Cal rowers at Lake Natoma Thursday
The calmest, smoothest stretch of the American River will be bustling Friday and Saturday. Lake Natoma, just off Highway 50 past Rancho Cordova, is hosting the 107th annual National Rowing Championships – the event's first time on the West Coast.
Race judge: “Attention! ... Go!”
(sounds of rowing)
If you don’t know rowing too well, get ready to be impressed.
Hakinson: “It may look easy or graceful, but it’s definitely one of the hardest things physically to do, and mentally.”
That’s Yale sophomore Andrew Hakinson, who – along with three teammates and several other schools – just finished rowing 2,000 yards in the span of a few minutes.
Announcer: “Princeton still just a two-seat margin over Northeastern…”
Hakinson’s teammate, Carl Nunziato, says the races are full-body workouts.
Nunziato: “You’re sitting on a seat that can slide up and down the boat. Your legs are folded up, you’re compressed, reaching out of the side of the boat. You put the blade in the water, fire your leg muscles and then swing your back open and pull your arms in your finish. And you essentially just do that 250 times.”
Piece of cake, huh? Not so much, says Brian Dulgar. He runs the Aquatic Center at Sacramento State, which is hosting the racing at Lake Natoma.
Dulgar: “These are some of the finest athletes literally in the world. If you’ve never rowed before, you don’t know what they do from a training aspect.”
And during the three-day event, oars from schools like Harvard and Yale – and Cal and Stanford – will paddle down the river more than 60 times. Although, as devoted Stanford rowing parent John Brendel points out, it’s not quite the same as watching a ballgame.
Brendel: “Rowing, unfortunately, is not a spectator sport. It’s 5 minutes and 30 seconds, and you only get to see about the last minute. And that’s all we’re gonna get to see our sons today. Basketball, you see a whole game and you see every play.”
Announcer: “So we’re gonna go to the finish line and it looks like it’s gonna be nip-and-tuck.”
Still, the National Rowing Championships are an important milestone for Brian Dulgar’s Aquatic Center. Lake Natoma would have hosted Olympic Crew events if San Francisco had gotten the Summer Games. And it’s hosted other big collegiate events before. But it’s never hosted this marquee event. Dulgar says Sac State worked hard to bring the East Coast-dominated sport out west.
Dulgar: “There was an opportunity between the western schools – such as Cal, Washington and Stanford – to lobby and say, hey look, why do we have to travel every year? So for the last two years, we put our budgetary things and all the logistics to make it happen.”
And it helps when your course is popular. The Yale rowers say Lake Natoma is flat, fair and relatively wind-free.