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**For more behind-the-scenes photos, be sure to check out my facebook albums! I’m adding new pictures every afternoon or so!  Album #1  and Album #2

The Olympic Torch!

The Olympics are *almost* here: t-minus twenty-four hours! All fifty-eight countries have arrived at the race course, ranging from the lone single scullers from Ireland, Algeria, or Cameroon, to the full squads from Canada, Great Britain, or Germany. Everyone tries to be courteous and professional while on the race course, but there are still some close calls!  (For example: in our effort not to get run down by the Italian men’s double, we nearly stampeded the Iranian women’s single. But no harm done, we all emerged unscathed!)

58 countries, 500 athletes, and one goal: GOLD!

It’s been exciting to see the transformation of the venue into a race-ready Olympic stadium. Yesterday was the “dress rehearsal” for the hundreds of volunteers, timers, stake-boat holders, announcers, and safety launches… it was fun to watch the teenaged volunteers stage a mock medals ceremony, complete with the inspirational music (from “Chariots of Fire”), honor guard, and national anthems. The starting-line officials were also also rehearsing yesterday, so everyone had the chance to practice a mock “start”, complete with the boat-holders, the official countdown, the lighting system, and the “boot” (a little plastic starting gate that holds our bowball—very cool!). The best part about the start simulations was that the officials didn’t discriminate between boat classes, so we were able to race it up with the Canadian M8+, British M4x, and an assortment of doubles/fours. Fun!

A morning practice at Eton Dorney (photo by http://www.row2k.com)

Amanda and I have been busy—even though we’re not officially listed in a boat roster, we still have to be fit and able to race should our team need us. So we’ve been putting in some mileage in a pair, sometimes by ourselves, sometimes pacing our official US pair, occasionally hopping in the eight when someone needs an afternoon off.

Brrr! Team USA’s ice baths

USA has garbage bins, New Zealand has a kiddie pool… tomato, tomahto; if it holds freezing water, it’ll work!

Now that racing is around the corner, the Village is bustling with athletes. I first noticed it a few days ago in the dining hall… the evening before, Team USA was King of the Cafeteria—no lines for hot food, plenty of extra dessert, our pick of which table to sit at. The next morning, it was a completely different story! Hundreds of athletes scampering around for their pre-practice breakfast, waiting for the harried catering staff to refill the coffee/ oatmeal/ cornflakes/ bananas, trying to find an empty seat near one of their teammates. The zoo atmosphere only lasted until 6:55am, when the dining hall abruptly emptied as everyone left to catch the 7am bus to the race course (only to repeat itself in the twenty minutes prior to the 8am bus!). Thankfully, everyone has quickly adapted to the increased traffic in the cafeteria, and both the athletes and dining hall staff are working together to keep the chaos to a minimum!  *More details to come about the Olympic dining experience, a culinary blog update coming soon!*

An example of some AWESOME rowing shirts– Team Ukraine wins for “most colorful”!

One interesting distraction is the colorful and patriotic Olympic apparel worn around the boatyards. A popular favorite is the colorful print on the Ukrainian coaches’ outfits. The British uniforms (designed by Stella McCartney!) are chic, but can’t compare with the fashion-forwardness of the Portuguese double’s green berets! Also interesting—despite the warm temperatures (hottest day so far this year in the UK!), the Egyptian W2x still train in head scarves and long sleeves.

The Portuguese 2x: super stylish! (photo by row2k.com)

The Egyptian W2x (photo by row2k.com)

The Opening Ceremonies are tonight (wow!, where has the time gone?!), and as much as I’d LOVE to be in the Olympic Stadium to enjoy the festivities, Team USA is headed to bed early… racing starts tomorrow!!!  (You can see the heat draw here)

Go USA!

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As a reward for our first-place finish, we received an awesome Swiss Army knife! Susan and I are super excited. (photo by Alison Frederick)

What an incredible three days of rowing!  Excitement and drama was the order of the day at the World Cup Regatta in Lucerne, Switz… there were close finishes and surprise upsets in almost every single boat class! Definitely a good foreshadowing of the intense competition we’ll see in London.

