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First Finals Decided, Gold Medalists Crowned at Sea Forest Waterway

BY ED MORAN AND LUKE REYNOLDS
PHOTOS BY ED MORAN

For Molly Reckford and Michelle Sechser, today’s semifinal may as well have been their last race.

To them, it was the fight of their lives. Mix in the tough conditions the Sea Forest Waterway presented and the American women’s lightweight double had enough pressure on them to crush a submarine. 

“It was a really challenging race out there,” stroke seat Michelle Sechser said. ”Certainly one of the hardest races I’ve ever put together in my rowing career managing not only the speed of the field but some of the most challenging conditions we’ve ever faced as a crew.”

Sechser and Reckford didn’t succumb to the pressure or conditions and instead rose to the occasion. The double placed second in their heat less than two-tenths of a second behind Italy and has the chance to find their way on to an Olympic podium tomorrow.

“It felt good to come away in a qualifying position,” Sechser said. “We certainly tried to open up a margin in the third 500 that could give us a really commanding position, keep our eyes on the field, and unfortunately we couldn’t quite hold off the charge from the Italians but we advanced and we will see them again tomorrow.” 

It was a similar situation for the American men’s eight. As the nine U.S. rowers sitting at the start of the men’s eight repechage prepared to take off and coxswains attempted to gesture to the stake boat holders on how to help them get into the boot despite the windy conditions the five crews, including the Americans, knew that only four would progress to the final and the fifth would be on a plane home. 

“In terms of conditions, I think where we train in Oakland on the estuary or out at Briones Reservoir, it’s tidal, it’s windy, it’s bouncy, it’s whitecaps,” men’s eight coxswain Julian Venonsky said. “This is nothing we’re not used to so it’s kind of ingrained in our training plan whether it’s a headwind, a tailwind, a crosswind we just try to get used to every possible condition.” 

Comfort in the chaotic conditions paid off for the eight as they also earned a spot in the A final avoiding elimination coming in behind New Zealand and Great Britain. 

“Always coming into it you know it’s a tough course,” Venonsky said. “Always the goal is to win the piece but also trying to stay calm especially in these conditions and staying together and riding through these waves and wakes. We got the job done, we did what we needed to do, and we’re going to be fighting for medals on Friday.” 

By the time the eight and lightweight double had settled their final placement, six Olympic medals had been won with the men’s and women’s double, men’s and women’s four, and men’s and women’s quad medals all on the table on day four at the Sea Forest Waterway. 

The U.S. was in contention for medals in the women’s double and men’s four but came up short in both cases.

“You know, we raced hard,” Gevvie Stone said. “It’s the Olympic final and we worked hard in the semi to put ourselves there and our goal was to go out and have a great race in hopes that would put us on the podium.

We attacked it from the first stroke, we didn’t give them a headstart today and we really think we fought every stroke. It’s been a process, it hasn’t been easy. In fact, none of it is really easy but I enjoy the process. I’ve been lucky to be with Kristy the last few months and she’s made it really fun. Every day I came to practice ready to work hard. You know, we focused in on this goal and have no regrets.”

Gevvie Stone and Kirstina Wagner would end up in fifth place in the women’s double final. Romania won the gold medal while New Zealand and The Netherlands came in second and third. 

For the other American crew competing for an Olympic medal, the result was identical. The men’s four of Clark Dean, Michael Grady, Anders Weiss, and Andrew Reed also finished fifth in their final. Australia won gold with an Olympic Best time of 5:42.76, Romania silver, and Italy bronze.

Despite missing out on the medals for the Americans, the chance for rowers to line up and compete against other international crews remained something to celebrate after a year of postponement due to the pandemic. 

And, four other crews were crowned Olympic gold-medalists today. 

In the men’s double, it was France who would take the gold medal beating out The Netherlands and China.

“People back home made as many sacrifices as we did along this journey,” Matthieu Androdias said. “I am very proud to bring this medal back home to them.” 

In the men’s and women’s four it was all Australia. The Aussies took gold in both events. The win was especially poignant for the Australian men’s four who took the crown from the British who have won gold in the event for the past five Olympics.

“We’ve had a big rivalry with everyone, especially the Brits,” Jack Hargreaves said. “We haven’t been able to take that title off them for a few Games now. It was an honor to achieve that today.” 

In the men’s quad, The Netherlands won gold. China won the Olympic gold a commanding six seconds over second-place Poland in the women’s quad. 

As for the other American crews racing in the B finals, it was a mixed bag.

It has been 29 years since the women’s four has been contested at the Olympic Games. At that Games, Canada won the event over the United States and Germany. At this year’s Games, Canada and the United States once again went to head-to-head but this time in the B final. They were joined by Romania and Denmark. 

29 years later, it wouldn’t be Canada or the Americans who took medals of the table. But, in the B final, it was the Americans who took the top spot earning them a seventh-place finish in the Games.

“No matter what race it is, it always feels good to have your bow ball ahead at the end of the race,” Claire Collins said. “Obviously it wasn’t perfect, but it was the best race we’ve had all week so to be proud of that and to finish with that is a good feeling.”

Despite a last-ditch effort to find eight or ninth place, the Canadians would end up in the back of the B final a second and a half behind the Americans. 

In the women’s quad B final, it was Great Britain all the way down the course. The American women took fourth behind the British, second-place New Zealand, and France whose late sprint earned put them in third over the United States placing the American crew 10th overall for the Games. 

For Tracy Eisser and Megan Kalmoe in the women’s pair, today’s racing wasn’t the ideal outcome as the pair finished fifth in their semifinal and missed out on qualifying for the A final and an Olympic medal. They will race in the B final Thursday.

In other racing news, the conditions were not something to be overlooked today at the Sea Forest Waterway. With only one buoy before the red buoys marking the final 250 meters of the men’s lightweight double semifinal A/B 1, the Norwegian double flipped after catching the water with their blade. They were on track to finish the race in a comfortable second place behind the German double but had their medal hopes dashed after a swim in the drink. Uruguay and the Czech Republic took the other two qualifying spots. 

Tomorrow’s racing will have four more Olympic medals up for grabs including the men’s and women’s pair, and the lightweight men’s and women’s double. The U.S. will have crews in the women’s pair B final, the lightweight women’s double final, and Kara Kohler in the women’s single semifinal A/B 2. 

It will also have a handful of other semifinals that have been rescheduled to Thursday as a result of the weather delays. Racing beings at 8:30 local time, 7:30p Wednesday night eastern. A full schedule can be found here

* Rowing News Olympic coverage brought to you by Gemini

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