Canada and United States Women’s Eights Poised for a Row Down
July 29, 2012
LONDON – Mary Whipple has been in this spot before.
More than a few times. This is her third Olympics and her 11th year as the coxswain of the United States women’s eight. She has one silver medal from the 2004 Games in Athens, a gold from Beijing in 2008, and has not been in a losing race since.
After nearly every heat where the eight reaches a final, she, or someone else in her boat, or her coach, Tom Terhaar, is asked the same question: which boat could possibly beat them. And they never bite.
Today, after crushing the competition in the opening heat of the 2012 London Olympics, finishing first in 6:14.68, more than seven seconds ahead of second-place Australia and advancing to the Thursday final, Whipple was asked if she was surprised that the Canadian women had beaten them.
“What?” Whipple replied. “They weren’t in our race.”
The reporter was referring to Canada’s winning time in the second heat, the one in which the Canadians won and advanced in 6:13.91, ahead of second-place Romania, which finished in 6:16.61. Whipple still didn’t bite, even though the questions kept coming.
She was reminded that Canada has been chasing the U.S. for the past two seasons, has led them at points in racing in both the 2011 World Rowing Championships on Lake Bled and in world cups, and that the last time the two boats raced, in Lucerne in May, the difference between them was just three-hundredths of a second.
“On Thursday there are going to be six boats,” she said. “It’s the Olympics and anything can move someone within that Olympic final and it’s legitimate that everybody has a shot on that podium. I think to not let any distractions in, we’re going to just focus on what we can do in our lane and execute what we’ve envisioned, what we’ve practiced, what we believe in, and the results are going to take care of themselves.”
And it is the truth that Canada is fast enough to challenge the U.S. string of six successive world championships. And the scenario that was set up today is another showdown between them and the U.S. crew of Whipple (Orangevale, Calif.), Caryn Davies (Ithaca, N.Y.), Caroline Lind (Greensboro, N.C.), Eleanor Logan (Boothbay Harbor, Maine), Meghan Musnicki (Naples, N.Y.), Taylor Ritzel (Larkspur, Colo.), Esther Lofgren (Newport Beach, Calif.), Susan Francia (Abington, Pa.) and Erin Cafaro (Modesto, Calif.).
The women’s eight heat was a highlight race on a day of competition at the Eton Dorney Olympic race course that saw the U.S. lightweight men’s four of Robin Prendes (Miami, Fla.), Nick LaCava (Weston, Conn.), William Newell (Weston, Mass.) and Anthony Fahden (Lafayette, Calif.) redeem themselves from a first-heat stumble to win their repechage and advance to the semifinal Tuesday and the lightweight women’s double sculls finish third in their heat.
Julie Nichols (Livermore, Calif.) and Kristin Hedstrom (Concord, Mass.), rowing in their first race of their first Olympics, got off the start and held pace with the field that included Greece, Australia, The Netherlands, Canada and Brazil, but slipped into fourth in the first quarter of the race.
Christina Giazitzidou and Alexandra Tsiavou of Greece took the lead and Australia’s Bronwen Watson and Hannah Every-Hall followed in second. Nichols and Hedstrom chased after the two lead boats and a semifinal-qualifying position, but could not close the distance, finishing third in 7:08.46. They will race again on Tuesday.
“There was a lot of good competition out there,” Nichols said. “It wasn’t quite the outcome we had hoped for, but overall a good opening piece. We’re looking to improve from here. Our base speed was good and our opening speed was really fast, but it’s just that everyone here comes out really fast. So we’re looking to sharpen up and improve,” she said.
“We’re looking to build from here,” added Hedstrom. “We’ve got the reps and we’re looking to have a good piece there and to start to put together pieces that are better than today, not that today was bad, but we’re looking to build. It’s definitely a field where mistakes will cost you, so everyone goes out fast and finishes fast. You need to make sure you are on your game every time.”
After a week of beautiful conditions in the United Kingdom, it was a strange weather day at Eton Dorney. The day broke with cool temperatures and blue skies, and then warmed up. Sun showers and thunderclaps followed that and just as the lightweight double was crossing the thousand-meter point in the race, a single large bolt of lightening flashed across the sky.
As the U.S. women’s eight were completing their heat, dark storm clouds rolled in from the west, but the drenching rain that followed held off long enough for the racing to finish.
Later, both the U.S. and Canadian teams spoke about their races and the prospects for the final. None were lured into saying something that could be used as bait for the other team.
“I think it was a good first step in the right direction,” said Lofgren. “Just a solid race and we’re excited to go to the final and put it out there. It’s my first Olympics and it’s a great experience.”
Ritzel agreed, adding, “I think it was a strong first race; it’s always nice to finally be able to race. I feel like we wait so long during the week and get prepped, and then everyone else arrives. So for me, it was just nice to get a race under our belts.
“I can’t wait until the final,” she said. “It was really awesome and the fans are just incredible. It was fun to be in a race with Great Britain, because you could hear the grand stands from about 750 (meters) out. It’s really an honor to represent the United States and also be in a country where rowing is such a big deal. I’m looking forward to the final.”
Keeping with the tone of respect for the competition, Canada’s Lesley Thompson-Willie said, “You can only measure yourself against your competition at the time. You would think, based on history, that the Americans would be in the final, but we hope to be right there with them. We have been getting closer and closer, but we are not thinking about the U.S., at least I am not.
“Where we finish is where we finish.”
As someone who has been to the Olympics three times now and is a student of rowing history, U.S. head coach Terhaar knows what can happen in an Olympic final. His 2004 eight was favored coming into the Games in Athens and were beaten by Romania.
So while he has a healthy measure of respect for the Canadians, he keeps the Romanians in sight.
“I respect the hell out of (the Canadians),” he said. “I like the coach. I like the athletes. They’re just good people. We want to win of course, but a rivalry, no.
“Romania is the one I’m always watching out for. What do they have, three Olympic gold medals in a row? They’ve medaled pretty much every Olympics since it was created. They’re the ones I keep an eye out for.
“It was a good race for us,” he said. “Making the final is always a big deal, getting it out of the way. They raced really hard and well and it was a good first step. This is an Olympic final and people turn it up. Who knows who will win. We hope to race whoever shows up.”
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Ed Moran, photo by Ed Hewitt, Row2k Media