The Belgrade World Rowing Cup – Preview

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The Ada Ciganlija course in Belgrade – venue for the 1st World Cup of 2017

The Tokyo Olympiad has officially started – it’s the first World Cup. This year the honour goes to Belgrade in Serbia to launch the international season. I love the first World Cup of the year, it’s the chance to see international crews compete for the first time. The first regatta of an Olympiad is even more interesting as it’s the time when new athletes come to the fore and new combinations are tried.

The Ada Ciganlija Regatta course in Belgrade is on Sava Lake, just 5km from the city centre. It last hosted a World Cup in 2012 and was also the host of the European Championships in 2014.

So, who will be challenging for the honours, and laying down a marker at the start of the new Olympiad?

 

M1X

21 Scullers

Aleksandar Aleksandrov – Azerbaijan

27 year old Aleksandrov was World Rowing’s “Rising Star” in January 2013, he won Junior world silver at just 16 and followed that up with gold aged 17. Medals at U23 level followed and he ended the London Olympiad with a superb 5th place. Since then he’s been switching between the single and double and hasn’t, if I’m brutally honest, delivered on the promise he showed in the London Olympiad. I thought he would become a regular on the podium. The move to the M2X didn’t really work, a 12th place in Rio showed that. What’ll be really interesting now is to see if he focusses on the single and recaptures the sort of form that made him a medal contender in London.

 

Stanislau Shcharbachenia – Belarus

Shcharbachenia ended the Rio Olympiad with a superb 5th place in the M1X. The Olympics was his first A-Final appearance since the 2nd World Cup in 2015 (apart from the 2016 Euro’s). So it could be argued he over-performed at Rio – or, peaked at just the right time depending on your point of view. The question now is, can he build on that Rio performance and become a regular A-Final performer?

 

Boris Yotov – Bulgaria

Yotov made is senior international debut on this course in 2012, 2.5 months after his 16th birthday.  Throughout his international career he has raced for Azerbaijan, culminating in 12th place in the M2X with Aleksandrov in Rio. But he is now using his Bulgarian heritage to race in their colours. It’s going to be interesting to see him line up against his former team-mate.

 

Damir Martin – Croatia

The stand-out sculler of 2016, the dual he had with Mahe Drysdale in the Olympic final was one of the greatest races in Olympic history. With the absence of the big Kiwi it’s now Martin who is looking to be top dog. In 2016 no-one (except Mahe) could get close to Damir. He won the first World Cup by 6 seconds and the European Championships by a frankly ridiculous 14 seconds. But, When Drysdale appeared in Europe he was pushed down to 2nd.  He’ll be looking to repeat the performance of 2016 and lay down a big marker with a gold

Mahe v Damir

Drysdale v Martin in the epic Olympic M1X final. CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

Martin Sinkovic – Croatia

Probably the biggest challenger to Damir Martin could from his fellow countryman. The Sinkovic brothers formed the most outstanding M2X in history – becoming the first crew in that boat class to break 6 minutes. After Rio they announced they were switching to the M2- and this was the crew I was most looking forward to seeing race this year. But, Valent Sinkovic is injured so I’ll have to wait a little longer! In his absence Martin returns to two-oared racing. He’s coming off the back of a win at the Croatia Open and will provide a massive test for Damir Martin. If Sinkovic does get the better of Martin that’ll raise some interesting questions for the Croatian selectors!

 

Angel Fournier Rodriguez – Cuba

The big Cuban finished 2016 somewhat disappointingly. Medals at both the first and 2nd World Cups suggested that he could make the podium in Rio. As it was he only just made the final, holding off a late charge from Mexico’s Juan Carlos Cabrera, to claim 3rd in the semi-final. In the final he was never in the hunt and ended up 6th, 7 seconds behind Shcharbachenia. Angel is a frustrating sculler to watch sometimes, he sculls beautifully, but occasionally he seems in a world of his own.

 

Pete Lambert – Great Britain

Pete spent the Rio Olympiad as part of Great Britain’s outstanding M4X, winning an historic World Championship silver in 2014. Injuries robbed the British of a possible medal in Rio. Following a slightly disappointing result at the recent GB Trials (where he finished 5th) he loses his seat in the M4X and is (for this regatta at least) racing the single. Whether he stays in this boat class for the rest of the season remains to be seen. GB haven’t yet selected a M2X, and with the likes of Angus Groom currently out injured it’s highly likely that Lambert will move into a crew boat later in the season. But, for Belgrade, he’s racing the single, and he’ll be keen to impress the British selectors with a strong performance. Reaching the A-Final would certainly be a good result for him.

 

Dominykas Jancionis – Lithuania

Jacionis is probably the pick of the three Lithuanian scullers racing in Belgrade (the others being Zygimantas Galisankis and Armandas Kelmelis – more on him below). Jancionis raced in the M4X in Rio finishing 9th. A former U23 M2X World Champion, Belgrade will be the first time he has raced internationally in the M1X and, like Lambert, will be keen to impress his country’s selectors as they look at crew boat selection.

 

Armandas Kelmelis – Lithuania

As mentioned above, there are three Lithuanians entered in the M1X at Belgrade, and the rivalry between countrymen always makes for an interesting side battle at international regattas. Kelmelis is an exciting young sculler, following a re-jigging of crews in the Lithuanian squad because of injuries, he was selected to race the M1X at the Rio Olympics at the age of 18, finishing 19th  (Not many athletes can say they made their senior international debuts at an Olympic Games). He followed this up a couple of weeks later with gold at the Junior World Championships. It’ll be interesting to see how the Lithuanian team use him, if he stays in the single he could well be a force to reckon with in Tokyo and beyond.

 

Stefan Broenink – The Netherlands

The Netherlands have two scullers racing in Belgrade, the first is Stefan Broenink and the other is international debutant Bastiaan Collette of the Okeanos Club. Broenink raced the World Cup series last year in the M1X with a best performance of 4th in Lucerne. He’s a little inconsistent, the 4th in Lucerne was preceded by 14th at the Europeans and 9th in Varese. It’ll be a great performance for him to make the A-Final in Belgrade.

 

Dariusz Radosz – Poland

The 2nd of two Polish scullers (Poland 1 is Maciej Zawoski). Radosz is doubling up in the M4X in Belgrade. He spent the Rio Olympiad in the quad finishing up just outside of the medals in 4th place. Belgrade will be the first time he’s raced internationally in the single scull.

 

Vladislav Rybacev – Russia

There’s a large Russian contingent at Belgrade, and I must admit am a little uneasy about their participation. The spectre of doping still hangs over the Russian team. Rybacev was a member of the Russian M4X that won the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta before being disqualified after Sergey Fedorovstev was caught doping. He’s undoubtedly a very talented sculler and he and the whole Russian team will be under enormous scrutiny this year as they all try and rebuild Russia’s tarnished reputation.

 

Marko Marjanovic – Serbia

A University of California alumni, Marjanovic raced in the M2X at the Rio Olympics finishing 4th in the B-Final. The highlight of his career so far was silver in the M2X at the 1st World Cup in 2015.

 

Nico Stahlberg – Switzerland

The Swiss M4X was one of the outstanding crews of the Rio Olympiad, medals at the 1st and 3rd World Cups was followed by a 7th place finish in Rio. The quad isn’t racing in Belgrade so it’ll be interesting to see how Stahlberg fares in the single, the last time he raced in this boat class was at Lucerne in 2014 where he finished 16th. I expect he’ll do much better than that in Belgrade.

 

John Graves – United States of America

The sole US entry in Belgrade, Graves won the US Speed Order trials recently establishing himself as the fastest sculler in America. He was part of the US quad that narrowly missed qualification for the Rio Olympics. His last appearance internationally in the single scull was back in 2013 when he finished 9th in Lucerne. I would expect a solid B-Final finish for him in Belgrade.

