Thursday, June 16, 2011
The show! Wow! I’ve never seen Melton Lake so crowded for ANY event. Granted, I’ve been here for less than 2 years, but I come to the lake 5-6 times a month (I live 8 miles away) and love to walk the shores and watch the events. This was the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen – over 200 boats. Traffic and roadside parking thick as molasses for the 1.5 miles along the lakeside event site. Incredible. The launch site traffic alone looked like a hundred different drill-teams all vying for the same space. Speedos & sunglasses, binoculars & baseball caps and for this weekend, there was no other place to be – no other sport – no other game in town for this group of folks. If rowing has a “Daytona 500” this is as close as it comes before the Olympic or Collegiate finals.
Caught the nail-biter finish right at the line – the UT/Battelle “Tower”. Sunny, bright and 93 degrees Fahrenheit (as usual) and the 4th day in a row for an “air-quality alert”. Water calm and smooth (also, as usual) – no sign of the rumored Lane 2-through-Lane 5 surge/chop that (some) rowers say moves down the lanes (underwater) from about 1100 yards past the finish. That wasn’t a factor in this finish.
Deerfield showed that they can and DO compete at the National level and finished only about 2 strokes (about 6.5 seconds) from the nose of the Oakland Strokes boat (yes, all you 60’s and 70’s music fans will recognize the reference to the Bay area’s (still) most distinctive “power-funk” band, the Tower of Power).
From the finish line it looked like all the boats were “shifting gears” in the last 200-300 yards. The Deerfield boat showed smooth-power that was totally deceptive when you watched how they moved through the water – they made it look “easy”. The kind of smooth that you like to look at - until you realize they just blew by you and you’re “off-the pace” by about 10-15% and are going to be licking your wounds all the way back to Palooka-ville. The kind of grace that gives you just the briefest flash of a side view - and then all you see is “stern”.
On the other hand, in Lane 1, the Oakland crew looked older and more physical – and I mean “2 hours of gym every morning for a year” more physical. They were digging hard and then harder as they smelled the finish line. The only two teams that I heard anyone in the “peanut gallery” talking about for this race were Oakland and Deerfield.
I was happy to see a truly fine bunch of young men and women out there. Excellent conditioning – great style – 3 days of grinding out the heats with the “best of the best” that the US has to offer. No doubt about it, this is a BIG TIME event with all the pressure, craziness, great performances and soul-numbing deflation as team after team comes face-to-face with their real individual and team level of performance. As Frank Zappa used to say, “One, two, three ……. BURN!!!!!!” You either have the chops or you don’t. And you have to have the ability to “bring” it not just one, two, three, or four times - but every time at this level.
Deerfield’s team showed that they have every right to be at the top of the heap. It’s no fluke that they delivered the goods – this was discipline, coaching, conditioning, teamwork and “heart” – and a really distinctive competitive style.
Way to GO, GREEN!!!
Taylor (‘Tee’) Johnson, ‘69
Lakeside at Melton Lake, Oak Ridge, Tennessee