The women’s eight race was no exception: all seven entries were serious contenders for a podium finish. During the heats on Friday, the brisk tailwind made for some very fast racing… so fast, in fact, that six world records were broken!  The men’s eight, the women’s quad, the men’s quad, the men’s four, the lightweight women’s double, and the women’s eight (USA!) all set new World’s Best Times.  (Of course, Mother Nature is primarily responsible… you gotta love a blazing tailwind).  Check out some awesome writeups here and here.

Some faaaaaaast conditions on the Rotsee! (photo by Alison Frederick)

Our win in the heats granted us an automatic berth in the Grand Final, so we lined up this afternoon against Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Great Britain, and Germany. A beautiful sunny Sunday, light tailwind, tons of spectators cheering on shore, the Swiss dairy cowbells clanging at the starting line… a perfect day for racing!

From the first stroke, it was obvious that this race was going to be a barnburner.  The entire field was only separated by a few seconds at the 500m mark, and we only led Canada by a seat at the halfway mark. In years past, the USA would start to seperate from the field in the third 500m, but not this year! There was absolutely no letup from our competition; it was obvious that we’d have to fight for every inch. Coming into the final stretch, it was USA ahead of Canada by about ¾ of a second, followed closely by Netherlands, with a tight race for 4th between the Australians and the British. And all of a sudden, Canada started to sprint. At 300m to go, they were 2 seats down… then they were 1 seat down… 100m left… ½ a seat down…. they’re level!… 5 strokes left, we’re giving everything we’ve got… they’re still level!… and we cross the line dead even.    We wait for the official time, and it’s USA, by only THREE-HUNDRETHS of a second.  Whew! (Here’s the USRowing press release)

Only point-zero-three seconds! (We’re in the yellow boat) The official photo-finish from worldrowing.com.

A thrilling race, a tight race, but it’s obvious that we still have some work to do before London. We only have two weeks until Olympic Trials (for the pair), and less than a month until Naming Date (for the quad and the eight), so we’re headed straight back to NJ to continue training and selection. Send me some good vibes over the next few weeks… as intense as the World Cup Regatta is, I think it’ll pale in comparison to the seat-racing we’ll see in the next few weeks!

Any blog post would be incomplete without a HUGE CONGRATS to my American teammates for their success this weekend!  Silver medal in the pair, bronze medal in the quad, and a close 4th in the lightweight women’s double, woohoo! Another shout-out to my Yale teammate and good friend Tess Gerrand ’10, who just punched her ticket to London with the Australian W8+!

Check out race results or racing coverage at www.worldrowing.com or www.usrowing.org

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First, I want to thank everyone SO MUCH for all your encouraging comments, emails, and letters! Every time I felt depressed or discouraged, a heartening message would pop up in my inbox, or a fun postcard would appear in the mail, and all my doldrums would slip away. THANK YOU!

A huge thank you to Ms. Yanuszeski's class at Windsor Elementary for all their wonderful letters! We posted them at the boathouse, and all the rowers loved reading them!

The good news: I’m not broken! I’m not brain damaged!  Starting in mid-February, I was cleared to rejoin the team at practice. After two weeks of medically-mandated rest, I was understandably excited to jump straight into full-time rowing. However, it would be foolish to go from zero activity to 200km/week, unless I wanted return to the doctor’s office with an overuse injury!  (No, thank you. I have enough to deal with at present!)  So it was a delicate balancing act—trying to get back up to speed as soon as possible, but without hampering my physical recovery.

I couldn’t have asked for more capable medical care… Gerard (our team PT) was an absolute godsend, and Prima (my PT at an off-site clinic) was both a skilled therapist and patient listener.  Between the two of them, along with the entire medical staff of the Olympic Training Center, I was in very good hands.

In the ice bath... brrr!

Of course, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. There were a few times when my enthusiasm overcame my better judgment, and I experienced the classic symptoms of overtraining (extreme fatigue, night sweats, crazy emotions, loss of appetite, etc).  However, with diligent recovery and rehab, I became stronger, to the point where I can now complete the week’s training cycle with minimal pain. I am forever indebted to Susan, my pair partner over the last few weeks, for her wonderful patience and encouragement—she keeps my spirits high, even during the most exhausting workouts.

