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Worlds Saturday, A Finals: Perfect Day Serves up Perfect Wins
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Ed Hewitt, row2k
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Mahe Drysdale, five times World Champion
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Champs forever: US collects gold, in last W4 final ever
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Mahe Drysdale reclaims World Championship - from Universal Sports 2011, Bled, Slovenia, FISA Rowing World Championship, Drysdale (NZL), 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 champ, reclaims the title from Ondrej Sunek (CZE) for his 5th title, by .49 seconds. (Watch the full event at
Saturday's finals featured already-qualified crews, so the racing in FISA's golden hour of A finals may have lacked London drama, but all the contenders for Olympic gold were busy sending messages today. Saturday also brought two more US women's crews to the podium: the W4 for gold in a near wire-to wire win and the LW4x for bronze from behind, by just the right sliver of a second.

On to the interviews, and quotes from the A Finals on Saturday!

Xiaoxian LOU (CHN) -- Gold
"I am so tired, but delighted. We took our race step by step. It was tough, but we won! "

Perle Bouge (FRA) -- Silver
"We are young in rowing and we are missing experience in the tactics to follow. We are strong enough to win but for this race we were watching out for Ukraine, but we forgot China. Last year we were also second but behind the Ukraine. Now we are second after China. So next year with more tactics we may win."

Kathryn Ross (AUS) -- Bronze
"We stuck to our race plan, which gave us structure. We knew this would be manic and fast. We are very happy with the medal and the qualification. This is a great result going into London next year."

Light women's quad
The GB quad really controlled this race, showing almost no cracks in the armor as they posted the fastest times in all of the first three 500s. China chased but could not get through, as the US pulled through a fading Italian quad to win by 1/100th of a second; check out the finish line photo here.

Interview with the US LW4x:
Did you know that you had medalled?
Hillary Saeger: no, it was so close, we heard the beep, so I had no idea which was which, so I'm just looking at the screen--and then I saw us come up on it, and I thought 'is it gonna say third?" and then it was like third place and I was like YESSS!!!

Question: can you tell us about these last 20, 15 strokes?
Hillary: I think someone yelled something, and we just went, I was like 'okay here we go!!'

Question: Someone in the boat yelled something?
Hillary: I don't know!
Katherine Robinson: it was like a heart and soul kind of move. There's nothing else after this, you don't have to think about anything else. It was very much in the moment, getting the blades in, and leaving nothing.
Hillary: The last two races definitely helped us figure out what to do, and in that last 250, I was like 'sit up, keep it clean, go strong.' And that's all we needed to do.

Question: when you were a little down, did you think well, we can do this?
Nicole Dinion: we were at about the 600 and I saw we were walking on Italy. We were in fourth place, and I said 'get that medal,' and we just started moving, and kept moving, and kept moving. And the last 20 strokes, we pulled it up.

Question: One one hundredth of a second was the margin.
Hillary: that's what we were going for! (all laugh). We just wanted to give you something fun to watch, and we had fun too.

Interview with Kathryn Twyman, three seat of the GB LW4x
Did you expect to have the lead that you had?
Kathryn: No, so we did a little number-crunching from the heats and the reps, so we knew we had our work cut out for us in that first 500, so we knew we just had to go out hard and strong and have faith that we could maintain it. You know the adrenaline you get from the race would keep us going.

Andrea Dennis (GBR) -- Gold
"We just planned to do a good time. And we did!! I was saying GO GO GO and we were able to win."

Jing Liu (CHN) -- Silver
"We have only been rowing together since coming here to Bled. So it's good to race here and to win a medal. This is a great place and great people. It was a hard race, but that is sport."

Hillary Saeger and Katherine Robinson (USA) -- Bronze
"When we noticed we were moving in on the Italians we went for it. It was so close at the end, I just thought: sit up, keep it clean go strong. We had no idea where we were in the final meters, but we just got it, on 0.01th of a second!"

