Men's Champ Doubles, Defending Champs Nip O'Donovans

By Katherine Isbell – Posted on October 22, 2017

The men’s championship doubles was a close race, to say the least. How close, exactly? Just over one-tenth of a second.

Penn AC’s Justin Keen and Erik Frid, the defending champions starting in bow position one, were neck-and-neck with Ireland’s Gary and Paul O’Donovan, in bow position two, for the entirety of the race.

At the first checkpoint, the O’Donovans, rowing for the Skibbereen Rowing Club, were ahead by about a second, but by the second checkpoint, Keen and Frid were ahead by nearly two seconds. At the third checkpoint, the O’Donovans were again in first place, rowing about four seconds faster than the defending champions from last year. It was at that point, as the two boats were passing the Cambridge Boat Club, that the Penn AC team once again pushed ahead into first place.

Keen and Frid managed to close the O’Donovan’s four second gap and then edge just over a tenth of a second ahead to win the race in 16:35.304, directly followed by the O’Donavans in 16:35.428. In third place was USRowing’s National Training Center’s team of Joshua King and Taylor Hardy, who began the race in the seventh bow position, with RG Hansa Hamburg’s Tim Ole Naski and Sverri Nielsen, who were seated in bow position four, finishing in fourth place.

Gary O’Donovan said the race really came down to the last turn explaining, “Past Cambridge Boat coming ‘round the last bend, we went a little too wide, with the headwind coming up against us… We lost a good bit of time, and I think that’s probably where we lost the race.”

However, Gary, the older of the two O’Donovan brothers, did acknowledge that second place was an improvement over he and his brother’s eighth place finish last year, and, while adding that the pair, who won a silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics, enjoyed Saturday’s race, he hinted that they were already thinking ahead to the 2018 Head of the Charles, “We had a great time… Looking forward to coming back again and hopefully we can try to do a better job next year.”

Keen said that he knew around the time that he and Frid passed the Cambridge Boat Club and made the last turn of the course that they had a very good chance of claiming the first place title for the second year in a row. Explaining what was going through his mind at that point in the race, he said, “We could watch them [the O’Donovans] the whole race, and we knew it was back-and-forth, stroke-for-stroke, and we got a better line… So we just started to call it, like, ‘This is our race, this is our race.’ I was just kind of counting the strokes and we just went.”

When asked about his possible next year to compete for a third consecutive championship, Keen laughed, and said, “I think I have to now.”