The finale of our California training trip was the National Selection Regatta—an intense weekend of racing with aspiring Olympians from all over the country.  This race is the first step toward Olympic qualification: coaches will use the results as a good indication of an athlete’s speed, and a top-five finish can guarantee an invitation to the W8+ selection camp this summer. In addition, the NSR winners have the opportunity to race the pair at a World Cup race later this spring (and potentially earn their spot on the Olympic roster).

Racing at the National Selection Regatta

For me, this race was even more significant. For the past eight weeks, I’ve been constantly asking myself the same questions: Am I recovered? Am I fast? Am I capable of holding my own with my powerfully-strong and extremely-motivated teammates?  The NSR would serve as a symbolic measurement of my physical recovery to date, and of my reentry into full-time Olympic selection. While I’m disappointed in our final placing (5th place, in a chaotic and windy race), I was heartened by our solid efforts in the time trail and semifinal races. I may not be at 100%, but I’m still in the mix!

What’s next for Team USA?  The scullers are staying in California to prepare for the Non-Qualified Small Boats Regatta (for the women’s single and double sculls), and the rest of us have returned to New Jersey to continue our training in Princeton.  I’m encouraged by my progress so far, and my plan is to stay positive, stay healthy, stay tough, and take my recovery one day at a time.

In the meantime, I am constantly inspired by my teammates. Read about Taylor Ritzel’s motivation on Fox Sports,  Kara Kohler’s profile in Sports Illustrated , and the USOC’s video profile of Susan Francia. I am so lucky to train with such amazing athletes!

Russian winter fun during the Fulbright Conference in Moscow

Side note:  my sister just published several updates about her public health research in Siberia… between her medical discussions, Russian election commentary, Moscow exploits, and springtime pictures, I was on the edge of my seat! Her ability to connect with people across language barriers and social differences is truly compelling; any med school would be lucky to have her. Check out her blog at www.romanyredman.wordpress.com

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A very important weekend for Team USA: the Fall Speed Order, the first official selection event of the Olympic year!

Intense head-racing at the Fall Speed Order! Amanda and I are in the middle boat. (photo by row2k)

  
The Fall Speed Order was composed of two days of racing– a 6km test on the ergometer on Saturday, followed the next day by a 4.5km head race on Lake Carnegie. Sunday’s starting order was determined by our placement on the erg test.

Amanda and I (photo by Allison Frederick)

 
My 6k erg test wasn’t a PR (personal record), but it was still close enough for me to be confident in our race preparations. But thanks to a stellar PR effort from my pair partner, Amanda and I earned the second starting position, in between two very fast and capable boats.  (In a head race, crews are started in a time-trial format with 10-20 second margins, and the fastest overall time wins.)
 
In stroke seat of a pair, I control the steering rudder with my shoe, but I rely on Amanda in bow seat to look around and give me directions. She was a total racing rockstar: she steered us around the course buoys, bridge abuttments, and rogue Canadian geese with the best possible course! (Unlike some mens’ pairs, who had some scarily-close encounters with the Washington St. Bridge! eek!) With two bridges and several turns on Lake Carnegie, good steering could make the difference between winning and losing.
 

3.5km down, 1km to go! (photo by Allison Frederick)

 
Mother Nature was kind to us– no rain, no wind, not even a blizzard! Instead, it was a beautiful, crisp fall morning; absolutely perfect rowing conditions!
 
 Amanda and I are super excited about our second place finish. We still agree that some technical improvements can help us squeeze out those extra seconds needed for a first-place effort, but all in all, it was a great weekend for us!

A perfect day for racing at the Princeton Boathouse

 
You can check out results and racing galleries on US Rowing’s website, here. Go Team USA!
 
P.S. Don’t forget to purchase your Power and Grace Calendar!  Great stocking stuffers!

