Nationals 2016 (Part 3/3)

I know this post is quite late and I haven’t posted in a long time. School has been very busy (trying to get a paper out!) and I just haven’t had the time.

The last day of Nationals was also the last day of the 2015-2016 season. There was good, there was bad, and there was complicated.

And there was a protest.

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More on that later.

The third day of Nationals consisted of the 500 m and 2 km races for the mixed teams. Last day of racing! I was tired by the time this day rolled around, even though I hadn’t raced all that much (only 3 200’s on Friday). But steering and coaching and running back and forth can be pretty exhausting, as I’m sure Ben would agree to, since he does it all the time with New College. Not sure how he can do it for so long without getting burned out. The gender teams were done, so people that weren’t on mixed got to relax and chill.

The way the lanes work is the fastest team from the first semi (which would be the team with the fastest time in the heats) gets seeded to lane 3 in the final, while the fastest team from the second semi (which would be the team with the second fastest time in the heats) gets seeded to lane 4. It seemed to be a pattern that the inside lanes (1-3) were faster due to being more sheltered. So as I’ve said, I’m not the hugest fan of playing for lanes, but I appear to be one of the few in that field. The second fastest team in the second semi gets lane 2, and so we were aiming for that.

…Yeah, we failed.

Perhaps going out not full strength wasn’t the best strategy. Arsenal apparently played the game best, coming in the desired second, while Armada, even with an early “let it ride” call, got clear first. We…ended up with third. Not ideal, it gave us lane 6 in the final, but we dealt with it. Got our heads out of the mess that was the semi and into the zone for the final.

We were pumped. We were ready. We were going to GO.

…We got second.

Damn, that hurt.

Congratulations to the Warriors, they did well. On our part, I don’t think it was our best race (a little too pumped, with a higher rate than usual and not much to give for the finish, and possibly a bit of a shorter stroke as well) and, well, it didn’t work out. It was definitely a hard race and probably one of the most painful ones I have ever paddled. It was still a good race, but not good enough. There were tears afterward. It was tough to end the last 500 m of the season like that. But! There was still the 2 km left and damned if we weren’t going to give our best and go out fighting. More on that later.

As for Iron Dragons, they only had two 500’s: a heat and a final. New College threw their heat as per usual, so that wasn’t an indication of anything. For the final, I knew NC had been working on their 500’s, so I expected it to be close.  Lucky apparently doesn’t know how to give his coach good news, because when I asked him how they did (not having seen the race myself as I had my own to race), he silently shook his head very seriously. Heart sinking, when I frantically asked him what happened, he replied somberly “0.07 s.” What? What?! What 0.07 s? Between who? He answered “we got first, but it was really close.” Oh my goodness, Lucky, worst. Readers, take note. That is not the way you tell your coach that you won first place in a race. I swear this kid is just trying to stress me out even more. But at least they won. Unlike with the 2 km…which they lost. Really not their best race, but gotta hand it to New College, they did well. Iron Dragons still won overall so there was that. University and U24 mixed champions once again! I must admit I felt relief more than anything else as I would have felt that I had hugely let down the team had they lost those titles. Not a perfect Nationals but definitely a successful one. I was proud of my Iron Dragons babies.

And then onto the premier mixed 2 km. What a gongshow. Definitely an epic 2 km, though. We went hard for this race. Even Gavin was in the boat! And he never does 2 km’s. Honestly, though, I don’t remember much of the race itself, except for the last turn. That was where everything went down.

Something happened further up the race (I think it had to do with Marissa steering Water Vipers actually) that caused a build-up of boats in the last turn. By the time we were nearing the turn, we were catching up to Armada, steered by Mike while Warriors was in turn catching up to us. The officials being very busy with the chaos in front of us did not manage to give us the clearest call for priority and both Mike and Chris thought they had priority going into the turn (Warriors was still a significant distance away with plenty of open water so we definitely had priority over them). All this confusion led to aggressive Mike taking a tight turn around the buoys and aggressive Chris going no way I’m going around you, I’m taking this and also taking a tight turn…leading to NDRC hitting Armada before falling back. I saw the collision coming and was frantically drawing/spiking but to no avail. At that point, aggressive Warriors, who decided to take advantage of the opening we had left due to the mayhem tried to swoop in and in turn collided hard into us somewhere around the back half of the boat, fishtailing us and sending us into the race course (we ended up missing buoys 3 and 4 due to this whole procedure, which also made them miss those two buoys). They remained stuck to us for a period of time before separating after the turn after which we both steamrolled ahead to join the actual armada of boats (something like a legion of 10 or more boats) making their way down the last 500 m stretch to the finish line at the same time. Whitewater and wash and paddles everywhere! It was utter bedlam. A good 2 km, but one that would most definitely result in penalties in some way or another.

Immediately after stepping off the boat, we got ready. Ben, Chris, Monica, and I ran back to camp to grab money in the case of a potential necessary protest. We sped to the finish tower to talk to the officials but they needed more time to analyze everything so we hung out around the tower until they were ready, frantically refreshing other people’s phones to check the results because none of us had had the foresight to take our own (I don’t have data so my phone would have been useless anyway). Finally, we saw a volunteer with the hard copy of the results page heading toward the results board and I followed them to look. The conclusion? NDRC assessed a 10 s penalty for missing a buoy (#3) and a 10 s penalty for the collision with Armada. Armada assessed a 5 s bonus for being collided with. Warriors no penalties.

