By Gary R. Blockus | Sept. 21, 2017, 3:28 p.m. (ET)
Meghan O'Leary and Ellen Tomek compete in women's double sculls at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 at the Lagoa Stadium on Aug. 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

 

Paddles will hit the water on Sept. 24 as the World Rowing Championships begin in Sarasota and Bradenton, Florida, marking the first time the event has been held in the U.S. since Indianapolis hosted it in 1994.

With 60 veterans of world championship competition and 18 first-timers on the U.S. squad, there are plenty of storylines to keep an eye on as the event continues through Oct. 1.

Here are some of the big stories to follow.

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Women’s Eight Is Great
This boating group has been on a run that spans two decades. The U.S. women’s eight already holds the world record of 5 minutes, 54.16 seconds (set in 2013), and has won every Olympic and world championship race for the last 11 years. Three of the Olympic gold medalists are back in the boat for another go: Emily Regan, Lauren Schmetterling and coxswain Katelin (Snyder) Guregian.

High Hopes For Medals
Medals hopes are high for the start of the new quadrennium. The U.S. won three medals at the Olympic and Paralympic Games Rio 2016, following seven medals — including three golds — at the 2015 world championships.

Top medal hopes outside of the women’s eight include 2016 Olympian Felice Mueller in women’s single sculls, the women’s quad (Kara Kohler, Maureen McAuliffe, Emily Huelskamp and Elizabeth Sonshine), women’s four (Kendall Chase, Kristine O’Brien, Molly Bruggeman and Erin Reelick) and, with Olympic coach Mike Teti returning to help, the men’s eight.

Among the 60 U.S. rowers with world championship experience, 19 are Olympians or Paralympians.

Shades Of Irma
Hurricane Irma devastated parts of Florida, and while it caused some damage to the brand new regatta course at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, the venue is ready to go for the world championships.

“The Sarasota/Bradenton area did not come under the direct impact of the hurricane as predicted thus, luckily, damage is limited,” said U.S. Congressman Vern Buchanan, honorary chairman of the local organizing committee. “The Championships enjoys the full support of local, state and national governments as well as the communities around the venue.”

High School Heisman Winner Watch
Back in 2002, Meghan O’Leary won the High School Heisman as a three-sport star in Louisiana, but she didn’t pick up rowing until after college in 2010. Now she and Ellen Tomek make up the women’s double sculls team and are looking for home-country advantage to better their sixth-place finish at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.

Giving It The Old College Try
A number of the U.S. athletes competing at worlds are still in college, including Ben Davison (Washington), Jack Ruske (Cornell), Ben Delaney (George Washington) and Alex Richards (Harvard). Davison won a silver medal in the men’s coxed four at the under-23 world championships in July.

Up, Down And All-Around
Tom Peszek of Farmington Hills, Michigan, began his rowing career at Michigan Crew, a men’s club program at the University of Michigan. A 2012 Olympian in the men’s pair who did not make the 2016 Olympic team, Peszek won a 2013 world championship bronze medal in the eight and was fifth in pair with coxswain at the 2016 world championships. He’s in the men’s eight again.

All In The Family
John Graves (men’s double sculls) is coached by his brother, 2012 Olympian Peter Graves. The Graves family is a well known in rowing circles. Three Graves brothers — John, Peter and Thomas — have represented the U.S. internationally, and John is a 2020 Olympic hopeful.

Home Sweet Home
Four of the U.S. rowers have called Florida home at one time or another. Ben Davison is originally from Iverness. Katelin (Snyder) Guregian first learned to cox at Winter Park High School. Coco Schoeller was born in Miami and grew up in Palm Beach. Ben Delaney is from Windermere and was homeschooled.

Rookie Quandary
Michael Clougher of Canton, Massachusetts, one of the 18 U.S. rowers making their world championship debut, is facing some steep odds in the men’s single sculls, which features an event-high 39 entries.

New Class
The 2017 championships mark the first time para-rowers will race the 2,000-meter distance. The para-rowing features five boat classes, including four of the five members of the legs, trunk and arms mixed four with coxswain who won silver in Rio.

Gary R. Blockus is a journalist from Allentown, Pennsylvania who has covered multiple Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.