Be sure the read about the heats first! Find it here: Heats
Coastal Rowing World Championships 2018, the finals
At a couple hundred meters into the finals, I take stock, glancing across the calm water on another windless day. I haven’t been dropped by the field, but it looks like I’ve claimed last place. No worries, it’s in my plan to start slowly. Deep breath, calm and composed, don’t get rattled. I check my posture and make sure my hands are in a loose-fingered hang on the handles. I’m floating forward, connecting on my drive, and holding a leisurely 30 strokes per minute. It’s a rather sedate version of a World Championship start.
I’m carrying fatigue from yesterday’s heat, and don’t want to blow up in the opening stretch. I’m not mad about it though: if I didn’t have this fatigue, it may have meant I wouldn’t even be here—there wasn’t much room for error in my heat. Yesterday was blitz-fast, fly-and-hope-not-to-die mania. Today is calculated, paced. In two races, I’m racing two totally different styles. All good.
I’m in an outside lane, which stretches me away from the first buoy. Since I’ve dropped behind the rowers next to me, I use the uncluttered space to shorten my line to the buoy. I swerve across the course, just missing the sterns of a few boats, and move about three positions closer to the buoy. One of the French boats snags on a piece of kelp and gets dropped.
As we approach the first turn, my steady pace has already put me back in the mix. Rowing smoothly, I’m feeling loose and comfortable, and starting to lean on the power more. My move to the inside is paying off now too, as I clip in close to the buoy and cut off a few boats that are further outside. Good, 1400 meters in and I’m moving up.
Next is a long, 1900 meter backside straightaway. Monaco, Italy, Spain and France are just ahead of me. Italy is closest, just off my starboard side. I make a move and pull even. It’s close, oars almost touching. I hear his blades, the hum of his hull, even his breath. I don’t have much room, as Spain is right off my port, and not giving up any space. I squeeze into Spain, see if I can “shove” him. “USA!” he yells at me. As the overtaking boat, by rule I have to give way, so my squeeze play is foiled. There is just enough room though, and a moment later I’m past Italy.
Next it’s France, just off my starboard. Spain still owns my port side. I pour a bit more into my legs, but maintain my stroke rate, staying cool. I ease my bow ahead of France. Check my course, we are pointing too wide. Once my stern clears France’s bow, I change my line slightly, angling in towards the next buoy, and cutting across France’s course a bit. But I have established that critical lead position and have right of way. France surges, trying to regain his lead, and starts running up to my stern. “France! Line!” I yell to France. He looks over his shoulder, changes course. He has to go around me if he wants to pass, and this slows his charge. There’s a lot of chess in coastal racing.
Engaged with France, Spain has slipped away, quietly gaining another boat length lead. Italy has dropped back, but not by much. Spain is more directly in front of me now, establishing that controlling position. Darn, I have to change my course if I want to pass.
I accelerate, and move back on Spain. France follows, just off my stern. We’re all within inches of contact. And right about there, almost at the end of the long back stretch, I have this moment of revelation—I smile in my sweat because I realize I am having far and away the most fun I have ever had in a race!
I’m pulled from my transcendental bliss by a near collision with Spain. He has begun his turn. As he is ahead, he takes control of his line, forcing me to adjust. I’m getting pushed too far inside, where I’ll miss the buoy. I have to slow up, letting Spain clear the turn. A crash here would take the pressure off Monaco ahead of us, and give France and Italy their chance to pass us - maybe even slow us up enough for a few of the other boats behind us to catch up.
Once I get around the turn, I accelerate quickly. I’ve pulled up on Spain. I feel I have a little more boat speed than he does, but he is playing the course expertly. Bronze medalist in 2015, Adolfo Ferrer Marin is an experienced and skilled rower. I look further forward and see Monaco just ahead of Spain and me... catchable?
The next long straightaway keeps us close. Spain again holds the inside line to the next buoy. I pull just about even now, but am forced outside to clear his oars. I take the turn well, keeping up speed, but so does Spain. His shorter line gains him back a boat length.
It’s a short run to the next buoy; I play for a stronger turning position. I’m clear of France, so make him adjust to my choice of line. Not clear of Spain, I gamble on an inside take, throttle up, and make a move. Spain covers, accelerating to hug the buoy. Well played.
Getting tired, my course slips a little coming out of that turn, and I lose a few more boat lengths to Spain. Maybe France is tired too, as he doesn’t take advantage of my slip.
Last 500 meters. Now is “head down, crank on it” time. Underneath the end of the race fatigue I feel some energy in reserve, so I stoke it up. Time to burn through everything.
Italy has faded well back. I move away from France, gaining boat lengths of open water in a few massive strokes. Spain. I look for Spain. Where are you Adolfo? Seeing him. I close the gap very quickly. Unleashed flying now, the boat responding well. Look to the shore. Where is the finish? Overdrive. I hear another boat. Monaco? Never mind, head down, pull. In the corner of my eye I see Spain alongside. I’ve reeled him in, and am overtaking. Listen for the horn. No horn yet, pull. Any one of these strokes could be the last. Pull. Ah Spain, Spain, always Spain. I see you, I hear you, I will pass you. Finished!
I didn’t pass Spain, but I’m thoroughly pleased. I accomplished every goal I set for this year: made the A-Finals, improved my flat water speed, steered a good course and played well on the turns. There are still many victories once the medals have been claimed. Back on shore, a huge hug with Adolfo. We had a great battle, pushing each other to be honest on every single stroke for 28 minutes. Our closest rivals pull us to the deepest places and become our most valued companions on this journey we call racing.