SARASOTA, Fla. -- Twenty-three years after the U.S. last hosted the World Rowing Championships — in Indianapolis in 1994 — the sport’s premier annual event is back on U.S. waters. And Team USA is celebrating with a round of medals.
Kicking off the championship weekend on Friday, Mary Jones earned Team USA its first medal, placing third in the non-Olympic lightweight single sculls in front of a packed crowd full of red, white and blue flags.
On Saturday, the U.S. would go on to win another three medals. Here’s a look at the medal-winning performances:
Olympians Switch Boat, Strike Silver
In an exciting final 500 meters, U.S. Olympians Megan Kalmoe and Tracy Eisser — who were favored to medal in the women’s pair despite switching from quadruple sculls earlier this year — edged out Denmark to take home the silver in 7:04.370. Kalmoe, who is a three-time Olympian who won bronze in the quad at the Olympic Games London 2012, admitted she didn’t even notice the other teams as she was focused on keeping her head in the boat.
“Did we close the gap? Oh really,” Kalmoe asked, “That’s great. I had no idea. Once we get into the last 500, we were just heads in.”
She was also busy pumping up her teammate.
“I told Tracy to keep pouring on the gas,” she said. “So that was the plan for me, the lightweight in the bow seat, to wind her up so I could just follow along and have her drag me across the line.”
Her plan worked, because Eisser, who had never raced this boat class at worlds, was just excited for the opportunity.
“The pair has not always been my forte,” Eisser said, “but Megan advocated for us and we got to do a lot more traveling and racing than we usually do. Going to the line against other international crews is why we do this, so it was really fun just to have that opportunity this year.”
Eisser hopes the two can continue “to row in this boat, and if we can continue and chase the Kiwis or whoever else might turn up next year, that would be exciting,” she said, referring to the team from New Zealand, who won with a four-second lead.
New Pair Earns Bronze As Silver Just Slips Away
Team USA’s Emily Schmieg and Michelle Sechser were the subjects of another tight race.
With the U.S. having not won a world championship medal in the lightweight double sculls since 2013, Schmieg and Sechser were determined to reach the podium.
They did just that, earning bronze, but it was a disappointment for the pair as they were in silver-medal position until New Zealand passed them with 10 strokes to go. Romania won gold.
“It hurt. I’m not going to lie,” Schmieg, who was competing at her second world championships, admitted about their third-place finish. “It’s hard because we wanted to find that next level and really push it up one more gear, but just today unfortunately we didn’t have it.”
And keeping in mind that, “we’re still a very new crew,” Schmieg exclaimed, “I have a bronze medal at worlds!”
Not to mention a podium finish in U.S. waters, something that Sechser, a world championships rookie, called “meaningful and so special.”
Paralympians Continue The Streak
With four out of five members of the boat silver medalists from the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, the U.S. para-rowing mixed coxed four was a boat to watch — and they did not disappoint.
The team, which earned silver, was led by coxswain Jennifer Sichel and included fellow Paralympians Jaclyn Smith, Zachary Burns, Danielle Hansen and worlds newbie Mike Varro, who towers over the rest of his team and only just started rowing last year.
“I decided I was going to be a rower just over a year ago,” said the Orlando resident, who heard from a patient at the VA hospital where he works that height is an advantage in the sport. “As soon as I got on the water I was like, yeah, this is a good fit.”
The silver medal was the team’s fourth straight silver at world or Paralympic competition. Great Britain won gold for the country’s seventh straight global title.
This year, the U.S. was able to keep ahead of the Italians by “controlling the field behind us and doing what we could with the water in front of us,” Sichel said.
And how does the second place finish compare to her silver medal from Rio?
“It’s just as sweet,” she said. “We’re pretty excited.”