Women's Four
After blowing open the preliminary race by 10 seconds, the US women might have been forgiven if they took things a little too lightly today. But yesterday, right after the women's eight won by a very close margin over Canada, they stopped by the awards dock while they were out practicing, and took stock of how close the racing here can be. It was a good thing, as today's win came down to less than a second over an Australian crew that was really hauling on it to the line; the four US senior national team rookies took the gold by 0.81 seconds.

Interview with the US women's four
Sara Hendershot: we hit a really good rhythm, and we felt confident because of that rhythm, but the Netherlands and Australia never made it easy for us, and Australia came with a crazy sprint at the end, so we were not feeling comfortable at that point, we really had to do for it.

Question: did you take any inspiration from watching the eight yesterday?
Sara H: Yeah, when we were out on the water, and we came by to see them on the dock, it got us all so amped up and full of adrenaline that we just wanted to add another medal to the US count.
Emily Regan: I think we learned that nothing is ever in the bag, so you just have to keep pushing the whole way to get a medal, or even place. We're just really happy.

Do you think that (thinking the race was already won) was a possibility at all after the preliminary was so easy?
Emily: we went into the preliminary not concerned with what anyone else was going to do, we just wanted to row our race, to get the jitters out and be ready for today. So it was really good to have a tough race and really push us to our max, see what we were capable of, so it was really gratifying.

Kara Kohler: the great thing about it is, this was our best piece, each piece we've done together we've gotten a little better. It's great to have this one be the best one.

Question: you have been in and out of the boat this summer, do you feel like it has come together here?
Kara: Most definitely.
Sarah Zelenka: It came together at the time we needed it to.

Kate Hornsey (AUS) -- Silver
"It's always great to win a World Championship medal. With the bronze medal in the pair and the qualification there, it's a dream. Of course we were hoping for gold, but today USA was too good for us."

Wianka van Dorp (NED) -- Bronze
"We had a good start and could keep the initiative in a nice tailwind. But then there was less togetherness in our rowing, and USA and Australia immediately passed us. But we stayed focused on our race, and had a good sprint. Not enough for gold or silver, but still a medal."

Men's Quad
The men's quad provided perhaps the most stunning finish of the day, as the German crew, which had led from very early in the race, had a MAJOR crab with five strokes to go, and all but handed the gold to the Australians. Some observers even thought that had the Germans picked up rowing again, they could have dragged the boat over -- but that's not how it went, and the Australian crew, which has three members of their Beijing boat, took full advantage. The German three-seat was visibly crestfallen, whew.

Interview with Daniel Noonan, bow of the AUS M4x
Question: It came down to the wire, sometimes that is the case in the quad. What were you guys thinking here when you were bringing it in?
Noonan: We weren't really thinking, we were all just going fine, we were just winding, you don't have the time to think that much.

Question: Any specific strategy coming into this final today after seeing what you have seen so far this week?
We knew that we had to get our third 500 going, and we started to do that, started pressing from the 1000, and we got ourselves in a good position.

Question: Any thoughts yet about next year?
Oh yeah, we're looking forward to it.

James McRae (AUS) -- Gold
"We wanted to put the pressure on Germany, and when we were clear of the field it was just storming together down to the finish line. We knew we were have a good sprint, and took the gold on the line, it was a fantastic race!"

Karl Schulz (GER) -- Silver
"Oh well, I still can't really say what happened. Just that we were going short slide and sprinting. The boat might have tipped a bit and that's when Lauritz must have gotten stuck. We would have won, but this shows again you can never be sure in a race. Everything worked well for us, but at the end it was just the tunnel and it was all black in front of my eyes. I guess I didn't even realize that we were that close to the finish line."

"A World Championship medal, of course, is great too -- gold just wasn't meant to be and next year will be more important anyway."

Valent Sinkovic (CRO) -- Bronze
"The race didn't go as we planned. Normally at the start we should have pushed harder but it was impossible. Maybe the semi-final, I don't know. But we have to be happy with a medal when we see what happened to Germany."

