike many other teams, who race two or even all three in addition to the European Champs), missing out on the chance to line up for side by side racing in my heat was a significant loss. I hope we can avoid the time trial format at World Rowing events in the future.
Anyway, it all worked out because Kerry and I ended up getting some extra side-by-side racing through the repechage (Tom told us we were “getting our money’s worth”). Our time trial result was not quite good enough to advance us directly to the semi, so we spent the day waiting at the course to race again that afternoon. The rep was maybe not our best rowing because we were a little flat and disappointed with the morning’s result, but we were still able to work on some things to push ahead of the rest of the field and qualify ourselves for the next day’s semifinal. It ended up being a very long day down at the course, but it was a good opportunity to practice dealing with things not going exactly how we planned/hoped. By the end of the day, we were laughing about having to do an extra race instead of fuming.
We technically also had a time trial “race for lanes” in the eight this day as well, but opted to DNS in order to focus on the pairs.
Day 2: Semifinal
What a cool day. We got up early and showed up down at the course for a short row in the eight, and then quickly transitioned in to pair mode. Kerry and I had drawn a very American semi, including our USA3 and USA4 crews. Going in to this race, the primary goal was to qualify ourselves for the A Final. Our second goal was for our team to work together in order to snag all three qualification spots for USA crews. To do that, we all needed to have races that were just a little bit better than the day before, and push the pace all the way down the course. As we were being polled to start, I gave a little “USA” shoutout and got nods from all my teammates in lanes two and four. Then we were underway. It was so cool to race down the course together, working as a unit to push through our competitors and earn qualifying spots. Kerry and I moved through the field near the middle of the race, and cruised into the second qualifying spot behind our USA 3 crew. USA 4 finished just behind us, locking in three of our four American pairs for the final. A few minutes later, we cheered our USA 2 boat in the second semifinal through a nasty last 500 to qualify. We were all thrilled to have gotten all four of our pairs into the Final. There wasn’t anything left to do but get ready for our next and most important race of the weekend.
Day 3: Finals
We didn’t spend too much time congratulating ourselves, as the next step was going to be even tougher than making the Final: racing for medals. With four of six boats in the pair final being American, we knew that at least one of us was guaranteed a medal, and even in the best-case scenario, at least one of our crews would not be leaving with a medal. The eight of us had been working together closely as a team of pairs in training at home and in Europe up to this point, and now it was time to push each other as hard as we could in the final to both challenge the event favorites, Great Britain, as well as maximize our own team’s potential. We all had things to work on and improve in order to have our best races, but more than anything we needed to just get on the water and be as focused and aggressive as we could in order to claim as many of the medals as we could.
Kerry and I had a fun race. We had our trademark slow start, which is not exactly ideal, but made for more eventful 2-3-4th 500s. Since we were basically dropped off the line, we had to use the last 3/4 of the race to get ourselves into a good position to challenge for medals. Kerry and I had raced almost all of our races together this way — walking back through early leaders in order to take the lead — so while it wasn’t great to be last off the line, we were prepared to handle it. Our base rhythm carried us to the 1000m, and then I called a move after the 1000 that pushed us away from the other USA crews into silver medal position. From there, I kept pushing Kerry to keep the rate and the power up to keep moving away and keep the boat speed increasing, and may have lied a little bit about where we were on the lead crew in order to keep chasing hard. Our second 1000 was really great, and we ended up finishing with silver in the pair behind GB and just ahead of our USA 2 boat for bronze.
The pair race in Aiguebelette was probably one of my all-time favorite races. We didn’t win, but we worked together to have a really good result for our international debut in this event (it was the first time rowing the pair for both Kerry and me), and post some good times over the course of the weekend. Having the opportunity to race against other really good pairs at this level was really fun for me and I’m glad I had the chance to race at the World Cup. If you would have told me back in November when I first got in the pair that I’d be racing as USA1 in France this spring, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. To come away with such a great experience that included so many of my teammates and a medal on top of that was amazing.
But once again, we didn’t waste any time congratulating ourselves, as we had only a few minutes between our pair final and the eight final to get ourselves recovered and ready to race again. We took off from the medals dock almost right away and ran back to the team tent to get our compression tights on, get flushed by our physio, eat, drink, rest, and do whatever else we needed to do to get ourselves back in to race mode. In a matter of minutes, we morphed from four individual crews in to one, and before I knew it, we were hands on.
Going in to the eights final, we knew that we were going to have a disadvantage from the other crews in our event who had fewer, or no, athletes who had already raced that day. Only Canada had raced other athletes in the B Final of the W2- and the A Final of the W4- earlier that morning. All told, our races were just two and a half hours apart, much of which was spent getting to and from the docks, and re-warming up in the eight. After a very short warm up, we pulled in to the start, took a look across at our competitors, dialed in, and decided we were going to do whatever it took to win.
The race isn’t something I can put in to words. You just have to watch it. All I can say is that it was an absolute privilege to ride along in the bow seat with the women who have made it their jobs to be the best women’s eight in the world. I had a great time, and tried not to screw it up too much. I may never be in another race like that, but I feel lucky to have had this one.
If you want to know what it’s like to be a part of the American women’s rowing team, this race defines it. We wield the trust we have in one another like a weapon. There wasn’t a point in that race that any of us thought we couldn’t win as long as we did it together. Thanks ladies, it was really special.
As a final note, this regatta did serve as a qualifier for Kerry and I since we won the National Selection Regatta in the pair in April. We needed to place top four in order to be able to declare ourselves the pair for the World Championships this year. We haven’t done that yet, as we are waiting to talk to our Team about what will be best for the group going to Amsterdam in August. For anyone interested, the deadline for us to declare is July 18.
Until then, it’s back to work. A quick run at the Holland Beker this weekend, and then back home.
Thank you for all your words of support and encouragement. This was a very memorable regatta.
Long Live the Dream,