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Olympic Trials Reps – Advance or Go Home

BY ED MORAN
PHOTOS BY LISA WORTHY

Kevin Meador said before Olympic trials even began Monday morning in Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla. that he was expecting to be in a fight unlike one he has ever experienced before in his time rowing the single.

“I would not be surprised if it turns out to be the most competitive domestic men’s single race in the last several years that I have been participating in the event, and whoever wins will most likely not have an easy time doing so,” was what he said.

He was right.

By the time the Tuesday heats had concluded, the field of 25 that included some of the best men’s single scullers in the country over the last few years — including Meador who represented the U.S. at the 2019 and 2018 World Rowing Championships — had been narrowed to 12 who had not yet earned a place in the semifinal, and were facing a last effort in the Wednesday reps.

Of that group, only four would advance. So, when Riverside Boat Club’s Meador went to the start Wednesday, he was looking at a win or go home situation.

“I’ve certainly had to deal with some harsh reality the last few days,” Meador said. “There are a lot of fast athletes putting down fast times, which I expected, and I’ve been lagging pretty far behind.”

“I’ve certainly had to deal with some harsh reality the last few days,” Meador said. “There are a lot of fast athletes putting down fast times, which I expected, and I’ve been lagging pretty far behind.”

-Kevin Meador

Not Wednesday morning though.

Meador had his best row so far in the week-long regatta and advanced to the Thursday semifinal, winning his three-boat rep and moving to the semifinal. Advancing from the other three reps were Casey Fuller from Maritime Rowing Club, and Michael Clougher, unaffiliated, and Craftsbury’s William Legenzowski.

“Certainly, puts doubts in my head,” Meador said of having to row the last chance race. “But I suppose it’s not over until it’s over and every day is a new race. I am glad to be able to stay in the event, and I am excited to get to go down the course again.”

Meador was one of 14 crews that advanced into either the semifinals or finals being contested in the five event regatta. Four crews advanced to Thursday semifinals in the men’s and women’s single, men’s double, and women’s lightweight double.

The men’s lightweight double had only seven entries and does not require a semifinal.

If there was any consolation to having to row the extra day it was the conditions. The course in Nathan Benderson Park has been windy for days, hampering practice ability, and making for slower times and bumpy trips down the course.

Wednesday morning, the wind was still, the water flat and the times fast, or at least faster than they have been.

“I think the conditions certainly improved today, which is accounting for the lions share in the time differences,” Meador said.

“But I hope I am also piecing things together one race at a time, getting back some racing boat feel. I certainly hope that my momentum will continue forward over the course of the regatta, hopefully enough to carry me through tomorrow’s semifinal. But racing will be tight and there are no guarantees.”

While Meador was not pleased with having to race Wednesday, the experience was not the same for all. Advancing from the four women’s singles reps were ARION’s Kristina Wagner, Boston Rowing Federation’s Alison Rusher and Margaret Fellows, and Craftsbury’s Jennifer Forbes.

Wagner has been in the fight all week, finishing fourth in the time trial just ahead of Cicely Madden, who placed fifth behind her. Madden and Wagner were lined up against each other in the heat. Madden beat her to the finish in one of the closer races Tuesday.

Wednesday morning Wagner won her rep and posted the best time of the four races.

“It’s really fun getting to race again,” Wagner said. “It’s been a while, so I’m just grateful for more opportunities to go down the course. I’m excited to see what I can do tomorrow and try to keep my week going.”

Wagner will race Madden again in her Thursday semifinal, along with Kohler and Forbes.

While Wagner and Meador fought to avoid the rep, Ali Rusher took a more measured approach after seeing the lineup for the heats. Rusher drew Kara Kohler, one of the top contenders among the women, Kohler is a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist and the current 2019 world championship bronze medalist in the women’s single, and Wagner began planning for the reps.

“I saw that Kara Kohler was in my heat, and so I wasn’t really planning on trying to beat her then,” Rusher said. “I just wanted to put together a strong showing in the heat and I figured I would head to the rep, so I was actually pretty happy with how the race went (Tuesday.)

“I haven’t really raced in the single that much,” said Rusher who rowed at Stanford, before joining the U.S. national team sweep system, and then finally switched to sculling last year. “The more races I get, the better. Going into the reps today, I was a little bit nervous. I’ve done a rep before, but not often.

“One of my Stanford teammates (Emily Delleman) was in my rep today. We’ve raced together before, and I just wanted to get off the line cleanly and race the first 750 really strong. Then I saw that they were both still hanging with me so I just kind of kept it long and strong through the finish.”

In the men’s double reps, two crews advanced to the semifinals from the one rep. It was scheduled to be a four-boat race, but Thomas Graves and Peter Graves withdrew, leaving three boats. Craftsbury’s Webster Thompson and Andrew Raitto advanced in first, followed by Connor Corwen and Paul Verni, from New York Athletic Club.

The lightweight women’s double also featured a single rep and advanced two crews. The unaffiliated entry of Erin Roberts and Hillary Saeger advanced in first, followed by the Vesper Boat Club/GMS Rowing Center composite crew, Solveig Imsdahl and Margaret Bertasi.

The men’s lightweight double had two reps scheduled with one crew from each going to the Friday final. In the first rep, the unaffiliated/Riverside Boat Club entry of Alex Twist and Hugh McAdam earned a place for Friday, while Vesper Boat Clubs’ Cooper Tuckerman and Charles Bickhart advanced from the second rep.

Tuckerman and Bickhart join two other Vesper crews in the four-boat final.

Complete results can be found here.

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