Of all the injustices in the world…We could not understand how we had been assessed two penalties and Warriors had not been given any. Yes, we were bitter. And we immediately protested. We got a protest sheet and set to figuring out what had happened, while Monica wrote it out, which was ironic because she’s a doctor. Our reasoning was that as we had had right of way in the turn we proceeded to take the inside path of the turn but boat 8 didn’t give us enough room and though we held the boat to attempt to avoid collision, it was inevitable. Furthermore, we were forced to miss buoy 3 both in order to avoid further collision with boat 8 AND due to being collided with and pushed into the course by boat 10, who did not have right of way over us. We submitted our protest along with the $50 fee and waited it out.

At one point, an official came down from the finish tower carrying a form, bringing our hopes up, but it was only to deal with PDBC, who apparently had also filed a protest. The official criticized their protest, telling them to read the rules. Turns out they were a little dumb (I’m looking at you, Jordan Morgan) and had missed a turn buoy and, being assessed a 10 s penalty, had tried arguing that it should be brought down to 5 s for I’m not sure what reason. Yeah, that’s not a thing. Rules infractions have set, pre-determined penalties so the amount of time given is non-negotiable. Once informed, they laughed it off and went along their merry way, so we were left to wait alone. Later on, an official came down again, carrying nothing and again bringing our hopes up, but they were just walking and had nothing for us.

Finally…Mike O’Reilly came down asking for a representative from each of Armada, NDRC, and Warriors to come up (they also announced it over the speakers). Mike from Armada was already there waiting with us, so we just waited for a rep from Warriors to arrive. Jim eventually arrived and he, Mike, and I went up to…wait even longer. We hung out on the veranda for a while with O’Reilly,  waiting for the officials to come talk to us. Mike and I reminisced a bit and had a hug, at which point Jim asked where his hug was. Mike hugged him, but I had never actually even met the guy before, so I thought it’d be a bit awkward to hug a stranger, and therefore shook his hand instead. I hope he didn’t think I was too rude, though.

Eventually a phalanx of officials (actually like 4 or 5) came to meet us. They had finished their analysis and determined their verdict. Their conclusion? Success! And we received our protest money back. From video review, they were able to determine that NDRC did indeed have priority over both Armada and Warriors and therefore that entirely changed all the penalties. Armada ended up actually receiving a penalty for not giving way (I thought that was a little funny and also a little sad as I didn’t think that anybody really deserved that penalty since who had priority was really unclear at the time to both teams). Both of NDRC’s penalties got removed as neither the collision nor the missed buoy were our fault. Warriors received a penalty for colliding with NDRC without right of way and therefore we in turn received a bonus for the collision as we were impeded (for quite a while as our boats were stuck together for some time).

Was this assessment fair? Jim admitted that he did not try to hold his boat before the impending collision. He later mentioned that he saw an opening in the turn left by NDRC even without priority and tried to take it, though it later closed due to NDRC’s collision with Armada, leading to the second collision. He argued that his boat was drawing hard to the left and he believed the angle of collision would have been worse had they merely tried to stop. While I can respect that train of thought, I also completely disagree. Having been in the exact same situation previously (where I did not have priority as a steer but took it anyway, nearing a collision and narrowly avoiding one), I can say that in such a case, one needs to be extra careful as safety is always the number one priority and a collision is a very real possibility. Taking the inside without priority is allowed when sufficient room is given (such as when a steer makes a wide turn) and safety is not compromised but both a steer must ensure that both those factors are satisfied first. In our case, Chris is not a n00b steer, tends to take tight turns, and Jim should know that, having steered against him in several races over the past two years. I therefore think Jim should have been aware of that and did not take sufficient measures to avoid a collision, resulting in reckless behaviour that could have easily injured someone. And thus I think their penalty (and our bonus) was well-deserved.

The final result of that race? All these changes ended up bumping Armada from 2nd to 3rd, Warriors from 1st to 2nd, and moving NDRC from 5th to 1st. Whew. That was a lot to take in. But hey, it was a victory!

It takes away from the drama a little when you find out that the protest and penalties actually made no difference in the overall standings. With or without the penalties, Warriors would be 1st, NDRC would be 2nd, and Armada would be 3rd in the overall premier mixed standings. However! In this manner, NDRC won their first 2 km (at least since I’ve been on the team) against Warriors and even though it was due to a penalty, I’m still pretty okay with that.

And thus ended Nationals along with the 2016 season. Pretty good season for Iron Dragons, defending their U24 and University mixed champion titles along with an unprecedented 3rd place in premier open. Not an entirely successful but still a decent season for NDRC. Second in mixed, second in open, third in women. Happy, yes, but not satisfied. We have improved as a team (first season with two mixed crews!) and I believe we will continue to grow together. Developing rookies while our vets get better, as a whole, our team pushes and supports each other and that is what I think will pull us through. It may take time (it’s been three years!), but it will happen.

2017, here we come.

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