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Let the racing begin

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  July 28, 2012 01:35 PM

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gevvie.png Editor's note: Gevvie Stone has agreed to post updates throughout her Olympic debut in London. Stone is a native of Newton, Mass.
Wow! The last few days before racing flew by, and now we're already heading into Race Day #3! Thank you everyone for all the fast wishes sent to the US team. We are feeling very supported by everyone Stateside.

Until seeing the draw on Thursday, the most stressful part of the experience had been finding a seat on the bus. The 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. buses from the village to the course were very popular and very crowded. On Saturday morning, I was one of the last two people who would fit on Bus #3 to the course, and there were two seats left. But, Karsten (W1x) was saving the seat next to her for someone (who wasn't being allowed onto the bus). It took a few minutes of convincing by me and the Dutch rower also needing a seat that Karsten and her coach couldn't each have two seats to themselves. The organizers have solved the problem by making managers reserve seats in advance and checking off athletes from each country as we climb onto the bus.

Then I saw the draw and up til racing, that was the most stressful part of this experience. I am ready to race. I know that I have picked up speed in the last year, and I want to show that. All the same, seeing the draw gave my stomach a turn. It cemented the fact that I am here for a big, important race. Not to socialize with my friends and eat above-par dining hall food. There are 28 entries in the women's single. 13 from developed nations (qualified through 2011 Worlds or the Qualification Regatta) and 15 from developing nations (qualified through Asian, African or South American qualifiers). The race progression starts with 5 heats (3 of 6, 2 of 5). The top 4 rowers from each heat progress directly to the Quarterfinal on Tuesday. The remainder head to one of two reps, each with 4 rowers. The top 2 rowers from each rep join the Quarterfinals. There are four Quarterfinals (yes, that may seem self-explanatory but just in case...). Each with 6 rowers (full use of the lanes). Top 3 rowers from each Quarterfinal progress to the A/B semi-finals on Thursday. (The bottom 3 go to the C/D semis.) Then, on Thursday, the top 3 from each semi head to Final A while the bottom 3 go to Final B. The top 3 rowers in Final A medal.

Before racing, I practiced using the warm-up zone and the starting system. Dorney is unique in that it has a narrower lake (man-made) that runs parallel to the course and is connected by a few channels (with low bridges overhead). Usually, the warm up zone is either on the course (which means moving over into Lane 7 as races come down--lots of interruption) or a little bulge in the shape of the shoreline where there is room for a 750m long oval. It is a treat to have a separate warm-up lane. This way, if bigger boats are warming up/cooling down, the boats racing won't be hit by their wakes. And, it's longer than most warm-up zones (a full 1250m loop) so there is less spinning. I love it! The starting system her is using a new "boot" version. [The boot is a device that comes up from the bottom of the lake and clamps onto the bottom of your hull so that it's impossible to false start. There is also a plastic "U" to place your bow into so that you are exactly on the starting line and exactly pointed down the course.] They're taking care of some of my difficult tasks for me! No being off center at the start and needing to tap my bow around! The difference I notice in this boot system is that the plastic U lights up with some red lights when you touch the plastic (aka are all the way in).

Now on to a recap of racing: I faced Russia, Algeria, Belarus, and Mexico in my heat. The cast of characters:

--Levina (RUS) was one rower I needed to beat to qualify the single for London at Worlds 2011. She got off the line at a blazing speed, and I was in her wake wondering what had happened and trying to catch up. I didn't make it past her. This is her 4th Olympics.

--Karsten (BLR) is the most famous name in women's rowing currently (and maybe ever). She is fast. This is her sixth (yep, sixth--no one on the 2012 American team can claim that.) Olympics! Oh, and she has FIVE Olympic medals to her name (Gold in 1996 & 2000). She won Worlds in 2009 and has been on the podium at Worlds the past 2 years. I am sure she wants another gold.

--Rouba (ALG) has raced the light single internationally, and her best finish is 5th at a World Cup. I had never raced her before and don't know too much about her.

--Gonzalez (MEX) raced two World Cups this year and places 13th and 32nd, respectively.

Many of you watched or have seen the result: I was 3rd in my heat to Karsten of BLR (1st) and Levina of RUS (2nd). Top 4 advanced to the Quarterfinals, so all three of us move on to the next round. Plus MEX (4th).

It was an amazing experience to race down the Olympic course. We had gorgeous weather Saturday, and big crowds came out to cheer us on. The grandstands were packed, and impressively, there were many, many people lining the banks of the course from the 100m mark until where the grandstands began. I could hear the first shouts of the fans at 100m, and the noise didn't stop until after the finish. While on the shore before racing, I saw the crowed do the "wave" a few times. I feel lucky to compete on the Olympic stage in a country which very much loves the sport of rowing and is very, very excited to watch it.

