STORY AND PHOTOS BY ED MORAN
Tracy Eisser and Megan Kalmoe were facing a very hard decision.
Each knew that what they wanted for the coming Olympic Games was not to just be there, but be there racing in the women’s pair event together.
They also knew that to do that, each would have to make the choice to take themselves out of selection camp and out of the mix for a spot in one of the women’s team boats that were officially named Friday. And with the women’s pair trials not scheduled until after the team crews were selected and camp ended, there would be no “plan B.”
But after taking the time to talk it over, with each other, with family, with teammates, Eisser and Kalmoe chose to take the risk.
“It’s putting everything on the line, and it was not a decision I made lightly,” Eisser said. “I dragged my feet for a really long time, actually, in telling [U.S. women’s head coach Tom Terhaar] that I wanted to leave big boat camp, because I knew fully that choosing to leave big boat camp was choosing to have it all come down to this race. There is no seat racing, there are no second chances. Either I win this race and I go to the Olympics, or I don’t,” Eisser said.
It was a chance that paid off.
Saturday morning, Eisser and Kalmoe led a four-boat final to the wire on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., in Olympic Trials III and became the final U.S. crew to be named to the team that will go to Tokyo this summer and race at the 2021 Olympic Games.
In doing so, Eisser earned her a spot on her second Olympic team, while Kalmoe claimed her fourth consecutive Games.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Kalmoe. “Every time is different. I know that’s a kind of cliche thing to say, that every quad is different, every Games is different. But this is very cool, especially because of how exceptional the circumstances have been with Covid, and the extra training year and everything like that,” she said.
“This is my first time going in the pair. I would have really loved to have gone in the pair in Rio, so that was a kind of a disappointing situation for me. But to come back and make it happen for Tokyo is really cool, and I am really happy to have done that.”
For both athletes, adding this kind of tension, a win or lose situation that would have offered no chance at getting to Tokyo if they had not won, had taken a lot of thought and consideration about what each wanted from this quadrennial.
And it was made even more focused by the year delay in the Games, and the time left to reflect during the long pandemic pause to racing and training.
Just before Covid forced the end of all sports for a full year, Eisser, rowing with Kristine O’Brien at a winter speed order in 2020 in Chula Vista, Calif., had won the right to row in any of the scheduled 2020 World Rowing Cups and automatically qualify for the Tokyo Games with a top three performance.
But, while those events were all canceled, the qualification opportunity was extended to this year. Eisser and O’Brien originally opted to race at World Cup II in Lucerne last month, but as the date neared, both decided to not go and to attempt to make the Games’ team differently.
Eisser chose the pair with Kalmoe. O’Brien chose to take her chances in selection camp, where she ultimately earned a place in the eight named Friday.
“Maybe if this had been 2020 I would have gone to Lucerne in the pair with Kristine and tried to qualify in the pair. But, especially for me, having this whole pandemic year has really showed me what it is that I really love about rowing, and I think having a lot of time to think about what I really want, and what will make sort of this journey feel worth it, I realized that rowing the pair was really the thing that I was most interested in because it is so challenging, and I know that it is going to be really hard,” Eisser said.
“I’m not trying to say that the other boats are not going to be hard,” she added. “We’ve seen that there are a lot of fast women out there in the last couple of years, but just for me personally, rowing the pair is the thing that really gets me the most excited and the most motivated to show up every day.
“So, I talked to Christine a little bit about it because it would have been she and I who would have gone. But for her, her heart was really in trying to make the eight, and I am so happy for her that she did.
“That conversation was, we could go and do this, but even if we go to Lucerne and qualify ourselves, is that something that we really want to do at the Olympics. Is your dream to race the pair or to race the eight? Is my dream to race the pair or to race the eight?
Eisser, who rowed in the quad with Kalmoe in 2016, said she knew that Kalmoe also wanted to row the pair in Tokyo. And, having raced together in the event before, and having qualified the boat for the U.S. together at the 2019 World Rowing Championships, this was a chance they both wanted to take.
“For both of us, knowing that this is what we really wanted to be doing, it was a risk that we were willing to take,” Eisser said.
And to wait patiently for.
Not long after the Games had been postponed, Kalmoe let the world know through social media that she was ready to add another year to her career for a chance at a fourth Olympics.
“After having put as many years into the sport, and the training center, and the team, that I had at that point, adding an extra couple of months or an extra year, however you want to look at it, was sort of like, of course I’m going to do that.
“I’ve committed this much time as it is, this is really important to me. It’s important that the team knows that I am excited about it, hopefully other people on the team would look at it as an opportunity too, if I let them know that I am pumped on it and we can do it, and that I have faith in the team and the group and USRowing to get us through this. That was my hope, that other people would get excited about it too.”
And with this coming Olympics, Kalmoe is now getting the chance to row in an event she feels will provide her the most challenge for what will likely be her final Games.
“For me, having the opportunity to be in the event where I think some of the top female rowing athletes are is the best,” Kalmoe said. “Racing against the very best people is the best way for me to know kind of where I am, to have a lot of accountability and ownership over the performance that we put up and just see how we compare to the fastest people out there, which is awesome.”
For full results go here.
Trials III gallery: