Former Cal rower Kara Kohler, who won a bronze at the 2012 London Olympics in the quadruple sculls, will get the chance to pursue a medal at the Tokyo Games this summer in the single sculls.
Kohler, 30, won the event Friday at the U.S. Rowing Trials at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida. Five years after failing to earn a return trip to the Games, she becomes the first American rower to land a berth for this summer’s competition.
"It's a huge relief," Kohler said. "I've worked incredibly hard the past few years to race the single in Tokyo, so there was a lot riding on today's race. But I had fun and trusted everything I've done up to this point.”
The rowing competition at the Summer Games is scheduled for July 23-30 at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo.
The U.S. trials were canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pushed back after the Tokyo Games were postponed by a year.
That turned out to be fortuitous for Kohler, a native of Clayton in the East Bay.
Kohler was just recovering from a bout of mononucleosis that she contracted a month before the scheduled date for the 2020 trials.
After Friday’s emotional victory, Kohler understood her body’s reaction to the moment.
"I feel slightly ill," she said, smiling at reporters about 20 minutes after her race. "It's the nerves and the excitement.”
Kohler completed the four-woman, 2,000-meter race in 7 minutes, 23.37 seconds, beating runner-up Gevvie Stone by 3.8 seconds. Stone was the 2016 silver medalist in the event and had put her medical career on hold to chase a third trip to the Olympics. Kohler took charge in the second quarter of the race and never was threatened by any of her three rivals.
Cal coach Al Acosta applauded the efforts of Kohler, who was an All-American with the Bears in 2011.
"We have always been proud of Kara," Acosta said. "She's an amazing person and an inspiration to us all. We are thrilled that she is achieving her dreams and that she will be representing the U.S.A in Tokyo.”
Kohler reportedly considered quitting the sport after 2016 when she did qualify for the Rio Olympics. Instead, in 2018 she switched from quadruple sculls to single sculls and a year later Kohler was named U.S. Female Rower of the Year after winning a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships.
Cover photo of Kara Kohler courtesy of U.S. Rowing
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo