WINDSOR, ENGLAND – DeKalb twins Ross and Grant James couldn’t have had their Olympics get off to a better start Saturday.
Despite being a decided underdog in the men’s eight rowing competition, the twins and their six boatmates won their heat to advance straight through to Wednesday’s final.
The American crew clocked in at 5:30.72, more than two seconds ahead of second-place Australia. Germany, which has been dominant in the event for the past two years, won the other heat. All six other boats in the competition must now go through the repechage.
“We went out with a pretty solid game plan to win at all costs,” said Ross, who along with his brother won gold in the eight at the 2008 World Rowing 23U Championships, and also competed with the senior team at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. “I think we executed well when we had to and came out on top.”
Grant said it was simply a case of “putting our heads to the wall and going after it.”
Last year, the U.S. eight failed to qualify for the Olympics at the World Championships in Slovenia, which forced the Americans to win the final qualifying regatta in May to earn the last Olympic spot.
That was a first in the modern Olympic era that U.S. Rowing hadn’t secured a place for the boat at worlds.
With Germany, a strong Great Britain side competing on home soil and defending Olympic champion Canada in a different heat, the U.S. drew much weaker opponents than than the odds would suggest. But that doesn’t taint the win as far as Ross is concerned.
“I don’t think the draw has much to do with a race. A race is a race,” said the 24-year old. “The fast boat is going to win. It just comes down to performing on the day. We had an opportunity and we seized it. We came in as the unknowns but I don’t think we mind that. We’re just focused on executing our plan.”
With this being the first taste of the Olympics for the brothers, both couldn’t be happier with the experience so far.
“It’s so big – there’s really nothing else like it in the world,” Grant said. “We’re just thrilled to be competing here.”
Ross added that he feels comfortable dealing with the “bigger stage and bigger expectations” that come with the Olympic Games. He said it’s now just a matter of keeping the momentum going.
“We’ll rest up a little bit, then get our training going again, and try to get our speed up again. We just have to go fast one more time.”
His brother is sure they will.