PBC Open Scullers compete for slots on the Olympic Team at Trials
By: Michael Malone (with a little help from Morgan Constantine Wimberley)
Starting in December, several members of the OS team temporarily relocated to Long Beach, California, to prepare for the US Olympic selection regattas. Joined by head coach Reilly Dampeer in early February, the team wanted to avoid weather associated issues of the Potomac that might interrupt their training effort. Without the threat of flooding, ice, a deep freeze, and let’s be honest, their awesome boyfriends or girlfriends to distract them, the focus could be on one thing: rowing fast.
As the name implies, the first selection regatta was the National Selection Regatta I, held around mid-March. This event was the first step in selection of the Men’s 1x, among other events, for London. Two PBC rowers competed. In the red corner, the young upstart, 2011 Head of the Potomac M1x Champion, and aggressive blinker, Willy “Willy” Cowles. In the blue corner, PBC Open Sculler emeritus, veteran 7-time National Team member, 1-time Olympian, and World Cup gold medalist, rowing for the U.S. Training Center, Samuel “Sam” Thornton Stitt.
Both Willy and Sam advanced out of the time trial – Willy comfortably in 6th, Sam just barely making it into the top 18 by 12 hundredths of a second. Sam managed to find some speed during the regatta, and both advanced to the A-Final. In that race, Sam finished third and Willy finished sixth after catching debris on his skeg. The winner of the M1x race was the unaffiliated Ken Jurkowski, who qualified for the event in London at the 2011 World Championships. Second place went to U.S. Training Center’s Warren Anderson.
The main goal of the OS team’s temporary relocation to California, though, was to compete for the Men’s and Women’s 2x bids at the second selection event, the informatively named Non-Qualified Olympic Trials and Paralympic Trials, held at the beginning of April. Five boats wearing Potomac Boat Club colors raced, and the club’s results were very strong.
The highlight of the regatta was the Men’s 2x race. In the A-Final, Willy and Sam faced off once more: Sam rowing with Warren Anderson for the U.S. Training Center, and PBC’s Willy Cowles rowing with Penn AC’s Stephen Whelpley in a composite entry. It was the battle of the S&Ws. In what was the most exciting race of the day, both S&Ws jumped out ahead of the competition. While Sam and Warren were clearly favored to win the race, the other S&W matched them for over 1000 meters, even appearing to trade the lead a few times.
With open water separating the S&Ws from the third and fourth place boats, Sam and Warren made an impressive move in the third 500, pulling away from a fading S&W. While Steve and Willy finished second (6:22) to S&W (6:17), these were some seriously fast times. The result means that PBC’s Sam Stitt will (almost certainly) be on the 2012 USA Olympic Team. And while Steve and Willy did not earn the right to row the 2x, they embarrassed the other US Training Center boats, none of which even made the A-Final, and established themselves as two of the top elite scullers in the US.
The Women’s 2x had the best outcome for a PBC boat. Our top boat consisted of 5-time National Team member, Pan American Games W1x Champion, and occasional princess, Margot “!” Shumway; and 4-time National Team member, 5-time medalist in international competition, and succulent enthusiast, Sarah “nickname redacted” Trowbridge. This boat demonstrated that you can train in DC (without having to leave your boyfriend for three months) and be fast, but found that the lack of competitive head-to-head pieces in practice worked against them. While they advanced to the A-Final, Margot and Sarah were outmatched by the two US Training Center boats that finished first and second. However, those two boats declined the opportunity to compete in the W2x, which means Margot and Sarah have a second chance to make the team. With new found motivation, this dynamic duo will go to Lucerne, Switzerland to compete in the Regatta of Death, or the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta by those who dare not speak its official name. If they finish in the top two spots in Lucerne (May 20-23), WHICH THEY WILL DO, the Olympic slot will belong to them.
Also competing in the NQOTPT was Katherine “Katie (the ‘i’ is dotted with a heart)” Stainken, who rowed with former OS member May Joyce “MJ, if you’re reading this get your single out of the aqueduct” Gay. MJ and Katie made it into the A-final, where they finished fourth. This was uncomfortably close for Margot and Sarah, but impressively close to anyone else. Major Minnesota Vikings fan and PBC’er Joe Ledvina rowed in the M2x with Union Boat Club member Nick Baker, where they finished 2nd in the C Final, just behind Boat Race winner Deaglan McEachern. Finally, PBC’s own Morgan Wimberley rowed the W2x with Hillary Cumbest, also rowing for PBC and replacing Morgan’s previous partner just before the regatta. They finished a frustrated 6th, and I better not say how many boats were in the event if I expect Morgan to still talk to me.
Finally, I’d like to add that while in Long Beach, OS team members were guests of various host families and rowed out of Long Beach Rowing Association. The generosity of the LBRA is much appreciated by PBC and should remind us all of how supportive the rowing community truly is.