Two U.S. Crews Advance to Finals on First Day of Olympic Racing
July 28, 2012
LONDON – For more than a week, the Olympic rowing venue at Eton Dorney has been a quiet work in progress.
Every day, as the first races approached, more and more of the course and the surrounding spectator areas were developed and built up. The only people in attendance were the rowers, coaches, staff, workers and volunteers.
This morning, as the sun rose over the rowing venue, 33 miles from London, Eton Dorney came alive.
Thousands of spectators poured onto the site from two ends of the venue and filled the stands and grass areas with more than 25,000 fans, turning it into a sea of color and filling the air with anxious noise. Just as the Opening Ceremony marked the beginning of the 2012 London Olympic Games on Friday night, the start of racing marked the beginning of the Olympic Games here.
And what a grand start it was.
Sarah Zelenka (Itasca, Ill.) and Sara Hendershot (West Simsbury, Conn.) ignited the crowd and set the tone for the U.S. contingent, chasing the favored British women’s pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning down the 2,000-meter course, separating themselves from the rest of the pack and advancing straight to the final, crossing second in 6:59.29, two seconds behind the Brits (6:57.29) and almost six seconds ahead of third-place Romania (7:05.39.)
“It was awesome,” said Hendershot. “The crowd was amazing. You could actually hear people right off the start cheering, ‘Go Sara,’ which was really cool. And then at five hundred meters to go, I was feeling a little bit tired and then the crowd was just so loud, it gave us this whole new boost of energy. It was great.”
It is no surprise that they heard their names being called above the noise. A large support team from both families made the trip across the Atlantic to cheer the girls on and were in the stands in force. They are known collectively as “Team Sara(h).”
And why not come this far? The two are the potential Cinderella story here after winning the Olympic Trials in a stunning, come-from-behind effort in West Windsor, N.J., a month ago.
“It was an amazing, relaxing feeling, just knowing we were here and we were at the Olympics. We were just going to take this race as it was, and kind of go with it and know we really had nothing to lose. We had a great time,” said Zelenka. “I had a little bit of disbelief when Sara was talking about Great Britain being next to us and we were kind of off from the other boats. It was really cool.”
As good a story as it was, it is just one of a series of developing storylines for the United States as this regatta begins. Some good and some not.
The men’s eight, a boat that had to be qualified at the last chance qualification regatta in May for the first time in history, pushed into the lead off the line in its heat and stayed in control the length of the course to finish first in 5:30.72 over Australia (5:32.43), Poland (5:35.64) and Ukraine (5:38.02).
The win advanced the crew of coxswain Zach Vlahos (Piedmont, Calif.), Brett Newlin (Riverton, Wyo.), Jake Cornelius (Brooktondale, N.Y.), Steve Kasprzyk (Cinnaminson, N.J.), Giuseppe Lanzone (Annandale, Va.), Will Miller (Duxbury, Mass.), Grant James (DeKalb, Ill.), Ross James (DeKalb, Ill.) and David Banks (Potomac, Md.) directly to the Wednesday final.
“I think it’s important just to give the guys confidence,” said men’s eight coach Mike Teti. “I think it’s a decent boat. I think they’re pretty good, but they’re all engineers and they’re a pretty quiet group. I think it was good for their own confidence to at least win a race here and they controlled it and I’m really happy with their performance.”
In all, eight U.S. crews raced today with four advancing. The other four U.S. crews – the men’s and women’s quadruple sculls, the lightweight men’s four, and the men’s pair – will have a second go during the repechage races.
Advancing to the quarterfinals in the men’s single sculls was Ken Jurkowski (New Fairfield, Conn.). Jurkowski finished third in his heat in 7:08.49 behind Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic (6:53.23) and Croatia’s Mario Vekic (7:02.63).
Also qualifying in the women’s single sculls was Gevvie Stone (Newton, Mass.), who finished third behind Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus (7:30.31) and Russia’s Julia Levina (7:33.06).