Other scullers racing are Steve Hiestand of Brazil (16th at the final World Cup last year), Bendeguz Petevari-Molnar of Hungary (14th in Rio), Zygimantis Galisankis of Lithuania (6th in the M4X in 2015), Bastiaan Collette of the Netherlands (making his international debut), Maciej Zawoski of Poland (14th in the M2X in 2015), Maksim Golubev of Russia (who raced in the M8 last season).

My picks – I think this could be a Croatian 1,2 but as to who is first and who is 2nd……I think Sinkovic could get the better of Martin with Shcharbachenia of Belarus in 3rd.

 

M2-

14 crews

Belarus

The Belarussians have three crews racing in this event. The pick of the three looks to be BLR2 with Mikalai Sharlap and Ihar Pashevich. This duo were part of the M4- that won silver at the European Championships and went on to finish 9th at the Rio Olympics.

 

Czech Republic

Lukas Helesic and Jakub Podrazil. This pairing finished just outside of the medals at the 2016 European Championships and qualified for the Olympics by winning the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta. In Rio they had a strong regatta, bouncing back from a disappointing 6th in the semi to win the B-Final and claim 7th overall (the best performance by a Czech pair at the Olympics since Czechoslovakia finished 5th in 1980). 2017 could see them build on that performance and step up to become regular A-Final performers.

 

Spain

Pau Vela Maggi and Alexander Sigurbjonsson. These two have been racing as a pair for the last six years and in that time have become Spain’s leading boat. They just missed qualifying for the London Olympics but ended the 2012 season as European silver medallists. Perhaps their strongest performance was a 4th place at the 2014 World Championships. They couldn’t quite match that level of performance in the run up to the Rio Olympics and finished last in their Repecharge meaning they missed out on the B-Final. They are a very talented pairing and one their day they could be medal contenders.

 

Great Britain

The British have two pairs racing in Belgrade, both are talented young pairs. Racing as GBR1 are Jacob Dawson and Matt Rossiter. Dawson is one of the first US educated athletes to be selected for the senior British men’s team. The University of Washington graduate is making his international debut. He’s joined by Matt Rossiter who is also making his (long overdue) senior debut. He last raced internationally when he won silver at the U23 World Championships in 2010. A serious back injury followed and he’s finally getting a chance to fulfil the promise he showed as an U23. This pairing won the right to race the M2- after a strong performance at the British trials where they finished a superb 2nd. A medal in Belgrade is a definite possibility. The 2nd British boat are Sam Arnot and Tom Jeffrey. This pairing are both Henley winners and Arnot is World University Champion with Newcastle. They finished 6th at the British trials and a good B-Final finish in Belgrade will be a good job done.

 

Hungary

Adrian Juhosz and Bela Simon Jr are a long established pairing having been racing in this boat class together since 2009 when they won silver at the U23 World Championships. The highlight of their career so far is probably a somewhat unexpected gold at the 2016 European Championships. They qualified for the Olympics by taking 2nd at the Final Qualifying Regatta and then performed well in Rio taking 9th overall.

 

Ireland

The Irish look to have come to Belgrade to have fun and get lots of racing. Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll are doubling up in the LM2- as well. Last year they just missed out on the medals in the light pair at the World Championships and like most lightweights they will be relishing the chance to race with the “Big Boys” and see how many heavyweight scalps they can claim.

 

The Netherlands

Mitchell Steenman and Mechiel Versluis. On paper the 2016 crew of Steenman and Roel Braas looked to be strong medal contenders at the Olympics. They had finished 4th in 2015 and were regulars on the podium throughout the 2016 season. However their performance in Rio was disappointing. In the run up to the Games they were considered (especially by me) as strong medal contenders, but a lacklustre performance in the heat and semi-final saw them relegated to the B-Final where they finished 2nd to the Hungarians. It’s perhaps not surprising therefore that for 2017 the Dutch are trying a new combination. Braas is out and in his place comes Mechiel Versluis. He was a member of the outstanding Dutch M8 that won bronze in Rio and was also a member of the M4- that won world championship gold in 2013. This is a very exciting combination, and in the absence of the mighty Kiwi pair could become the leading crew of 2017.

 

Poland

The Poles are another nation with two boats racing. The lead boat are Piotr Juszcak and Krystian Aranowski.  They were both members of the Polish M8 that finished 5th in Rio. For Belgrade they have been replaced in the M8 but will be looking to establish themselves as a strong M2-. Racing the small boat will be something of a novelty for both men, neither have raced internationally in any boat class apart from the M8 since a brief foray into the M4- in 2009! The 2nd Polish pair are the Leszczynski brothers, Filip and Karol. They are making their senior debuts having both raced at U23 level.

 

Serbia

Nenad Bedik and Milos Vasic.  Another experienced pairing, the highlight for the Serbians is undoubtedly their World Championship bronze medal in 2015. Their 2016 form couldn’t quite match the heights they reached in 2015 making the A-Final at the European Championships and Poznan World Cup. In Rio they are best remembered for capsizing shortly after the start of their heat, fortunately for them they were allowed to continue but struggled in the semi-final and missed out on a A-final spot. In the B-Final they finished 4th taking 10th overall.

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The Serbian M2- after the capsized in Rio

Switzerland

Silvan Zehnder and Markus Kessler. A new pairing, Kessler spent 2016 sculling, winning bronze as part of the M4X in Lucerne and finishing 9th in the M1X in Poznan. His partner, Zehnder, is also a sculler and finished 12th in the LM1X at the 2016 World Championships.

My picks…The Dutch look the strongest on paper but I expect good things from the young British pair. Netherlands for the win, with GB in 2nd and the experienced Serbians in bronze.

 

M2X

12 crews

Belarus

Mihal Dzianis and Pilip Pavukou. Mihal was a member of the M4- that finished 9th in Rio and Pavukou finished 8th in the U23 M1X last year. They have raced as a M2X on these waters before, back in 2014 when they finished 17th at the European Championships.

 

Bulgaria

Kristian Vasilev and Georgi Bozhilov. This double finished 2015 in 11th place, securing their entry to the Rio Olympics. At the Games they had a disappointing semi-final but followed this with a good performance in the B-Final taking 3rd (9th overall). They ended the 2016 season at the World Championships in Rotterdam racing in the M2+ where they finished 15th.

 

Croatia

For the past few years seeing Croatia on the entry list for the M2X meant a guarantee of a gold medal. But, the awesome Sinkovic brothers have left this boat class. In their place are David Sain and Luka Baricevic. Sain was part of the outstanding Croatian M4X that won silver at the London Olympics.  2015 was spent in the M2- that failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics and now his back in a sculling boat. He’s joined by 22 year old Baricevic who makes his senior international debut in Belgrade after three years as part of the Croatian U23 team. In 2016 he raced the BM1X at the U23’s finishing 22nd. This duo have big shoes to fill as the Croatian M2X!

 

Estonia

Tonu Endrekson and Allar Raja.  The Estonians were members of the outstanding M4X that won bronze in Rio. For 2017 they step out of the quad and look to form a fast double. With the dominant Sinkovic’s now out of this boat class, there’s a certain amount of scrambling around in the boat class as nations look to find fast combinations that can step into the gap left by the Croatians. On paper it looks like the Estonians could be strong medal contenders.

 

Hungary

Gergely Papp and Jozsef Mathiesz. Papp raced in this boat class in 2015 finishing 21st. In Belgrade he’s joined by Mathiesz who has finished 11th in the BM1X at the last three U23 World Championships.

 

Irleand

Paul and Gary O’Donovan. Undoubtedly the most popular crew of 2016, their silver medal in the LM2X at the Rio Olympics (and their subsequent tv appearances) have become legendary. They have a massive workload ahead of them in Belgrade as they are slated to race, not only the M2X, but also the LM2X and LM1X. As with their countrymen in the M2-, they will relish the chance of knocking off a few heavyweight crews, and who knows, they could even make the podium.

