2012 Windemere Cup has a 2016 Olympic flavor

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With the inclusion of the Argentinian national team that was highly successful at last year's Pan-Am Games and Washington's own top-ranked men's crew, the 2012 version of the Windemere Cup has a decidedly Olympic feel.

But that feel has more to do with the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and not so much this summer's London Games.

Argentina will be the 14th different country to compete in the Windemere Cup but only the second from South America after Brazil took part in 2009. While the event serves as the kickoff to boating season in the Puget Sound, it's also become a destination event for colleges and national teams worldwide.

The men's eights race this year features Washington, Argentina, Oregon State and Virginia, while the women's marquee race has the Huskies, Argentina and local foe Gonzaga. The women's crew from the University of Otago in New Zealand will also compete in the junior varsity eights race.

Finding an international attraction to add to the festivities has become part of the yearly agenda for Washington's rowing staff. The Olympics and World Cup races overseas made it a little more difficult this year.

''Some countries just aren't available on the Olympic year and we really have been trying hard to be inclusive of countries we haven't invited before. And when I saw the performance of the team from Argentina at the Pan-American Games I went, `yeah, these guys are good.''' Washington director of rowing Bob Ernst said. ''And if you look at these athletes out here when they're practicing, they may not be their Olympic team, but I tell you this is the `A' team. These athletes will be a challenge for our crews.''

The Argentinians qualified five boats for the Olympics in London, a healthy number after an impressive performance at the Pan-American Games last summer in Guadalajara, Mexico. Argentina came away from the Pan-Am Games with eight medals in men's and women's rowing and won five golds, the most of any country. It was just the start of what Argentina hopes is a build up toward the 2016 games in neighboring Rio de Janeiro.

While all of Argentina's athletes who are competing at the London Games are currently training in Europe, the crews that will race on Saturday in Seattle are the next tier trying to find their place in the lineups as 2016 inches closer.

''We feel very welcome here and appreciate the opportunity to come. ... These are national level athletes,'' Argentinian coach Mario Espinosa said through an interpreter.

Washington, the clear No. 1 men's crew in the country in the latest USRowing poll, is already without one of its top rowers for this year as Conlin McCabe took the year off to train with the Canadian national team in hopes of making the squad for London. McCabe could join as many as four other Washington grads on the Canadian team.

While McCabe won't be part of this Windemere Cup, the Huskies' boat features the likes of Rob Munn, who Washington men's coach Michael Callahan pointed out as having a great chance of being considered for 2016 if he continues his improvement.

Munn was demoted out of the Huskies' top boat last spring, only to come back even stronger for his senior year.

''If he chooses to go that direction he very well could be at that level in a few years,'' Callahan said. ''... We have guys on that trajectory but aren't quite there yet.''


Follow Tim Booth on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ByTimBooth

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