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Six minutes, three seconds: the past ten months of training, the hundreds of kilometers on the water, the gallons and gallons of sweat… and it all came down to six minutes and three-point-six-five seconds. The competition was tight, and the rowing wasn’t always pretty, but when those six-odd minutes were over, it was the American bowball that crossed the finish line first!  (Watch the footage! here or here )

World Champions! (photo by Alison Frederick)

At the close of our prerace pep talk, Coach reminded us of Olympic qualification. “Just try to get top five,” he said, only half-joking. We were strong and fast enough to contend for the gold, he told us, but if a catastrophe should occur (as it did in 2003), we should fight to the death for that fifth qualifying position. So when we crossed the 500m mark in fifth place, I suppose Coach might’ve worried that we took his final advice a little too seriously!

Great Britain, Netherlands, Canada, Romania, and China were all extremely fast off the start, and the first few minutes found us in the back of the pack (eek!). However, Mary kept us from panicking or becoming frazzled. Our lane was right in between Great Britain and Canada; the two English-speaking coxswains could’ve rattled our concentration, but we had prepared for the distractions during our pre-race visualization… amidst all the yelling coxswains and splashing oars and cheering spectators, Mary’s voice was the only sound we heard.  And because all eight rowers were absolutely focused on their coxswain, when she told us to move, we MOVED!

Canada and the US sprinting to the finish line (photo by Alison Frederick)

Gradually, seat by seat, we worked our way back through the field.  We pushed our way through Great Britain and the Netherlands, but the Canadian crew was determined to hold our charge. As we crossed the 1500m mark, we were neck and neck. I don’t remember too much of the next ninety-seconds: exercise-induced amnesia, if you will. My lungs were burning, I couldn’t feel my legs, I heard Mary call for the final build, and I just prayed that we would make it to the line before my arms fell off!

But all of our training paid off during that final sprint, and the Americans earned the gold medal by point-seven seconds!  An absolutely thrilling race! 

The Cox Toss! (photo by Alison Frederick)

As we stood on the medals dock and listened to the national anthem, I felt so honored and proud to be wearing the red, white, and blue. This 2011 Final was a telling preview of the tight and intense racing we can expect at the 2012 Olympics.  This was not an easy victory for the Americans: Canada fought us for every single inch. In fact, every boat in our final displayed impressive speed and racing strategy, as evidenced by the tight margins between first and fifth place. We will have to work especially diligently during the next eleven months to defend our title!

Eurosport interview on the medals dock (photo by Alison Frederick)

What’s on tap for the next few weeks? Well, under the new Worlds schedule, there are still two days of finals. So I plan to cheer on my teammates, enjoy the sunshine, and sample Bled’s many tourist attractions. Then Mom and I are off for a week’s tour of the Slovenian Alps (!!), before I head back to New Jersey to recommence training.  Thank you so much for all your messages and positive support! I could not have achieved this success without all your encouragement!

 P.S.  I just discovered that I might or might not have added the wrong postage to all my postcards. Oops. But never fear, they should arrive by Christmas…

Check out racing coverage and photo galleries at www.row2k.com, read the US Rowing press release here, or you can watch our final here!

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Competition will always be fierce at Worlds—every rower shows up to the starting line in tip-top shape, fueled by national pride, and thirsty for gold.

A Pre-Race Practice on Lake Bled (photo by Alison Frederick)

But racing at the 2011 World Champs will be even more inspired… This year, there is an additional carrot dangling in front of our noses: Olympic qualification! The International Olympic Committee caps the number of entries for the Olympic regatta, so a crew’s finish at the 2011 Worlds becomes especially important.  For my boat (W8+), the magic number is five:  a top-five finish will guarantee the USA an entry in the Olympic women’s eight. Other events require a top-7, top-9, or top-11 finish to earn an Olympic berth.

Because of this additional motivation, the qualifying heats and semifinals have been particularly intense this year. The time difference between a third place (for a spot in the Finals, and a possible Olympic-qualifying spot) and fourth place (to the second-tiered final, with no guarantee of an Olympic entry) can be agonizingly small.  We’ve seen some incredibly tight finishes; American crews have been on both the positive and negative side of razor-slim margins.