 

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The O’Donovan brothers on their way to a silver medal at the Rio Olympics. Photo:RTE

Lithuania

The Lithuanians have 2 crews racing, undoubtedly the strongest, and favourites to win gold in Belgrade, are Mindaugus Griskonis and Saulius Ritter. This double was only put together just before the Olympics after Ritter’s regular partner, Rolandas Mascinskas, was injured. Griskonis was due to race the M1X but was drafted into the M2X. With only a few weeks to prepare it looked like Lithuania’s strong medal chances had gone. But, Griskonis and Ritter had an outstanding Olympic regatta, winning their heat and semi-final and giving the Croatians a real run for their money in the final, leading to half way and ending up taking the silver just over a second behind the Croats. Heading into the new Olympiad this double will surely start as favourites. The 2nd Lithuanian crew are the U23 pairing of Bieliauskas Giedrius and Armandas Kelmelis (who’s also racing the M1X).

 

Poland

Domink Czaja and Adam Wicenciak. Czaja raced at the World Cups with Dawid Grabowski in the M2X last year, finishing an excellent 2nd in Varese. They were disappointed not to qualify for Rio and Czaja ended the season with a 4th place in the U23 BM4X. Wicenciak raced with Czaja at the European Championships last year, finishing 8th. In 2013 he raced in the Polish quad that won silver at the European Championships.

Russia

Pavel Sorin and Andrey Potapkin. Sorin raced in the M8 during 2016 taking silver at the European Championships. He ended the season racing at the U23 World Championships where he was part of the BM4X that finished 7th. His partner, Potapkin, missed qualification in the M1X for the Rio Olympics finishing 4th in the Semi-final at the Final Olympic Qualifying regatta. He subsequently raced at the U23 World Championships finishing 6th in the BM1X

 

Slovenia

Nik Krebs and Miha Aljanic. 18 year old Krebs and 19 year old Aljanic are both making their senior international debuts. It’s likely they will be the Slovenian U23 double and will be using Belgrade to gain valuable racing experience.

 

Switzerland

Roman Roeoesli and Barnabe Delarze. This is one of the crews I’m most looking forward to watching. They were both part of the excellent Swiss M4X last year that finished 7th at Rio. Now that boat has disbanded it’s a great opportunity for the Swiss to establish a strong new doubles combination. If they get it right they could be serious medal contenders.

 

My picks – the Lithuanians must start as clear favourites, but the battle behind them will be intense. I’m picking the Swiss for silver with the Bulgarians in bronze with the Estonians and Irish chasing them hard.

 

M4-

12 crews

Belarus

Dzmytry Belaus, Yauhen Aliakhnovich, Artsem Melnikau, Raman Vaitovich.

This quartet raced as part of the M8 at the European Championships last year finishing 4th behind the Germans, British and Russians. The Belarussians always have strong 4’s and this combination look to have some potential.

 

Czech Republic

CZE1 Jakub Paroulek, Jan Potucek, Jakub, Makovica, Kornel Altman. Paroulek and Potucek raced in the men’s 8 at the European Championships last year finishing 9th. Makovica was in the M4- last year that missed qualification for the Olympics and Altman raced in the M2- in 2015 finishing 25th.

CZE2 Jan Vetesnik, Jan Hajek, Milan Viktora, Jiri Kopac. A boat of lightweights – Vetesnik and Kopac raced the LM4- at Rio finishing 12th. Hajek raced in the LM2- last year finishing 14th and Viktora finished 15th in the LM1X. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare against their heavyweight opponents and whether this is a permanent move towards heavyweight following the removal of the LM4- from the Olympic programme?

 

Spain

Jon Carazo Tobar, Javier Garcia Ordonez, Ismael Montes, Jaime Canalejo Pazos. Ordonez, Montes and Pazos were part of the M4- that missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics after a 4th place finish at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta. For 2017 they are joined by Tobar who raced in the M8 in 2016 that also missed qualification for Rio at the FOQR.

 

Great Britain

Mo Sbihi, Will Satch, Matt Tarrant, Stewart Innes. Great Britain’s flagship boat and the standout crew at the regatta. Sbihi and Satch are Olympic champions and both three-time World Champions from the M8. They are joined by Stewart Innes who finished 4th in the M2- in Rio and Matt Tarrant, World Champion in the M2+ in 2015. The British have big shoes to fill from the outstanding boat of 2016 and they will expect to win. They will be looking to put down a dominant performance to show the likes of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA that, as far as the British are concerned, it’s business as usual.

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Mo Sbihi and Will Satch winning the GB Trials. Photo Naomi Baker

The Netherlands

NED1 Roel Braas, Bjorn Van Den Ende, Boaz Meylink, Ruben Knab

The Dutch have two very strong boats in Belgrade to try and spoil the British party. The no.1 boat has three Olympians, Braas raced in the M2-, Meylink won bronze in the M8. and Van Den Ende who finished 11th in the LM4-. The 4th member of the crew is Ruben Knab who raced in the M1X at the first World Cup last year finishing 14th. It’ll be interesting to see how this boat gets on as Braas and Knab are known to be quite “fiery” characters.

NED2 Vincent Van der Want, Jaspar Tissen, Harold Langen, Govert Viergever.

The 2nd Dutch crew may well be the stronger of the two. Van der Want, Langen and Viergever were all part of the M4- that finished 5th in Rio. They are joined by Jaspar Tissen who makes his senior debut following an 8th place in the U23 BM8 in 2014.

 

Russia

RUS1 Roman Lomachev, Ivan Podshivalov, Yuriy Pshenichnikov, Dmitry Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov was part of the M4- that finished 4th at the European Championships last year. Pshenichnikov raced at the 1st World Cup last year finishing 17th in the M2-, Podshivalov raced at WC2 in the M8 and Lomachev was in the M8 that won silver at the European Championships.

RUS2 Daniil Andrienko, Alexandr Stradaev, Grigorii Shchulepov, Semen Yaganov

Andrienko and Yaganov raced in the M8 that came 6th at Lucerne last year and took silver at the Europeans. Stradaev and Shchulepov raced in the U23 M8 last year that finished 9th

RUS3 Alexander Chaukin, Maksim Telitcyn, Aleksandr Bogdashin, Aleksey Vikulin

This quartet were the Russian LM4- last year, they won the Final Olympic Qualifying regatta but were unable to take up their spot as they couldn’t satisfy the anti-doping criteria laid down by FISA and the IOC. They will be starting 2017 with something to prove.

 

Serbia

Igor Djeric, Igor Lucic, Damjan Lazic, Aleksandar Bedik

A young crew, three of the boat (Djeric, Lazic and Bedik) will make their senior debuts in Belgrade having come from the junior team. Only Igor Lucic has senior international experience, and was in this boat last year finishing 9th at the first World Cup.

 

Switzerland

Nicholas Kamber, Scott Baerlocher, Joshua Meyer, Benjamin Hirsch

Another young crew, all making their senior international debuts. Kamber and Hirsch finished 7th in the U23 BM4+ last year and Meyer 24th in the BM1X. 19 year old Baerlocher from Baden Ruderclub makes his first appearance in the national team.

My picks…anything other than a win will be disappointing for the British, but the Dutch will chase them hard as will the Russians. I’m picking a British win with the two Dutch boats in silver and bronze.

 

M4X

7 crews

Czech Republic

Martin Basl, Tomas Emr, Matyas Klang, Vojtech Rimak

Basl and Rimak raced in this boat class last season finishing 8th (of 8) at the European Championships in Brandenburg. Emr is making his senior debut after an appearance in the junior team back in 2008 and Klang narrowly missed qualifying for Rio finishing 3rd in the M2X at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta (where he raced with the late Michal Plocek).

