After a 4k row on gorgeously flat water (and avoiding a manatee ;-)), I popped on the Ipad replay of today’s rowing events.
The women’s 8+ rowed in heat 1 against Great Britain, Australia, and Germany. As the official began the polling of crews, I felt that same stab of adrenaline that happens when I’m racing. Is it wrong to be so nervous for nine women thousand miles away who don’t even know I exist?
Great Britain’s crew received a massive roar, which was to be expected. However, that quickly turned into a chorus of boos as USA was announced next. In the spirit of good sportsmanship and the Olympic Games, I found myself disappointed. If the women heard it, they did a good job of remaining passive–much better than I would have done. Their professionalism impressed me.
At the horn, all the crews surged forward in a massive clunking of oars and screaming cox’ns. It seemed close until the 250 when the USA began nosing away. By the 500m they were clear leaders, and by the 1000m six seconds ahead of Austraila.
It’s not their win I find so impressive–their real race, the gold medal race, comes later–but how they rowed.
I’ve heard over and over again, it’s not always the strongest crew that wins but the one with the smoothest row. I’ve experienced it myself–rowing at a low rate yet edging away from another boat chopping the water at a higher stroke rating (or vice versa–sometimes I’m in the choppy boat). But watching the Women’s 8+ exemplified excellent rowing. Even the splashes off the oars at the entry appeared uniformly equal all the way down the boat. Every swing came together, every push off the drive, and the cox’n Mary Whipple was kept even and steady in the boat.
By contrast, an overhead shot of the racecourse revealed Great Britain’s poor cox’n getting slammed back and forth. You could clearly see her reel forward and jerk backward as her women tried to catch the team. A low shot showed Austraila’s keel bouncing up and down in the water as the women applied pressure.
Most telling, for me, was the stroke rate. At 1500m the little box appeared on the screen. While Great Britain, Austraila, and Germany, hacked away at 37-38 strokes per minute, the USA maintained a steady 35.
Nothing like rowing slower to go faster.