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Race Report: Final Olympic Qualification Regatta Day 1

by Allison Müller, allison@usrowing.org; Photos by Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org | May 22, 2016
LUCERNE, Switzerland – The weeks leading up to the moment when the crew of the U.S. men's eight would get their chance to stop thinking about the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta and start racing to try and secure the country a spot in the 2016 Olympic Games have been anything but easy.

LUCERNE, Switzerland – The weeks leading up to the moment when the U.S. men's eight would get its chance to stop thinking about the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta and start racing for a spot in the 2016 Olympic Games have been anything but easy.

"It's been stressful for everybody," said U.S. men's eight coach Luke McGee. "At the same time, it is also easy to know what your target is, to know what the event is, to know the goal we are working towards and set to task."

Some of the pressure was relieved this morning on the Rotsee racecourse in Lucerne, Switzerland on the first day of racing at the regatta where the U.S. is attempting to qualify four crews not yet slated for the Olympics including the men's single, men's double, men's quadruple sculls and men's eight. Of those crews, only one was eliminated from competition.

Two-time Olympian Ken Jurkowski (New Fairfield, Conn.) was relegated to the afternoon repechage after the morning heats, but finished fifth. A top-three finish was necessary to advance to the semifinal. The men's double sculls and men's quadruple sculls remained in contention, but have to row in the Monday repechages to advance.

The eight won its preliminary race, holding off a challenge from Italy in the final meters. It might have been just a race for lane placement in the Tuesday final for the eight, but for the athletes and coaches, it was the start that Sam Ojserkis (Linwood, N.J.), Glenn Ochal (Philadelphia, Pa.), Rob Munn (Redmond, Wash.), Mike DiSanto (Boston, Mass.), Steve Kasprzyk (Cinnaminson, N.J.), Austin Hack (Old Lyme, Conn.), Alex Karwoski (Hollis, N.H.), Hans Struzyna (Kirkland, Wash.) and Sam Dommer (Folsom, Calif.) were hoping for.

USR_5212 (1)The U.S. took the lead from Australia in the third quarter of the race. Italy sprinted from third place at the red buoys, but fell short, crossing 0.57 seconds behind the United States.

“It was good to get it going,” said Ojserkis. “The race went well, and we have some things to improve on. We’ll look to straighten them out for the final. It’s on to the next one, the one that counts.”

Australia finished third in 5:36.10, Poland fourth in 5:39.20 and Spain fifth in 5:44.80. The top two crews in Tuesday’s final earn Olympic qualification. Three rowers return from the 2015 U.S. eight including Hack, Karwoski and Dommer. Ochal and Kasprzyk return from the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.

USA M4xOne of the closest finishes of the day came in the first heat of the men’s quad, as New Zealand edged out the United States by 0.14 seconds to advance directly to the final.

“It’s one third of the boat deck. It’s a stroke is about what it is,” said U.S. men’s quad coach Larry Gluckman.

Craftsbury Sculling Center’s crew of Ben Davison (Inverness, Fla.), Ben Dann (Pound Ridge, N.Y.), John Graves (Cincinnati, Ohio) and 2012 Olympian Peter Graves (Cincinnati, Ohio) was second to China off the line, but moved into the lead at the halfway point. They held first until the final strokes of the race, where the Kiwis nipped them at the line and won in 5:43.63.

“It was a really good race, about as good as we could have gone,” said John Graves. “Maybe we can find a couple tenths in the last 250 (meters) there, but it was definitely a solid piece. We’ll see if we can learn something in the rep. We haven’t been in a race that tight in a while, so it was good to open in up a little bit. We’re going to have to have a sweet last 30 strokes in the final.”

USA M2xThe U.S. quad finished in 5:43.77, followed by a large gap with China third in 5:52.96 and Italy fourth in 5:55.23.

“We knew New Zealand was going to be there, but we thought the Italians were going to be in it a little longer,” said Gluckman. “These (U.S.) guys are experienced, confident scullers. Now we know what we’re capable of.”

Just before them, the U.S. men’s double sculls crew of Willy Cowles (Farmington, Conn.) and Stephen Whelpley (Mequon, Wis.) from Craftsbury finished fourth in its heat in a 6:22.21. Serbia’s Andrija Sljukic and Marko Marjanovic won the race in 6:13.13 to advance to the final.

The U.S. will now race in a repechage Monday for entry in the final. In the field of 11, the top two crews overall earn qualification to the Olympic Games.

USA M1xKen Jurkowski (New Fairfield, Conn.) finished sixth in his morning heat of the men’s single sculls, posting a time of 7:18.85. Denmark’s Sverri Nielsen sprinted from third in the final 500 meters of the race to win with the fastest time of the heats in 6:53.65. Bendeguz Petervari-Molnar of Hungary also advanced with a time of 6:57.24.

Jurkowski returned in the afternoon repechage and finished fifth, putting him out of the running for a spot in the semifinals, and Olympic qualification.

The U.S. qualified 10 of 14 crews for Rio at the 2015 World Rowing Championships. For more information about the 2016 Olympic Games selection process, click here.

Follow racing via live race tracker and audio commentary at www.worldrowing.com. Be a part of the conversation with #RowToRio and #FQR.

USRowing's event photo gallery is updated daily here.

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