Rowing: Gold Medal Reflections
Two former UVa rowers, Lindsay Shoop (2002-04) and Kelsie Chaudoin (2005-08), both won gold medals with their respective teams this summer. Shoop tasted the sport’s ultimate success with a gold at the Olympic Games in Beijing while rowing with the women’s eight crew and Chaudoin earned her gold with the women’s eight at the Under-23 World Championships in Brandenburg, Germany. Both rowers recently checked in with VirginiaSports.com to reflect on their successful summers.
Q&A with Lindsay Shoop
Question: In your gold medal race, your crew got off to a blazing start. What do you attribute that to and was that something you felt was going to help you get the win?
Shoop: We have horses in our boat. We know how to go for it from stroke one. We don’t know what everyone else has, so we show up and go for it just like everyone else. We know that everyone is out for us, and you never know what people will do. We don’t automatically expect to be out front, but once we are there, we keep pushing and dare anyone to come with us. You can never be far enough ahead at this level, and any inch that you get is an inch that you earn. You have to know that you can never go too hard too soon. Getting out early does not guarantee the win. That is a hard learned lesson. In fact, more often than not, crews that shoot out tend to get reeled in. We go out to put everyone else in as much pain as possible. Then it is an assertion of will, determination, trust; knowing that you’ve put in the work and it is time to make something of it.
Question: On television, it looked like an amazing atmosphere. Talk about the last 500 meters and the excitement of the race.
Shoop: I have to say that leading up to the race, I tried to prepare myself and calm myself; to convince myself that this race was just a race. Just go out and do what you do. That worked until we rowed under the bridge and looked on to the start dock. At that point, a whole new array of nerves entered my body. I was ready. It was time. No more waiting. No more anticipating. No more guessing what it will be like. As for the race itself, I lose most of my sensory perception. I have only what is necessary for racing. My ears ring after the first 500 meters and my sight narrows. I stay completely focused on our boat. After the 1,000-meter mark, I glanced to the side only once or twice when Mary Whipple (coxswain) said no one was moving on us. We anticipated that others would try to move at that point, so I could not believe it when she said it. I had to see for myself … she was right. Hitting the last 800 meters of the race, I could hear the crowds. After the last 700 meters I could hear what Mary was saying on top of a track of muffled cheers. There is nothing like hearing that line get closer. Hunting it with each stroke, the “gold” repeating over and over in my head getting louder and louder … more tangible. Mary called the last four strokes of the race and we crossed on the very next stroke. She made sure we were well past that line before any of us even thought to stop rowing. Once I saw the bubble line a few seats ahead of me, I knew we had won. Gold was not just a thought, but real.
Question: Was your Olympic experience everything you imagined? As one of the lucky few to hear the national anthem play after winning a gold medal can you describe that experience?
Shoop: My experience in China was even more than I could have imagined. You just cannot prepare yourself for what it really is to be there. Even the people that were in Athens said that this experience was more than what they were prepared for. As for hearing the anthem … I did not expect to be struck the way I was. We have heard the anthem before at the World Championships, and it did not hit me in the same way. When I saw the flag being raised and the anthem playing, I began to cry. I am not sure cry does justice to what I was doing. My legs started shaking, and I began to cry to the extent that I could not sing the anthem. You cannot prepare yourself for the way you may react, and that is what makes it so special. The intensity of human emotion has new meaning for me; particularly in sporting achievement. I am touched in an even more poignant way. My emotions have been pushed to a new level and have been broadened.
Question: Have you been enjoying yourself since the victory?
Shoop: My teammates and I have certainly been flying high, on cloud nine since the win. The most important thing for me now is to have enough time to spend with my family. We have all made a lot of sacrifices to do what we have done. That includes only seeing some of my family only a couple of times a year, sometimes not seeing any of them for nine months at a time. New Jersey is not far, but our training keeps us reined in. My calendar for the next few months is quickly filling as I plan trips to visit friends, and also to get out there and spread the word about rowing. Our sport, which is already popular around the world, is still very much in the shadows of many other sports here in the United States. And though our very own UVa program had ties to four Olympic medals in rowing at this Games (more than any other college), many people in our own town don’t even know that UVa has a team. That has a lot to do with why I hope to keep my schedule full for the next few months. After all of that, I look forward to relaxing a bit before I head back to New Jersey later in the year to resume my full-time training.
Q&A with Kelsie Chaudoin
Question: Can you briefly describe the week of competition in Germany? Had you been abroad before and was it your first experience rowing in an international competition?
Chaudoin: Yes, I had been abroad before, to visit family and to study abroad. I actually lived in Hamburg, Germany when I was younger but Worlds this summer was the first time I had been back to Germany since my family moved back to the States.
It was my first experience with international competition. I was expecting the race course to be much different than the courses I raced at in the U.S., but it was actually strangely familiar and similar to the courses in the States. I felt more at home and comfortable at the course than I did anywhere else in Brandenburg.
Question: How was it rowing with a group of women from nine different schools?
Chaudoin: It was great rowing with women from nine different schools. The U-23 crews of many of the other countries train together for much longer and have all learned the same way of rowing and how to approach a race. We actually talked about that the night before our final. There is a lot of value in rowing together for a longer period of time, but we had the experiences of nine different programs and that’s absolutely powerful. We could learn from the less successful moments from our collegiate competitions, and take the successful parts of our respective races and practices and piece them together. That wealth of knowledge was incredibly valuable.
Question: Your college coach [UVa head coach Kevin Sauer] was also your coach for this event. Did that help you?
Chaudoin: It was definitely helpful to have Kevin as my coach this summer. I had a four-year head start on almost everybody else on learning the specifics of the rowing stroke which he emphasizes. I am pretty notorious for taking awhile to really learn things and commit them to muscle memory, so I was really fortunate to have somewhat of an understanding before camp even began. I was also very fortunate to be able to stay in Charlottesville, row on the Rivanna and out of the Virginia boathouse and test in the Virginia erg room. I think that familiarity definitely helped.
Question: Can you describe your feeling when you knew you had won the gold medal, defeating Poland and Belarus, and the overall race atmosphere?
Chaudoin: It was absolutely surreal. It didn’t begin to hit me until we got our medals and they played the national anthem. But even when I think about it now, it’s still hard to believe it actually happened. While we were waiting on the docks for our medal ceremony, the men’s eight race came down, and they won too so that was really exciting. Afterwards, all of the American rowers, coaches, parents and friends, about 100 people, had a dinner together at a restaurant that overlooked the finish line and it was just one big celebration–definitely one of the best, most memorable afternoons of my life.
Question: What are your future plans? Will you still competitively row?
Chaudoin: I am moving to Princeton, N.J., to train with the National Team and, hopefully, work part time at an architecture firm. I’m very excited about moving somewhere new and having the opportunity to train with some of the best, fastest women in the world.