 

Estonia

Joosep Laos, Kaur Kuslap, Kaspar Taimsoo, Sten-Erik Anderson

This new look quad from Estonia has only one survivor from the line-up that won the European championships and went on to take bronze in Rio – Kaspar Taimsoo. He’s joined by Sten-Erik Anderson who raced the M2X at the European Championships finishing a disappointing 14th (of 14). Kaur Kuslap and Joosep Laos who both raced in the M2X during the 2015 season. This looks to be a development boat for the Estonians with Tokyo very much in mind.

Great Britain

GBR1 Tom Barras, Jonny Walton, Jack Beaumont, John Collins.

The British are another country with a new look quad, albeit with a lot of experienced and familiar faces. Walton, Collins and Beaumont all raced at Rio with Collins and Walton finishing 5th in the M2X and Beaumont (called in as a last minute sub for an injured Graeme Thomas) finished 5th in the M4X. Collins and Walton were the GB M2X throughout the Rio Olympiad and the change to the quad is a significant step change for them. Interestingly GB haven’t entered a M2X at this regatta. The fourth member of the crew is the young Welshman, Tomm Barras. He finished 5th at the U23 world Championships last year and produced an outstanding performance at the GB Trials taking 4th and effectively pushing Pete Lambert out of the crew. There are high expectations of this crew and they will be expecting a decent medal.

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The GB M4X after finishing 5th in Rio. Photo British Rowing

GBR2 Andrew Joel, Harry Leask, Rowan Law, Harry Glenister

This quartet are the reigning U23 silver medallists and will be looking to go one better at this year’s U23 World Championships. The opportunity to race against senior crews will give invaluable experience in their campaign to win U23 gold. They are four very evenly matched scullers (just what you need for a quad) at the recent GB trials they finished 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th.

 

Lithuania

Rolandas Mascinskas, Martynas Dziaugys, Aurimas Adamovicius, Dovydas Nemeravicius

This crew contains three of the boat that finished 9th at Rio (Dziaugys, Adamovicius and Nemeravicius). The fourth member of the crew is Mascinskas. As mentioned above, he was part of the highly fancied M2X heading into the Olympics, but injury ruined his Olympic hopes of competing at his 2nd Olympics.

 

The Netherlands

Amos Keijser, Koen Metesmakers, Nikki Van Sprang, Wouter Withagen

Keijser made his senior debut at the 3rd World Cup in 2016 where he finished 14th in the M1X, he followed that up with a bronze medal in the BM2X at the U23 World Championships in Rotterdam. Koen Metemakers is another who made his senior debut during the 2016 World Cup series racing in the M2X at Poznan finishing 9th. At the 2015 Summer Universiade he took bronze behind Lithuania and Italy. Van Sprang and Withagen both raced in the Dutch U23 M8 in 2014 and make their senior debuts in Belgrade. Van Sprang is another graduate of the University of California and won several IRA medals during his time at Berkeley.

 

Poland

Mateusz Biksup, Dariusz Radosz, Wiktor Chabel, Miroslaw Zietarski

The Poles will be starting as clear favourites in Belgrade. They are the only settled line-up from 2016 and just missed out on the medals in Rio finishing 4th. Poland have a strong tradition in this boat class, in the mid 00’s they dominated the event winning 4 World Championships and Olympic gold between 2005 and 2009. With their current line-up retained from last year they will definitely be strong challengers for honours during this Olympiad.

 

My picks: It’s going to be really tight between the Poles and the British, but I think the Poles greater experience together will see them take it, with the Lithuanians in bronze.

 

M8

4 crews

Great Britain

Tom Ford, Tim Clarke, Callum McBrierty, Cam Buchan, Tom Ransley, Adam Neill, James Rudkin, Lance Tredell, Henry Fieldman (cox).

This is a new look British 8 with only one member of the Olympic gold medal boat remaining, Tom Ransley. He’s joined by 2016 M2+ World Champion Callum McBrierty, and four guys making the step up from the U23 team (Ford, Clarke, Rudkin and Buchan). Cambridge University President, Lance Tredell last raced for GB at the 3rd World Cup in 2013. I have a feeling that this crew is very much a “one-off” for GB. There are a number of athletes who, through injury or University commitments, were unavailable for selection for Belgrade (guys like Pete Reed, Alan Sinclair, Ollie Cook, Will Warr, Josh Bugjaski). I think the crew for the European Championships (to be announced on 11th May) will have quite a different look to it. But, for the guys that have been selected to represent Great Britain it’s a fabulous opportunity to get racing experience at the senior level. For the GB management it’s all about building a good pipeline of talent to take them through to Tokyo.

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The new look British M8 sporting their new Mizuno kit. Photo Gareth Turner

The Netherlands

Bo Wulling, Jaap Scholten, Nelson Ritsma, Michiel Oyen, Abe Wiersma, Lex Van den Herik, Freek Robbers, Mick Makker, Dieuwke Fetter

As with the British, the Dutch have a very different crew to that which raced last season. None of the Olympic bronze medal crew are racing in this boat in Belgrade. Instead the Dutch have selected the Nereus University crew, the first time in decades that a national M8 has been selected from a single University crew. This is the crew that lost in the final of the Ladies Plate at Henley last year (beaten somewhat controversially by a Leander crew containing 4 of the GB M8) and in the build up to this year’s Boat Race they had a couple of excellent races against the Oxford Blue Boat. The battle between them and the British is going to be fascinating. As an aside, this Dutch crew will also make history, they will become the first Senior Men’s 8 to be coxed by a woman at a World Cup Regatta (this follows the change in the rules of racing earlier this year). Now that’ll make a good question for your club’s next pub quiz!

Nereus v Oxford.jpg

Nereus (left) racing the Oxford Blue Boat in the build up to The Boat Race

Poland

Robert Fuchs, Bartosz Modrzynski, Marcin Brzezinski, Michal Szpakowski, Ryszard Ablewski, Daniel Trojanowski, Mateusz Wilangowski, Zbigniew Schodowski, Mikolaj Burda

The British and Dutch may have made wholesale changes to their crews from 2016 but the Poles have not. They keep seven of the crew that finished just out of the medals in Rio. The only two changes are Bartosz Modrzynski and Ryszard Ablewski. 20 year old Modrzynski makes his senior debut following two years in the U23 team, and Ablewski moves to the M8 having raced once in 2016 in the M2- and the previous 4 years in the M4-.

 

Russia

Artem Kosov, Ivan Balandin, Alexander Kulesh, Nikita Mogachev, Alexander Kornilov, Georgij Efremenko, Aleksander Stromkin, Anton Zarutskiy, Pavel Safonkin

Coached by the legendary Mike Spracklen, the Russian M8 made a big impact during 2016. But the strict anti-doping restrictions put on the Russians meant that the M8 didn’t get to race in Rio.  Three of the crew raced in a makeshift M4- finishing 10th (Kosov, Morgachev and Zarutskiy). Balandin and Kulesh raced in the M4- that finished 4th at the European Championships with Kornilov and Efremenko part of the European silver medal M8. The Russians will have a big point to prove following their exclusion from Rio, but, at the same time the whole Russian team will be under intense scrutiny following the doping scandals affecting almost all Russian sport.

 

My picks: I think the Poles will be a bit too strong for the rest of the field. The battle between the young British and Dutch crews is going to be fascinating with the Russians fired up after the disappointments of last year. Despite only being a four crew race it has the potential to be quite a battle. Poland for gold with GB just ahead of the Dutch.

 

LM1X

16 scullers

Nils Van Zandweghe – Belgium

The 2016 U23 BLM1X World Champion won a hoard of admirers last year after he and partner Tim Brys won the LM2X at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta only to have to forego their Olympic ambitions as the rules stated that only one male crew per nation can qualify via the FOQR. The Belgians decided that that would be Hannes Obreno in the M1X and not the LM2X.

 

Lika Radonic – Croatia

Radonic has been racing in the LM1X since 2014 and took bronze at the U23 World Championships in 2015. He had an excellent 2016 World Cup series with medals at all three Regattas, including gold at Lucerne. After such a strong season his performance at the World Championships was a bit of a disappointment for him where he struggled throughout the regatta finishing up 5th in the B-Final (11th overall).

