The US men's squad came home from Karapiro without a single medal, of any color, to show for its efforts this year. However, there were some crews who showed that they have potential, this being their first chance at the World Championships. Which entries earned another trip around the international circuit?
In my view, the crew that most deserves some time to stay together and develop is the M4-. This is a group that got together only weeks before Worlds, and, despite having no international experience as a unit, managed to place a very respectable 5th in what is one of the most hotly contested Olympic events on the men's side. Also, looking at the way the final played out, it seems that there were some serious issues with fairness and wind interference, so we may not have seen all that this group was capable of this time. I know that the event was slightly weaker than it might have been, had the GB squad not taken Reed and Triggs-Hodge out of the 4- and put them in the pair in order to take a crack at Bond and Murray (and the fact that the Brits made it that close with what has been a truly dominant NZ pair over the last two years is impressive). The British have a decision to make now, since the 4- placed 4th in a tight field -- perhaps they are thinking about trading a gold in the 4- for two medals and a possible defeat of the Kiwis in the 2-? In any case, the US 4- performed very well in its international debut, and, for my money, they deserve some time to develop and gel the way their international counterparts have done over the past two seasons.
The second crew worth developing is the M2x, which performed well in quite a strong field, winning the B Final and placing themselves in the top 50% of the event (along with the 4-, it was one of only two US men's entries to do so). Warren Anderson is a beast on the erg, and is finally starting to figure out how to make use of his strength on the water. Also, by all counts he and Ochal have meshed well, and the results confirm that the US may have something with that combination.
The VIII made a case for itself in the rep, but I think there need to be one or two key lineup changes for this boat to truly be a contender. There is a core that has the potential to medal in 2012, but their lack-luster performance in the A Final in Karapiro showed that there is much work yet to be done. Personally, I don't think putting a first-time National Team member in the stroke seat is a particularly great way of going about things, especially when the guy sitting right behind him is perfectly capable of stroking, and has an Olympic gold medal in the event. Also, the LWT 2x had a decent showing, placing 11th in one of the most subscribed events at Worlds this year (along with the LM4- and the M1x) -- even making the A Final would be an achievement for US Rowing in that category.
Beyond those four entries, however, I think there is much reshaping to be done. In the 2-, the US entry of McEachern and Monaghan raced well, but looking at the list of boats in front of the US going into 2011, there seems to be very little chance at a medal in London. This partly depends on where the priorities of the GB team lie, but with the Greeks, French, South Africans, Kiwis, Germans and Italians to pass before standing atop the podium, the US have a very long way to go. The LM4- hasn't managed to crack the A Final in a meaningful race since Sydney, and until some major changes take place with the US system, it's probably going to stay that way. Entries like the M2+, the LM VIII and the LM4x can be looked at as development boats, so their last place finishes in events with fewer than 6 entries can be chalked up to 'gaining experience.'
When it comes right down to it, this is my stance: outside of the two crews, who, in very competitive, Olympic events, managed to make the top 50%, it's back to the drawing board. What does Tim McLaren think? Well, I guess we'll find out in 2011.