I had a good race, not a great one. I executed a clean start, raced at a respectable rating, and followed my race plan. I had the fastest middle 1000m of my heat. It is impossible to know how much effort my competitors put into the race, but I was closer to Karsten that I ever have been in a heat, and the three of us were relatively packed together as far as heats go. Being closer is a good thing. Now I have to add the extra umph and extra efficiency to get even faster so that I can get past them. On the bus home, I was frustrated by finishing 3rd as I had hoped for 2nd.

One reason I may have been in a bad mood about my racing yesterday was that I was tagged by doping control. That's enough to make anyone grumpy. Immediately upon coming in after my warm-down, I was informed to make my way to the doping control building. I asked to grab my bag and to say hi to my Mom and sister (whom I hadn't seen yet). The woman reluctantly consented and said we could do it "on our way". [Adding to my grumpiness, I found out after sitting in doping control that athletes have one hour to report to the doping station after being informed of testing. The doping officers prefer to bring you straight there but if you insist, you can do your normal warm-down routine (flush, ice-bath, etc) while hydrating and waiting to pee.] Well, after racing on a decently hot day, I was not very hydrated. After two bottles of powerade, two bottles of water, and over an hour, I finally managed to pee. My saving grace the whole time is that the doping control station was televising the Olympic road race so I did have good entertainment while waiting for my bladder.

The US team did have some great performances yesterday and today. Notably, the W2- showed some real speed and hung with the Brits (silver at last year's Worlds) for the entire race. They placed 2nd and head straight to the A Final. The M8+ also had a great start to the regatta, winning their heat and advancing straight to the A Final. Today, the LM4- showed sharp and clean racing to lead their rep start to finish and head to Semifinal A/B. And, lastly, the W8+ displayed a very powerful, dominant performance winning by "a country mile" as the BBC announcers phrased it.

On the international level, the Kiwi (NZL) men's 2- (Murray and Bond) set a World Record by SIX seconds yesterday. That is absurd. It's unheard of. All said in a very good way! They are unquestionably (I think) the best men's pair ever in the history of rowing, and it is sooo fun to see them continue to go faster and faster. Plus, they're nice guys who always says "hello" when you run into them around the race course.

Now let's really backtrack...I can't skip some of the fun Olympic happenings from Friday! That evening we had a full rowing team photo. Now, all team photos have to be done in Nike gear. Ideally, in these sweet navy Nike zip-up sweatshirts with a red collar. But, we didn't know that when we were packing up our gear to send half home, and many people shipped those sweatshirts back to the States. The one Nike outfit we were all guaranteed to have: our podium outfit aka our space suits. These jackets are SUPER reflective. So reflective that if you take a photo with the flash, you can't see anything but the bright white of the jacket. (We also have sweet neon green and black sneakers and socks to go with them...and the socks say "Be brave" on one foot and "Do good" on the other.) Fortunately for our team photo, the day was bright enough that we didn't need a flash. And, it was really fun and incredible to group up with the entire rowing team for a photo. Made it truly feel like #oneteam #onegoal.

After the photo, we headed to dinner at the rowing village cafeteria. Much to our surprise, a marching band came to play! Starting out with the score from "Rocky"! All the rowers (from all the countries) headed to the patio next to the cafeteria to watch while eating dessert. They played well and choose some fun songs. And to up the celebration, during the songs, a kids' acting (?) troupe dressed as different species of birds starting wandering around the crowd. There were ducks, swans, storks, ravens, and these awesome dragonflies on bouncy shoes with ski goggles on their foreheads (they also had giant wings--about five foot spread) that were hitting the occasional head.

About 8pm, most of us rushed off. (Misguided into thinking that opening ceremonies began at 8:12pm because that's 20:12 and how cool would that be?!) A few American boats (M1x, W1x, M2-, W2x, LW2x, and two from the W8+) changed into our opening ceremonies outfits. Really, when are we going to get to wear the entire ensemble again? Gotta get into the spirit! Our team manager had reserved a room and organized a projector. We sat watching and enjoying the thrill of it for the first hour til our coaches sternly told us to head to bed. Of what I saw, I loved the James Bond/Queen skit, Mary Poppins floating in from the sky, the Mr. Bean appearance, Wiggins ringing the bell, and the singing of Jerusalem (one of Winsor's school songs...I still remember our 5th grade pantomime motions). Great moments in the performance.

Next race for me is Quarterfinal #2 6:50am EST on Tuesday July 31st. Keep thinking speedy thoughts!

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