Sunday, September 22, 2013

The 2013 RoRys, Part Three: The Elite Level

Yes, 2013 is a post-Olympic year, and naturally, one might expect there to be a slight dip in performance at the international level at the outset of a new Olympic cycle. But not so this season. The elite level of rowing enjoyed one of its most successful world championships to date, with the largest number of federations ever involved (73, up from 68 at the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia) kicking off the quadrennium in style, and a mixture of new and familiar faces on the podium. And so, the 2013 RoRys for the elite level go to...

RoRy for Program of the Year
USRowing, Curtis Jordan
Even though it'll likely make Pete Cipollone spit out his coffee when he hears us say it (just kidding, Pete), and much as we have been critical of USRowing in the past, we must admit that this season proved to be eye-opening not only for the folks at home, but also for the rowing world at large. Despite losing the men's head coach shortly after the Olympics, new high performance director Curtis Jordan and USRowing have put together what appears to be a winning formula—and it's already paying dividends. While Tom Terhaar and the U.S. women have been dominant throughout, setting yet another new world best time in the eight this season with only one returning athlete in that crew is an accomplishment that shouldn't be overlooked. On the men's side, newly appointed coach Luke McGee has stepped in and immediately shown that he is ready to compete at the highest level of our sport, leading a men's eight to victory over a heretofore undefeated, 2012 Olympic champion German crew (with five athletes back from London) in Lucerne, and a bronze in Chungju. A reinvented U.S. men's four guided by Bryan Volpenhein also won Lucerne and claimed bronze at worlds, and the lightweights on both the men's and women's sides had great results as well, with two silvers in the LW2x and LW4x, and the LM4- making the final for the first time since 2000 (and finishing fifth, ahead of Olympic champion South Africa).

Honorable Mention: Federazione Italiana Canottaggio, Giuseppe Abbagnale
Like Curtis Jordan with the USRowing program, new Italian rowing federation president Giuseppe Abbagnale has had an immediate, positive impact at the highest level. Italy topped the medal table in Chungju, winning a total of eight medals (three of them gold), and placed a tremendous number of crews in the finals (they narrowly missed further hardware in the men's lightweight double and men's four, placing fourth in both events).

RoRy for Efficiency
Norway, Norges Roforbund
While Norway did not have a large contingent in Chungju this year, they certainly had a memorable regatta. The Norwegians entered just five crews, but claimed no less than three medals, two of them gold (for an overall ranking of fifth). Standouts Kjetil Borch and Nils Jakob Hoff ran away with the men's double (and posed for what has become the signature victory photo from the regatta—clearly, these guys know how to have fun), while teammates Kristoffer Brun and Are Strandli sprinted through Italy and onto the top of the podium of the LM2x, having taken second at the European championships earlier this summer. Also earning a trip to the podium was Birgit Skarstein, who took silver in the ASW1x behind Russia's Natalia Bolshakova—both Skarstein and Bolshakova broke the previous world best time.

RoRy for Coach of the Year
Robin Williams MBE, Great Britain
Having coached the GB women's pair of Heather Stanning and Helen Glover to the first-ever Olympic gold medal for British women's rowing at Eton Dorney last year, Robin Williams was faced with no small task—with Heather Stanning returning to military service following the Olympics, Williams and Team GB selected Polly Swann to step into the pair with Helen Glover to see if they could keep the momentum going on the Road to Rio. Not only did they continue to have success, the new-look duo enjoyed an undefeated season, culminated in a world title in Chungju. To swap out 50 percent of a lineup in an eight and still win is an achievement—to do it in a pair? Hats off, Sir Robin.

RoRy for Race of the Year
A Final of the Women's Double Sculls, World Rowing Championships
If you haven't seen this race yet, watch it. The A Final of the women's double in Chungju pitted a new, and very promising combination from Lithuania featuring Donata Vistartaite and Milda Valciukaite against Fiona Bourke and Zoe Stevenson of New Zealand and Francis Houghton and Victoria Meyer-Laker of GB (both of them in the 6:30s on the erg) in an all-out battle to the line. Also racing the final was five-time Olympian Ekaterina Karsten with new partner Yulia Bichyk. The Lithuanians took an early lead, but faced a significant challenge from the Kiwis in the second 1000m. With 300m to go, the Kiwis surged into first place, and it looked like there would be nothing that Vistartaite and Valciukaite could do to reel them back in before the line. However, in the final ten strokes of the regatta, the Lithuanians found that extra gear that they needed. Five strokes to go and there was nothing in it. As the two crews crossed the line, none of the athletes knew who had won. The result? Gold to Lithuania by 0.04 of a second.

RoRy for Breakthrough Performance of the Year
Seth Weil, USRowing
UC Davis alum Seth Weil's rise over the course of the 2013 season was nothing short of meteoric. How so, you ask? This was Weil's first-ever year on the national team, and at his first-ever international regatta—World Rowing Cup III in Lucerne—he and the U.S. men's four took down pre-race favorite Australia and won the first gold medal for the United States in that event since their coach, Bryan Volpenhein, and co. did it in 2004. Having worked with Carlos Dinares in the single, Weil showed that he had no trouble jumping back into sweep rowing, earning his way into camp and moving consistently up the ranks until he found himself in the priority boat for the U.S., which capped off a great season with a bronze medal at the world championships in Chungju. (Look for an interview with Seth coming up soon right here on RR.)

Honorable Mention: Koninklijke Nederlandse Roeibond
The Dutch rowing federation had an outstanding year across a large number of events, moving up the standings to sixth overall and making the A Finals of the men's single, men's pair (bronze), men's four (gold), men's eight, women's single, women's pair, women's quad, women's eight, lightweight women's double, and lightweight women's quad (gold), as well as the TAMix2x.

RoRys for Athletes of the Year
Hamish Bond/Eric Murray, Rowing New Zealand
Okay, so we know it's a bit of a cop-out to pick two athletes for Male Athlete of the Year, but these guys are pretty much inseparable, and they're doing things that no one has ever done before in a rowing shell. Having decided that an undefeated quadrennium resulting in an Olympic gold medal wasn't enough for them, this duo returned to training shortly after London, and has since set a new record for most consecutive international wins—16.

Elisabetta Sancassani/Laura Milani, Federazione Italiana Canottaggio
Again, we're picking a crew of two here, but hear us out. While both of these athletes have a great deal of experience at the international level, dating back to their first appearances at junior worlds in the early 2000s, Elisabetta Sancassani and Laura Milani appear to have discovered lightning in a bottle from the moment they teamed up prior to the European Rowing Championships last year—the duo have been undefeated since, and in 2013 accomplished something that no Italian women's crew had done before: win a world championship title.

And with that, the 2013 RoRys come to a close. Congratulations to all the winners for your truly outstanding accomplishments over the course of the 2012-2013 season! Now, having reflected on the best of the best from the last year in rowing, it's time to move on—we can only imagine what phenomenal performances we'll be celebrating at this time next September.

Let the games begin!

-RR

No comments:

Post a Comment