Childhood Dreams Become A Reality on Mercer Lake at the 2012 Olympic Trials
June 14, 2012
WEST WINDSOR, N.J. – When she was just 10 years old, Sara Hendershot began researching a book report on her Olympic idol, four-time gold medal swimmer Janet Evans.
By the time she was finished and had turned in her paper, Hendershot, of West Simsbury, Conn., knew she wanted to be an American Olympian. “She made me want to go to the Olympics,” Hendershot said. “But swimming didn’t work out. I had a shoulder injury. Then when I discovered rowing, I thought I could probably do it.”
Her dream became a reality this morning on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J. when she and pair partner, Sarah Zelenka (Itasca, Ill.) rowed from behind in the 2012 Olympic Trials – Rowing to overtake and defeat five-time national team members Jamie Redman (Spokane, Wash.) and Amanda Polk (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and win the women’s pair event, earning a place on the team that will represent the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“I can’t believe this,” Hendershot said while fighting back tears. “This has been my dream since I was 10 years old. We’ve been training really hard for two years. It was a long two years. We put in all the work and we knew there was nothing else we could have done to be prepared. We were ready.”
In winning the event, Hendershot and Zelenka joined Beijing Olympian Ken Jurkowski (New Fairfield, Conn.) as the three newest members of the United States Olympic team, pending final approval by the United States Olympic Committee. Jurkowski won the men’s single event and capped off three years of training and racing to earn his second Olympic berth.
“I’m happy that I got this step taken care of,” Jurkowski said. “These guys I’m racing, hats off to them for being the quality competition that the are. It’s always a privilege to race them. There’s a brief time of appreciating where I am, but, realistically, there is a lot more work to do between now and the next event, the Olympics, and I’ll just get back to work finding more speed.”
With the two morning events completed, only one more boat remains to be named from this competition. The men’s pair final is scheduled to go off the line at 5 p.m.
After two days of rain, unsettled conditions and an injury delay in the men’s pair that forced the event to be rescheduled, the morning dawned with clear blue skies and a light head wind.
Sitting on the line in the women’s pair both Hendershot and Zelenka, who won a gold medal in the 2011 world championships in the women’s four, knew they were not expected to win this race, but said they believed in their own abilities and relished their role.
“We love being the underdog,” Hendershot said. “We love being under pressure. We took a deep breath on the line and we felt the confidence and we were ready to go.”
Coming off of the start, Polk and Redman rowed into the lead and began to pull away. By the time the two crews approached the halfway mark on the 2,000-meter course, Hendershot and Zelenka were behind by a full boat length. It was a little more than they were expecting.
“We were hoping not to be down by that much,” Hendershot said. “I’m thinking, ‘Wow, they’re up by a lot, this is going to take a big sprint.’ So we went earlier than we sometimes do and at 750 meters we were just crushing ourselves, and with 450 meters left I knew we had it because I could feel our momentum change and we just kept pushing and trying to row well.”
In the final 300 meters, the two relative senior national team rookies overtook the more experienced Redman and Polk and crossed the line three seconds ahead with a time of 7:27.544 to Redman and Polk’s 7:30.980.
“I can’t believe this,” said Zelenka. “It was a boat length, then two seats, then two seats, then two seats, then one. I’ve dreamed of this since my second year of rowing.”
It is not something that normally happens to an athlete coming out of a small club program like the one she rowed for at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
“I fell in love with it and then set my sights on this,” Zelenka said. “It’s really exciting, especially for our small program.”
Unlike in the women’s pair, Jurkowski edged into the lead early in his race and by the time he had crossed the finish line, he had nearly two full boat lengths of open water over a field of three competitors, including California Rowing Club’s Mike Sivigny (Somersworth, N.H.), All-American Rowing Camp’s Jim Dietz, II (Amherst, Mass.) and Seattle Rowing Center’s Jon Greer (Chester, N.H.).
Jurkowski had qualified the boat at the 2011 World Rowing Championships on Lake Bled, Slovenia last summer and followed that with a win at the National Selection Regatta #1 this spring.
The victory gave him the opportunity to qualify with a top-four finish at either of the World Rowing Cup stops in Europe, but he did not place high enough and had to race at trials this morning to complete his Olympic quest.
Jurkowski has had years of experience to draw on and unlike in 2008 when he had to qualify his boat at the final Olympic qualification regatta, this year the boat was set. He had rowed the last two world championships, finishing 11th last year and 12th in 2010.
“It’s definitely a long journey,” he said. “There’s a lot of steps to take and the biggest key is working hard every day and getting the most you can out of every stroke you take.
“For me, that’s basically been the plan ever since 2008. In 2008 I had to qualify the boat at the final qualification regatta and this time around I wanted to make sure I had the boat qualified at the worlds.
“Then there a lot steps that have to happen in the U.S., selection on the west coast so I could have the opportunity to race internationally, which was good. Now this is the final step and I’m pleased to be here.”
Comparing his 2008 quest to this year, Jurkowski said it was a much different experience.
“The work that went into them is significant, obviously, but the lead up is very different and the experience shapes how that goes. It’s hard really to compare year-to-year even, every year is different and you learn new things and you try them.
“So yes, I’m very excited to be competing and I’ll do everything I can to give my best effort for the Olympics.”
Racing will resume with finals at 5:00 p.m. in the men’s pair.
The schedule and results will be available at www.usrowing.org.
To view the photo gallery, visit http://www.usrowing.org/Multimedia/PhotoGalleries/2012USOlyTrials.aspx
The finals of the 2012 Olympic Trials – Rowing will air on June 23 from 6-7:30 p.m. EDT on NBC Sports Network. A record 67.5 hours of event coverage – 43 on NBC Sports Network and 24.5 on NBC – will feature nine sports in addition to rowing – including live primetime coverage of trials for diving, swimming, gymnastics and track & field, as well as events for water polo and field hockey.
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Ed Moran - Photos by Monica Worsley