STORY AND PHOTOS BY ED MORAN
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WEST WINDSOR, N.J. — Just before the start of the men’s heavy double time trial Tuesday morning at National Selection Regatta II on Mercer Lake, Jasper Liu and Zack Heese were munching on breakfast sandwiches — peanut butter and jelly for Liu, straight peanut butter for Heese.
They were the only two athletes on the first day of NSR II eating with 30 minutes to go before launching their boat. But they were also the only two of the 14 men’s heavy doubles to have had to make weight.
The thing was, Liu and Heese were also rowing in the lightweight men’s double, and the event — as well as the women’s lightweight double — was uncontested. They wanted to make sure they could race all week and test themselves in side-by-side racing as the event moved on toward Friday’s finals.
“Just made weight, and now it’s time to fuel up,” Liu said just before getting up and walking back to the boatyard to grab their boat.
The quick fill-up apparently worked the way it was supposed to because Liu and Heese finished fourth overall in the open double and then paddled back to the start to row the course again in the lightweight men’s double final.
“It was a quick turnaround between our weigh-in and the heavyweight time trial, but we decided to still put a solid piece down and see our base pace. Then we just had to turn around and paddle back up and treat it like two-by-2k for the second piece,” Liu said.
“It was fine; we got the job done, just had to make it down the course,” he said. “Didn’t flip. Didn’t get disqualified.”
It was an odd situation, for sure.
Olympic boat class selection events do not go normally go uncontested. But this is a post-Olympic year and a year where the USRowing selection system has been completely reconstructed, and both the men’s and women’s light finals were one boat shows.
It did not make for blazing fast times. Liu and Heese finished in 7:14.73, just 84 percent of the 6:05.00 gold standard for the event. Tokyo Olympians Michelle Sechser and Molly Reckford rowed a 7:53.11, also 84 percent of the women’s gold standard time of 6:41.00.
But while it was not the kind of speed they wanted or would need in international competition, it did earn them the opportunity to represent the U.S. at World Cup I in Poznan, Poland, and row for a top-six finish and a place on the 2022 Senior World Championship Team that will race at the World Rowing Championships September 18-25 in Racice, Czech Republic.
For crews racing in the four other events in this regatta, the men’s and women’s doubles and the men’s women’s pairs, Tuesday was just the beginning of their quest to earn a chance to race internationally for a place on the 2022 national team and for an opportunity to be invited to the big boat selection camps later in the year.
“Being back racing is always exciting,” Reckford said. “But time trials like this are a new experience for us. We’ve always had this pressure of it being do or die, do or die, and coming out today was a new challenge to try to find that fire and to really race hard in conditions where there is nobody next to you pushing you.
“But we’re going to keep working and keep finding speed, and now we get to really focus on World Cup in Poland,” she said.
“I’ve never done this before, and I much prefer racing other people. In my first doubles race, there were eight of us, and it was really exciting,” she said. “So, this was certainly a new and very different challenge, and I look forward to getting side by side again.”
Liu and Heese will continue racing toward the Friday finals in the open men’s double.
Racing will continue Wednesday morning at 8:00 a.m. and include the women’s double repechages.
For a full list of entries and results, click here.
* Coverage is brought to you by Gemini.