Members of the U.S. Men’s National Rowing Team have been practicing in Oakland for months, gliding up and down the Estuary as they prepare for this summer’s Olympic Games in London.
But one of the fastest boats in the country usually goes unnoticed. “Not many people know the Olympic eight is out here practicing twice a day,” said Johan Quie, one of the 40 men, most in their mid-to-late 20s, who are trying out for the team.
On Wednesday afternoon, with the Olympics’ opening ceremonies 100 days away, the team held a kickoff event at the dock of the Oakland Strokes, a youth rowing club that has its boathouse at the Tidewater Boating Center. Members of the team gathered to speak with supporters, Strokes’ rowers and the media, and members of the team dressed in their Olympic unisuits and took out an 8-man boat for a practice run.
The top rowers from across the country started showing up at the California Rowing Club in November to compete for a spot in the Olympic 8-man boat. The makeup of the team will be determined at the end of the month, and for the past few months, the roster has shrunk to about 20 as potential team members are eliminated. Many of those who don’t make the 8, though, stick around to find a partner to race with in the Olympic pair trials in May.
“It’s going to come down to the last day, and some guys will go home, and some guys will stay,” said Ross James.
“It really is that cut-and-dry,” added another team member, Michael Blomquist.
There are 14 rowing events in the Olympics for different boats, like the scull, pair and four. The U.S. team has qualified eight boats for Olympic men’s events so far, by way of placing in the top seven at last year’s World Championships, but the 8-man boat isn’t one of them. In order to qualify, the 8-man boat will have to win the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in May.
The 8-man boat from the U.S. had previously always made it through qualifying, so having to compete in the “Last Chance Regatta” as it is called, is something new. Blomquist, however, said from what he’s seen daily on the Estuary, he likes his team’s chances.
“We’re on a bit of a back foot because it is a one and done,” Blomquist said. “If you win it, you go. If you don’t win it … most of those guys will go to pairs trials. But our belief is we’re creating a boat that’s contending for a gold medal.”