Rowing With an Olympian

—by Megunticook Rowing
• May 6, 2024

Megunticook masters rower Polly Saltonstall (right) with U.S. Olympics team rower Kristi Wagner

Megunticook masters rower Polly Saltonstall, who is a trustee of the US Rowing Foundation, headed to Sarasota, Florida in April to watch the Olympic qualifying trials for U.S. rowers. She came home with this account:

“Highlights of my trip included a coastal rowing/beach sprint demo and rowing the 2k Nathan Benderson race course in a double with Kristi Wagner. A 2015 graduate of Yale, she raced the double in the Tokyo Olympics (placing fifth), and was third in the 2023 World Rowing Championships, which qualified the boat, and Wagner, for the Olympics this summer in Paris. FYI, Kristi’s 2k time is 6:35!

She told me the hardest part of the race for her is the settle after the start. Usually her start is 10 high strokes at a 44 or higher, 10 more at a 40, then she and her partner settle to a race pace of 36/38 strokes per minute. As a warm up, the national team rowers do what we do on our lake: a pick drill starting with arms only, pause drills, and lots of steady state.

During a tour of the national team training area, U.S. High Performance coach Josy Verdonkschot said the training and athlete selection is involves a lot of data about athletes’ performance on and off the water. Josy pointed out multiple monitors in the racing shells at each seat: traditional stroke coaches, as well as small screens tracking the power of the oar as it passes through the water.

During the racing, I was standing next to Josy for the mens quad race. He said figuring out who to put in in what boat had been difficult. Of the 8 quad scullers who had been training with the team. Four had faster erg scores and were stronger, while four were more technically skilled with slower erg scores. He tried mixing boats putting two strong rowers in with two more technical ones, but they didn’t row well together. In the end he put the strong rowers in one boat and the more skilled rowers in another. As we watched, the more technical rowers edged out the strong rowers by a tenth of a second to win the Olympic qualification, proving that sometimes talent trumps might.”

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