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U.S. men's eight team is heading to Rio

The U.S. men's eight team stand on the podium after qualifying for Rio
AJ Buruca; U.S. Rowing

U.S. men's eight team is heading to Rio

Only one of four U.S. boats qualified for Olympic selection at the Final Qualification Regatta in Lucerne.

The typically calm waters of the Rotsee were turbulent during the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland where Olympic dreams live and unfortunately die.

Four U.S. boats entered in hopes of punching their ticket to Rio, but only one was successful.

On Tuesday afternoon, Austin Hack, Rob Munn, Mike DiSanto, Steve Kasprzyk, Glenn Ochal, Alex Karwoski, Hans Struzyna, Sam Dommer and coxswain Sam Ojserkis of the U.S. men’s eight boat headed toward the finish line of the men’s eight final with one goal in mind: to secure an Olympic berth and represent Team USA in Rio.

U.S. men's eight team rowing at the Rotsee seeking Olympic berth

The U.S. men's eight team won their preliminary race at the Rotsee on Sunday finishing in 5 minutes, 34.26 seconds. Credit: U.S. Rowing

“It was tight,” Ojserkis told U.S. Rowing. "The line was coming and I just told them, 'You have five strokes to go.' There was nothing more I could tell them to motivate them. I knew what was on the line. I told them they had five strokes to finish the job."

After crossing the finish line it was uncertain who won; the only certainty was that the U.S. needed a top-two finish to advance to Rio.

"We didn't know the result when we crossed the line," Ojserkis told U.S. Rowing. "We knew we were in the top two. We didn't know if we had won or if we got second."

Less than one second separated two nations from Olympic selections and one nation from dejection: the U.S. men’s eight won with a time of 5 minutes, 29.16 seconds and slightly behind was Poland who crossed the line in 5:29.62.  The U.S. and Poland men’s eight secured their Olympic spot with their top-two finish. 

Italy was .36 seconds behind Poland, crossing the finish in 5:29.98 and missing the opportunity to qualify for Rio.

U.S. men's eight led Australia at the Final Qualification Regatta

Another boat that the U.S. men's eight (foreground) defeated was Australia's men's eight team (background) who missed Olympic qualification for the first time in 68 years. Credit: U.S. Rowing

Stephen Whelpley and Willy Cowles in the men’s double sculls (M2x) endured three days of relentless racing. On May 22, their first day, they had an opportunity to skip the repechage and head straight to the M2x final on May 24 with a top finish in their heat. But a fourth-place finish forced them to race in the repechage on May 23.

Whelpley and Cowles faced Argentina, Ukraine and Latvia in their repechage. Needing a top-two finish to advance to the final, they did just that. In the final though, they weren’t as fortunate and finished last, missing their opportunity to compete in Rio.

The M4x exhausted after missing their Olympic opportunity

The men's quadruple sculls team was exhausted after missing their Olympic selection by less than four seconds. Credit: U.S. Rowing

Also missing their chance at Olympic selection was the men’s quadruple sculls (M4x) crew of brothers John and 2012 Olympian Peter Graves, Ben Dann and Ben Davison, who raced all three days as well but fell short in the final, finishing fourth.

The M2x failed to qualify for Rio at the Final Qualification Regatta

Americans Stephen Whelpley (left) and Willy Cowles (right) of the men's double sculls rest after a hard fought race, eventually missing Olympic selection. Credit: U.S. Rowing

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the missed opportunity of two-time Olympian Ken Jurkowski, who failed to make it to the final. He battled his way to the Final Qualification Regatta after a long road of competition to represent the U.S. in the men’s single sculls.

Ken Jurkowski rowed at the Final Qualification Regatta

Ken Jurkowski was hoping to make his third Olympic appearance in Rio but fell short. Credit: U.S. Rowing

Jurkowski needed a top-three finish in the final to head to Rio, but couldn’t advance past the repechage where he finished fifth on Sunday.

In the end, U.S. Rowing qualified 11 of 14 Olympic boats that will see the waters of Lagao Rodrigo de Freitas in Rio de Janeiro. Ten of those boats were qualified at last year’s world championships.

The entire U.S. Olympic rowing team will be named June 24.

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