Races shift to another level for ‘A’ Finals

Intensity Increases for medal races on Saturday • By Nick Gandy

For 103 races from Wednesday morning through the first-hour races on Saturday morning, the preliminary heat races went off like clockwork, when not dodging weather conditions along the way. Fans cheered the athletes as they sprinted down the final 250 meters, and once the boats cleared the orange balls dividing the lanes past the finish line, the teams rowed for a cool-down period before exiting the water.

As the first 'A' Final race that left the starting line at 10:20 a.m., things got a bit more intense.

The tower announce team left its positions on the fourth floor of the Benderson Family Finish Tower and Pete O’Hanlon found a spot near the medal stand and revved up the crowd, calling for cheers from various countries in the stands. Jillian O’Mara and Robert Treharne Jones relocated to provide commentary from a car traveling the wave attenuator, over the water.

While O’Hanlon described the frenzied atmosphere at the finish line, it was a different scene at the starting line, according to O’Mara.

“There’s much more tension at the starting line,” she said. “There’s definitely not the hustle and bustle of the finish line. It’s much more quiet as the rowers make their final adjustments.”

Once the boats crossed the finish line in the 'A' Finals races, a trip to the medal stand awaited the top three finishers.

The Italian women's 4+ team of Claudia De Stefani, Giorgia Pelacchi, Benedetta Faravelli, Laura Meriano and Diletta Diverio show the Italian colors before their medal ceremony. The crew set a new Under 23s record of 7:02.22. Photo by Douglas E. Jessmer

In the first race, the women’s 4+, the Italian team lived up to the challenge of the 2000-meter course and crossed the finish line first with a time of 7:02.22.  Team members from medal-winning boats raised their fists in triumph, others slapped the water with enthusiasm and some rowers embraced their teammates in front of them to celebrate.

As the crowd cheered and the results were shown on the television screen at the finish line, O’Hanlon informed the crowd was a new record for the event in the Under 23 classification.

Following a moment to catch their breath and take a few sips of water, the Italian, French and Australian rowed their boats to a dock in front of grandstand gallery to pick up their hardware.

The 15 medal-winning athletes were then led to a staging area to be marched in front of the crowd and presented with their medals and small stuffed alligators by members of the FISA Board of Directors and local supporters.

“At the end of the day, it’s important to honor the athletes who perform and compete at this level,” said FISA President Jean-Christophe Rolland of France. “It’s a celebration of the athletes on the platform and their performances.”

Each team held its flag in front of them, as young women in navy blue dresses and scarves tightly tied around their necks held the medals on trays for the officials to place around the necks of the winning rowers.

All of the women involved in the medal presentations are Sarasota Crew members who volunteered to be a part of the international event. One team member, Grace Menke, is a recent graduate of Sarasota’s Pineview High School, and will attend Yale University as a member of the rowing team.

SANCA at Nathan Benderson Park CEO Stephen V. Rodriguez presents plush alligators to medalists during one of a group of medal ceremonies Saturday, July 27, 2019. Photo by Nick Gandy

When the Italian team members, Claudia DeStefani, Giorgia Pellachi, Benedetta Faravelli, Laura Meriano and Diletta Diverio, were announced, they all clasped hands and did a celebratory jump. With their medals hanging from their necks, the flags of all three teams were raised and the national anthem of Italy was played as team members, fans and supporters all proudly sang along.

The scene was repeated for the remainder of Saturday’s races with 10 sets of medals being awarded and the national anthems of Great Britain, Greece, Australia and Romania being played.

The final day of competition is Sunday with races beginning at 8:30 a.m. Three hours of 'A' Finals and medal presentations continue on Sunday beginning at 9:40 a.m.

Schedules and results can be found at nathanbendersonpark.org and worldrowing.com.