CLAYTON, CA—Clayton’s Kara Kohler claimed the first spot on the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team last month, winning the women’s single sculls final at the first 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Rowing in Sarasota, Florida with an impressive victory in the finals to complete a dominating week against a field of 37 other rowers.
While five boat classes were contested during the five-day event, only the winner of the women’s single sculls had the chance to earn her ticket to Tokyo, pending USOPC approval.
Kohler was passed over for selection to the 2016 Rio Olympics team but is now headed to Tokyo in July, nine years after she won bronze at London 2012.
Trusting the preparation
“It’s a huge relief,” Kohler said after the finals. “I’ve worked incredibly hard the past few years to race the single in Tokyo, so there was a lot riding on today’s race. But I had fun and trusted everything I’ve done up to this point. So, that was what I was thinking about while racing – trusting my preparation, thinking about my teammates, my coach and my family.”
Kohler, the reigning world championships’ bronze medalist, and Gevvie Stone, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist in this event, quickly made it a two-boat race in the finals. Stone actually got off to a quicker start, but Kohler pulled even and then ahead before the two scullers crossed the 500-meter mark.
Kohler and Stone were the pre-meet favorites and they had open water on the remainder of the four-boat finals field, with Kohler in the lead by about a half-length at the quarter mark. Kohler used the second 500 meters of the race to extend her advantage, pushing her lead to a small bit of open water just after the midway point.
She continued to pull away during the third 500 meters before coming home with nearly a four-second victory. Kohler crossed the finish line with a time of 7:23.37, with Stone finishing in 7:27.17. Kristina Wagner finished third in 7:39.29, with Maggie Fellows coming in fourth in 7:45.67.
“There were doubts for sure, but you can’t control, necessarily, what happens with the virus,” Kohler said about the last year when the COVID-19 pandemic forced postponement of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. “I just tried to keep my focus on each day. (At the finish line of the Trials finals) it was just a lot of emotions – the ups and the downs and all the challenges that these past four years have brought. Obviously, all the successes too. I’ve had a lot of fun racing the single, and I’m glad I get to keep doing it.”
The Clayton Valley High School and Cal Berkeley grad raised her arms in triumph as she finished the face. Spectators weren’t allowed but her mom Caryl Kohler was on hand to watch her daughter clinch her second Olympic team berth. Kohler and Clayton diver Kristen Ipsen both represented America and each won bronze medals on the same day at the 2012 London Olympics.
Ipsen, a De La Salle High and Stanford diving legend also competed in Rio in 2016 before retiring from his sport. Another Clayton athlete, Erin Dobratz of Clayton Valley High and Stanford, won bronze in the 2004 Athens Olympics for the US in synchronized swimming.
Kohler, a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in the women’s quadruple sculls, won all four of her races at the Trials in convincing fashion.
She began training in single sculls in 2018 and was fourth in 2018 and third in 2019 in her new event at the World Rowing Championships, which qualified the United States for a berth in that event at Tokyo. She was voted 2019 USRowing female athlete of the year.
Just before the scheduled Olympic Trials last year the coronavirus pandemic brought her sport and most others to a grinding halt. Eventually the Tokyo Games were postponed 12 months. Kohler and the rest of her US rowing team members will all be hoping these Games take place as scheduled.
The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 are slated for July 23-Aug. 9, with rowing events starting on the morning of July 23.