Monday morning saw the first round of racing for the US Women’s Eight. Eight crews battled it out over two heats; the winner of each heat would head straight to the final, while the other crews would race again in the repechage on Wednesday morning.

Rowing to a top finish-- and a spot in the Finals!-- during our qualifying heat (photo by Alison Frederick)

After watching the first heat row by (Canada, China, Romania, Netherlands), we toed the line with Germany, Ukraine, and Great Britain.  The weather conditions were almost ideal for racing—warm, sunny, with just a light side wind in the middle 1000m.  

Even though we won at the Lucerne World Cup, we weren’t taking anything for granted…  I’ve been eyeing the competition at practice all week, and everyone looks fit, fast, and motivated. We were definitely going to approach this qualifying heat with a hundred-and-ten percent!

 The starting buzzer went off, and the race was underway!  With spectators cheering only a stone’s throw away from the starting blocks (and from the overlooking hotel balcony!), all the “Go USA”s resulted in a spirited and invigorating start!  We established an aggressive, solid race rhythm early on, and we were able to break free from the pack around the halfway mark.  We raced it to the line in 6:05, seven seconds ahead of the British.

 Canada won the first heat handily, and with a similar time (6:07), so they will join us in the Final. The top four finishers of Wednesday’s repechage will compose the rest of the field. I foresee some intense racing for the Final on Friday! Go USA!

The US Eight: ready to race! (photo by Alison Frederick)

Check out my facebook album of all our Bled adventures!

 You can keep track of Team USA on www.usrowing.org, and find comprehensive racing coverage, galleries, and video on www.row2k.com

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And it’s almost race time! 

Watching practice starts at the starting line

With every practice, we see more reminders that racing is *just* around the corner. Yesterday, the huge jumbotrons arrived, and the bubble-making apparatus was installed along the finish line. Classical music blared from the loudspeakers as local dancers practiced their routines for the Opening Ceremonies. This morning, the inflatable meter-markers were put up, and the EuroSport cameramen began testing out camera angles. Several athletes nearly had heart attacks when they passed the finish line right as officials tested the decibel level of the finish line horn! (“honk. honk! HONK! HONKHONK!” ) 

Teammates + an Alpine stream = best ice bath ever!

The excitement is palpable… all the countries have arrived, the boatyard is full, and the race course is crowded with practicing crews.  I have the utmost admiration for the course marshals making this event possible:  running the World Rowing Championships is no small feat!  Almost 450 crews, representing 68 countries, are entered into 27 different events.  With so many boats practicing on the course, it’s not surprising that there have been a few close calls… however, I’ve found that any language barrier can be overcome with some frantic yelling (“Hey China/Italy/Cuba, look out!!!”). Kudos to Mary, our fearless coxswain, who bravely asserts our place in the traffic pattern while keeping us safe from collisions!

The crowded boatyard (lastest tally on worldrowing.com= 68 countries, 448 crews, 1214 athletes!)

Spotted at the race course: a Belarusian pair-double combo (a “pairouble?”). One boat, four rowers, two sweep riggers, and two sculling riggers… I’m not quite sure what they were doing, but it looked like they were going fast!  Another funny note: the American rowers have bought out all the peanut butter from the local grocery store. Hopefully they find some soon, lest we go into PB withdrawal!

Spotted at the race course: the Belarusian Team Masseuse. Anyone fancy some trigger point?

Lake Bled continues to impress us with its stunning scenery, even though we’ve lost the glassy, calm water of the past few days. The Slovenian heat wave has broken (thank goodness!), but with the cooler temps comes some gusty alpine weather. Alas. But we welcome the opportunity to train in wind– because who knows what Mother Nature will have in store for us on race day?  That being said, our weather woes are miniscule compared to those of the teammates and friends at home. We’re constantly checking for updates on Hurricane Irene, and we’re all praying for your safety! Best of luck weathering the storm!

One of the many promotional billboards around Bled

The W8+’s first race is on Monday, at 11am local time/5am Eastern time. So excited!! You can keep track of Team USA’s progress on www.worldrowing.com, or you can always trust www.row2k.com  for comprehensive racing coverage!

Go USA!

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