Men's Pair
The Kiwis made it three in a row, which makes them entirely unbeaten this quadrennial, in any event -- wow. The British crew gave them a run down the track near the end, but couldn't pull within a half length -- the distance, that earlier this week, Andrew Triggs Hodge said his crew was likely behind the Kiwis. Italy topped the "also-rans" (it is a harsh term, but at the moment in this event, it really is about these top two boats) to take bronze, followed by Greece, Canada, and Germany.

Interview with Eric Murray, NZ bow seat
Question: Do you guys enjoy being out front, being the favorites, and being the targets?
Eric Murray: Aw, it's alright! It has its advantages and disadvantages. When you're out in front, you have to train as though you're second, but then race as though you're first. For us, we're always training as though we're behind, and pushing back on other people. That works really well with our training, and working with the whole group in New Zealand has worked really well as well, so I think that's where we find a lot of our speed.

Question: Did this race go to plan, this week and this race?
Murray: the week's been pretty long, and the first race is always a bit touch and go, just getting back into the swing of it. Our second race was pretty good, yesterday we knew it was we could put out for the semi, and then today we had to go out as if there was nothing left to do for the rest of the year -- and there's not (laughs) -- so we put everything into play.

Question: are you going to break out serious facial hair for next year?
I don't know, maybe. It's a bit of a trademark, eh? You can go year to year and I think we look the same as the year before, so just use the same photos!

Question: This may be the last time that our British guys will race against [you two in the pair] and we'll find out what their plans are. Do you think it's been good for you to have them pushing you all the way and making you really have to dig deep to win fourteen in a row?
Murray: Yeah, it's good to have those guys pushing along and it wouldn't be fun if you were always sitting out in front with nothing to do. Whatever they want to do, it's up to them and up to the coach. I know if I was in their position I would probably look for something else, too, and they're such phenomenal athletes, it's in their system. I wish the best for them. I hope they go out win a couple medals because they've been such fierce competitors. You look at the times that we're doing compared to the rest of the field, it would be a shame if... Well, hey, who knows if they could come out next year and it could be a lot better or it could be the other way around. So we don't know. Whatever they do, they do. That's up to you guys.

Question: Was it your plan to break them in the first 500 and open up that clear water gap so that you could control it?
Murray: We just wanted to do what we thought we were capable of doing. We just went out on a good pace where we could sustain and then held it through the second and third 500. I was calling Hamish to lift but it wasn't really going for me and it wasn't until they started closing down on us that we went, and then crossed the line at half a second of world best. It was our second opportunity to be able to actually see world best and I think we're capable of doing it. So Poland was obviously an opportunity in 2003 and '04. I don't know what happened today but we just really pushed on and held a good speed enough, we probably sprinted home and could have gone a bit faster. It's good for the prognostics, I guess.

Question: Are you saying you had to pull Hamish along a bit?
Murray: I think he pulls me along mainly. I just try and keep down on top of him and whatever he can produce I've just got to match it. When you come through that last bit and he's normally producing more than I am, a bit more explosive power. It's just a phenomenal effort.

Question: Obviously the Olympic gold is the main thing but do you think that the world best time is going to be one of your targets for next year?
Murray: Oh, no. We never think about it. You can't go to a race thinking "oh, we're going to set the world best," because conditions could be different. Definitely not the real best conditions out there today to really go, I think we are going to be able to do it. Not like in Poland in 2009 or in Amsterdam, you know, at the under-23s. So we just don't really think about it enough. The race progresses you have to go that hard to do it which is what happened today. We had to nearly do it just to win.

Interview with Canadian pair
Scott Frandsen: Not the result that we wanted; we had a decent piece out there, but it was not as fast as we think we can go or have gone in the past. So it's disappointing to have that in the big race, but things have been going really well these past eight months since we've been back in the pair together, though this is a bit of a bump in the road, but things are going well. So we're looking forward to this next year, and getting it right next summer.

