Unionville grad rows to silver medal in Rio

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Members of the U.S. men's 8+ rowing team (left) receive silver during the medal ceremony for the 2015 World Rowing Junior Championships. Photo courtesy of World Rowing.com

Updated at 3:30 p.m. to add information from the U.S. Rowing Association

In an exciting, hard-fought race at the 2015 World Rowing Junior Championships on Saturday, Aug. 8, the eight-member men’s U.S. team, which included 2015 Unionville grad Justin Best, earned a silver medal.

Justin Best (second from right) enjoys some rare down time in Sarasota, Fla., where 16 of the top junior rowers trained for the 2015 World Rowing Junior Championships.
Justin Best (second from right) enjoys some rare down time in Sarasota, Fla., where 16 of the top U.S. junior rowers trained for the 2015 World Rowing Junior Championships.

Initially resembling a replay of an earlier race, the U.S. led all six teams for about three-quarters of the race in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, before the Netherlands pulled ahead, finishing first in 5:51.74. The U.S. came in at 5:53.39, and Germany, the reigning world champions, notched third in 5:54.28.

Jeanne and Glenn Best, Justin’s parents, listened to the audio and watched the World Rowing website's live tracker from their Kennett Square home; however, Jeanne Best said she did a lot of pacing along with her cheering, which was periodically interrupted by flurries of incoming texts from friends and relatives from as far away as Montana.

“This is just really incredible. These kids raced their hearts out,” she said, adding that the U.S. men’s 8+ (eight rowers plus a coxswain) hadn’t medaled in five years. “It was a good year for the U.S.,” which won five medals to last year’s two.

She explained that unlike many of the other competitors from other countries, the U.S. teams only train together for a month in Florida. “They’re going home with some hardware,” she said. “We’re just beyond proud of the work they and their coaches put in to accomplish that.”

Jeanne Best said she never could have imagined this outcome when her son took up the sport as a freshman at Unionville High. “I’m just thrilled for him – and the other members of the team,” she said.

She said she and her husband haven’t spoken with Justin yet, but they know they will and are eager for all the details. For now, they're enjoying the text he sent: "Thanks so much ... I am so happy now. You have no idea."

Best and his teammates will get to savor their silver. Because the finals were moved up a day due to the threat of high winds, the team, scheduled to return to the U.S. on Monday night, gets an extra day in Rio. Jeanne Best said the kids from different countries typically spent time after the race swapping gear.

According to the U.S. Rowing Association, the women’s four won gold, the men's eight picked up silver, and the women's pair, quadruple scull, and eight each won bronze, constituting a team record at the junior world championships. Germany won the medal count with 11, while the U.S. and Italy finished second with five medals each.

The U.S. team advanced to the finals on Thursday, Aug. 5, with two second-place finishes in a prestigious competition representing rowers from over 40 countries. Having finished second in one heat by 0.39 seconds, the crew just missed the top spot in the repechage – a contest in which the top teams that failed to win heats compete for a place in the final.

The U.S. held first place through the 1,500-meter mark in the repechage, before The Netherlands seized the advantage, finishing with a time of 5:58.12. The U.S. came in at 5:58.85, according to the U.S. Rowing website.

Best, 17, who said in an earlier interview that he’s excited about attending Drexel University in the fall as a member of its crew team, was selected through national tryouts spanning nine identification camps (where national team coaches identify potential contenders) from coast to coast that started in January and a selection camp in Pittsburgh this past June.

The top 16 sweep junior men’s rowers and two coxswains were picked to move onto the world championship. In sweep rowing, each competitor is responsible for a single oar. Jeanne Best said that for the first time in U.S. men’s junior rowing history, all three teams selected through the camps – the eight-member and two four-member teams – made the finals.

Best’s fellow silver medalists are coxswain Ethan Ruiz (Newport Beach, Ca.), Mark Levinson (San Francisco, Ca.), Hunter Johnson (Winnetka, Ill.), Cameron Chater (Berkeley, Ca.), Ethan Seder (Berkeley, Ca.), Charles Watt (Acton, Mass.), Andrew Gaard (Madison, Wis.), and James Palmer (Rye, N.Y.)

Last year, Best represented the U.S. at the CanAmMex regatta in Nova Scotia, Canada, where Team USA won gold in the men’s 8+.


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