“It was a good race, not perfect but good,” Stone said. “I’m looking forward to future races.”
Following the women’s pair, the women’s quad went to the line against Germany, Poland and China. They moved into second off the line and chased Germany the length of the course, but could not catch them, finishing second in 6:15.76 to Germany’s 6:13.62.
Because only one boat advanced from the two heats, the U.S. crew of Adrienne Martelli (University Place, Wash.), Megan Kalmoe (St. Croix Falls, Wis.), Kara Kohler (Clayton, Calif.) and Natalie Dell (Clearville, Pa.) will race again Monday for another chance at the final.
They will face Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Poland and China with the top four boats advancing to the final.
“I feel good,” said Dell. “It was an exciting race. It was our first time racing internationally as a quad and it was Adrienne Martelli’s first time stroking a quad internationally and she did fabulous. It was an exciting race and we’re ready to learn some more about ourselves in the rep,” she said.
“We’ll learn as much as we can over the next couple of days and go from this race to the next race and be able to put ourselves in a really good position to be in the final,” added Kalmoe. “We came here to race for a medal, and that’s what we intend to do. I’m feeling just fine, tired but happy, ready to put my feet up and rest for the afternoon and get ready to race again and do what we have to do.”
In the lightweight men’s four, the crew of Robin Prendes (Miami, Fla.), Nick LaCava (Weston, Conn.), William Newell (Weston, Mass.) and Anthony Fahden (Lafayette, Calif.) finished last in its heat in a 6:02.42 behind Switzerland (5:53.56), Russia (5:54.62), Denmark (5:55.64) and Italy (5:56.71), and will have to race again tomorrow in a repechage.
“Our race today was a bit of a disappointment,” Fahden said. “But we have another chance to qualify for the semifinal tomorrow morning. Given the conditions, our five hundred meter splits were uncharacteristically slow for us. We're making some technical and pacing changes in the hopes of putting together a better piece tomorrow,” he said.
“It was difficult,” added Prendes. “Not what we expected. But I guess now there is only one way to get out of this spot and that’s to race hard tomorrow. It’s difficult to say what happened. I don’t know. We’ll see, we’ll talk about it, approach the race a little differently, and we’ll see.”
They will face Poland, Italy and Czech Republic in the morning with the top three crews advancing to the semifinals.
The men’s quadruple sculls was the next race for the U.S. and it also did not go as hoped with the crew of Elliot Hovey (Manchester-By-The-Sea, Mass.), Peter Graves (Cincinnati, Ohio), Alex Osborne (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) and Wes Piermarini (West Brookfield, Mass.) finishing fourth in 5:50.25. Russia won in 5:42.26, followed by Spain (5:42.87), France (5:44.25) and Italy (6:08.99).
“It’s the first race,” Osborne said. “We learned some things out there. We’re going to get back to the drawing board and prepare as best we can for Monday. We know what we need to work on and we’re going to stick to it and we’re going to work on it,” he said.
“We had a plan, we stuck to the plan, and clearly we need a new plan,” Piermarini said. “And we’re going to work on that tonight and over the next two days. We’re going to come back and the regatta certainly isn’t over for us and we’re going to do our best to get right back in there.”
The crew races again Monday against Italy, New Zealand and Switzerland with the first three boats to cross the line advancing to the semifinal.
In the men’s pair, the crew of Silas Stafford (Santa Rosa, Calif.) and Tom Peszek (Farmington Hills, Mich.) finished last in its four-boat heat in 6:26.59. Canada won in 6:23.80, followed by Australia (6:24.83) and The Netherlands (6:25.90).
“It wasn’t a bad race for us,” Stafford said. “In some ways, it was kind of a wakeup call for the level of racing here. It’s really high, and if you make any mistakes, people will capitalize on that. I think we did okay, but there are definitely some small things to work on.”
They will race again Monday and face Hungary, Serbia and Germany with three boats qualifying for the semifinals.
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