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Jennifer Cromwell, a senior on the 2010 NCAA Champion Virginia rowing team, recently checked in with The Bellevue, Wash., native won a gold medal with the United States’ women’s eight at the Under 23 World Rowing Championships in Brest, Belarus, last week.

Question: This is your third World Championships, having competed at Junior Worlds in 2005 and 2006, and Under 23 Worlds in 2007. However, this is your first time competing in the the women’s eight at the Under 23 World Championships. Can you recap your training leading up to leaving for Belarus?
: Camp started June 1, immediately after NCAAs, so there was really no break. The first part of camp was in San Diego at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista and we were there for two and half weeks, then we moved to Princeton for the rest of training. So yeah, I flew from Sacramento (the site of the NCAA Championships) to San Diego.

In the beginning, how the process works is that we started with a lot of work in pairs. So the first phase of camp, it’s pretty intense and very competitive. Everyone is trying to prove themselves.

Question: Did you know what boat you will be competing in at the start of camp?
: No. It’s very intense at the beginning, we’re all having to race each other and take erg tests. Towards the end of camp in San Diego, you start getting a feel for where you’re at. Then we moved to Princeton and that’s when they officially selected the boats. The naming date was July 9. From June 1 to July 9 you’re just racing and going through the selection process, but then we knew what boats we were in. Leading up to leaving for Belarus, it’s just very intense. We would practice twice a day, sometimes three times a day, and we never had a full day off. So we would have a Saturday morning practice and then be off for Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, but be back at it on Sunday afternoon.

Question: What was Belarus like?
: Traveling to Belarus, we flew eight hours from Newark to Poland, then we got on a bus with no air conditioning. It was very hot and the bus was jam-packed. We then sat at the border forever, so once we got there we were just ready to crash!

With these trips, people always ask ‘did you travel or sightsee?’ and the answer is not really. You’re there rowing. You’re practicing twice a day. It’s literally eat, sleep, row. And I mean that.

The venue at Belarus is by far the best venue I’ve ever competed at. It was constructed just to attract more championships. It’s absolutely beautiful. When you see a course like that, it just makes it that much more exciting. There were signs everywhere advertising for the World Championships, and that’s when it really set in that I was there.

Question: Talk us through your races, including your gold-medal victory.
: The heat we raced in, we didn’t have the best race, and we knew we needed focus on the middle 1,500 meters of the race. We didn’t come off the water and think ‘that was a great race.’ We knew we needed to clean it up.

Going into the final race, they called us up and aligned us. We were starting off the light system, so there’s a red light and you go on the green light. So we get the signal and we start, but we had to stop and go back because of misalignment. It was something that could have thrown us off, but it kind of got the jitters out.

Question: And didn’t that happen to you previously in your career, at the 2009 NCAA Championships, the Varsity Eight grand final had a restart situation.
: Yeah, it was funny, because I thought of that. I remember both times the thought process was kind of like ‘no big deal,’ we just need to get it done.

Within the first 500 meters, the port side got a little shaken up. But the imperfections were ‘us’. We got past it and moved on to the next stroke.

Really, it was just a solid push all the way down the course. The speed just kept picking up. The whole time, even though we pulled away after 500 meters, we were moving and stuff, but we knew it was never enough. I kept telling myself to keep going. It wasn’t until 350 meters to go that I was finally like ‘there’s no way they can catch us, we’re going to do this!’ That was so empowering that we pulled away even more in the sprint. We won by four seconds, which is a big margin in international competition.

Question: How did you feel crossing the finish line and on the medal stand?
: It’s so surreal. You cross the finish line and you’re in alot of pain. When we docked the boat and went on the podium, it wasn’t until they announced my name and put the medal around me that I got the chills. And then when we saw our flag going up and heard the national anthem, we knew it was really happening.

I always dreamed of winning gold. I have a silver from 2006. You work so hard through the summer and for it to pay off in this fashion is just so awesome. Representing your country is such a special feeling.

Question: How do you think international competition is different from collegiate?
: It’s definitely different. It’s a step up and it’s at a higher level. Because you’re competing against the best from every country. What’s different is that in college you kind of know different schools’ styles. At the international level, you don’t know what other countries are doing. They may just sit back and coast through the heat, so you may think that you beat them by a comfortable margin. But in the final, everyone brings a new game. A new level. That’s what you have to take into your racing, so it’s definitely different.

Question: It’s been about two months since Virginia won the NCAA Championship. Have you been able to reflect back on that time?
: It’s funny because someone asked me if I was able to enjoy and celebrate the moment of winning NCAAs. And we had a team dinner after the championships in Sacramento, but really I was all of a sudden preparing for Worlds.

Through the summer, I did reflect back on it, and it was something that kept me pumped up. It helped me going into such an intense camp mode. I wanted to keep it going.

Question: What are your plans for the rest of the summer?
: I’m moving to Princeton, N.J., to train with the national team. I’m on a little break right now, but once I get to Princeton it’s full-force training again. I’m not really sure of my chances to go to Senior World Championships and this year it is in October. The selection process is going on right now, so there are a bunch of people going there to try and make the senior team. I’m kind of going into it with no expectations. It’s all to try and make the senior national team, which essentially is the Olympic level team. Everyone’s eyes are set on 2012.

Question: How do you see the 2011 Virginia rowing team shaping up?
: I’m so excited to watch them next year! We have great recruits coming in and a lot of the underclassmen are such hard-workers. There are a lot of juniors and sophomores that will be able to carry on the energy.

Question: How will your experiences at UVa help you as you continue your international career?
: What [Virginia head coach] Kevin [Sauer] has always taught us is how to keep pushing ourselves. And it’s going to be important to have that level of commitment carry over to the next level. I think the work ethic that Virginia has been known for and what we continuously did will be very helpful to me later on.

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