In the eight years that the World Indoor Rowing Championships has featured a 2000-meter race format, no college rower had ever won the event. But on Feb. 22 Yale’s Maria Stevens ’06 changed all that with a dominant performance which gave her two gold medals.
“I think the coolest thing about it is a lot of the people who pull good times are generally in their last year of college or a few years out of college, but I’m only 19,” Stevens said. “And I am curious to see how much speed I can add by the time I am at that experience level.”
Over 350 women from around the world competed in the World Indoor Rowing Championships (WIRC) at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Boston. The rowers compete for the fastest time on an erg, a weight training machine designed to simulate rowing. Yet Stevens out-rowed them all with a time of 6:40.9, finishing almost 13 seconds ahead of the second place finisher, Harvard’s Elisabeth Lambert. Stevens shattered her previous personal 2000-meter record time of 6:45.7.
At the WIRC medals are awarded separately to the top three collegiate competitors and to the top three finishers overall. Traditionally, international and non-collegiate American rowers have dominated the overall category. But Stevens beat out both the other Americans and the international challengers to take gold medals in both categories. She was also awarded two hammers, a WIRC tradition.
Yale women’s crew head coach Will Porter said people will now take more notice of Stevens because of her performance at the WIRC, especially the U.S. National team to which Stevens aspires.
“I think [Stevens’s performance] will open people’s eyes to her abilities so far as she is an individual and how the U.S. National team sees her,” Porter said. “I don’t know the last time, or if ever, a college woman won the event.”
The U.S. National team runs an invite-only summer camp for the nation’s top collegiate rowers. Stevens hopes to be invited to the under-23 pre-elite camp, all on the road to potentially competing in the 2008 Olympics. Stevens said there is a lot of politicking involved in the invite process, but her performance at the WIRC will help.
“Your Olympic rowers are basically your national team, and everyone on the national team pulls around a 6:40,” Stevens said. “My score also speaks for itself, and they are interested in fast scores. They ought to invite me.”
After the race, Stevens was so exhausted from the largely anaerobic erging that she had to be helped away from the erg by her teammates.
Two other Eli women competed in the event — Alexis Fleckenstein ’07 and Christine Geiser ’07 who finished 29th and 63rd respectively.
“People didn’t know who [Stevens] was, [but] everyone found out,” Geiser said. “There’s a huge chance she’ll be in the Olympics in 2008. She’s really inspirational for all of us.”
Yet, Stevens said the WIRC is separate from her goals as an Eli rower. She said she has wanted to do the Championships for three years to see how fast she is compared with rowers from other colleges and from around the world.
“I think my teammates are more excited about the score than I am,” Stevens said. “This excitement is a good thing, but one person’s score doesn’t move the whole boat.”