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Young rowers stroke their way to medals at national regatta
Vashon rowers came home victorious from Nationals last weekend, where Vashon rowers earned two silver medals in the extremely competitive event.
The USRowing Youth National Cham-pionships, a culmination of the spring season, were held at Melton Hill Lake in Oakridge, Tenn., and featured more than 1,500 athletes from high schools and junior rowing programs across the country competing for national titles in 18 boat classes. The three Vashon boats that competed — with six rowers in all — qualified for the final heats in all three events, a significant accomplishment for the club.
Ryan Bingham and Gus Magnuson, rowing the boys’ double, went on to take second place in their event. Bingham, Magnuson, Tate Gill and Baxter Call also placed second in the men’s quad.
After two weeks of intensive practices in Quartermaster Harbor, the team of six rowers who qualified for nationals departed early on June 5. During the long flight across the country, coach Richard Parr required the rowers to walk the plane isle three times an hour to keep their muscles loose and warm.
Two of the rowers, Bingham and Avalon Koenig, missed attending their own high school graduation ceremony last weekend to go to Nationals. It was a tough choice for Koenig, who wished she could have walked across the stage with her twin brother Ezra.
“Ultimately, I didn’t have to really choose, I just knew,” Koenig said. “And I knew that as I sat at graduation listening to lists of names, I would be actively regretting my decision.”
Vashon began preliminary heats Friday morning with the girls’ double, rowed by Koenig and Emmie Kehoe. They placed third in the heat and moved to a repechage, a second-chance race where runners-up in the eliminating heats compete for a place in semi-finals. The pair took first with open water behind them, securing their spot for Saturday’s semifinals.
The girls’ semifinal race was very competitive. Halfway through the race, four boats were lined up, bow ball to bow ball, on the course. By the 500-meter mark, Koenig and Kehoe claimed third and then poured on the power, sprinting the last 250 meters to finish in second place. The finals were in their future.
The boys’ double preliminary was rowed by Magnuson and Bingham. Bingham admitted he was nervous but excited.
“We’re going to make sure we get first,” Bingham said. “That way we don’t have to go to (repechage).” And that’s exactly how it happened. The boys crossed the finish line nearly six seconds ahead of their competition, claiming their spot in the semifinals.
About an hour later the boys climbed into another shell and were joined by Gill and Call to race the men’s quad. Their boat took first in their heat by a very close .30 seconds, qualifying them for the semifinals.
In the boys’ double semifinal, Bingham and Magnuson were in the top three from the start. Then they picked up the rate, crossing the finish in second place and advancing to the finals.
The field for the boys’ quad semifinal race was brutal from the start, as five of the six boats were lined up down the course. At 1,000 meters, VIJC slid into second place briefly then fell back to third. It was neck and neck with the other boat. The crew turned on the after-burners and crossed the finish in second place, qualifying a third time for the finals.
“It was really exciting to have all three of our boats in the A Finals,” said Richard Parr, the club’s new coach.
On Sunday morning at the final races, Kehoe and Koenig faced a fiercely competitive field. At the tenth stroke into the race they “caught a crab” (a term used to describe an unfortunate catch of the oar blade in the water that acts like a brake) and got tangled in the lane bouys. They made up ground, but trailed the field throughout the course and finished in sixth place, a blow to both girls.
Parr said he was still proud of the rowers.
“I’m not disappointed in the girls at all,” he said. “They just couldn’t get back in it after the issues at the start.”
In the finals for the men’s double, Bingham and Magnuson held third until the final stretch, when they cranked it up, moved into second and ultimately won the silver medal. Parr described their race as beautifully and tactfully rowed.
An hour and a half later the two were out on the course again, joined by Call and Gill for the final men’s quad race. The crew had a strong start, moving into second position only to fall back to third, then fourth and fifth by 1,000 meters as fatigue set in.
With just 250 meters to go, the boys rowed a beast of a sprint that moved them to challenge the second-place boat, crossing the finish .02 seconds ahead of the third-place boat, winning the team’s second silver medal.
“At 500 meters these guys weren’t even in contention,” Parr said after the race. “That sprint was the best I’ve seen at any level of rowing. Overall, we had very good results for a small club.”
— Marianne Metz Lipe is on the publicity committee for the Vashon Island Rowing Club.