 

Jan Cincibuch – Czech Republic

18 year old Cincibuch is making his senior debut in Belgrade. The 2016 World Junior 1X champion is an exciting young sculler. It’ll be a big step up for him competing in a world class field but it’ll offer great racing experience.

 

Jesus Gonzalez Alvarez – Spain

At the other end of the age spectrum to Cincibuch is 42 year old Jesus Gonzalez Alvarez. His international career stretches back to 1994 when he finished 7th in the U23 BM8. More recently he’s been racing in the LM2-, finishing 3rd at the 2016 European Championships and 12th at the World Championships.

 

Peter Galambos – Hungary

Galambos has been winning medals in this event since 2010 when he won gold at two World Cups and bronze at the World Championships. During the Rio Olympiad he raced in the LM2X with Daniel Matyasovszki, but the combination struggled and they missed out on qualification for Rio. Galambos returned to the single for the World Championships in Rotterdam winning a superb silver medal, his first medal since the 2013 World Championships.

 

Gary O’Donovan – Ireland

Part of the superb Irish LM2X with brother Paul, winning silver at the Rio Olympics. As mentioned above, the O’Donovan’s have a busy time ahead of them in Belgrade with racing not only in the LM1X, but also both the light and heavy doubles.

 

Paul O’Donovan – Ireland

It’s clear the Irish boys love to race. It would be easy to have expected Paul O’Donovan to have a well-earned rest after the silver medal in Rio. But the younger of the two O’Donovan’s raced the LM1X at the Rotterdam World Championships and took gold.  He seems to be at his happiest when he’s racing. Despite trying to balance training with his studies at University College, Dublin the reigning World Champion will start as favourite in Belgrade.

 

Artur Mikolajczewski – Poland

Mikolajczewski was a member of the LM4X that won the World Championships back in 2012, the same year he also took silver in the U23 BLM2X. Throughout the Rio Olympiad he raced in the LM2X with his partner from the 2012 U23’s Milosz Jankowski. Their best performance was gold at the Eton World Cup in 2013. At Rio they had a good regatta making the A-Final.  Belgrade will be his first international race in the LM1X and an A-Final placing in such a strong field would be a good result.

 

Rajko Hrvat – Slovenia

The Slovenian has raced the majority of his career in the single scull. His best performance was a silver medal at the 2015 World Championships. In 2016 he took bronze at the European Championships and at the Rotterdam World Championships he just missed out on the medals finishing in 4th.

 

Milos Stanojevic – Serbia

Stanojevic took bronze in the LM1X in 2015 before switching to the LM4- in 2016 in an attempt to qualify for the Olympic Games. This attempt was unsuccessful and Stanojevic returned to the LM1X for the World Championships. In Rotterdam he made the A-Final finishing up 6th.

 

Michael Schmid – Switzerland

Schmid took bronze in the LM1X in 2014, in 2015 he switched to the LM2X with partner Daniel Wiederkehr. They qualified for the Olympics and finished 13th overall.

 

Florin Rueedi – Switzerland

The 2nd of the Swiss boats, Rueedi is racing in the LM1X for the first time on the international stage. In 2016 he competed in the LM2- finishing 6th at the Lucerne World Cup and winning gold at the U23 World Championships.

 

Lukas Babac – Slovakia

Babac has the almost unique experience of racing both the LM1X and M1X at the same World Championships. In 2010 he took silver in the lightweight event and 18th as a heavyweight. In 2015 he settled in the lightweight single taking medals at all three World Cups and the European Championships. In 2016 he won gold at the European Championships and followed this up with bronze in Rotterdam.

Other scullers racing are two Austrian’s Matthias Taborsky and Jakob Zwoelfer and Tunisia’s Mohamed Taieb.

My picks….it’s a world class field with four of the six A-Finalists from last year’s World Championships. Along with O’Donovan senior and the talented young Van Zandweghe it’s possibly a stronger field than at last year’s World Championships. I’m going for Paul O’Donovan to take gold with his brother in 3rd and Hungary’s Galambos sandwiched between them.

 

LM2-

4 crews

Great Britain – Joel Cassells & Sam Scrimgeour. The British pair have been the leading crew in this event for the last couple of years winning a medal every time they raced. They won the World Championships in 2015 and went unbeaten throughout 2016 right up to the World Championships where, by their own high standards, they were slightly disappointed to “only” take bronze.

Hungary – David Forrai & Roland Szigeti. This duo raced in the LM4- during 2016 striving to make the Olympics. A 6th place at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta ended these hopes and they moved into the LM2- for the World Championships ending up 15th out of 16 boats.

 

Ireland – Mark O’Donovan & Shane O’Driscoll. As mentioned above the Irish are out to get as much racing experience as possible. O’Donovan and O’Driscoll are racing both the light and heavyweight pairs. In Rotterdam they finished one place behind the British just outside of the medals.

 

Russia – Nikita Bolozin & Aleksei Kiiashko. Bolozin is making his senior debut following two years in the U23 team which saw him finish 16th in the BLM2X in 2016. Kiiashko makes his 2nd senior appearance after finishing 10th in this boat class last year.

My picks, difficult to see anyone beating the British with the Irish in silver and the Hungarians in bronze.

 

LM2X

16 crews

Great Britain – Will Fletcher and Pete Chambers

Will Fletcher raced with Richard Chambers throughout the 2015 and 2016 season. A silver medal in their first race together at the European Championships in 2015 augured well and they followed that up with silver at the World Championships. There were high hopes of a medal at the Olympics but they struggled throughout the regatta and missed out on the A-final ending up 7th overall. Rich Chambers has now retired to take up a coaching job at Cambridge, in his place comes his younger brother, Pete. The younger Chambers raced in the LM4- for the past few years winning numerous World Cup and European Championship medals. He’s no stranger to the light double having raced with his brother to a World Championship bronze in 2013. A lot is expected of British crews and this new combination will be looking to lay down a strong marker.

 

Great Britain – Sam Mottram and Zak Lee-Green

It’s interesting to see a 2nd GB boat entered, it’s always fun to see competition between fellow countrymen. Mottram is a hugely talented U23 sculler having won silver in the BLM4X in 2015 and placed 6th in the BLM1X in 2016. Lee-Green raced in the LM4X in 2015 and 2016 finishing 4th and 6th respectively. At the recent GB Trials they finished 2nd and 3rd (behind Fletcher) and will definitely be looking to get one over on their team mates to give the selectors something to think about.

 

Hungary – Bence Tamas and Peter Csiszar

Tamas raced in the LM1X last season, winning the B-Final at the World Championships to take 7th overall. Csiszar also raced in Rotterdam, but at the U23’s were he finished 11th in the BLM2X partnered by Bence Szlovak. Together Tamas and Csiszar raced in the LM4X in 2015 that came 8th. An A-final finish in Belgrade would be a great result for them.

 

Ireland – Paul O’Donovan and Gary O’Donovan

I’ve already spoken about the O’Donovan boys twice in this preview. They are the Olympic silver medallists and (on paper) should be favourites for the gold in Belgrade, unless their hectic schedule counts against them. It’s a really strong (and big) field in Belgrade so they may have bitten off more they can chew. But if anyone can do it, it’s the Irish!

 

The Netherlands – Jort Van Gennep & Bart Lukkes

Van Gennep has, to date, spent his entire senior international career as part of the LM4- consistently reaching the A-Finals of international regattas. At Rio they had a tough regatta and “only” managed an 11th place. With the loss of the LM4- from the Olympic programme, the Dutch are now looking to find a competitive LM2X. Van Gennep is joined in Belgrade by Bart Lukkes. Lukkes is a two-time U23 BLM2X medallist and represented his country in the LM1X at the 2016 World Championships finishing 16th overall. Belgrade will be a good test of whether the Dutch have found a competitive double or not.

