BEIJING - St. John's University alum and U.S. rower Matt Schnobrich is writing a blog for the school's website on his Olympic experience, and it's one of the best blogs I've ever read, and I've read two.

He described the decline in expectations for using free time at the team hotel, as rowers check in lugging heavy literature and eventually devolve into watching YouTube and cracking "Yo' Momma" jokes.

Of course, Schnobrich is a Johnnie, so he calls them "Your Mother'' jokes. "You know, someone will come on the TV," he said, "and you'll point and say, 'That's your mother.'"

Tuesday was not a day for joking. Remarkably, two St. Paulites -- Schnobrich and Micah Boyd -- make up a quarter of the U.S. men's eight. The United States won gold in that event four years ago at Athens but was forced to race in a repechage, or race-back heat, on Tuesday, to qualify for Sunday's finals.

The team sped to a lead early in the 2,000-meter race, lost it to the Australians, then surged through the final 500 meters to win easily. The finals are Sunday afternoon in Beijing at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park, a beautiful, tree-lined facility an hour away from the National Stadium.

Boyd said a gold medal will be difficult because of the strength of the Canadian team, but a spot on the podium is possible. Schnobrich and Boyd sounded thrilled to be in Beijing, regardless of the outcome.

Schnobrich, who trains in Princeton, N.J., offered a veritable soliloquy on the subject. "It goes beyond words," he said. "We train for so long in the Princeton bubble that you don't really feel the magnitude of this stuff, then you come here and you read the websites and you sit in the hotel room and watch the Olympics on television.

"We're just as inspired by the [U.S. swimming] 4-by-100 win, all that stuff feeds into it and at some point it kind of slowly permeates into you that we're part of that, we're here.

"You see all those shows going on, and then you come out here and you think, well, this is our show. We know how we feel when we watch synchronized diving or judo or whatever the sport may be, we can all still watch those sports and be inspired and be awestruck by those, and then this is our time to come out. People are going to watch this and think, 'Wow, that looks easy.' At least, that's the hope.''

Easy? Aren't the last legs of a rowing race incredibly painful? "Well,'' he said with a smile, "the pain goes without saying.''

Boyd attended St. Paul Central and is known for wearing a Twins cap during races. He said it's not a superstition, and he didn't mind wearing an Olympic-conforming cap here. "I don't have eight other Twins caps to give everyone on the team, so we're all wearing the same thing,'' he said.

This is a different group than the one that won gold in Athens, with Schnobrich and Boyd among the newcomers. After much turnover, Boyd handicapped the final this way:

"We have a chance to get a medal now, in the eight finals, and that's what it's all about. Gold would be hard. We'll have to execute the perfect race.

"The goal is to surprise Canada. To me, they're the clear favorites. They haven't won by less than a length in any single race. Britain has a really good race plan and they're a strong group of guys, and who knows what Australia will do?''

Rowing might be the most peaceful of Olympic sports. The Beijing course is lined with trees -- as is everything in city -- the water is placid and the cheering is genteel as the athletes torture themselves.

Sunday, Schnobrich and Boyd will torture themselves in an attempt to win an Olympic medal, something they hardly dreamed about growing up in St. Paul.

"It's the Olympic final,'' Schnobrich said. "It is what everybody thinks it is. And we're going to come out and lose consciousness at some point, with 250 meters to go, and keep on going.

"Hopefully, that puts us in the right place.''

Read Schnobrich's blog and updates from St. John's at www.tinyurl.com/5fjjsg. Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. jsouhan@startribune.com