Making A Statement to End a Journey
August 03, 2012
LONDON – Sarah Trowbridge sat on the grass in the boat yard at Eton Dorney next to her coach, Matt Madigan, leaning back on her hands and waiting for the pain in her legs to subside. Madigan was talking, but it didn’t seem like what he was saying registered with Trowbridge.
Not far away, Margot Shumway was trying to find a way to talk about the race she had just finished with Trowbridge in the women’s double sculls at the 2012 Olympic Games in London without becoming overcome with emotion.
The two scenes said everything about what Shumway from Westlake, Ohio and Trowbridge of Guilford, Conn. had just been through. Months of training by themselves in Washington, D.C., after being cut from the national team, a big disappointment at Olympic trials in the spring, followed by huge break when the two national team training center entries that beat them there decided not to accept the bid.
That was followed by a win at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in May, a place on the Olympic team, and then more training. When they got to London, they advanced to the semifinal after racing back-to-back days in first a heat and then a repechage, or second chance race, to advance to the final today.
It was an incredible journey, and the breaks they that came their way, they took advantage of. The challenges that followed they answered. And today it ended. They battled to the finish in a very tough field with a hometown favorite crew rowing in front of 25,000 screaming Brits and finished sixth.
“We raced it from start to finish,” Shumway said. “It definitely wasn’t pretty in the end. I thought we were going to get fourth. And then New Zealand and China both countered our moves. But we raced it. We held nothing back.”
Their race was the second to last for the day and was followed by the men’s single sculls race, a six-boat duel to the line that went to New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale. It was the second Kiwi gold of the day following a dominant performance by Eric Murray and Hamish Bond in the men’s pair.
It was also the second race for the U.S., which saw the men’s pair of Silas Stafford (Santa Rosa, Calif.) and Tom Peszek (Farmington Hills, Mich.) row to eighth place overall in the B final.
But the women’s double was the highlight race for the U.S. today. They got off the line in windy conditions, and pushed ahead of China’s Min Wang and Weiwei Zhu, rowing beside them in lane two.
It was a close six-boat start, but even as the pack fought through the first 500 meters, Great Britain’s favorite sculling women, Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger, pulled away into a hearty lead with Australia’s Kim Crow and Brooke Pratley chasing.
The Brits and the Aussies just kept moving away and left third place to be fought out between the U.S., China, Poland and New Zealand. Poland pushed into third while the remaining three boats exchanged places back and fourth.
Coming into the last 500, the three medal winners had been sorted out and the roar from the British crowd yelling for their second rowing gold medal – and the second women’s gold in the history of the sport was deafening.
Watkins and Grainger finished first 6:55.82, with Australia 2.73 seconds behind them in 6:58.55. Poland crossed third in 7:07.52, far enough back that the British women were already celebrating the victory, while the remaining three crews were engulfed in a tight pack of battling athletes.
When the race ended, China was fourth in 7:08.92, New Zealand finished fifth in 7:09.82 followed by the U.S. in 7:10.54.
The three medal-winning crews rowed to the media dock to recount their races to the field of print reporters and broadcasters. China and New Zealand rowed toward the boat yard while Shumway and Trowbridge spun their boat toward the warm-up area to try and release some of the lactic acid burning in their legs and arms.
It did not last long and they turned and rowed in.
When they got to the recovery dock, Trowbridge climbed out and sat right down and stayed there, while Madigan and Shumway went about releasing the oars and getting shoes.
This was the last race that either of the women plan on, at least at this level, and they finished their long journey giving everything they had.
“I think we had nothing to lose in the race and I just wanted to walk away from this Olympic regatta knowing I had nothing left in the tank, nothing else to give,” said Trowbridge, a five-time national team athlete with five international medals on her shelf.
“Margot and I went out there looking for a fight, looking to push us way past any limit that we’ve ever had, and so although that’s not the finish that we wanted, I’m very proud of our race,” she said when she was finally able to stand and speak.
