Kara Kohler grabs the first U.S. Olympic Rowing Team berth in Sarasota.
Unlike a year ago when the U.S. Olympic Rowing Trials at Nathan Benderson Park was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kara Kohler was healthy.
Well, at least she was healthy until after she had won a spot on the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team by dominating in the finals of the U.S. Olympic Trials women's single scull competition Friday at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota.
"I feel slightly ill," a smiling Kohler said 20 minutes after the race. "It's the nerves and the excitement."
A year ago, before the pandemic became a factor, Kohler was recovering from mononucleosis she had contracted a month before the Trials was scheduled. In a way, she said it was a blessing for her to have the event postponed a year. She simply was not at her best.
Genevra Stone, the 2016 silver medalist in single scull, might have been too much for Kohler if she wasn't 100% in 2020.
On Friday, though, Clayton, Calif.'s Kohler was at her best, dominating from the start, establishing a solid lead a third of the way through the 2,000-meter race and winning in 7:23.37. Her three competitors, Stone (7:27.17), Kristina Wagner (7:39.29) and Margaret Fellows (7:45.67) never made a run at her.
Kohler, the reigning world championships' bronze medalist, earned a trip to the Summer Olympic Games July 23-Aug. 8 in Tokyo, Japan. It will be her second trip the Olympics as she earned a bronze medal in 2012 in the women's quadruple sculls.
Four other classes — men's single and double sculls, women's double sculls and women's lightweight double sculls — were contested Friday but the winners of those events must now move to the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta May 15-17 in Lucerne, Switzerland.
The women's lightweight doubles winners had a Sarasota connection as Michelle Sechser and Molly Reckford had been training with the Sarasota Crew since 2019. Reckford said Crew coach Casey Galvanek is a wonderful coach and they both appreciated the energy they received from the Crew rowers.
Folsom, Calif.'s Sechser and Short Hills, N.J.'s Reckford, who represent the Cambridge Boat Club, had plenty of energy as they crushed the field with a winning time of 6:59.32. Grace Joyce and Christine Cavallo were second in 7:07.85.
Sechser said they chose to train in Sarasota because they knew the Olympic Trials for their event would be at Nathan Benderson Park and they wanted to be familiar with the wind directions. Sechser also said she competed in Sarasota during the 2017 World Rowing Championships and she loved the way the area embraced the rowers and lined the shores during the competition.
"It was an awesome experience," Sechser said.
Reckford wore a Sarasota Crew shirt during the competition.
"It was so great having that community with us," she said of the Crew.
In the other events, Cincinnati's John Graves won the men's single sculls in 6:59.08; Huntsville, Ala.'s Kevin Cardno and Philadelphia's Jonathan Kirkegaard won the men's double sculls in 6:22.07; and Pelham, N.Y.'s Zachary Heese and Phoenix, Ariz.'s Jasper Liu won the men's doubles lightweight sculls in 6:29.79.