London 2012: Day 1 Rowing Heats

I normally don’t blog my trips as they happen, largely for privacy. But it’s the Olympics! For the Games, you enjoy them live.

I am blessed to be able to secure a ticket to the heats. What a nice way to kick off the Olympic experience- taking a whole day, enjoying the sun, and sitting just 50 meters from the finish line in one of the sports I am most passionate about.

We lucked out. Mother Nature decided to give in for today. I walked away sunburnt.. a rare occurrence for me in the UK.

I knew 2000 meters is a long distance from experience. I never understood how anyone can call this distance a sprint. It’s long enough to come up with a race strategy, it’s not a short distance. So, needless to say, no one can see the start. The bleachers were in the last 250 meters, and my section was at about an amazing 50 meters or less. The seats on my row never filled up, allowing for us to stretch out a little. I was facing the space that was just about 50 meters shy of the finish line. What a sweet place to be.

Eton Dorney was built for rowing. Specifically, it was built for regattas. While it would be cool to row on the Thames, a dream many American rowers had, a venue like this makes more sense, allowing for calmer waters and an actual straight course. Considering my current club doesn’t have 2000 meters of continuous length for practice, an artificial site was needed.

I’ve seen Eaton Dorney before. From the air. If any of you have the window seat on the right side, look at your plane starts making a landing approach to Heathrow. The venue is right next to Windsor Castle (can’t mistaken that landmark). I saw it a couple months ago when I was looking out. The rower in me noted it as a perfect venue.. not realizing until after I googled it later that it *was* the rowing venue.

The stands were nothing more then bleacher style stands, with fold up seating to allow for assignments. No cover, but an impressive display of flags across the back of the top level. No cover is usually OK if you are worried about sun, seeing how cloudy it normally is in the UK. But no cover must be rather unpleasant on a rainy day. All the facilities are built in trailers that can be set up and torn down as needed. The car parks are quite a ways away, the park and ride buses not able to drive up close to the venue. Instead, we have to disembark and stroll through a horse track to get to the waterfront.

The highlights for me:

Men’s eights. Team USA tore their way down, dominating their heat without an iota of hesitation. This was the team that didn’t place in the World Championships last year, a loss that costed them an automatic Olympic qualification for a year. A loss that dumbfounded the rowing world. They redeemed themselves today, making it clear they were here to win.

Nikon D90, f/5.6, 1/1600s

Perhaps the must stunning moment was the men’s double sculls, heat one. Slovenia held onto a strong start, leading the pack by lengths, with Lithuania chasing in second. Germany did a hail mary ending sprint and not only caught up, but also stole the win… by 0:00.4. Less than half a second. No one could tell who won. Amazed by the kind of surge Germany pulled off, there was only a collective “oooh” gasp from the stands as everyone looked around trying to guess who won. Slovenia and Lithuania tied with 0.4s behind.

Nikon D90, f/5, 1/1250s

Anyone even vaguely familiar with the rowing world has likely heard of the dominant New Zealand pair. The pair is arguably the hardest category of all rowing events. Watching them come down raised cheers from the entire spectator stands:

Nikon D90, f/5.6, 1/1600s

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