Felice Mueller traveled to the Under-23 Rowing World Championships in Amsterdam with no expectations.
Even after a surprise gold medal and a record-setting performance in the pair at last year’s championships, Mueller was determined not to overlook her competition.
Mueller prepared for this year’s World Championships as a totally new and different experience. She was rowing with a different teammate, competing against different teams, contending for a medal in a different location — and Mueller was even vying for a medal in a new event in addition to participating in the pair.
The only thing that stayed the same, though, was that she won a gold medal in the pair with another world-record setting performance.
“It still hasn’t hit me,” Mueller said. “Coming through the last 250 (meters) I realized we were up by a good margin, and that excitement pushing you towards the finish line when you’re about to win is really powerful. I was very, very happy that we were able to come up in first again this year.”
The tandem of Mueller and Grace Luczak — a senior at Stanford and an Ann Arbor native — completely obliterated their competition. Taking advantage of the strong tailwinds, Mueller and Luczak finished with a time of 7:05.13, destroying the Under-23 world-best time set last year by Mueller and then-teammate Ashley Kroll by more than nine seconds.
“To set a world record at the same event two years in a row, I’ve never heard of anyone doing that in the sport of rowing,” Michigan coach Mark Rothstein said. “It’s certainly impressive but I wouldn’t say I’m surprised.”
The pair left little doubt as to which boat was best as they dominated the course, finishing nearly eight seconds ahead of second-place Romania, who posted a time of 7:12.97. The Netherlands took home the bronze medal with a time of 7:17.97.
With the winds howling and emotions swirling, Mueller and Luczak executed a flawless gameplan.
“I was confident and nervous,” Mueller said. “We were talking before our race and we were saying that there was every emotion. (We) were nervous, excited, confident and relaxed.
“We definitely talked a lot about how we had to row in the strong tailwind. We were focusing on staying very clean and relaxed in the chop and getting our blades in quickly.”
Along with the gold medal, Mueller added a bronze medal to her collection, helping the Women’s Eight claim third place. Team USA pulled out to an early lead at about the 500-meter mark but faded late to fall behind Canada and New Zealand.
Even with a late surge, Mueller and her teammates couldn’t overcome New Zealand, finishing roughly a second and a half behind second place and posting a time of 6:07.37.
“I thought we had a really good race in the eight,” Mueller said. “I wish we had caught New Zealand, but I’m proud of all the effort we put into that race and the effort leading up to it. We had a poor race for lanes earlier in the week, so for us to bounce back and race as hard as we did made me very happy. “
But even with reaching new heights and achieving new personal accomplishments, Mueller was just glad to have the opportunity to race for her country once again.
“There would be periods when I was sitting in the boat and I’d realize that what I was doing was actually really cool,” Mueller said. “It was exciting to represent the United States as one of the most talented under-23 rowers. I think we were all very thankful and happy to have the experience of racing.”