Picking k4 combinations is no easy task. For the eight of us in the "assessment pool" it involved two months of seat racing. Seat racing, for those who aren't familiar, is the process by which Nathan, the head coach, split the eight of us into two crews of four. Every single Tuesday morning, we'd be up before dawn for time trials. We'd eat cereal and bananas and be at the boathouse by 6:45 to stretch and warm up for the races, which always started at 7:30am. We'd be split into two k4s, and do one time trial. Then one seat of the k4 (say, 3rd seat, for example) would switch, and we'd do another time trial. Nathan would analyze these races, looking at which people could make boats go faster in which seats, which people were consistent, who could follow whom best in the boat, which crews had better timing, better swing, better cooperation, etc. All these considerations over many weeks went into choosing the two k4 teams for this race. The k4 that won US Team Trials would go on to Montreal. The k4 that wins in Montreal gets to go to the Olympics. So we all knew this was the first hoop to jump through in the long road to the Olympics.
The k4 assessment pool (from left to right): Emily Wright, Emily Mickle, Katie Hagler, Maggie Hogan, Emily Vinson, Lauren Austin, Susannah Stuccio
Cut to: sitting on the line for the start of the race at 8am on Saturday morning. Was I thinking about any of this? No. My thought process was more along the lines of: Power down the course. Legs and body. C’mon Em, let’s do it. Big body, big swing. Power down the course. Legs and Body. C’mon Em, let’s do it. (My inner monologue is continuously repeating, you see. Otherwise I might forget the first part by the time I’m at the last part. Also I’ve just noticed that I apparently talk to myself as if there were two of us.) You can be thankful you will never have to be inside my head for one of these races. Ever.
The gun went off and we had a great start. I wasn't looking at the other k4 out of the corner of my eye, so I'm not sure where we were in the race. (Lucky for both of us, my mom took all these great photos!) All I know is that we paddled great. Our strongest point was from the 250 through the finish. We were very powerful, together, and we finished strong.
“Finished strong,” of course is a euphemism for “We lost by three seconds.” And just like that, we did not earn the nomination to the Continental Cup Qualifier. The disappointment hit us as soon as we put our paddles down: this is the end of the road. [The k4 was our best-and only- chance to get to China this summer.] I'd be lying if I said it wasn't very emotional. Losing hurts badly, and all four of us shared a heavy sense of letdown.
We have stuck close by one another from the beginning; long ago, we sat down together and planned exactly how we would carry ourselves across the finish line of this very race: that the four of us would win or lose together as a team. That very sentiment was echoed through countless measures of support through the duration of the weekend, and especially now.
So our reward for the months of work together unfortunately does not include a gold medal... but perhaps our extraordinary sense of team accomplishment is equally valuable.
Lauren Austin, Susannah Stuccio, me, Emily Vinson
After the race, we warmed down in k4 one last time, and then Lauren, Emily Vinson, and I grabbed our k1s for the 1000m heats.
The k1 1000m is not an Olympic event for women, but it is featured in Pan-Ams as well as World Championships. I had an uneventful heat and was able to progress straight through to the A-final. Skipping the semi-final allowed me several hours of rest, during which I walked back to the hotel, took a shower, and tried to decompress. One of the hardest- and most obvious- elements of sprint racing (or any racing in general) is to race well after a disappointment. With the k4 and the k1 finals just 6 hours apart, it was sometimes a struggle “put the k4 race in the bag” so to speak, and just focus on putting together a good race in the k1.
In the final, I lined up in lane 7. Emily Vinson, known for her speedy starts, was next to me, and I wanted to stay with her off the line (I am not known for my speedy starts). The gun went off, and I stayed a half-length behind her for the first several hundred meters. At 400m, I pulled ahead and maintained a slight lead until the 500m, when she surged and broke even with me. By this time, the two of us had broken away from the rest of the field, and were streaming down the middle of the course, battling it out. (I‘m told told it was exciting!)
The last 250m: Emily Vinson (on the left) and me (on the right)
We stayed about dead even until the 250m mark. I remember seeing the orange banner and telling myself to pick it up. Time to finish! Finish hard! I started to pick up the power, but Vinson had the same idea. I couldn't break away, so I held on to our dead-even sprint and figured I could try to get it in the last 50m and shoot my boat across the finish line. However, that was not to be, as Vinson put on an admirable kick with 150m left to go and I just couldn't match it. I crossed the line in second place. Losing always sucks, but I couldn't have gone any harder, so I supposed I'm not entitled to disappointment.
In our race packets we got a coupon to Scheffler's cowboy store. Even though I was exhausted, I couldn't pass up the opportunity. My mom drove us there and boy am I glad she did. I am now a real-live cowgirl (I have a hat, duh). The whole place smelled pleasantly of leather and contained hundreds of boots, belt-buckles, hats, shirts, and all sorts of western items. I'm going to save up my pennies and next time I'm in Oklahoma City (for nationals this summer) I want to buy a pair of boots.