Semi-finals Day: Do or Die

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men rowing france

The men’s four in action today on Lac d’Aiguebelette. Photo: Katie Steenman Images.

Day 5 – September 3, 2015.

Today began the all-important semi-finals.  With two such races for each event, the top three finishing crews in each semi-final progresses on to the final, where medals are contested at the end of the week.

With so much on the line, the semi-finals can be fiercely competitive, with athletes willing to sign away their first born child for a coveted place in the medal round.  

This year’s semis have an added component, as they will help determine which crews will qualify for Rio 2016 (see below for the number of qualifying places, for events contested at this regatta by Canadian crews, for the Olympics next summer).

This morning included many races that were not recommended for the faint of heart, fraying the nerves of coaches and spectators alike.

Jennifer Martins and Cristy Nurse, doing double duty this week in the women’s pair and eight, had a solid race to start the day off for Canada.

In a qualifying position for the entire 2000 meters distance, the duo crossed the line in third position, behind the United States and South Africa.  Martins and Nurse advance to the final, and in so doing qualify the boat for the Rio Olympics next summer.

“It is a really satisfying feeling,” said Nurse after the race.  “The women’s team did not qualify a pair for London in 2012, so I think what we did today is a step in the right direction for our program.”

Martins and Nurse will contest two back-to-back finals this weekend.  The pair is scheduled for Saturday, while the eight will be raced on Sunday.

Katherine Sauks was up next for Canada in the lightweight women’s single sculls.  While not on the Olympic program, the event still attracted 22 entries. 

Rowing at her first world championships, Sauks felt like she made some crucial mistakes in her semi-final.

“I was overexcited at the start and went out too hard,” explained Sauks. “Because of this, I faded in the second half. I have to find the right balance between aggression and control, which I am learning to do with every race.”

Sauks crossed the line in sixth place and will race the B final tomorrow.  This will determine her world ranking between 7th and 12th position.  New Zealand, Brazil and Italy advance to the medal round.

The Vancouver Island duo of Michael Evans and Martin Barakso faced Olympic Champion New Zealand in their semi-final this morning.

Relegated to an outside lane, the pair had difficulties remaining in contact with the leaders.

“The conditions were bumpy at the start but we got into a decent rhythm,” said Evans while cooling down after the race. “I don’t think we were aggressive enough so we will try and make that change for the next round.”

Evans and Barakso progress to the B final on Saturday to determine a world ranking between 7th and 12th position.  Top eleven in this event secure a berth to Rio, something that is not lost on the young athletes.

“Our goal is still to qualify the boat,” continued Evans.  “If we stay internal and row our own race, we can get the job done.”

Favourites New Zealand, along with Serbia and Italy, progress to the medal round.

Another Vancouver Island pairing was on the racecourse next.  The lightweight women’s double ofLindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee, who enjoy making their fans carry defibrillators with them at regattas, were sitting in 6th place as they cruised through the midway marker.

This seasoned combo, however, were in control throughout the length of the racecourse, following a well-rehearsed plan from start to finish.

“Our race was perfectly executed,” said Jennerich, the veteran in the crew. “At the 400 meter mark we slipped into a great rhythm, it felt really good.  At that point, I knew we were going to move onto the final.”

Clocking the fastest third quarter of the field, the sprint specialists duplicated that feat again in the final quarter.

“I have so much confidence in our sprint, that as long as we are in the mix, I know things are going to go well,” continued Jennerich. “We were really excited to race today and go for it, and that’s what we did.”

Moving through every crew and crossing the line in first place, Jennerich and Obee have now established themselves as the favourites for a gold medal in the final on Saturday.

South Africa and Denmark finished second and third respectively.  All three have qualified for the Rio Olympics.

In another nail biter of a race, the men’s four of Will Crothers, Tim Schrijver, Kai Langerfeld and Conlin McCabe took a different, if not unconventional, approach in their race.

Overlapping with Italy’s stern, the two crews led the field for most of the race.

But just as Canada appeared poised to overtake Italy in the final quarter, the Canadians caught a bad stroke and appeared to be on the verge of a complete disaster.

“We had a good plan and we were executing it perfectly,” explained Crothers, bowman in the crew. “We knew we had to raise our game in this race and that is what we did.  When we caught the bad stroke, I stayed calm and made some calls to get us back together quickly.  Schrijver also did a great job of recovering his oar quickly.”

Indeed he did.  The Canadians, despite the mishap, still crossed the line comfortably in third place, only 3.1 seconds behind eventual winners Italy.  Along with Great Britain, all three crews advance to the medal round on Saturday.  The foursome has also qualified for the Rio Games.

The men’s quadruple sculls of Matthew Buie, Julien Bahain, Will Dean and Rob Gibson also had an incredibly exciting race. 

This particular event is proving to be one of the most competitive of the regatta.  At the finish line, only 3.1 seconds separated all 6 crews, with four of the boats crossing the line within 0.72 seconds of one another.

The Canadians, who were in contention right until the end, faded with only a few strokes to go, finishing in 5th place.

“Our race was pretty good and went as planned, “said Buie, bow seat in the crew. “We rowed well in the rough water and minimized the bad strokes. It is just a tough field.”

The men will race the B final on Saturday.  A top eight finish in this event will secure a ticket to Rio.  Germany, Estonia and Great Britain progress to the medal round.

The afternoon program for Canada commenced with the women’s double of Katharine Goodfellow and Antje von Seydlitz, who contesting the C/D semi-final.

The Canadians fought hard all the way down the course but were not able to crack the top three.  The duo crossed the line in fourth position and will race the D final tomorrow, establishing their world ranking between 19th and 24th position.

And that concludes the semi-final portion of the fifth day of racing on Lac d’Aiguebelette. 

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