Forged in medals

Led by a gold-medal performance from the Women’s 4, the United States delivered a record-setting day at the 2018 World Rowing Junior Championships in Racice, Czech Republic.

For the first time in history, the U.S. team came away with two gold medals and seven total medals from the World Rowing Junior Championships. In addition to the two golds, the U.S. won silver in the Men’s 4 with coxswain, Women’s Pair, Women’s 8 and Men’s 8, as well as a bronze medal in the Women’s 4 with coxswain.

The seven medals bested the previous record of six set in 2016 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. It also was good enough to put the U.S. atop the medal table ahead of Italy and Germany with five.

After coming from behind to win its semifinal, the Women’s 4 of Catherine Garrett (Darien), Margaret Hedeman (Concord, Mass.), Julia Braz (Sarasota, Fla.) and Kelsey McGinley of the Saguatuck Rowing Club (Westport) raced to the lead in the first 500 meters and then held off a late challenge by Italy to win the gold medal. The U.S. grabbed the early lead on the field and built a half-length advantage on Italy by the midway point. Italy tried to push back in the third 500 meters, but the U.S. responded to take a four-seat lead going into the final quarter of the race. The Americans clocked a 6:42.81 to win by 0.39 seconds. New Zealand won the bronze medal. For the U.S., it was the ninth consecutive year on the medal stand and first gold medal since 2015 in the event.

“In the heat, we had a pretty rough race. We crabbed in the last 250 and that was not exactly what we wanted to do. In the semifinal, we just set out to have a really clean race and do whatever we could to get our bow-ball across first. I think that really prepared us for today,” said McGinley. “In the semi, we were second for almost the whole race and just passed through in the end. Today, we knew we could do it just right off the bat.

“That’s really what kept me coming back each year,” McGinley said on winning gold after being in the boat the last three years. “I really wanted to come back and have one last shot at getting it done. It’s such a great feeling knowing that this hasn’t been just one year of work put into this, but it’s been three years. It’s not just the girls in the boat but everyone I’ve been with for the last three years and everyone at camp has gone into making this happen.”

In the women’s pair, Lucy Koven (Greenwich) and Caitlin Esse (Fairfield/Saugatuck Rowing Club) kept the crew from Chile at bay to win the silver medal behind Greece. The Greek crew of Christina Bourmpou and Maria Kyridou, which set a junior world’s best time in the semifinal, took the race out hard and established a length lead in the first 500 meters with the U.S. in second. The top two crews began to push away, with the Chileans sitting about a length back in third. While Chile tried to close the gap on the U.S., Koven and Esse were able to respond and maintain their margin. At the line, Greece won gold in a 7:17.10, with the U.S. finishing second in a 7:23.61. For the U.S., it was the highest finish in the event since a silver medal in 2012.

“It’s really surreal,” said Esse of winning a medal. “I think Lucy described it well. It’s in both of our natures to really want to win, but at the end of the day, it’s such an honor to race with such incredible boats. I’m definitely really happy with my first international racing experience.”

The women’s eight of coxswain Alin Pasa (Westport/Saugatuck Rowing Club), Hannah Schaenman (Rye Brook, N.Y.), Jessica Mixon (Brentwood, Tenn.), Francesca Raggi (Maitland, Fla.), Azja Czajkowski (Imperial Beach, Calif.), Larkin Brown (Chattanooga, Tenn.), Isabel Mezei (Brookfield/Saugatuck Rowing Club), Gabrielle Graves (Vashon, Wash.) and Samantha Henriksen (Chicago, Ill.) won a silver medal, overtaking Romania as the crews crossed into the final 500 meters.

The defending world champions from the Czech Republic led from start to finish to win the gold medal. The U.S. got off the line in fourth position and remained there through the halfway point. However, the U.S. passed Germany in the third quarter of the race and pulled within a bow-ball of Romania at 1,500 meters. The American boat walked away from Romania in the sprint to earn the silver medal. The Czech Republic won the race in a 6:27.81, with the U.S. finishing in a 6:29.62. This was the first time since 2015 the U.S. reached the medal stand in the women’s eight and best finish since 2012.

The men’s eight of coxswain Dylan White (Newport Beach, Calif.), Harrison Schofield (Sarasota, Fla.), Eli Kalfaian (Milford), John Mark Ozaeta (Moraga, Calif.), Harrison Burke (Westport/Saugatuck Rowing Club), Nicholas Fisher (West Hartford), Charles Fargo (Winnetka, Ill.), Henry Lowe (Pacific Palisades, Calif.) and Ryan Beeler (Melrose, Mass.) gave the U.S. its fourth silver medal of the day, finishing less than one second behind Great Britain as the crews crossed the line.

The U.S. and British crews were separated by less than a half second through the first 1,000 meters, with the Brits holding about a deck advantage going into the back half of the race. Great Britain made its move in the third quarter of the race, extending its margin to four seats as the boats entered the final 500 meters. The U.S. tried to close the gap but couldn’t chase down the Brits. Great Britain finished with a time of 5:37.56, with the U.S. crossing in a 5:38.34 to place second. This was the fourth consecutive silver medal in the event for the U.S.

“We came out of the blocks swinging,” White said. “We got up maybe three seats on Great Britain and a length on the whole field, and as we came into the middle 500, Great Britain made their move, started really pushing hard, and they got up about four seats. Coming into the sprint, we tried to fight, tried to get ahead, but just came up a little short.”

In the inaugural women’s four with coxswain final, the U.S. crew of coxswain Caroline Ricksen (Orinda, Calif.), Heidi Jacobson (Greenwich), Kaitlin Knifton (Austin, Texas), Julia Abbruzzese (Ridgefield) and Noelle Amlicke (Westport/Saugatuck Rowing Club) won the bronze medal.

The U.S. sat in third place off the line but overtook the early leaders from the Ukraine in the second quarter of the race as Italy took the lead. The Americans moved into second position, just ahead of the Australians, heading into the final 500 meters, but Australia was able to push its bow ball ahead in the final few strokes. Italy won the race in a 7:14.19, with Australia finishing second in a 7:16.92. The U.S. clocked a 7:17.59.

Camille VanderMeer (Elmira, N.Y.) and Sarah McErlean (Vevey, Switzerland) used a strong middle 1,000 meters to win the B final of the women’s double sculls and finish in seventh place overall. Grant Person (Newport Beach, Calif.), Alexander Degrado (Jacksonville, Fla.), Zachary Vachal (San Francisco, Calif.) and Kai Hoite (Berkeley, Calif.) led off the B finals for the U.S. crews with a fourth-place finish in the men’s four, finishing 10th overall.