The Olympic Year is Officially Here – The Time for the Selection Nears

by Ed Moran, | Feb 05, 2016
The long wait for the final year of the 2016 Olympic Cycle is finally over. From cities around the country, athletes hoping to make the Olympic and Paralympic teams that will compete this summer in Rio de Janeiro have been transitioning from the long fall and early winter days of base training and making their way to locations where they will focus on the weeks leading up to the official beginnings of the selection process.
The long wait for the final year of the 2016 Olympic cycle is over.

Across the country, athletes hoping to make the Olympic team that will compete this summer in Rio de Janeiro have been transitioning from the long fall and early winter days of base training and are making their way to locations where they will focus on the weeks leading up to the official beginnings of the selection process.

It’s a time that every athlete has been thinking endlessly about.

“Rio has been in the back of my mind since worlds finished back in September,” said 0804BFinals059London Olympian Gevvie Stone, who qualified the women’s single sculls at the 2015 World Rowing Championships. “The whole time, from September on through, has all been the Olympic year in my mind.”

Stone has been making her way from the erg rooms of Cambridge Boat Club and Harvard University’s Weld Boathouse, through various warm weather locations, from Texas to Spain, waiting for the day when she will go to the line at the first Olympic Trials I, April 17-24, in Sarasota, Fla.

It’s the kind journey that is being made by U.S. hopefuls across the country. In private, high performance boat clubs or at the USRowing winter training camp at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, elite rowers have shed the confines of home and comfort to spend their final months of a four-year countdown of training.

They will train through the weeks to come for the beginning of the selection period that will start in Chula Vista with National Selection Regatta I, March 21-25.

The Selection Process

National Selection Regatta 1

At NSR 1, athletes will race in pairs for invitations to the “big boat” selection camps. Selection camps will determine crew placement in the men’s and women’s eights, men’s four, lightweight men’s four and women’s quad. The winners in the men’s and women’s pairs at NSR 1 will also earn an opportunity to race at World Rowing Cup II and qualify for the Olympic team with a top-four finish.

If the winners of the two pairs events earn a place on the Olympic team through World Cup competition, but decline and stay in the big boat selection process, a second trials will take place. In this scenario, Olympic Trials II is scheduled to take place in West Windsor, N.J., June 19-22. The winners will be offered a spot on the team.

Olympic Trials 1 and Non-Qualified Olympic Event Trials

In the small boat events that were qualified for the Games at the 2015 World Rowing Championships, athletes will be selected to the team at Olympic Trials 1, April 21-24, in Sarasota, Florida. Those events include the women’s single, women’s double and men’s and women's lightweight double.

The sculling boat classes not qualified at world championships including the men’s single, men's quad and men's double, will be contested at the Non-Qualified Small Boat Trials earlier in the week -- April 17-19 in Sarasota, Florida.

Final Olympic Qualification Regatta

For the men’s eight, which won the B final at world championships, but did not qualify the boat for the Olympics, the top-two crews in Lucerne at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta will qualify for the Olympics. The U.S. faced a similar situation in 2011 and succeeded. After qualifying, the U.S. finished a hair out of the medals in London.

The winners in the non-qualified events at trials - men's single, men's double and men's quad - will gain placements on the Olympic team only if they can finish high enough at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, May 22-25 in Switzerland. In the men’s double and men's quad, only the top two crews will earn a chance to race in Rio. The men’s single has three open slots.

While the final months of an Olympic cycle are familiar territory to some of the veterans, for first time Olympic hopefuls, it’s a completely new experience to actually be in the final months of Olympic selection.

The First-Timer 

“It is really strange,” said Felice Mueller, “the new year turning to 2016. I’ve been thinking about this year for a really long time. Last year, coming into 2015, I was thinking ‘I can’t believe we are a year and a half away from the Olympic year’ and now it’s 2016 and this is it. This is what I’ve been training for, for so long. So it’s weird because I feel I should know more, I should feel more confident in what I’ve been doing, but I feel exactly the same as I always felt coming out to Chula."

“It’s a strange kind of realization when you have all these beliefs and then, it’s just kind of life continuing to move forward.”

The Returning Champion

While the women had a long break from training, up to two weeks, the men stayed hard at it, breaking only on Christmas Eve day. Charlie Cole was around in 2011 when the men’s team was forced to qualify the eight in Lucerne. Sitting in New York’s Kennedy airport January 23rd waiting for a plane to Chula Vista, Cole recalled what it was like to be in camp in 2012 and what it is like this time.

One of the biggest differences was the addition of the new athletes, additions that raised the everyday intensity of the group, he said.

The uncertainty of the eight qualifying, and the addition of the new faces raised the intensity of the fall training camp heading into Chula Vista, Cole said. There was no letdown or significant time off, and even when the team did break, Cole kept at it, loading a rowing machine into a rented car and driving up to Montreal to share Christmas with his wife’s family.

“We had a day off on Christmas. Until then, everything was two sessions a day,” Cole said. “It was good to stay busy (during the break) and hang out with Catherine and do a bunch of training at home and hopefully distract her from the fact that I’m going to gone for three months.”

Cole knows that the days ahead are going to push the men’s team to be better and to be ready sooner than would have been preferable.  “It’s more intense than it would otherwise be because the qualifier pushes the schedule forward,” he said.

“The eight has to be selected and ready to go in May. But really, in the Olympic year, even if you’re doing the same training, there is a little more tension, a little more comparable stress. We’re all pretty aware that there is no next year. If you want a second chance you have to wait four more years. That creates a lot of intensity.”

And, like Stone, Cole is aware that there are no sure things when it comes to sport at the Olympic level, there are no guarantees of being there when the games begin. That makes the process a day-to-day focus.  

cole01“I’m just trying to take it one day at a time,” Cole said. “We’ve got a deep group and none of the seats are safe, so I’m just thinking about tomorrow morning’s practice, not much beyond that. If you’re not thinking that way, you’re not going to be at you’re best tomorrow morning. All it takes is a couple of bad days and you can go from being in a great spot to being on the outside looking in.

“The tough part about this is that every day that goes by, you’re not going to get back. It’s fun to put a day in the rear view mirror, but at the same time with everyday that goes by it’s one day less that you have to prepare for what’s coming up. I don’t know what our program has in store, but our longest and hardest days of training are still ahead of us for sure.”

There are no givens in the Olympics. What happened at the world championships last summer is history. And on January 1, 2016, the clock started running on the Olympic year.

Curtis Jordan, USRowing Director of High Performance, has seen his share of the Games. He said he is confident that the men’s eight will qualify and race in Rio. And he is confident that the U.S. will look to have one of the best performances ever. But he also knows that the stakes are higher and medals do not come easy.

“Looking forward, even on the women’s side, replicating three medals is going to be super hard,” he said. “Everything just gets ramped up as you go into the Olympics. But I would say that the team is on schedule to have our group of athletes performing as best as they have ever performed. Individual athletes are going to be as prepared as they have ever been. They are going to be as fit and as skilled as we have ever seen.

“There is always that little bit of magic putting boats together, whether we get the right combination in each one of the boats. If we nail it, if we have great combinations, if we have great races, it’s going to be an incredible performance at Rio for our women. If we miss a few combinations, we’re still going to have a good performance,” he said.

For the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Hopeful Fact Sheet go here.

Click here to see updates to the USRowing ECG & Pre-Competition Health Screening Policy.

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