After a sluggish start in their heat, the plan Tuesday was for Canadian rowers Doug Vandor and Morgan Jarvis to come out firing in their repechage at the Olympic regatta.
They did just that, rocketing out of the blocks and taking a 1.7-second lead over Greece after 500 metres in the lightweight men’s double sculls. But the Greeks trimmed the deficit to 0.2 seconds by 1,000 metres and then pulled ahead. Hungary and Australia also overhauled the sagging Canadians in the final 500 metres.
Greece and Hungary finished one-two to advance to the semifinal.
“Definitely disappointed,” said Peter Cookson, Rowing Canada’s high performance director. “That was one of our high medal potential crews and for whatever reason they didn’t have it today.
“I know they put out, they tried their best and they performed the best they could, but it just didn’t come on the day. Which is unfortunate but that’s racing.
Michael Braithwaite of Duncan, B.C., and Kevin Kowalyk of Winnipeg finished sixth in their men’s doubles scull semi-final and failed to advance to the final.
The two crews were the first of Canada’s seven boats to fall out of contention at the Games. The Canadian men’s and women’s eights have already qualified for their finals.
The good news on the day was that Victoria’s Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee rebounded from a poor heat to finish second in their lightweight women’s double sculls repechage, advancing to the semi-finals.
A disappointed Vandor was left struggling to come up with an explanation for a fourth-place finish in six minutes 36.3 seconds, almost five seconds off the winning Greek time.
“It didn’t feel like we were overextending ourselves or going above the line,” he said. “Maybe it could be that when something’s technically off, it takes that much more energy per stroke. You’re not aware of it and by the time you come to the final sprint, you can’t do it. But the boat, in general, felt pretty good. So I can really explain why we weren’t able to.”
Vandor, who turns 38 next month, used to row with Cam Sylvester. Four years ago, the two went to Beijing where Vandor’s Olympic campaign was cut short by illness.
“Unfortunately it was another bad experience for him,” Cookson said of Tuesday’s race. “So I’m sure he’s going to really ponder his Olympic career after this one. But he’s a quality guy, a character guy, and I really feel for him right now.”
The whole rowing team will share the pain, said Cookson, who pointed to squad’s motto of “Steady as she goes,” with the message not to get too high or too low.
Jarvis, a 29-year-old from Clearwater Bay, Ont., defeated Sylvester in March to win a spot in the lightweight boat.
As a consequence, the two have not rowed much together. But they did well with their fast start strategy at a World Cup in late May in Lucerne where they were edged out by Denmark for the bronze.
“We always got out in front and were able to relax and watch the race unfold in front of us,” Vandor, a native of Dewittville, Que., said of the crew’s progression in Lucerne. “That’s what we train to do.”
There was no inkling of their Olympic problems. Vandor said a pre-Games camp in Italy with the men’s eight and lightweight women’s double was encouraging.
“The whole group was pushing each other and it was especially exciting for Morgan and myself, because our times were really good. We had high expectations here. So it’s doubly disappointing when you stumble and don’t meet those expectations.”
Especially when you have spent five or six hours a day training for months and months.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said the 5-foot-11 Vandor, who as a lightweight rower has to ensure he makes weight when he races.
In the men’s lightweight class, rowers can weigh no more than 160 pounds and the crew average weight can’t exceed 154 pounds. For the women, it’s 130 and 125.
“It’s different from heavyweight rowing where they’re continually eating and fuelling and drinking. We’re trying to watch everything we put into our body,” he said. “So it just adds another component to it. Some regattas it works, sometimes not. Sometimes you’re on, sometimes you’re off. You do the best you can to control everything within your realm, but sometimes the stars don’t line up.”
Vandor and Jarvis ended up in the repechage after finishing third in their opening heat.
Jennerich and Obee (7:15.37 seconds) were second to the U.S. (7:13.82) in their repechage. Cuba also moved on to Thursday’s semifinal, finishing third.
“Obviously we wanted to go out and win the rep, but what we have to take home with us is recognizing that as we are moving through the regatta we are improving immensely,” said Jennerich. “We just have to take that and gain confidence in that so that we can put it to use in the semi, which is going to be an extremely tough race.
“There’s probably eight crews in this event that can be on that podium and probably six that can win it. It’s not like there is an obvious top three — we’ll have to race that semi like it’s a final.
Obee dismissed reports she was troubled by a rib injury.
“I feel fine, and am not inhibited in my racing at all,” she said.
Jennerich has said Sunday the two were “disappointed, but not disheartened” after finishing fifth in their six-boat heat.
Preparations for the Games were stormy for the lightweight women.
Jennerich shared the boat with both the 20-year-old Obee and 37-year-old Tracy Cameron of Shubenacadie, N.S., who won the lightweight quadruple sculls at the 2005 world championships and Olympic bronze in 2008 in the pair with Melanie Kok.
In 2010, Jennerich and Cameron teamed up to win the world championship.
Last year they won in Lucerne, a major regatta ahead of the world championships. But Cameron was sidelined with a stress fracture of a rib and Jennerich joined forces with Obee, the team spare, to win silver at the worlds.
Healthy again, Cameron won a row-off with Obee to see who would join Jennerich this year. But Jennerich and Cameron struggled when they got back in the boat, finishing eighth in May at a key pre-Olympic regatta in Lucerne. Cameron retired in early June, saying rowing was no longer fun.