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Rachel Quarrell

Day 2 Review: 2017 World Rowing Championships

by Rachel Quarrell

Day 2 of 8 – Sunday 24 September. Second group of heats.

Monday dawned over Sarasota, and while the para-rowers and eights continued to twiddle their thumbs waiting for racing to start, the rest of the crews were off the mark with another batch of opening heats. The thunderstorms of the evening before had cleared the air, and as spectators sweltered and roasted atop the grandstands, the first hint of a headwind brushed the course.

Athletes be warned: your loved ones are probably fizzing with caffeine when you have that two-minutes-a-day chat.

The same spectators had discovered the bottomless coffee stand on the commercial avenue, however: for $26 you could get a fat-bellied coffee mug and unlimited refills into it for the duration of the championships. Athletes be warned, your loved ones are probably fizzing with caffeine when you have that two-minutes-a-day chat, so don’t take anything they say too seriously.

The racing on Monday was brilliant, never more so than in the epic first W1x heat between Carling Zeeman (CAN) and Fie Udby Erichsen (DEN). The Dane, an Olympic silver medallist in London, initially had the upper hand but as the two entered the final hundred metres Zeeman had put on one of her trademark sprints and was hurtling towards the only semi-final qualifying place. First one, then the other, hit the front but as they crossed the line it was Erichsen, by 0.03 seconds, and Zeeman had to resign herself to racing again in the repechage. Magdalena Lobnig (AUT), Jeannine Gmelin (SUI) and Vicky Thornley (GBR) were the other heat winners, but that still leaves several dangerous oarswomen in the repechage mix.

The men’s doubles has for a while been the home of hard fearless racers, and as a consequence very hard to call. This year looks to be no different, with at least 10 crews capable of getting into the A-final. Three of the four heats featured close overlap between the top two crews, but with both through to the semi the interest was in the lower places. The US double of Ben Davison and John Graves lost out to a battle between Italy and Britain, which kept those two ahead of the Americans despite the latter pushing out the quickest final 500m. Amongst the second-placers we should keep an eye out for Lithuania, who were leading Switzerland until sure of qualification, and France, who put in a ridiculously quick final split. Friday’s semi-finals should be mouthwatering and at the moment I would not like to pick the winners.

Megan Kalmoe and Tracy Eisser brought the crowd – including visiting schoolkids – to their feet as they soared past European silver medallists Denmark to victory and the only women’s A-final qualifying place from their heat. Unsurprisingly, world’s fastest pair Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast were the other straight-through pairs qualifiers.

Today was an unreliable day to compare times, so don’t be surprised if some crews seem to change speed during the rest of the week.

Meghan O’Leary and Ellen Tomek then repeated the effort with an American win in the women’s doubles, although with the first three of four through to the semi-finals the qualification was a tad less brutal than for some other events. Lithuania’s Milda Valciukaite and Ieva Adomaviciute had the most impressive W2x finish, however little it was required, but the momentum they built charging from fourth to a necessary third carried them straight past the Australians and Czechs.

A surprising number of people (mostly male, I must admit) thought that the women’s fours would be a straight final here. Even the organising committee initially planned the timetable on that basis. Well you know what, “if you build it they will come”. Although there were only two heats, it’s a full set of 12 crews competing, and with eight crews inside a 10-second range, it could be pretty interesting. Lucerne top two Australia and Russia were unsurprisingly the first two to clinch finals places, and the rest will scrap it out in a pair of reps later in the week.

The lightweight men’s quads has become a much more tightly fought event this year, following the demise of the LM4- as an Olympic event. The quad feeds the Olympic boat class well, and this year sixteen crews are racing. Japan were the one quick bunch unlucky to miss out on qualification, and on form at least one of the semi-finals will be hotly contested, while the medals could go anywhere in the final. The women’s lightweight quads are less competitive, although once they reach the medal race there are several who could make the podium.

The headwind mentioned at the start of this piece swirled and changed throughout the day, even turning tail precisely between the first and second heats of the women’s singles. It wasn’t too strong, but it will have made a difference. As a result, it was an unreliable day to compare times, so don’t be surprised if some crews seem to change speed during the rest of the week.

So what else? There was a blood-letting in the media centre in the morning, the centre manager summarily firing all the volunteers who thought that a W1- might possibly exist. [Most of them, it turned out – she had four left by the end of the process.] The volunteers are terribly kind (and particularly sympathetic to poor deprived British journalists who don’t live the American life and have never tasted a Reese’s Peanut Cup before) but they are mostly non-rowers, which has led to some raising of Organising Committee blood pressure.

 

Perhaps the incompetent ones will end up being fed to the alligators, who do most definitely inhabit the Nathan Benderson Park lake. Nils Hoff found one – see tweet – which was skulking in the warm-up lanes, but so far they haven’t created a hazard to racing. Presumably FISA never envisaged the potential for a ‘gator to smash into your blade when they removed the old 100m breakage rule.

Tuesday finally sees the para-rowers begin their contest, while things begin to get serious with more reps and the men’s singles quarter-finals. The first few crews have already dropped off the medal pathway, more will be joining them soon.

Rachel Quarrell will be blogging for Row360 from Sarasota for the full 8 days of the WRC.

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