STORY AND PHOTOS BY ED MORAN
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The long wait is over. This weekend, six U.S. crews will race in Lucerne, Switzerland, at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta and compete to join the crews that are already qualified for the Tokyo Games this summer.
With the exception of the men’s quad that is racing in Lucerne, but went to Zagreb, Croatia, to test their speed at World Rowing Cup I — placing fourth in a photo-finish with Germany — this will be the first international regatta for U.S. crews since the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Linz-Ottensheim, Austria.
It is a widely held belief that qualifying for the Olympics, in any cycle, through the final qualification regatta is the hardest path to the Games. Most years, the favorites are easy to predict based on the preceding world championship results.
It is a widely held belief that qualifying for the Olympics, in any cycle, through the final qualification regatta is the hardest path to the Games.
But due to the cancelation of the international regatta season last spring, followed by the postponement of the 2020 Olympics, very few of the crews have had a chance to race internationally except for those that went to European events last summer and fall, or World Cup I this spring.
The regatta will feature racing in all 14 Olympic class fields, and when entries were announced Monday, four hundred athletes from 49 countries were scheduled to begin racing Saturday morning, and, if successful, will race for a place in Tokyo in the Monday finals.
In all but one boat class, the top two finishing crews will qualify for Tokyo. The lightweight women’s double which three qualifying spots.
Of the 14 boat classes already on the Olympic schedule, the U.S. qualified nine crews — seven women’s, including the single, double, quad, pair, four, and eight. The men have just two crews qualified — the eight and four. Of the crews competing in Lucerne, four are men’s sculling crews — the single, double, lightweight double, and quad. The only sweep crew racing is the men’s pair.
Following is a breakdown of the U.S. crews in contention:
Men’s single (M1X) – John Graves, of Green Racing Project, won trials in February and is among the largest field of contestants in the regatta. Twenty-six men’s single scullers will race for the top spots.
Of the 26 crews entered, Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk of Poland should be seen as a favorite for one of the two open slots. Wegrzycki-Szymczyk finished third at the 2021 European Championships, and seventh at the Rio Olympics.
This is Graves’ second final qualification regatta, and last attempt at making an Olympic team. He last raced the 2016 qualifier in the quad that did not qualify. Just before competing at trials in Sarasota in February Graves said, “This definitely will be my last go at it, and I think it’s really important that I put myself in an environment, and a situation, where I felt I was getting everything out of what I am putting into it.
“This fall was a moment for me to take a second and figure out what I really wanted out of the year and how I can best go about doing that. And for me, the single was the best way to go after the goal of qualifying a men’s sculling boat for the Olympics and to use everything I’ve learned over my career. And then, regardless of the result, be happy finishing my career going as fast as I personally can, and being able to live with that.”
Men’s Double (M2X) – Among the field of 18 countries, the U.S. will be represented by Trials I winners Kevin Cardno and Johathan Kirkegaard. As in most of the men’s sculling events, this is an incredibly hard field to finish top two. Cardno and Kirkegaard have been training in Switzerland for the past few weeks, along with the men’s lightweight double.
“Preparation has been going well,” Cardno said. “We traveled to Switzerland early to give ourselves the best chance to get acclimated. This has had its own set of challenges, but I believe it was the right decision. The training has been tough, but being side by side every day with the lightweight men has kept us all honest. Overall, we’re very eager to race!”
Men’s lightweight double (ML2X) – In another crowded field of 18, Trials I winners Jasper Liu and Zach Heese will represent the U.S. in the men’s lightweight double. Liu and Heese have been training in Switzerland with the men’s heavyweight double. Both recognize the difficulty of reaching a top two placement but are hopeful. “We’re winding down our last block of hard training here and getting excited to race,” Liu said.
“This camp has been the perfect opportunity to focus one-hundred percent on training, something we don’t usually get to do at home. Having the heavyweight double next to us has been awesome. Both boats are moving well, so it keeps the standard high every session. There are some great crews entered, but I don’t know if anyone is exceptionally faster than the rest,” he said.
“Like all lightweight races, it’s going to be tight. I know we’re not coming into the regatta as favorites, but we definitely have a shot to make the final. And as long as we get a lane, anything can happen.”
Men’s Pair (M2-) – There are 14 men’s pairs entered. The U.S. is being represented by Olympians Tom Peszek and Mike DiSanto. DiSanto rowed in the 2016 men’s eight that finished fourth in Rio. Peszek rowed the pair to an eighth-place finish in London. Peszek and DiSanto rowed uncontested at U.S. Trials II and should be considered contenders to reach the Olympics. Of the crews entered, several raced in either the European Championships or World Cup I. Asked how preparations were going, Peszek said simply: “We are ready to go.”
Men’s Quad (M4X) – The U.S. crew of Charles Anderson, Justin Keen, Eliot Putnam, and Sorin Koszyk will be among 12 countries hoping to finish top two and advance to Tokyo. The quad is the only crew that has raced internationally for the U.S. this season, finishing fourth in a photo finish sprint with Germany at World Rowing Cup I, May 1.
Of the crews in the final at World Cup I, Estonia and Czech Republic will be racing in Lucerne. Estonia won the final. The Czech Republic finished fifth. The crew is comprised of athletes that train on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia and are coached by Penn A.C. head men’s coach Sean Hall.
Following racing in Zagreb, Croatia at the world cup event, the crew traveled to Linz, Austria for final preparations. “Right now, the guys are looking pretty good,” Hall said. “The boat is moving well, and we have great training conditions here in Linz.
“We still have an uphill battle facing us in Lucerne. We have a bead on Estonia, but we expect both Ukraine and Russia to show better than they did at European Championships,” he said.
“This is not to count out the Czech Republic, or anyone else for that matter. We have clear goals for how to lay down our next races and can only work toward even better execution, but I have complete confidence in these guys to be there on the day.”
Women’s Lightweight Double (LW2X) – Of all five U.S. crews racing in Lucerne, Michelle Sechser and Molly Reckford could have the best chance of advancing, if not for the fact that there are three spots open in Tokyo instead of two, but also because of their performances at both U.S. Olympic Trials I and II. After winning trials in dramatic fashion in Sarasota at Trials I, Sechser and Reckford went to Trials II and raced among the crews competing for the qualified women’s open double.
That race was won by the Cambridge/Arion composite entry of Gevvie Stone and Kristina Wagner. But, Sechser and Reckford were second and among the top performers in that regatta. Like Graves, Sechser has said that this will be her final attempt at making an Olympic team. Read a complete story of her journey from 2011 through this 2020 cycle with Reckford here.
For a full list of entries in all 14 events, and complete regatta information including live streaming information click here.