Saturday, July 20, 2013

Making a Statement: Team USA's Lofty Performance in Lucerne

Lucerne skies (Photo: B. Kitch)
Following the 2012 Olympic Games, there were significant changes to the structure and the personnel at USRowing, with the departure of Tim McLaren, and the subsequent hiring of Curtis Jordan and Luke McGee adding new blood to the system at the outset of a new quadrennium. At the time, we questioned the addition of a second high performance director, but lauded the hiring of McGee, given his track record of success at the college level and personal understanding of what it takes to be a national team oarsman. Also, while Bryan Volpenhein had taken his lightweight four through the qualifiers and to the Olympic Regatta, making the transition to one of the marquee events on the heavyweight side would be no easy task. Fortunately for those of us stateside, however, the two-time Olympic medalist showed, in no uncertain terms, that he was ready to take it on.

The lead-up to London was often fraught with controversy for the U.S. men's squad, as the dearth of international medals through multiple seasons led many (including us) to question the leadership and coaching decisions. Now, with London in the rearview mirror and Rio just over the horizon, the team's first major international competition couldn't have contrasted more greatly with the previous regime. Despite taking on the role with the national team just over eight months before Lucerne, McGee's eight—a mixture of 2012 Olympians and younger athletes, including Stanford's Austin Hack—showed fantastic early-season speed, knocking off the Germans in a slugfest all the way to the line. The victory marked the first time that anyone has defeated Germany's top-tier men's eight since the Beijing Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, in the men's four, a crew with one returning athlete from the bronze medal-winning lineup in London (Henrik Rummel), also had an outstanding regatta. Though, as Greg Searle commented at the time, perhaps not the smoothest of rows, there was no shortage of power being applied by the American crew, stroked by 2011 under-23 world champion Mike Gennaro. Again, the crew was a mixture—Seth Weil, sitting in the two seat, made his first-ever international race a memorable one on the Rotsee. In fact, as USRowing noted following Lucerne, no less than nine of the 31 U.S. athletes who earned a trip to the podium were appearing in their first senior-level international competition.

Of course, this is a World Cup, and we haven't yet seen the real speed of the rest of the field, with everyone building toward Chungju. This fact, however, wasn't lost on the U.S. team. Henrik Rummel summed it up succinctly:

"It's a World Cup win in a post-Olympic year. We have three years till Rio, and that's the important one."

On the women's side, the U.S. has long been a force to be reckoned with, and that certainly doesn't look like it's about to change any time soon—top to bottom, heavyweight and lightweight, Team USA was nothing short of dominant. The result for the eight was, obviously, outstanding, but perhaps the most impressive result of the regatta came from Elle Logan in the women's single, where she defeated the defending Olympic champion Mirka Knapkova en route to a silver medal (Logan's fourth medal of the 2013 World Cup season). Also of note was the solid, bronze medal result for the new-look U.S. women's double of Meghan O'Leary and Ellen Tomek—this could be a real crew to watch heading into the world championships in South Korea, and beyond.

Is there a new-old rowing superpower on the rise?

-RR

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