American rowers Molly Reckford and Michelle Sechser are Tokyo Olympics-bound after winning the women's lightweight double sculls final Sunday at the 2021 World Rowing Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland. It was the last chance to qualify in rowing with two spots available in each of the 14 Olympic boat classes.
Reckford and Sechser, sitting bow and stern, respectively, won gold in 7:06.62. They beat second-place Switzerland (7:07.58) by nearly a second. Ireland (7:09.22) was third, about 2.5 seconds back.
The crew had a strong start, producing its best 500m split at the start with a 1:44.55, and closed with its second-best split in 1:45.90.
On Saturday, the duo won heat two by 4 seconds (7:04.03), then three hours before Sunday's final won the first semifinal by more than two seconds (7:19.02).
Reckford and Sechser are both set to become first-time Olympians.
Team USA has had a crew in all six of the Games' women's lightweight doubles, dating back to the event's 1996 debut in Atlanta. Reckford-Sechser's boat will make it seven-for-seven in Tokyo.
But the Americans haven't contended for a medal since 2000, missing the A final at the past four Olympics. Teresa Bell and Lindsay Burns won silver in Atlanta, and were followed by Christine Collins and Sarah Garner's bronze in Sydney. The nation's results have then progressively dipped, with Lisa Schlenker and Stacey Borgman taking seventh in Athens, Renee Hykel and Jennifer Goldsack placing 10th in Beijing and Kristin Hedstrom and Julie Nichols finishing 11th in London. In Rio, Devery Karz and Kathleen Bertko were 10th.
Reckford, 28, made her first and only other national team in 2019, placing fourth in the non-Olympic-event lightweight quadruple sculls at the world championships in Austria.
The Short Hills, New Jersey, native graduated from Dartmouth in 2015 with a degree in government and psychology. She trains in Menlo Park, California.
For Sechser, who's 34, this is her ninth national team berth — she previously made the 2011 Pan American team, winning bronze medals in the quad and lightweight double in Mexico; and all but one national team from 2012 to 2019, winning lightweight-double bronze medals at 2017 worlds in Florida and the 2015 World Rowing Cup III in Switzerland, among eight other results.
The Folsom, California, native has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Tulsa, the latter being an MBA. She trains in Philadelphia.
"I'm just so happy to have achieved this and to have done it with [Reckford]," Sechser told Team USA. "I couldn't have asked for a better way to achieve this thing with a better partner. It was a really hard race. It was great with the amount of competition – people launching sprints – because when the Olympics are on the line, everyone just throws everything they can. It was really awesome to feel the power of our boat respond immediately to the attacks the field was launching without any sort of nervousness or hesitation, and that's how I know I've got a great partner calling the shots."
"I do this because I love to race, and this race is exactly why I love racing," Reckford said. "Off the line, China launched an attack like I hadn't seen before, and the Swiss were pulling into us in the last 250. They are all so skilled. When I called responses, Michelle responded. This is why I row – moments like this, races like this."
The U.S. women's Olympic rowing team now has five members:
Stone and Wagner were next, taking the double at the Trials' second phase in April.
The U.S. men's pair of Tom Peszek and Mike DiSanto made the final in Lucerne but came up just short, finishing third (6:40.77) behind a photo-finish between the Netherlands (6:38.60) and Denmark (6:38.67). Denmark took an early lead, and the U.S. was in fourth midway through the race. They pulled ahead of Great Britain in the third quarter for third but couldn't catch the Dutch or Danes.