The World Cup series concluded last weekend as it always does in Lucerne Switzerland. This year the US sent one of the smallest contingents ever with only five crews competing. In the men’s double John Graves and Ben Dann placed 10th. In the second US men’s double Ian Silvera and Derek Johnson struggled ending up in the pack of the D final. Ken Jurkowski placed 16th in the men’s single while Gevvie Stone added another World Cup medal to her collection coming in 3rd in the women’s single. The real highlight of the regatta though was the Bronze medal finish of Michelle Sechser and Devery Karz in the lightweight women’s double.
These two represented the US last year in a World Cup and at the World Championships. Having finished in the B finals in both events these two knew they had their work cut out for them. Competing in the only Olympic event for lightweight women means the competition is fierce and they knew they needed a change. They headed to Philadelphia’s boathouse row to train under John Parker at Vesper boat club. After winning NSR I Devery and Michelle skipped World Cups I and II which are often considered easier to qualify at to focus on training.
Their choices paid off when on Sunday they held a steady pace throughout the race to cruise past the British in the last 500m and into 3rd place. This means they will be representing the US at the World Championships in France at the end of August.
We caught up with Michelle after she arrived home and got her take on the race and the big decisions she had to make this year.
The move to Philadelphia seems to have been a great one for you guys. I know a lot of athletes consider moves at some point or another and it is not a decision to be made lightly. What were some of the things you considered while making your decision that you think might be helpful for other people to think about?
I had spent 3 years at the OKC Training Center and it support me and developed me into the rower I am today. I think each crew has slightly different needs, especially depending on the boat class. However, for us we were looking for 3 things: A competitive training group, high level coaching, and an environment that allows for a life outside of training. The training group at Vesper has been a huge asset. We have a very competitive group of lightweight women; on any given piece depending on the SPM and distance there will be a different winner. Vesper had a very transparent and competitive selection process in the early spring just to be able to compete in the LW2x at NSR I. We also have every small boat class to battle with a daily practice: LM2x, LW2x, LW1x, W1x, M1x, M2X, M2-. We get pushed in different ways by different boat classes. This has helped us learn to hold our technical changes, rhythm changes, etc with the pressure of a field bearing down on us. Also, living in Philadelphia has been a really cool experience that allows us to build lives outside of training and keep our morale high. The Schuylkill Navy Collaborative has created a healthy relationship between all of the boathouses on The Row. Thanks to this elite athletes form other clubs such as Malta and Penn AC get to train with our group and further raise the standard of speed.
Obviously you always want to be successful when you race, but knowing you also had to place at least fourth to qualify for the World Championships or you would have to go to trials has to add a bit of pressure. How did you and Devery cope with this, or did you try and put it out of your minds?
Our goal going into World Cup III was to evaluate our speed and performance against a full international field. We didn’t treat it as a negative pressure, but rather an opportunity to thrown down our fastest 2k race and practice our composure and focus under the heat of a ferocious international pack. We never spoke about trials. Devery and I keep our mission simple. Our mantra is: “Step 1: Test, Step 2: Get faster.” We used this perspective after NSR I as well and it allows us to acknowledge that after each accomplishment or checkpoint we must always be looking for ways to improve ourselves. We went to Lucerne to test our speed and race performance and we placed 3rd. Now we are working hard to improve and get faster. The fact that we placed 3rd allows us to avoid trials and be better prepared to represent the US at the World Championships.
I really enjoyed watching you two race, you seemed to get into your groove and stick with it and push through the field. Anything stick out in your mind about how the race unfolded?
We learned a lot in our 4 races, and each one built upon the race before it. The most important learning piece was to be comfortable sitting in the pack and not shifting up through our gears too early. It takes a certain wherewithal to wait to red-line it but this allows us to play to our strengths. Each race helped us learned how to shift up through our gears more decisively. The thing stuck out the most to me in final was our decision to attack again and again until the very last stroke. There is exactly only one moment in the race when your bow needs to be in front. Most importantly, World Cup III helped us identify the things we are doing well and the areas we are working to improve upon leading into the World Championship.
Everyone racing in France’s first concern will be qualifying their boat for the Olympics, and while you two are a little more sure of yourselves in that regard than other I am sure you don’t take it for granted, but I am sure you are thinking even more about changing the color of your medal. What are you and Devery going to be working on to keep improving your speed?
The biggest part of racing in Lucerne, other than earning our seats for the World Championships, was identifying our strengths and weaknesses. I think we both came away from that race not thinking about our placement, but rather: Okay, now I know all the things I want to work hard to do better for Worlds. It’s incredibly motivating and we hold each other to a very high standard of continual improvement. We spent a few days apart, cross-training after our return to the States and we both came back very anxious to get back to work and find more speed.