SCHINIAS, Greece - With 500 meters to go, the women's lightweight double sculls first semifinal had come down to four boats. Three would advance to the finals. And the Americans, Stacey Borgman and Lisa Schlenker, were in fourth.
Borgman, of Homer, Alaska, and Schlenker, of Lake Oswego, Ore., didn't fade. To the contrary, they picked up the pace and came through with the second fastest final split in either semifinal. One problem: The boat in front of them, the Germans, came through with the fastest.
So it was Romania, Netherlands, Germany and - fourth by less than a second - the United States.
"I think both of us had the best rest race of our lives, the best and the fastest," Borgman said. "And honestly, I could feel in the boat that we just put everything we had of the last four, six, 10 years, into this."
It just wasn't quite enough. Not in this heat.
Their finishing time for the 2,000-meter race - 6 minutes, 54.16 seconds - would have been good for second place in the next semifinal. But their semifinal included the reigning world champions (Germany), the defending Olympic champions (Romania) and one of the hottest international teams (Netherlands). And the final gap between second and fourth was 1.1 seconds.
"I never saw the field so close before," the Netherlands' Kirsten Van Der Kolk said.
For some athletes in Athens, making it to the final 12 and recording the fifth best time in an Olympic semifinals would be reason to celebrate.
For Borgman and Schlenker, it was reason to commiserate.
An hour after the race, Borgman's voice cracked as she talked about the mix of emotions, the pride in the effort, the disappointment in the result.
"I think getting here has been an honor in itself, part of the dream," Borgman said. "But part of the dream also is winning a medal. Not everybody can do that. I think that having the race we just had, I can leave feeling ... OK. Had we had a bad race and come in fourth, I think that would have haunted me for a longer period of time."
For Borgman and Schlenker, both first-time Olympians, this race was the culmination of years of training - but only seven weeks of training together.
That was a sharp contrast to the teams from Romania and Germany. But Borgman said it wasn't necessarily the difference.
"I think there's a lot to be said for a lot of experience, a lot of boat time," she said. "They know pretty well what the other one is going to do and how they're going to react. But I think there's also something to be said for just a boat that has a lot of fire. ... It's a special dynamic. You don't have time to go out and have bad practices. We tried to make the most of it. And I think we did."
Borgman's short-term plans: See some of Athens.
The rowing facility is located about 45 minutes from the city. And as of Thursday morning, Borgman had barely made it out of the venue, let alone anywhere near the Acropolis.
"I'm really excited to get out there and see what's out there and kind of realize that I'm at the Olympics and there are other athletes here," she said. "We've been watching it on TV, but that's what I do every four years. So it will be good to get out there."
She hopes to see the city, visit the Olympic Village and watch Tela O'Donnell, another Homer native, compete in women's wrestling.
"I'd like to go there and show a little support, wave an Alaskan flag for her, maybe get to meet her," she said. "We were kids when we knew each other."
After the games, she will return to Portland and get her law degree at Lewis and Clark College's Northwestern School of Law. And next summer, she and her boyfriend, rower David Friederick, will get married in Alaska. She was born in Kotzebue, raised in Homer and graduated from Homer High in 1993. Her mother is co-owner of Homer Ocean Charter.
"I have a lot to look forward to," she said.
For rowing, though, this likely was it - a finish in the country considered to be the birthplace of rowing.
"As of now, I'm moving on to other things," she said. "If I get the itch in a year or two, maybe I'll think about it. But I've doing it for a while and it might be time to check out the rest of what the world has to offer. Life beyond."
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