Question from TV guy: of course you are talking about last month, I am talking about next year; what's the plan, what's the agenda?
Dave Calder: it's too soon after the race to sort out everything that did and didn't happen today, but Scott said it right, we just didn't represent what we can bring to the table, and I'm quite confident that we can go back and find that speed that we demonstrated all year, and reinsert ourselves into this event. Everyone who crossed the line before us was impressive, and that's where we want to be.

Hamish Bond (NZL) Gold
"We saw our time on the big screen and we were thinking if we had pushed a little bit more we could have beaten the world's best time. We trained well. We had good control of the race. "

Andrew Triggs Hodge (GBR) -- Silver
"I think in the last months we demonstrated how fast we can be in the pair. It has been a big challenge and I am proud of what we have achieved so far, with the help of many. We wanted to win. But this position is not bad to build up towards next year."

Niccolo Mornati (ITA) -- Bronze
"We are very happy with a medal. The others were just stronger. It's great to be amongst the top three fastest pairs in the world."

Women's Double
Don't let the margins fool you too much; the Brits were not pushed in this event; they didn't even sprint, and as she relates below, Katherine Grainger was smiling as she crossed the line, despite illness and injury in the boat this year. And Grainger isn't even the best person in the boat any more; this crew is good. They can be beat, as can anyone, but someone is going to have a very special year to do it, starting darn soon.

Interview with Katherine Grainger
Question: you have the opportunity to prepare for Olympics in front of your home crowd. What does that mean for an athlete?
KG: It means everything. Most athletes won't get that experience, so for everyone on the British team who gets that chance, it is a bit of a dream come true experience. The main thing here was to qualify as many boats for the Olympics, we've done that, so now everyone begins to look forward to 2012 and being prepared.

Katherine, just gives us some of your thoughts.
To be honest, Anna was saying herself, in some ways this win was sweeter than last year, although this was a much more challenging race and the margin was much tighter. We had, by far, the worst preparation that we could have coming in. we had injury and illness leading up to it, and we knew that it would be a tough, tough challenge because the strength of competition is getting better all the time. We know at our best we're still ahead of that competition, but with the setbacks we had it suddenly made it that much tighter race. We still feel that everything is good enough to be the best in the world, but have had to execute to an absolutely higher standard to get that result today. So I think knowing we can get that win off the bad preparation that we had gives us a lot of confidence.

What were you thinking in the last 100 or so meters?
To be honest in the last 100 or so meters I was smiling. I did think, that's done. It was good; it's that slight, I would say masochistic thing that athletes have, but when it's tough, and it's a very tight race, and you physically start to suffer, and you have the attacks coming, there is something inside that is loving it, because it is like this is what we work so hard for, what we train for. So when you feel you can respond to that, and you have to dig really deep to find that strength, then it's so sweet when it works.

Interview with NZ W2x
Question: There is a tremendous tradition in the women's double for New Zealand; do you think about that at all, are you trying to carry this forward?
Well, they're double Olympic champions, so a bit of an inspiration, yeah, but they're massive shoes to fill, so we don't even try. We just be ourselves.

Question: a lot of the NZ folks I have talked to mentions how the team trains together as part of their success. Who do you spar with the most, and how does that go?
The lightweight girls double are our training partners. We're with them every day, and we push each other.
We're coached by Gary Hay, and he coaches all of us, the two doubles.

Question: Do the lightweights ever get you?
After trials, it was touch and go (both laugh)! We've improved a bit from there, but we were very new in the boat then.

Do they cheat on the ratings?
Both: ohhhhhh... (laughs).

Question: they always do. I was a lightweight, I know.
They do, don't they? Well, they're pretty honest in their training.

Kerry Hore (AUS) -- Silver
"I'm really disappointed, but this just fires us up for next year. We have so much faith in ourselves and our coach and we've got a bit over a year and we will only get stronger as a combination."

Fiona Paterson (NZL) -- Bronze
"This result was unexpected. AUS and GBR are very fast. This is a great result for us ."

