The United States women's quadruple sculls crew set itself up to become the first U.S. boat to qualify for the London Olympics.
In a furious race through choppy water on Tuesday, the U.S. crew overcame an early lead by Great Britain, then exchanged leads with China through the final 50 meters of the race before crossing the finish line 0.12 seconds ahead of China for the win.
They will race in the finals at the 2011 World Rowing Championships on Thursday. The only way the crew does not qualify for the Olympics is if it does not finish Thursday's race. The world championships are the first opportunity for nations to qualify crews for the 2012 Games. But, specific athletes won't be selected until next spring.
"Obviously, it's an honor to qualify the boat, but there is still a lot of work to be done Thursday and a lot of work to be done in the next year," Natalie Dell said in a statement released by US Rowing. "[Great Britain] was up for probably the first half of the race and then China came up in the last 500 [meters]. I don't know what happened after that.
"It was crazy out there. I thought, if it's this bad and we're leading, we must be doing something right."
Crews that fail to qualify for the Olympics at worlds will have another opportunity at the Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, from May 20-23, 2012.
Also qualifying for the semifinals on Tuesday was the arms and shoulders men single sculls, the legs/trunk/arms mixed four with coxswain, the men's pair and the women's double sculls.