With our final at 9:00 am, we were sure of 2 things. First, we would get nice flat water (yeah!)... Actually, this race course has been tremendous, we dealt with a little tailwind, and a lot of crosswind all week, and the water remained very rowable and relatively fair throughout. There was one day that I would have preferred a different lane, but overall it was probably my favorite of the international courses I have visited (Amsterdam, St. Catherines, London, Lucerne, Sydney). The other part of the 9:00 race time was the early morning alarm! If there was one piece of this trip that I didn't plan well enough, it would be the Saturday night accommodations. As soon as I found out we were racing at 9:00 am on Sunday and our housing was about an hour away from the course, I should have found a hotel nearby... However, by that time all the hotels were full. Backing up from race time, we had 9:00 race, 8:00 launch, 7:00 arrive for warm-up and preparations - which meant 6:00 departure from Pymble... which meant the kids were getting up around 5:00. Not the best of scenarios unfortunately. However, the girls are used to dealing with this type of challenge, so we were very positive on the way in. (well, once Meghan and McHart realized I bought them coffee and it was waiting in the van for them when they arrived... then we were all positive).
We arrived and I got to work with the boat washing while they warmed up and prepared for the final. We again emphasized racing our race and put a little more emphasis on starting our sprint earlier. While we were really happy with our semi-final race, we felt that we could have started sprinting a little sooner because we had just a little bit more at the end, and we were gaining ground quickly. Also, because the semi-final had a head wind, and the final would be flat-water, we also recognized the race would be about 20 seconds shorter without the head-wind - so we needed to expend our energy in less time. As they lunched we were pretty positive about the race, and we were happy with the flat water and that we were racing before it got REALLY hot.
During finals, they extended the race such that there were 10 minutes between races instead of the 5 minutes they had during the previous days. Normally, that is not really a big deal because the officials will ask all the crews if they want to start the race early (assuming everyone is there). However, because this race was televised it would be a real negative if they started the race early (someone might tune in to find the race already done). So, we got up to the start, and even though all 8 crews were locked into the stake boats, we had to sit and wait for 8 minutes before the green light.
Once the race finally got started, the girls got off to a decent start, but shortly after the start they realized something was wrong. McHart was quiet -- in fact, she was her normal self, but they could not hear her because the coxbox stopped working. While the girls are always good at pulling as hard as they can, and could probably do just fine without the motivation side of McHart's calling, being so early in the season, they really needed her to keep them in singular focus, and they needed her to call the race strategy and help them achieve their rhythm. After the start, the confusion did not allow them to find their singular focus and did not allow them to find their rhythm. They all knew their first 30 strokes pretty well, but being so early in the season, they were really relying on McHart to help them settle into the race rhythm. After a few shouts of "coxbox" they started to figure out that McHart was not silent, and McHart figured out that they could not hear her... However the damage was done in that 2nd 500. We should have taken about 1:41 to do the 2nd 500, but we were 1:44. Entering the 3rd 500 of the race, we had some serious ground to make up, and we had to put together a middle race move without the help of McHart's organization. Fortunately, I think it was Lexi who called the move from the 5 seat and they put themselves together for a very strong 3rd 500. I was extremely proud of that 3rd 500. They had every reason to let that race go with a perfect excuse for a less than stellar performance, but they refused to take the excuse and they dug down deep and raced the strongest 3rd 500 of the field. (the 3rd 500 is often considered the most difficult 500 of the race). Like I mentioned in the previous post about the semi-final being worth the trip... the 3rd 500 of the final was worth the trip as well. It may not be rewarded with a medal to hang on their bedroom wall, but inside these girls were rewarded with something way more valuable than that. They found belief in themselves, and the ability to fight through adversity, and the ability to be handed and excuse but refuse the excuse and take a chance instead. In an age where people are afraid of failure and where people often take the easy route and often pre-excuse their efforts... these girls said "no way -- I will put myself on the line and I will not excuse defeat -- I am willing to risk failure and I will not let obstacles curtail my desire or my effort" I was SO proud of them. Just as in the Charles, when they got tangled with the other crews, they responded to circumstances like Champions. Heading into the last 500, they still had ground to make up, and they continued to fight for that ground, but without McHart's calling of the sprint, there was a little confusion as they all tried to make the sprint happen in their own way... When a crew is rowing at the peak of their exertion and as efficient as this crew is, there is little additional they can "Dig in" to find -- some crews can sprint because they were not already using everything... These guys use everything. We rely on our rating bumps, and the magical thing which happens when every person in the boat is thinking the exact same thought at the exact same time. When McHart can make us feel the finish line fast approaching and when she can tune everyone in. So, while the last 500 was good speedwise, it lacked the cohesiveness necessary to find that extra percentage that enables them to find that last little bit of speed. In the end the race was awesomely competitive with the top 3 boats finishing within a second, and then the next 2 (including us) a boatlength behind.
While I thought, and still think, we had the stuff to be up with those top 3... I could not be prouder of those girls for how they faced adversity within the race and for how they responded. We all thought the race was a good race, and would have been ok with the effort we put forward in the race even if the cox-box had not died in the race -- We were just a little frustrated that the whole world didn't get to see what I know about those girls. And that is that they are some of the worlds best racers! After the race, no excuses, we put our best on the table. It wasnt the perfect race, but it was our best, and they did respond perfectly. I am very proud of that.
One more update to go with the Sunday post race and the monday flight home!