Men's Single
A year after struggling through a World Championships on his home waters with an injury, a few months after ending up training on the bike to stave off injury, and only four days after being thrown by a car while riding his bike, Mahe Drysdale won the men's single, matching at five the record for the most wins in the men's single set by Peter-Michael Kolbe.

Ondrej Synek's current streak is broken, but he may not have been at full strength due to an illness that hit many of the teams here in Bled. Alan Campbell gave it all, and was really not in great shape on the dock after the racing, and he is definitely not the type to play it up after a race.

Interview with Mahe Drysdale of NZ
Question: you had a different year this year, some injuries, some bike time; how do you reckon the year now that you have been able to go out and win this race?
Mahe: I think I've learned a lot from this year; it wasn't a perfect year by any stretch of the imagination, and I think you saw the emotion when I won that. It means a huge amount to get back on top. It's been 18 months of hell, and one year out from the Olympics, I feel like I'm back on track. It wasn't my best work, but it was enough to get the job done.

Question: So you're not switching to the bike then?
Mahe: I think I'm going to be stuck on the bike for the next year or so, but I'm going to try to change a few things; try to get some more consistency in the boat; even this week I had a really good quarterfinal, the semi was okay but not great, and I managed to pull one out there, but it wasn't, as I say, the best thing I've done. So, a good time, it's good to be back out there, and really special to be on the winner's podium again.

Question: What was your strategy for this 2k, and how did it go?
Mahe: I was really focused on the start, make sure I didn't get dropped there. I pretty much achieved that; I lost a little bit to Alan, but as I went through the race I was feeling really strong through the middle, and started to get a little bit of an edge. I knew having Ondrej there it was going to come down to a sprint, so I went probably a lot earlier, managed to be able to get a little bit of a buffer, and was able to hold him off.

How much confidence does it give you to have won?
I'll put this one away for next year, but it just shows that I'm on track. It means very little apart from that. More than anything, in my mind it says, you know, you're ready, you can do this the way that you're training -- and I've gotta find some more speed for next year.

Question: On Kolbe's record, were you thinking about it on the racecourse?
Not at all, but yeah, it's something that I've always been aware of, and as I got closer and closer I realized that it was in reach, and it was pretty special to get out there and finally get at it. But until you finish a race you don't think about that sort of thing.

Ondrej Synek (CZE) -- Silver
"It was a good competition, but not so good for me. I had some stomach problems a couple weeks ago and lost five kilos. So I'm a bit disappointed, but also happy to be here and it's great to still win a silver medal."

Alan Campbell (GBR) -- Bronze
"I had no more legs to push at the end. I had some problem during the season and the training with my health but no excuses: they were stronger today. Now I will focus on London."

Notes from the course:
Due to the location of the lake, FISA found that the GPS race tracking system was not working well, as they could not get consistent access to satellites (the same occurred in Lucerne, as I understand it). As a result, all of the splits are being done manually by people sitting on the 500 marks.

A photographer was seen twirling a monopod like a baton; she was apparently a cheerleader at some point.

In our video with the women's eight earlier this week, Kara Kohler mentioned she braids her hair before every race; check out the result here and here.

I put a picture up of the Bled bell costume, which was okay, and the Kiwi is very cool (check out the photo of Mahe with the Kiwi in today's galleries ; Mahe also dragged the Kiwi into his TV interview, well played) -- but the stuffed person thing is getting out of control -- you be the judge: here and here

After they won the gold, Anna Watkins jumped into the water to try to go see her husband -- so he jumped in with her!

Uhh, no comment - or maybe caption contest?

We talked to Anthony Edwards of the AUS quad after his race yesterday, and he was clearly elated, and for good reason; he has won seven medals at worlds and Olympics, but this was his first gold.

An Aussie oarsman proposed to his girlfriend on a short trip to the island in the middle of the lake yesterday. We suppose she accepted . . .

First beer after Worlds is always sweet - cheers!


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