U.S. Women’s Eight Reclaims Gold at 2018 World Rowing Championships

PLOVDIV, Bulgaria – Back where they belong. After a year’s hiatus from the top of the medal podium, the United States’ women’s eight reclaimed the world title they relinquished in 2017 by earning a two-second victory over Canada on the final day of competition at the 2018 World Rowing Championships.

The eight’s victory was one of three American medals on Sunday, giving the U.S. 10 total medals during the regatta to top the overall medal count. It also tied the U.S. with Italy, Germany and France for the most gold medals – three. In addition to the women’s eight, the women’s double sculls and PR1 women’s single sculls won bronze medals on Sunday.

In the women’s eight race, the crew of Kristine O’Brien (Massapequa Park, N.Y.), Felice Mueller (Cleveland, Ohio), Vicky Opitz (Middleton, Wis.), Gia Doonan (Rochester, Mass.), Dana Moffat (Manlius, N.Y.), Tracy Eisser (Fair Lawn, N.J.), Emily Regan (Buffalo, N.Y.), Olivia Coffey (Watkins Glen, N.Y.) and coxswain Katelin Guregian (Detroit, Mich.) trailed off the line and sat in second position behind Australia at the 500-meter mark. The U.S. began to build its rhythm during the second quarter of the race and took the lead as the crews hit the halfway point. Over the third 500 meters, the U.S. continued to push ahead of Australia and the third-place crew from The Netherlands. Canada also began to up its rate to try to move into medal contention, eventually passing the Dutch boat as the crews crossed the 1,500-meter mark. Over the final sprint, the U.S. increased its margin, crossing the line in a 6:00.97, 2.08 seconds ahead of the late-charging Canadian crew. Australia held on for the bronze medal.

“We just had so much belief and so much trust, and that’s what we did all the way down the course,” Guregian said. “If anyone had let go of their belief or their trust, it would have been over. I think that’s what carried us through. The conditions were crazy out there – headwind, tailwind, crosswind, just coming from every direction. We believe in each other with our whole hearts, and we just followed that down the course. It feels amazing to have won that race.”

The victory gave the U.S. its 12th win in the event in the last 13 years.

“It was a tough race,” Regan said. “All of the boats were fighting all the way down. I’m really proud of our boat because we stayed super internal, and we just kept fighting. That’s a huge characteristic of the nine of us since we got together. Obviously, we were pretty disappointed after last year, but we have a really young group, and we’re just trying to learn every single day and get better every day. I think from last September to NSRs (National Selection Regattas) to Lucerne, we just kept building, and I’m really looking forward to training hard this coming year and ultimately two years.”

In the women’s double sculls, Meghan O’Leary (Baton Rouge, La.) and Ellen Tomek (Flushing, Mich.) used a strong final 1,000 meters to reach the medal stand for the second year in a row – this time winning a bronze medal. O’Leary and Tomek were fifth off the line but were able to move into fourth place at the midway point. The duo then passed Great Britain in the third quarter of the race but could not track down Lithuania or New Zealand. The British crew was first off the line before Lithuania rowed to the head of the field. The Lithuanians continued to build their lead through the middle half of the race, before crossing to win the gold medal in a 6:44.15. New Zealand clocked the fastest final 500-meter split but came up two seconds short, settling for silver. O’Leary and Tomek finished with a time of 6:47.75.

“We didn’t have the race we thought we would, but we’re pretty proud that we held on and got a medal,” O’Leary said. “The field is deep, tight. It’s going to be close. We’re proud of it. We know that we are capable of getting first or second, so we will be hungry and come back for more next year.”

Hallie Smith (Washington, D.C.) won the bronze medal in the PR1 women’s single sculls, using a strong first 1,000 meters to take control of the last medal position. With the defending world champion, Norway’s Birgit Skarstein, and Israel’s Moran Samuel out in front, Smith grabbed third place off the start and continued to build a wide margin on Germany’s Sylvia Pille-Steppat through the 1,000-meter mark to take control of the bronze-medal position. Skarstein continued to row away from the rest of the field, with Samuel following in second. The German tried to cut into Smith’s lead for the final medal spot, but the American responded to the challenge to win the bronze medal by six seconds. Skarstein broke her own world’s best time by nearly 11 seconds, winning with a time of 10:13.63. Samuel took the silver, with Smith finishing in an 11:17.56 for the bronze.

“Sylvia pushed me so hard,” Smith said. “I was so happy with the result. I have two coaches. They both push me on the water and then Daniel (Voigtsberger) really pushes me in the gym, and I think that’s what made the difference. I had the muscle to back it up. My whole plan this time was to push the top 1,000 (meters) because I know I can last that second half. I just kept an eye on Sylvia. She was right next to me. I didn’t pay attention to what Moran and Birgit were doing, but Sylvia was the one right next to me, and she made it a great race.”

