US’ best rowers compete for spots in upcoming Rio Olympics

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – For many of America’s best rowers, the road to the Rio Olympics runs through Sarasota this weekend.

The US Olympic and Paralympic time trials will bring 120 rowers to Nathan Benderson Park. These trials will determine which athletes will represent the US in the Olympic Games.

Out on the water, it’s man versus the elements. Athletes are up against the wind and water, and the mind. Rowing is a punishing sport that tests the most elite athletes.

“When you come down, these are people that have spent the last 10,000 hours of their life preparing to ascend to become an Olympian,” US Rowing CEO Glenn Merry said.

There are a variety of different races. After many of these races, athletes will be granted the opportunity to join Team USA in the Olympics. For other races, they’ll move on to one last qualifier, which will be held in Switzerland in May. Of course, other athletes will have to head home, meaning a lot is on the line here this weekend.

For Sarasota native Hunter Leeming, the pressure is on. “It’s a huge mental game … I can show people what I’m capable of or I can show people what I’m not capable of,”  Leeming said.

Rowing has come a long way. Women weren’t allowed to compete in Olympic rowing until 1976. Carol Brown was a member of the first US Women’s team. She recalled, “When we raced in Montréal, sitting on the starting line was the first time that eight ever raced together, and that’s unheard of today.”

Now these athletes compete around the country in a sport that stands out on its own. International Olympic Committee Member Anita DeFrantz said, “I also call it the ultimate team sport because you have to be together, and the more together you are the faster the boat will go. You can’t say I need a break I’ll be back in a couple of seconds you have to be together from beginning to end.”

This weekend these world class athletes are competing for the biggest stage in a world-class venue right here in Tampa Bay. The public is invited to watch the races will be held all weekend, winners will be crowned on Sunday.

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