- America's elite rowing crews were exactly that Sunday, winning key heat races and setting world records with the help of a stiff tail wind.
What could be the strongest American women's eight boat ever stayed undefeated this year, winning a tight race with medal contenders Romania and
Germany. The U.S. men added a come-from-behind heat victory against favored Canada.
Races were both helped and hindered by a 20-mph tail wind that pushed the boats but also made waters choppy. Organizers ended Sunday's races before
noon and said second-chance races wouldn't be held Monday because of forecasts calling for gusts to pick up to more than 30 mph.
The American women were expected to win their heat, but had to hold on to a diminishing lead to do so. They led by nearly three seconds after 1,000
meters, but the Romanians charged hard over the second half, pulling to 0.3 of a second in a finish that energized the crowd.
The Americans' winning time was 5:56.55, eclipsing the previous mark of 5:57.02 set by Romania in 1999.
"I just kept thinking: nobody's going to get us, you're not taking it, how much more can I push,'' said Megan Dirkmaat, of San Jose, Calif.
"Everything was out on the line. It was definitely hard.''
The victory means the U.S. women's elite boat, which won both World Cup events it entered this year, advanced directly to next Sunday's final, while
Romania and Germany will have to enter a repechage, or second-chance race.
The boat is also a relatively young women's eight, with only two women having graduated college before 1997, the year that the NCAA sanctioned women's
rowing as a varsity sport.
The American women have been strong the past three years, winning the world championships in 2002, but suffering an uncharacteristic mistake in last
year's worlds when they caught an oar and brought the boat to a stop. Germany finished first in that race, Romania second.
The U.S. women now talk as if they know they're the best, but are humbled by a sport where things can go wrong as they did last year.
"That 2003 worlds definitely fueled a different energy for this year and it has factored into our training,'' Kate Johnson, of Portland, Ore., said.
"That's been a good motivator for sure all year.''
The U.S. men's eight was third after the start. At half distance they were up to second place, about 0.8 of a second behind Canada, then pulled ahead
at the end to win by 0.6 of a second. They finished in 5:19.85, easily beating the previous mark of 5:22.80, set by the Netherlands in 1999.
"I know the strength of our boat in a complete race, so there was never any panic,'' oarsman Wyatt Allen said.
Allen, of Portland, Maine, said the tail wind should get some credit for the world records, especially since the water was choppy and "it wasn't the
cleanest, smoothest race.'' But he knew his boat had to have gone fast simply by the fact they beat the Canadians.
Canadian eight rower Kyle Hamilton said the U.S. technically should be considered the favorite now, but that Canada and teams such as Germany and
Australia, winner of the other eights heat, have plenty of fight left.
"It'll be a great final -- one of the best races you'll see,'' Hamilton said. "It could very well be six boats across the line (together).''
The U.S. men's eight was considered a contender to finish in the medals coming in. And coach Mike Teti is looking to redeem himself after coming up
empty in Sydney with a squad that had won three consecutive world titles. Like the women, the men's team advanced directly to the final, where a win
would mean the first gold for a U.S. men's eight since 1964.
Teti also predicted a close final.
"It's probably going to be just like today's race with a few more teams'' up front, Teti said. "Look, we put our best people in the eight. Australia
put their best in the eight, Germany put their best in the eight and so did Canada. There's not going to be anything easy about it and we know
Earlier, America's Harvard-MIT tandem in the men's lightweight double sculls was upset by Ireland in their preliminary heat.
Greg Ruckman and Steve Tucker fell behind by about 3 seconds in the first 1,000 meters, and the Irish tandem of Sam Lynch and Gearoid Towey maintained
their lead the rest of the way.
Ruckman and Tucker finished second, meaning their medal hopes hinge on a repechage -- or second chance race -- on Tuesday. A strong showing there
would put them into the semifinals.
The U.S. men's lightweight four, which includes Teti's younger brother, Paul, was not considered a strong medal contender in their event, but finished
well enough to move directly to Thursday's semifinals. They were third, about 4.4 seconds behind leader Australia and second-place Ireland.
The American women's lightweight double scull will have to enter a second-chance race after finishing 11.4 seconds behind first-place Germany in their
The tandem of Alaskan Stacy Borgman and Oregon's Lisa Schlenker finished fourth in their heat, which had one of the closest finishes of the day.
Poland crossed the line less than a second behind the Germans
Only the top-finishing boats advanced directly to the semifinals in lightweight double sculls. The Australian tandem of Sally Newmarch and Amber
Halliday advanced in world-record time. Racing with a tail wind, they finished in 6:49.90, breaking a mark that had stood for nine years.
In quadruple sculls, the U.S. women finished second in a heat that Germany won by about 2 seconds, while the men were fourth, 7 seconds behind the
pacesetting Germans, whose boats won heats in three events Sunday.
The host country had its first highlight in the rowing events as the lightweight double sculls boat of Greeks Vasileios Polymeros and Nikolas
Skiathitis won their heat over favored Italy by more than 4 seconds.