 

Poland – Milosz Jankowski and Jerzy Kowalski

Jankowski was a member of the LM4X that won gold at the 2012 World Championships. For the Rio Olympiad he switched to the LM2X with Artur Mikolajcewski. As a double they were always “there or thereabouts” at the front end of the B-Final. In Rio they had a great regatta making the A-Final finishing 6th overall. For 2017 Jankowski has a new partner, Jerzy Kowalski. Kowalski was part of the Polish LM4- that tried to qualify for the Olympics, unfortunately they failed to progress from the Repecharge. After this disappointment he switched to the LM1X and raced to a 13th place at the World Championships. I would expect a mid-B Final finish to be a reasonable result for the new Polish pairing.

 

Portugal – Pedro Fraga and Nuno Mendes

This duo seems to have been around forever. They first raced together way back in 2004 when they won silver at the U23 World Championships. They finished 7th in Beijing and followed that up with a wonderful 5th place in London. They took a break from partnering each-other after London, but came back together in 2016 to try and reach their 3rd Olympics. Unfortunately they missed out at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta finishing 5th.

 

Serbia – Marco Josic and Petar Jovanovich

This duo raced together at the 2015 and 2016 U23 World Championships finishing 7th and 8th respectively. They were joined by Nikola Cvijetic and Filip Prodanovic in an attempt to qualify the LM4- for Rio but did not progress past the Repecharge at the FOQR. Now back in the LM2X they are looking to make the step up from U23 to senior level racing.

 

Other crews: Belgium (Ruben Somers and Ward Lauwers – both making their senior debuts), The Czech Republic (Miroslaw Vrastil Jr and Jiri Simanek), Spain (Patricio Rojas Aznar and Alejandro Vera Ortega),  A 2nd  Dutch double (Freek Temming and Floris Loeffen – both making their international debuts) and a 2nd Portuguese double (Dinis Duarte Costa and Afonso Costa – 14th at last year’s U23 World Championships), Slovenia (Ales Jalen  and Marko Bohla) and 2 Swiss doubles (Pascal Ryser and Andri Struzina in SUI1 and Julian Mueller and Matthias Fernandez as SUI2)

My picks. So long as the schedule is not too hard for them then the Irish must start as favourites. But the British have a lot to prove and the scalp of the Olympic silver medallists would be a great start to the Olympiad.  The Poles are another strong outfit and will be challenging for medals along with the 2nd GB boat. I’m going for an Irish win with GBR1 in 2nd and Poland 3rd.

 

LM4-

0 crews

No entries, zilch, nothing…not a sausage. The first time in World Cup history that there haven’t been any LM4- entries at a European World Cup (There were none at the 1st World Cup in Sydney in 2014 but that can be explained more by geography than anything else). We’ll have to wait and see if there are any entries at the 2nd World Cup and European Championships, but it definitely looks like the decision by FISA to drop the LM4- from the Olympic programme has had an immediate effect. National teams are reluctant to expend precious resources on a boat class that won’t deliver in terms of the Olympics or help develop an Olympic class boat.

 

W1X

12 scullers

 

Magdalena Lobnig –Austria

Lobnig is one of the most consistent scullers on the international circuit, since making her debut in the single scull in 2013 she’s only failed to reach the A-Final twice, the first at the 2015 World Championships and then at the 1st World Cup in 2016. This blip was soon forgotten when she won her first single scull title winning the European Championships in Brandenburg. She had a solid regatta at Rio, again making the A-Final making it 15 A-Finals out of 17 Regattas.

 

Ekaterina Karsten – Belarus

What else can one say about Karsten? The 44 year old is starting her 26th international season and has won all there is to win in World rowing. The fact that she’s still one of the best scullers in the world at an age when most athletes are long retired is a testament to her talent. Can she really carry on all the way to Tokyo and race at her 8th Olympic Games aged 50?? It wouldn’t surprise me.

Karsten

Ekaterina Karsten

Tatsiana Kukhta – Belarus

The 2nd of 3 Belarussians in the W1X event, Kukhta is seen by many as the natural successor to Karsten.  The 26 year old won bronze in the W1X at the 2015 European Championships before moving to the W2X partnering Yulia Bichyk to European gold and 8th place in Rio.

 

Alena Furman – Belarus

The third of the Belarussian triumvirate, Furman is a former lightweight who won silver in the BLW1X at the 2013 U23 World Championships and then finished 6th at the Senior Worlds. In 2015 she switched to heavyweight sweep rowing and was in the W2- that raced in Rio finishing 15th and then the W4- that finished 4th at the World Championships.

 

Lucie Zabova – Czech Republic

Zabova raced in the W2X at the 2014 World Championships finishing 13th. In 2016 she competed at the U23 World Championships making the A-Final.

 

Vicky Thornley – Great Britain

A lot has been written about the torrid time Thornley and her doubles partner Katherine Grainger had during 2016 (quite a bit of it by me!). Bust-ups, arguments with coaches and selection doubts made the run-up to the Rio Olympics a sorry saga. But their performance at the regatta was the stuff of legend and so nearly had a fairy-tale ending, leading with 150m to go they were just overhauled by the Poles. But a silver medal was truly remarkable. Now with her illustrious partner Dame Katherine Grainger retired and off to Chair UK Sport, it’s time for Thornley to emerge from her shadow and establish herself as not only the best sculler in Britain (which she was anyway even when Grainger was still around) but also potentially the best sculler in Europe and in the top 3 in the world. I’ve long argued that I wanted to see Thornley give the single scull a “proper” go. So long as she gets the full support from the GB team (who don’t try and shoe-horn her into a crew boat) and stays healthy, I believe she could become a dominant force in world sculling. This is going to be a big year for Thornley.

thornley

Vicky Thornley (GBR)

Sanita Puspure – Ireland

Puspure has been Ireland’s single scull representative for the last 5 years. At her first Olympic Games in London she finished 13th. Her breakthrough performance came in 2014 when she took bronze at the European Championships and followed that up with 4th at the World Championships – the best ever performance by an Irish W1X. After the strong performances in 2014, 2015 was a little disappointing as she only finished 11th at the World Championships. 2016 was a step up with medals at both the 1st World Cup, European Championships and Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta. After these highs Rio was a little disappointing as she could only match her performance in London with a 13th place. But, on her day Puspure can challenge the best in the world.

 

Milda Valciukaite – Lithuania

In her first season as a senior international in 2013 Valciukaite became European and World Champion in the W2X with her partner Donata Vistartaite.  A slightly disappointing 5th place in 2015 nevertheless guaranteed their spot at the Olympics, and they went into the Games on the back of a gold medal at the Lucerne World Cup. In Rio they had a good regatta and took bronze behind the Poles and British. She’s not raced a huge amount recently in the W1X but did win the U23 BW1X in 2014 so she’s no slouch in the single! The interesting point for 2017 will be whether she remains in the W1X or moves back into the double.

 

Jeannine Gmelin – Switzerland

2015 was the breakthrough year for Gmelin, silver at the European Championships was followed by an excellent 5th place at the World Championships. She headed into the Olympic year as one of the ones to watch, 4th at Varese and bronze in Poznan set her up nicely for the Games. She had a great regatta in Rio making the A-Final and taking 5th, the best ever performance by a Swiss W1X. Heading into 2017 she will be one of the main challengers for the title of “best sculler in Europe”.

gmelin

Jeannine Gmelin (SUI)

Other scullers racing are Valentina Plejic of Croatia, Virginia Diaz Rivas of Spain and Diana Dymchenko of Ukraine.

My picks…it promises to be a really good contest but I reckon Thornley will take her first W1X gold ahead of Gmelin in silver and Lobnig in bronze.