After being on the right side of a photo finish in winning its heat, the men’s eight of Alex Karwoski (Moultonborough, N.H.), Glenn Ochal (Philadelphia, Pa.), Tom Peszek (Farmington Hills, Mich.), Tom Dethlefs (Lawrenceville, N.J.), Conor Harrity (Weston, Mass.), Mike DiSanto (Boston, Mass.), Andrew Reed (Wayland, Mass.), Patrick Eble (Fort Washington, Pa.) and coxswain Julian Venonsky (Malvern, Pa.) finished on the wrong side of the photo in the final, missing the medal stand by 0.17 seconds. Fourth off the line, the American boat rowed in third position through the middle 1,000 meters behind Germany and Great Britain, with Australia sitting in fourth just off the pace. The Germans controlled the race at the front of the field, while Great Britain held about a one-second advantage over the U.S. moving into the final stretch. The Brits’ hold on the silver medal evaporated during the final sprint as the three crews crossed the line within one foot of each other. In the end, Australia had put its bow-ball ahead of Great Britain, claiming the silver medal by 0.03 seconds. Germany won the race in a 5:24.31, with Australia clocking a 5:26.11. The U.S. finished in a 5:26.31.

“The men are on the right track and the heat validated that,” said USRowing High Performance Director Matt Imes. “Anytime you’re on a world championships’ best pace, it has to be fast conditions. Unfortunately, today they were just on the opposite end of what they saw in that heat. They’re medal caliber; it’s just there are four or five medal-caliber boats right now. Those guys made incredible progress from last year to this year.”

In the final of the PR1 men’s single sculls, Blake Haxton (Columbus, Ohio) used a fast start to position himself in fourth postition over the first 1,000 meters. Brazil’s Rene Pereira passed Haxton with a strong third quarter of the race, but the American executed a strong sprint to track down the Brazilian in the final 150 meters to take back fourth place. At the head of the field, Australia’s Erik Horrie, the defending world champion, trailed Ukraine’s Roman Polianskyi, the 2016 Paralympic champion, until about the final 150 meters when he was able to pull ahead to earn the gold medal in a world’s best time. Polianskyi won the silver, with Russia’s Alexey Chuvashev taking the bronze. Horrie finished with a time of 9:16.90, 0.46 seconds ahead of Polianskyi. Haxton clocked a 9:49.98.

In the women’s single sculls, Kara Kohler (Clayton, Calif.) missed a medal by less than one second, finishing fourth. Ireland’s Sanita Puspure dominated the race, taking the lead in the first 250 meters and continuing to pull away from the rest of the field the entire way down the course. Switzerland’s Jeannine Gmelin, the defending world champion who was undefeated this season, dropped to fifth off the start before working her way back to third at the 500-meter mark behind Puspure and the fast-starting Fie Udby Erichsen from Denmark. Gmelin rowed into second at the midway point but could never cut into Puspure’s margin. Kohler got off the line in sixth, slowly working her way into fourth position with 500 meters to go. The American and Austria’s Magdalena Lobnig continued to close the gap on a fading Erichsen for bronze, but it was the Austrian that was able to push her bow ahead at the finish. Puspure won the race in a 7:20.12, with Gmelin taking silver in a 7:25.93. Lobnig won bronze, 0.9 seconds ahead of Kohler’s time of 7:30.41.

“It was a really good world championships for us from an overall team standpoint getting the two para medals in Paralympic events and four in Olympic-class boats, plus the fourth-place finishes in the women’s single and men’s eight,” Imes said. “Our goal in 2020 of four medals is still the same, and I think both the men’s and women’s programs have positioned themselves really well.”

In addition to leading the overall medal table, the 10 medals tied a U.S. record for most medals, previously set in 2002 and 1999.

In the C final of the men’s double sculls, John Graves (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Ben Davison (Inverness, Fla.) came in second to place 14th overall. Graves and Davison led into the back half of the race before Argentina moved into first place crossing into the final 500 meters. Argentina’s Cristian Rosso and Agustin Diaz finished in a 6:15.58, with the American’s crossing the line in a 6:19.17.

Complete press coverage, athlete bios and links to event information are available at www.usrowing.org and www.worldrowing.com. Photo galleries are available each day at www.usrowing.photos. Follow along with the U.S. National Team at the 2018 World Rowing Championships by using the hashtags #WRChamps and #WRC2018.

NBCSN will broadcast a highlight show on Sunday night at 10:30 p.m. EDT. VOD clips will be available on www.worldrowing.com 24 hours after the event.

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