We’ve closed the door on the 2014 World Championships and are headed home. This year’s regatta was very different from any other Worlds regatta that I’ve raced, and as I mentioned in my last post, a lot of being a competitor in Amsterdam this year was taking the good with the bad. We had a huge number of athletes turn up to race–a great marker for the sport–but with that came crowding and lake traffic that had the venue feeling a bit like it was bursting at the seams. Amsterdam also gifted the rowing world with an astonishing number of new World Record performances–but at the cost of some brutally unfair racing conditions that may have affected the outcome of some races. We had good days and bad days down at the Bosbaan over the past two weeks, but despite the challenges we faced as a crew and as a Team, I am coming away from this regatta happy with my own performance and looking forward to what comes next.
Kerry and I raced to a silver medal in the women’s pair at this year’s World Championships. It felt great. Receiving our medals and representing our country felt great (even if I am still cringing over holding the flag backwards on the medals dock…oops). But I was more impressed with how smoothly everything went during our training and preparation for racing, our progression races in the heats and semis, and the final execution of our race plan in Saturday’s A Final. Kerry and I had a fabulous time spending all of our days and nights together as a Team with just one sort-of off row during the entire trip. The patience and maturity that seems to come naturally between us was a really great element of my World Championships experience this year and helped us to keep things at a very manageable level while we both prepared to have our very best race in the Final.
The actual racing in the Final was a blast. We knew that all of the crews had the potential to be fast so we locked on simply prepared to race whoever showed up, and from whatever position we needed to. Conditions that day were a solid, building tailwind that we had the best end of, being the first A Final of the day. The warmup was actually quite bad. We were sharing the warmup lanes with B final crews in the M4-, M4X and W4X, so it was slow-going with a lot of yielding and traffic. With races going off on tight centers plus having to wait for TV launch wake, we didn’t get much of a warmup on the water in, despite being out there for almost 50 minutes. We did about two base pace builders and two starts and that was it for our Final. It didn’t seem to matter much once we got locked on though – focus and energy were good, and we were ready. We got off to a good quick start and rowed in a pack with Romania and the Kiwis for most of the first half of the race, with GB out in front. We had learned in our earlier races that the water on the course tended to change more quickly after the 1000m so going in to the race we wanted to do what we needed to do to be a good position by the halfway mark, since deteriorating conditions down the track were not going to favor a sprint-finish. So when we had not broken away from the field by halfway, I watched the 1000m lane marker fly by overhead, took a look around us, and made the call: HUSKIES
It was more of a snarling, guttural growl than anything, but it had the intended effect. Within a few strokes we had stretched out into the silver medal position and were picking up speed. This is the same call that launched us into medal contention during our final in Aiguebelette, and I had been saving it during this regatta for when we would need it most. From that point we just attacked the second half of the race like it was the first half and charged to the line. GB finished just over two seconds ahead of us, pushed to a new World’s Best Time making our pair race the fastest pair race ever! It was fun to see that Kerry and I had also gone under the previous World Record Time, and had gone [much!] faster than we had ever gone in the pair. I had really wanted to crack 7:00 on this trip, but to have such a quick ride down the course in the Final was really special.
Previous World Best Time (2002): 6:53.8
Great Britain 2014 WBT: 6:50.6
USA 2014 Silver Medal: 6:52.8
Looking back on everything that went in to getting across the line in the pair at Worlds this year, I have no regrets. There was some chatter during the regatta about our decision to go in to the pair versus going in to the eight (or the quad), varying from “Why wouldn’t you want to be in the eight?” to “You must be happy just to be here!” (I also got a lot of “What the hell are you doing in a sweep boat?” but that’s a different post). I can clear up any confusion about my ride in the pair with Kerry by explaining a little more clearly the selection process we went through this spring and summer.
The easiest way to start that discussion is by saying that the pair was the priority boat in selection for the USA women this year. The program was looking to find a way to win a World Championship medal in that event, and to do that were motivated to boat the fastest possible combination of athletes from the US Team. When Kerry and I won the National Selection Regatta in April, we earned the right to test international speed in the pair by racing at one of the World Cups. Legally a Top 4 finish would have been sufficient for us to select ourselves into the pair after the World Cup. However, there were other things to consider when looking at results — such as a margin off of the winning crew (if not ourselves) and also the margin off of the next closest USA pair. Had we been a huge margin off the leading crew, or a tiny margin off of the next fastest American crew, it may have been likely that we were not the fastest US pair combination. With these things in mind, we raced in Aiguebelette against not only many of the other top international crews, but also three pair combinations made up of the top US training center athletes. It was a great experience but also a pretty significant test. Appropriate, I think, since Kerry and I were maybe dark horses at best going in to pair selection early in the year. But racing in France showed the speed was there, so the door to the pair was still open after the World Cup. Kerry and I had to decide between ourselves and with our coach if we wanted to stay in the pair or if, because traditionally American World Championship medals in the women’s pair are more difficult to come by, we would prefer to try to go in to one of the camp boats (8+ or 4X).
The trick is, had we declined the pair bid, we would not have been guaranteed seats in either the 8+ or 4X. We were told early on in the selection process that if we decided to opt for big boat selection, due to the nature of seat racing and CII testing, there was a chance that we would not end up making the Team at all. However likely or unlikely, the possibility existed. But, on the plus side, accepting the pair meant that we would be rowing in the women’s top boat, and have the opportunity to work more closely and on an individual level with Tom to improve fitness and technique specific to the pair. We would also bypass all team selection and seat racing (still got to do all the erg evaluations and workouts though, don’t worry) and punch our tickets to the World Championships a good month ahead of anyone looking to make a camp boat. Lastly, there was potential for some financial incentive to race in the pair in the form of increased monthly DAS. There were a lot of things to consider, and it deserved a good bit of discussion.
Ultimately, Kerry and I wanted to row together because it was fast, fun, a really cool challenge and an opportunity that we may not get again. There were a number of women in the US camp who would have loved to have had the opportunity to race the pair at the World Championships this summer, and who will probably be just as keen (if not more so) next season. We weren’t given anything this season and likewise we didn’t “settle” for the pair. We wanted to race it. We were happy to be at the World Championships in the pair, but not because we didn’t have any other choice. If anything we were happy to be there because we did have a choice, and we chose the pair.
So as I said: no regrets. We had a fast, fun regatta and learned a lot this summer. Knowing what I know about my team and the women that I train with, I would imagine that even with the results we had this year, there may be one or more pair combinations among us who are as fast or even faster than Kerry and I were this season. I don’t know. But what I do know is that probably no other combination would have had as much fun together as we did racing and training these past few months. We may see new fast combinations emerge over the next year of training and evaluation, as we all go back to kicking the shit out of each other every day to make each other as fast as we can be. There are no guarantees for next year, so Kerry and I raced our final like it was our last race together. Because it very well may have been.
Great racing from my USA teammates who also medaled at this year’s World Championships including:
- W8+ who won the ninth consecutive gold in that event
- LW1X bronze from Kate Bertko who is recovering from abdominal surgery in July (and her first time racing that event, NBD)
- LTAMix4+ silver from two high school seniors and two college sophomores (crew average age is 19)
- W4X bronze from four novice scullers who have never raced the quad at Worlds before
- W4- silver against a Kiwi crew who crushed the world record by 11 seconds (USA under previous WBT by 5 sec)
- M4- silver up a step from last year’s bronze
Three weeks vacation starts now. I’m headed to Maine, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
And when we come back to camp: everyone in singles.
Long Live the Dream,
P.S. Yes, the List is in the works.