 

W2-

4 crews

Great Britain – Holly Norton and Karen Bennett

Winners of the recent GB trials, Bennett is one of the few returners from the British W8 that won an historic silver medal in Rio. She’s joined by Holly Norton who won silver in the U23 BW2- in 2015 before moving to the W4- winning silver at the 2015 World Championships and then gold the year after. They are GB’s only women’s sweep crew in Belgrade and have the nigh-on impossible task of filling the void left by the imperious Glover and Stanning. But, they are a highly experienced and very talented pair and given the small field in Belgrade will be disappointed if they don’t win a major medal.

 

The Netherlands – Lies Rustenburg and Jose Van Veen

The first of three Dutch boats in the event. This lead boat were both in the W8 that raced in Rio finishing 6th.  Van Veen last raced the W2- in Lucerne in 2015 when she and Kirsten Wielaard finished 9th (one place ahead of GB’s Bennett).

 

The Netherlands – Aletta Jorritsma and Karolien Florijn

Racing as NED2 this is a combination of youth and experience. Jorritsma won bronze in this boat class at the 2014 European Championships and went onto represent the Netherlands at the Rio Olympics, where she and partner Karien Robbers finished 13th. She’s joined by 19 year old Karolien Florijn. The youngster won JW1X gold at the European Junior Championships and followed that with bronze at the World Junior Championships.

 

The Netherlands – Karien Robbers and Monica Lanz.

Robbers partnered Jorritsma at the Rio Olympics and for Belgrade she changes partner and is joined by Monica Lanz. Lanz was part of the Dutch W8 that finished 6th in Rio. Belgrade is the first time she’s raced internationally in the pair having been a member of the W8 since 2012. Both this boat and the Jorritsma/Florijn combination are doubling up in the W4-.

 

My picks…one thing’s for sure, The Netherlands will win a couple of medals! A lot is expected of the British pair and a strong performance at the GB Trials puts them in a great position to take the gold. GB in gold with NED1 in silver and NED3 in bronze.

 

W2X

9 crews

Belarus – Krystina Staraselets and Tatsiana Klimovich

This duo made their senior debuts at the European Championships last year as part of the W4X that finished 8th (of 8). They then split into the W2X racing at the Poznan World Cup and then took silver at the U23 World Championships.

 

Czech Republic – Kristyna Fleissnerova and Lenka Antasova

The only extant Olympic combination racing in Belgrade. They were 12th at the 2015 World Championships and then in 2016 won bronze at the European Championships. 1st place at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta secured their spot at Rio where they had a solid regatta finishing 4th in the B-Final, 10th overall.

 

Great Britain – Jess Leyden and Holly Nixon

The British hadn’t originally planned to enter this event but have split their W4X in order to get valuable racing experience. Leyden & Nixon spent the Rio Olympiad as part of the British W4X but were unsuccessful in their attempt to qualify. After this disappointment Leyden teamed up with Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne to win the U23 BW2x World Championships. After the W4X disbanded Nixon moved into the W4- and won gold at the World Championships in Rotterdam. Its unlikely this combination will race as a double for the rest of the season, but Belgrade offers good racing opportunities.

 

Great Britain – Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne and Beth Bryan

Hodgkins-Byrne made her senior international debut last year when she was selected as the W1X for the European Championships. She had a great debut, just missing out on qualifying for the final finishing just behind Ekaterina Karsten in the semi-final. In the B-Final she led from start to finish to take 7th overall. She then went to the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta in an attempt to qualify for Rio. After the FOQR she teamed up with Leyden to win gold at the U23’s. Beth Bryan is making her senior debut in Belgrade after two years in the U23 squad, during which time she won silver and bronze medals in the BW8.

 

The Netherlands – Lisa Scheenaard & Marloes Oldenburg

Scheenaard made her debut in 2013 winning silver in the W4X at the European Championships. She raced in the W1X at the World Championships in 2014 and 2015. She teamed up with Marloes Oldenburg in 2016 to try and qualify for the Olympics. After a good silver medal at the Varese World Cup and 6th at the European Championships they ended up with disappointment when they finished 5th at the FOQR.

 

The Netherlands – Inge Jansse and Sophie Souwer

Both Jansse and Souwer competed at the Rio Olympics. Jansse was a member of the outstanding Dutch W4X that won silver in Rio, whilst Souwer was part of the women’s 8 that finished 6th. This is an exciting looking double that could be strong contenders this season.

 

Poland – Olga Michalkewicz and Joanna Hentka

Michalkewicz made her senior debut at the Lucerne World Cup last year when she finished last in the W2X with Katarzyna Zillmann. She’s had four years in the Polish U23 team winning gold in the BW4X in both 2015 and 2016. She’s a hugely talented sculler and definitely a name for the future. She’s joined by the very experienced Joanna Hentka, now in her 10th season as a senior international. She raced as part of the W4X at the London Olympics placing 8th and then carried on in that boat class throughout the Rio Olympiad winning numerous World Cup medals culminating in a superb bronze at the Games. This has the makings of a very strong double to carry on the mantle from the Olympic champions. They will probably start as favourites in Belgrade.

 

Other crews racing are another Dutch crew (Kirsten Wielaard and Roos De Jong – racing as NED2) and a young Swiss U23 duo (Andrea Fuerholz and Pascale Walker).

My picks…as mentioned, the Polish look to be a very strong new combination. I reckon they’ll take gold ahead of the Leyden/Nixon British combo with the Jansse/Souwer Dutch boat in bronze.

 

W4-

4 crews

Belarus 1

Aliaksandra Yukhnovich, Tatsiana Piharava, Kseniya Ramanouskaya, Ina Nikulina

The first of two Belarussian boats racing. Yukhnovich and Ramanouskaya were members of the U23 BW4- that finished 6th at the U23 World Championships last year. Piharava raced in this boat class at the senior World Championships last year finishing 4th in the straight final. The 4th member of the crew, Ina Nikulina, is the only one with Olympic experience. She was in the W2- that finished 15th (out of 15) in Rio

 

Belarus 2

Marharyta Krechka, Yana Tsupa, Darya Marchanka, Anastasiya Siamionava

Both Krechka and Marchanka raced in the W4- in Rotterdam last season. Krechka is a former U23 World Champion in this boat class and Marchanka has a world junior bronze medal to her credit. Tsupa and Siamionava were in the U23 BW4- (with Yukhnovich and Ramanouskaya) that finished 6th last season.

 

The Netherlands

Aletta Jorritsma, Karien Robbers, Monica Lanz, Karolien Floijn

All four of this boat are doubling up in the W2- event. As a foursome this combination looks exciting and with the W4- becoming an Olympic class boat the competition is going to be intense. The Dutch will be looking for a solid performance to start their Olympic campaign.

 

Poland

Monika Ciaciuch, Maria Wierzbowska, Anna Wierzbowska, Joanna Dittmann

Ciaciuch has spent her entire international career since debuting as a junior in 2010 racing in the W4X. She’s won medals in this class at U23 and senior level, culminating in a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. Now, for the first time she swaps the quad for the 4-. She’s joined by the Wierzbowska sisters, who rowed as the W2- at the Rio Olympics placing 10th.  The final member of the crew is Joanna Dittmann, she was in the W4X that won bronze at the 2014 European Championships and went on to win silver in the BW4X at the 2014 U23 World Championships.

 

My picks….although this is a small field, it’s a hugely significant race. This is the first international regatta since the W4- was nominated as an Olympic class boat. The competition will get much more intense as the season progresses (I expect much bigger fields at the Europeans and 2nd and 3rd World Cups). But, of the four boats entered I think the Dutch will take the gold ahead of the Polish with the Belarussian no.2 boat getting the better of their team mates to take the bronze.

 

W4X

3 crews

Great Britain – Jess Leyden, Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, Holly Nixon, Beth Bryan

As mentioned above, all four are doubling up in the W2X. The Rio Olympiad was one of disappointment for the British W4X. There were high expectations on them, GB have a good tradition in this boat class, winning numerous world and Olympic medals over the last 16 years. But the Rio iteration never really fired. It wasn’t for lack of talent, they just never seemed to make the boat fly.  Now with two changes to the crew it has to be hoped that they can find that elusive spark that turns 4 talented scullers into an effective quad where sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. At least the British will be guaranteed a medal with only 3 crews racing (which will be their first senior medal in this boat class since the Munich World Cup in 2012.