“If you go so hard that you can’t cleanly execute the last few strokes, that’s better than having a pretty finish. There was a pretty good wind out there. It just wears you down. Honestly, we didn’t let it get to us. We just went really hard and from my understanding we were in the pack crossing the finish line and I think that’s really cool and that’s a step up and that’s a great thing for us,” she said.
Trowbridge will retire from international competition - for now - to coach rowing at Yale University beginning this fall.
“I’m excited to continue along this journey, see if I can help the next group of girls,” she said. “I definitely won’t close the door on rowing or racing again, but at least for this next year I’m going to try sitting in the launch a little bit and drink my coffee throughout practice.”
Shumway, a six time national team athlete and two-time Olympian was not as conclusive about her rowing future, but said she would be looking for a job, and not another race. This one, she said, was a statement to her career as an athlete.
“I think what we did speaks a lot to who Sarah and I are as athletes,” she said. “We came from outside the system, had a pretty lucky break after trials and we took it and made the most out of it.
“We really proved that we are a fast crew, that we have a lot of talent between us. And bottom line is, we have a lot of trust in what we are doing between us. I thought we had fourth. It got a little ugly in the end. We were in lane one. It’s not a favored lane. But, it also speaks to the rest of the crews in that race, that no mater what, no matter what place you’re fighting for, people are fighting. It’s been quite a journey.”
With only two races for the U.S. today, it was a fairly quiet day. All across the rowing compound, the rowing teams were preparing to leave London. Crews carried boat, and oars out of the boat area to the trailers that will start them on their journey back home.
Among the boats not quite done yet was the pair of Stafford and Peszek. Rowing in the B final for places 7-12, they jumped off the line and into second. Germany led through the first 500 meters and Greece got the Americans in the second quarter.
Going into the final 500 meters the U.S. was in third. And then they decided that wasn’t enough.
“I thought it was a pretty solid piece,” Peszek said. “We came out of the blocks pretty sharp, like we always have, and we just hung on to it from there. There was a lot of give and take, a lot of fighting, especially from the Poles, the Germans and the Greeks in the end there. The Greeks were ahead of us and I just suggested to Silas that we should go get them and we did. I just told him and he did it.”
Germany crossed first in 6:49.93, with Stafford and Peszek in second in 6:53.30, to claim eighth overall.
“It was the last race,” said Stafford. “Who knows if we are going to get to race in the Olympics again? We kind of laid it all out there and I think we did good. I’m still disappointed we’re not in the final, but we have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just awesome to be here and to race against such extremely talented crews and just to be in the environment. There is nothing like it in the world.
“We get here every morning and the crowd is already going nuts. I don’t think there is a crowd anywhere in the world, the NFL, the NBA, probably the premier league that is yelling that loud at eight o’clock in the morning,” he said.
“It’s just awesome to race with the USA on your back like that,” added Peszek. “I wish we could have done better than eighth, but we gave a lot and I’m really proud of what we did and what we accomplished.”
“We don’t see crowds like this at all,” he said. “Maybe just parents, but this is pretty awesome. And they’re cheering for everyone. OK, maybe a little harder for the GB, but they cheer for everyone.”
For 2012 Olympic Games news, features and daily quotes from Team USA athletes, coaches, staff and family members, visit http://www.usrowing.org/Pressbox/2012Olympics.aspx.
USRowing is a nonprofit organization recognized by the United States Olympic Committee as the governing body for the sport of rowing in the United States. USRowing’s official suppliers include Boathouse Sports, Vespoli, WinTech, Filippi, Croker Oars, Rudy Project, Concept2, Nielsen Kellerman, PowerHTV and Ludus Tours. USRowing also receives generous support from the National Rowing Foundation and its corporate sponsors and partners ANXeBusiness Corp, Voxer, EZ Dock, EMCVenues and The Perfect SNAQUE. For more information, visit www.usrowing.org. USRowing has created The Row to London to engage sponsors leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games, with proceeds going to help ensure the U.S. team’s success. Opportunities also exist to partner with America Rows – supporting diversity initiatives and adaptive programs. For more information, please contact Beth Kohl at email@example.com.
Ed Moran, photos by row2k Media