how gondoliers from each location would do - which events they would enter, where they were most likely to shine.
I figured that certain gondoliers who regularly row tandem would have a better chance of doing well in the two oar events.
When I heard that some guys from the Gondola Company of Newport were entering, I was looking forward to seeing them and curious to find out how well they'd do in the single oar events. The Gondola Company of Newport is right across the water from my docks, and our boats pass each other on a daily basis. They are a great bunch of guys, but there are no boats in their fleet that can be rowed with two oars. I never expected them to enter any tandem events.
I was wrong.
A week before the U.S. Gondola Nationals, two of these guys went to Sunset Gondola and spent some time learning the art of tandem rowing on one of the gondolas there.
I've seen 30-year-old Michael Angelo Ruffino (yes, that's his real name - he's lucky like that), and 24-year-old Parker Harrison on the water in Newport for several years. With passegers on our respective boats, it's always been a brief exchange of pleasantries.
On the morning of qualifiers, we rode over to the sprint venue together,
in boats that were right next to each other, and as the day went on,
I got to see them row in both single and double sprint events.
Parker powering through to the finish line in the solo distance event.
Mike in the lead during a sprint qualifying heat.
I figured they'd do well in the single oar capacity, but they surprised a lot of us when they pushed off the shore with two oars.
Their qualifying run was strong and many of us stood up and took notice.
Remarks from guys who'd rowed the Vogalonga in Venice included positive statements like "look at the stance on that guy in the front",
and "wow, these guys are fast".
A fast tandem run.
Returning and receiving compliments from other rowers.
The next day I shared the water with them once again, but this time there were no passengers, and our boats were moving a lot faster.
At 56 and 48 respectively, John and I were the oldest team in the tandem division. Keeping up with the younger guys in the race would take all that we had.
Mike and Parker ran into some trouble with their boat early and I told my forward rower, John that "it just became a two boat race". I did not expect them to be able to catch up.
We set our sights on the two guys from Providence in the third boat,
and tried to keep up with them.
Leaving the younger guys from Newport behind, we focused on drafting Providence with hopes to pass when the opportunity came (it never did).
Four hundred yards later the "surprise boys" had caught up with us and made it to the second turn right on our tail.
What followed was an epic battle of experience and technique against the raw power and tireless energy of these two young men.
rowing as hard as two old guys could, we worked vigorously to maintain our lead in a fight for position.
To say that Mike and Parker gave us a run for our money would be an understatement.
In the end John and I managed to beat them to the finish line, but we came away with a healthy respect for these two guys who nobody expected much from in the tandem category.
Next year I'm sure they'll be even more formidable.
I look forward to seeing them on the water again here in Newport...and some day on the race course once again as well.
My compliments also go out to gondolier Ricardo of Sunset Gondola for training these two guys - who ended up surprising many of us, especially a couple of old guys who'd been rowing for a long time.
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