Rough water on the middle portion of the rowing course on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas gave the rowers fits on the opening day of rowing at the Rio Olympics. The event favorites managed to keep their oars in and their shells upright to advance, if barely in some cases.
The conditions on the course left several of the worlds’ top rowers shaking their heads after completing the course, even as World Rowing stated that the course was "still determined to be fair and rowable racing."
The New Zealand team of Eric Murray and Hamish Bond put another notch in their belt today, winning their opening heat easily to advance to the semifinals. Murray and Bond are undefeated since 2009 as they move towards Olympic gold medal #2 for each.
The U.S. team of Nareg Guregian and Anders Weiss finished fourth in their opening heat, and will race in the repechage on Sunday for a chance to advance to the semifinal.
The men’s pair from Serbia fared the worst on the day, capsizing about halfway down the course.
Gold-medal favorite Kim Brennan of Australia suffered a shock defeat in the women’s single sculls, finishing third in her qualifying heat behind unheralded Mexican sculler Kenia Lechuga. "I have two boats in Rio,” Brennan told World Rowing. “We made the mistake of taking the calm water boat out. It changed pretty fast, I was left in a boat that was full of water and I've always had a bit of difficult steering that one."
Likewise, reigning Olympic champion Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic could only manage second place against newcomer Magdalena Lobnig of Austria.
U.S. women’s single sculler Gevvie Stone survived the conditions, winning her opening heat after a tough battle against Dane Fie Udby Erichsen, and is well positioned for the quarterfinal round.
The favorites Mahe Drysdale and Ondrej Synek had no trouble in winning their respective opening heats and advancing to the quarterfinals, although the waves stopped Synek dead in the water at one point. Synek crossed the line shaking his head, in obvious disbelief at the conditions.
Other favorites had smooth races, including Hannes Obreno of Belgium and Angel Fournier Rodriguez of Cuba.
India’s Dattu Bhokanal has become an Olympic sensation after qualifying for the Olympic Games. Bhokanal only picked up rowing after being inspired to start while watching the 2012 London Olympics. He overcame a fear of water and learned to swim to start rowing.
Bhokanal notched a high-profile finish today, qualifying directly from his heat to the quarterfinal round.
The U.S. entry of Robin Prendes, Anthony Fahden, Edward King and Tyler Nase got their Olympics off to a great start today, qualifying strong for the semifinals in second place behind gold medal favorites New Zealand.
The other heat winners were Italy and Denmark.
With a tough draw of the event favorite Germany and Rowing World Cup champs Poland in their events, and with only the top finisher moving on directly to the Olympic final, the U.S. crew of Adrienne Martelli, Megan Kalmoe, Tracy Eisser and Grace Latz could not get tracked, and finished third. The U.S. will have shot chance at qualifying for the final in Monday's repechage.
The U.S. women’s double of Ellen Tomek and Meghan O’Leary had a trying start to their Olympic Games when one of the rowers caught a “crab” and came to a dead stop mid-race. The U.S. crew recovered and was able to complete their race, but will need to row in tomorrow's repechage in order to have a chance to qualify for the semifinals.
Gold-medal favorites Valent and Martin Sinkovic continued their domination of the competition in the opening heat, and even several uncharacterstic miscues brought on by the rough water could not slow them down.
Besides Croatia, other event contenders Lithuania, Norway and Germany also advanced. Norway's Olaf Tufte, 40 years of age and already twice a gold-medal winner in the men's single sculls in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, is going after gold medal number three at his sixth Olympics in Rio, rowing with Kjetil Borch.
Estonia, Ukraine, Australia and Poland qualified directly for the Olympic final from the qualifying heats. Canada was contending in their race before a mistake stopped them dead in the water.