Going in to the U.S. Gondola Nationals, many of us didn't really know what to expect from the other competitors. Some rowers really surprised us - such was the case with two guys from Coronado.
Matt "Matteo" Erickson and Eric "Enrico" Bender (who many of you know as the "Oar Snapper") were the last to run the tandem sprint time-trial Friday night.
Up until that moment John and I were in second place and Marcello and Rafaello from Providence were sitting happily in first.
It was dark, and I don't think many others were really paying much attention when the last boat went out with Matteo and Enrico on board, but when it came back...a lot of us took notice.
After the two guys from Coronado finished, I said to Marcello and Rafaello:
"Enjoy second place, we certainly liked it there for the short time we had it"
Matteo and Enrico had made their statement,
and they were clearly the ones to watch the next day.
Many of us in the LA/Orange County area gondola operations know each other, and came into this with a decent idea of how our local competitors would do, but the guys down at The Gondola Company in Coronado are somewhat insulated.
San Diego isn't all that far of a drive, but it's far enough.
It could be said that the two guys from Coronado grew up rowing,
with Enrico (age 25 on race day) having rowed since he was 15,
and Matteo (age 23) rowing since he was 18.
It's not quite the same as growing up rowing in Venezia
(from the age of, say, five), but the medals don't lie.
On Saturday they both competed in the sprint solo - taking first and second place. Matteo came in first, beating Enrico's time only by about one second.
In the solo distance races Enrico came in second place, and Matteo came in fourth, with a time difference that was less than thirty seconds.
Is it any surprise that by the time these two climbed aboard a boat to row the tandem distance race, everyone was watching?
Things got real quiet next, as the two guys from Coronado prepared their boat - hammering in wedges around their forcole and lubing the rowing points.
On land these two guys were fun, friendly, the kind of guys you'd invite to a party, but now they were showing another side - a side that had been there all along, but nobody had bothered to look for it.
These were top level athletes getting ready to step into the ring.
Once all three boats in the heat were ready and positioned at the starting point, these two guys, who'd competed against each other in the solo events,
got down to business and rowed as a team.
Enrico recounted the experience to me:
The second we heard "go", we instantly fell into a perfect rhythmic rowing cadence. We could not have had a stronger start.
We held that pace and even kicked it up a notch at the home stretch.
Communication is key. That race was so fun!
The teamwork aspect made it so worth it, win or lose.
Rowing in a team situation is a whole different sport, with lots of unique disciplines. One of the keys to success is communication.
Matteo and Enrico got the memo on that:
We communicated the entire time. Talking to each other the whole race. When we needed to speed up we communicated that. If I was out-rowing him, he told me instantly and I slowed to his liking.
We just communicated well and ultimately that was the key to pulling away from the competition.
...And pull away they did.
Matteo and Enrico finished more than three minutes ahead of the second gondola to cross the line in their heat, and two minutes ahead of the lead boat in the other heat.
Such rowing prowess inspired one gondolier to refer to these two guys as
"The Two Oarsmen of the Apocalypse".
And here's what they looked like as they stepped forward to receive medals:
Yep, they snap oars and win races.
If you see them rowing behind you, it won't be for long - better hope they snap an oar before they catch up and pass you.
They are "The Two Oarsmen of the Apocalypse".