Simsbury native Sara Hendershot and her rowing partner, Sarah Zelenka of Itasca, IL, surprised the rowing world by taking second in the first heat in the women's pair event early Saturday morning in London.
The pair's time of 6:59:29 earned them an automatic spot in the six-boat final on Wednesday, Aug. 1. The British team of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning came in first with a time a 6:57:29, an Olympics best. The world record for the race is 6:53:80.
Australian and New Zealand pairs took the last two automatic spots in the final. The remaining six boats will race again on Monday to compete for the last two spots in the final.
According to the official Olympics website, the U.S. team wasn't expected to compete so closely with the dominant British and New Zealand boats: "Since Beijing this event has turned into a battle between New Zealand and Great Britain. The New Zealand crew Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown have won back-to-back World Championships. The GB lineup of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning have finished behind New Zealand at the last Worlds but have been unbeaten so far this season, including two wins over the defending world champs."
Here are the results (Repechage means the boats will compete again for a spot in the final):
Heat 1Great Britain Helen Glover and Heather Stanning 6:57:29 Final United States Sara Hendershot and Sarah Zelenka 6:59:29 Final Romania Georgeta Andrunache and Viorica Susanu 7:05:39 Repechage Germany Kerstin Hartmann and Marlene Sinnig 7:10:28 Repechage Argentina Maria Laura Abalo and Gabriela Best 7:12:17 Repechage
Heat 2Australia Kate Hornsey and Sarah Tait 7:01:60 Final New Zealand Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown 7:06:93 Final China Yage Zhang and Yulan Gao 7:13:38 Repechage South Africa Naydene Smith and Lee-Ann Persse 7:14:31 Repechage Italy Claudia Wurzel and Sara Bertolasi 7:21:44 Repechage
The U.S. Olympic Rowing team left for London on July 16 and Hendershot and Zelenka have been practicing at Dorney Lake every day since.
Hendershot has been keeping friends, family, and supporters up to date by blogging about her Olympic experience.
Hendershot graduated from in 2006 and graduated from Princeton University, where she majored in psychology, in 2010.
The 24-year-old got her start in rowing on the Farmington River in Simsbury where she rowed for the Simsbury High School Crew team.