Put one way, the Australian men’s quad sculls took on the world’s best and fell just short in their opening heat, which still sees them advance directly to Tuesday’s final.
Put another way, the four who had not raced for more than 18 months, started slowly, never really found a rhythm, and yet powered home to finish just 1.74 seconds behind the world champion Dutch team who won in 5:59.8.
Jack Cleary, Caleb Antill, Cameron Girdlestone, and Luke Letcher compete during heat one of the Men’s Quadruple Sculls.Credit:Getty Images
The Australians were jumped at the start but in the second half of the race they hit 42 strokes a minute and were surging in the final few hundred metres before the line in the two-kilometre course at Tokyo’s Sea Forest Waterway.
They progress straight to the final and feel they might have more upside in them than the Dutch.
This team, led by Rio silver medallist Cam Girdlestone with Jack Cleary, Caleb Antill and Luke Letcher, has serious medal credentials and aspirations.
“There’s a bit to work on,” coach Mark Prater said after the race.
“They never really quite found the rhythm they need to be in, but that’s alright. We know it’s a top field so we have got to be at our absolute best in the final.”
After so long out of competition Prater admitted it was hard to get a handle on where they stood, even after the first cobweb-clearing performance.
“It’s difficult to know exactly where we are at, you get a bit of a gauge within the team [on] how we stack up but you never really know until you line up against them.
“Today was getting some of those nerves out of the way. Getting into the final, excellent. We don’t have to worry about rowing another race before then, we get the nerves out of the way.”
Rowena Meredith competes during the Women’s Quadruple Sculls.Credit:Getty Images
Managing the heat was the biggest concern on the open course, with the temperature at 32 degrees during the race.
Seaforest Waterway is in an industrial area on the harbour. The approach features a refinery and cranes at the docks. The course, itself, starts among those docks, passes under one bridge, and ends at the Tokyo Gate Bridge.
Planes sweep low over the rowers as they prepare to land.
With no spectators allowed, the stands are populated with competitors, team officials and media, making for a crowd about the size of a school regatta.
The first Australians on the water were the women’s double of Amanda Bateman and Tara Rigney, who went straight through to the semi with a mature race from the young pair.
They held off the German team to finish third, while the Netherlands won the heat in 6:49.90 from Lithuania.
Australia’s women in the quadruple sculls were up against it, drawn in a heat with the world championships’ gold and silver medallists China and Poland.
Ria Thompson, Rowena Meredith, Harriet Hudson, and Caitlin Cronin finished fourth behind China who won in 6.14 32, Poland, and Italy, but they have another chance to advance through a repechage.
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