Sports success or failure can often be measured in seconds or inches. Kara Kohler’s quest for her second Olympic medal in Tokyo was dashed in the single sculls semi-finals when she finished less than one second out of second place and half a second out of third in a race where the top three rowers earned spots in the gold medal finals.
The Cal Berkeley and Clayton Valley High grad had handily moved through the heats and quarterfinals before she fell milliseconds short of reaching the finals. The three rowers finishing ahead of her in the semi-finals took first, third and fourth in the medal race.
That one second Kohler will regret until she gets another Olympic chance can be traced to the beginning of the semi. “It was a shaky start,” Kohler said. “I’ve struggled to get off the line cleanly this regatta. The crosswind has challenged me, and it challenged me again today.
“I was dropped pretty quickly, so that was not a great place to start – so that was rough. But, I definitely kept fighting and tried everything I had, but it was a little short today. I’m very disappointed, but I did what I could.”
Kohler’s disappointment matched that of the entire United States Olympic rowing team, which came home without a single medal, something that had never happened when American rowers competed since the modern Olympics began in 1904.
In the second of two women’s single sculls semi-finals, Austria’s Magdalena Lobnig got off to the hot start, taking an early lead on the field, with four-time Olympian Emma Twigg of New Zealand sitting in second and Great Britain’s Victoria Thornley third. Kohler lagged in fifth position at the 500-meter mark before moving past Iran’s Nazanin Malaei in the second 500. At the same time, Twigg was pulling ahead of Lobnig and took just over a one-second advantage as the scullers crossed the midway point.
Twigg continued to extend her lead over the third 500. During the final 500 meters, Kohler put on a big sprint to try to catch the faltering Austrian, but the American just ran out of room as Lobnig was able to hold on to the final qualification spot. Twigg won the race in a 7:20.70, with Townley finishing in a 7:25.12. Lobnig crossed in a 7:25.59, while Kohler clocked a 7:26.10.
After the semi-finals Kohler said, “The women’s single sculls is an incredibly deep field, and it’s anyone’s game. There’s no clear favorite – well, it seems like Emma (Twigg) is right now – but coming in, it was anyone’s guess who could be in that A final contending for the medals. It’s a tough field, and I’m proud I could be a part of it and be right there.”
Kohler concluded her Tokyo racing in the B finals where she took third, placing her ninth overall. Twigg finished off with strong Olympics by winning gold.
The Clayton resident began her Tokyo racing by advancing directly to the quarterfinals thanks to a win in the first of six heats. With the top three moving on to the quarterfinals, Iran’s Malaei took the early lead before Kohler moved into the top spot as the scullers hit the midway point. Kohler continued to extend her lead over the back half of the race. As the scullers crossed the line, Kohler finished with a winning time of 7:49.71.
Kohler won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics in the women’s quad boat for America. She wasn’t selected by USRowing for the 2016 Rio Olympic team and the next year she switched to single sculls. She represented the US in the 2018 and 2019 world championships and was an impressive winner at the Olympic Trials earlier this year earning her second Olympic berth.
Jay Bedecarré is a long-time resident and writer in Concord and Clayton. He began his newspaper writing career while still a senior at Mt. Diablo High School and he has been part of The Pioneer since its inception in 2003. Jay also operates Bay Area Festivals, presenting events around the San Francisco Bay Area including Bay Area KidFest annually in Downtown Concord.