 

Netherlands – Nicole Beukers, Olivia Van Rooijen, Inge Janssen, Sophie Souwer

Janssen and Souwer are also doubling up in the W2X. They are joined by Nicole Beukers and Olivia Van Rooijen. Beukers was a team mate of Janssen in the silver medal winning Olympic quad in Rio and Van Rooijen was in the Olympic W8 with Souwer. The Dutch quad last year were a joy to watch and had a fantastic battle against the Poles, both in the build up to the Olympics and at Rio itself. Van Rooijen is no stranger to the quad having raced it at the 2014 Worlds and Souwer raced in it to a 4th place the year before. This is a very exciting-looking combination and could in time prove to be faster than the 2016 combination.

 

Poland – Katarzyna Zillmann, Maria Springwald, Agnieszka Kobus, Marta Wielczko

The Poles are another nation who have made a couple of changes from their Olympic crew. Springwald and Kobus continue in the boat in which they won bronze in Rio. They are joined by two outstanding young scullers, Katarzyna Zilmann and Marta Wielczko are both two-time U23 BW4X World Champions from 2015 and 2016. Wielczko is making her senior debut having spent 4 years in the U23 squad which also included BW4X silver medals in 2013 and 2014. The battle between the Dutch and Poles that was so fascinating and fun to watch in 2016 looks like it’s going to carry on into 2017!

 

My picks…I think the Dutch will take gold ahead of the Poles. It’s massively important for the British to be in contention with the other two boats. With their competition both containing Olympic medallists I think it’s too much to expect the British to take gold or silver, but If they can finish within half a length of the other two it’ll be an encouraging start to their 2017 campaign.

 

LW1X

13 scullers

Denise Walsh – Ireland

The Irishwoman had an up and down season in 2016, 7th in the LW1X at the Varese World Cup was followed by a career best finish of 4th at the European Championships. Expectations were high for a good performance at the final World Cup, but she struggled in the Repecharge and ended up contesting the D-Final finishing 19th overall. She’ll be hoping for a good start to her 2017 campaign and an A-final finish would do just that.

 

Donata Karaliene – Lithuania

More well-known by her maiden name Vistartaite, Karaliene is a European and World Champion in the W2X and at the Rio Olympics took bronze with Milda Valciukaite. But, with a quoted weight of 65kg she is far more suited to lightweight rowing and she will be the favourite to take gold in Belgrade. It’ll be interesting to see what the Lithuanian’s do in terms of selection this season, with Valciukaite racing the W1X time will tell if they two will reunite in the double later this season or not.

 

Joanna Dorociak – Poland

The pick of the three Polish scullers in this event, Dorociak took bronze in the LW2X at the 2015 European Championships and followed that up with 8th at the World Championships.  She took another bronze at the 2016 Euros with Weronika Deresz, but lost out in the selection battle for the Olympics to Martyna Mikolajczak.

 

Anastasiia Ianina – Russia

Ianina made her international debut at the European Championships in 2015 finishing 5th. She followed that up with another 5th place at the U23 World Championships. In 2016 she raced in the LW1X at the World Championships making the A-Final.

 

Patricia Merz – Switzerland

Merz’s best performance to date came at the 2015 U23 World Championships where she and partner Frederique Rol took bronze. In 2016 this partnership finished 4th at the European Championships and just missed qualification for the Olympics when finishing 5th at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta. Merz finished the season racing the LW1X at the World Championships winning the B-Final.

 

Pauline Delacroix – Switzerland

The 2nd of the two Swiss entrants, Delacroix won bronze in the BLW4X at the 2014 U23 World Championships, following that up with a 5th place in the same event the year after. In 2016 she raced the World Cup season in the LW1X with a best finish of 8th in Varese. She ended the season with her third U23 appearance securing her best ever result with a silver medal in the BLW4X.

 

Other scullers racing are Anja Maniutscheri (Austria) 5th at the U23 World Championships last year. Syham Abid (Hungary) 21st at last year’s World Championships, Monika Kowalska (Poland) 11th in the U23 BLW2X last year, Sylwia Zimnicka (Poland) making her international debut. Another international debutant is Joana Branco (Portugal). The 2nd Russian sculler racing is Anastasia Lebdeva (12th in the LW2X at the 1st World Cup last year) and finally Nour Elhouda Ettaieb (Tunisia) 20th in the LW2X at the Rio Olympics.

My picks….it’s hard to look beyond Karaliene for the gold with Dorociak in silver and Merz bronze.

 

LW2X

4 crews

Czech Republic – Zuzana Necasova and Kristyna Neuhortova

A young and inexperienced crew, both making their senior debuts. Necasova finished 23rd in the JW1X in 2014 and Neuhortova is making her international debut. They will struggle to stay in touch with a small but highly competitive field, but its good experience for what will most likely be the Czech U23 LW2X for later in the year.

 

Great Britain – Kat Copeland & Charlie Booth

The British will want to forget 2016, injury restricted their competitions, and when they did race they were disappointing. 8th place at the European Championships was followed by a frankly embarrassing 14th in Rio. But, they are a quality double, former World Best time holders and world champions in 2015. If they can recapture the form they showed in 2015 rather than the dismal 2016 then they will be unstoppable. Belgrade will be a hugely important test for the British, they will be wanting nothing less than gold.

 

Great Britain – Maddie Arlett and Emily Craig

If Copeland and Booth had a disappointing 2016, the same can’t be said for Emily Craig. She was a member of the excellent LW4X that won gold at the World Championships (following silver the previous year). She’s joined by Maddie Arlett who makes her senior debut following 2 years in the U23 team where she had a best result of 4th in the BLW4X in 2015.

 

Poland – Weronika Deresz Martyna Mikolajczak

The main challengers to the British no.1 boat will come from the Polish. They raced in this combination at the Rio Olympics ending up 7th after a tough semi-final. The showdown with the British is going to very intriguing.

 

My picks….On paper you would expect the British to take the win, but it all depends if this 2017 version is like the 2015 or 2016 one,, if it’s the former they should win comfortably – if the latter…..who knows. But, I think they’ll take it ahead of the Poles with GB2 in 3rd.

 

So that’s it…phew…it’s been a bit of a marathon but at the start of a new Olympiad there’s always so much to talk about! A lot of the crews racing in Belgrade will look quite different later in the season but there should be some great racing nonetheless.  The entry for the women’s events is quite disappointing, nothing in the W8 and only a handful in the W2-, LW2X and W4-. For a European World Cup at the start of a new Olympiad it is a pity there aren’t more competitors, especially with a new women’s Olympic event in the programme.

Still, bring on the racing…the 2017 has started and the road to Tokyo begins now!

The Head of the River preview

HORR.jpg

Crews preparing for the Head of the River. Photo: ITV.com

This weekend sees one of the biggest events in the British rowing calendar – The Head of the River Race. First raced in 1926 it was created by the legendary Steve Fairbairn to alleviate the boredom of winter training and give his charges something to aim for in the “off” season. Now it’s become a goal in itself. For oarsmen across Britain it’s the main focus for the winter season. It has also become symbolic as the end of winter and the start of the regatta season.

So who are the crews to watch this year….

 

Oxford Brookes

Brookes Boat Club.jpg

Oxford Brookes

Brookes capitalised on the absence of the GB squad rowers last year to take their first ever headship. That marked the start of an outstanding season for Richard Spratley’s men which culminated in a win at Henley Royal Regatta. This year they’ve had some great races against both the Oxford and Cambridge Blue Boats and have dominated every head race they’ve raced in. Their crew for this year’s race has been strengthened with the addition of two former World Champions in Matt Tarrant and Joel Cassells along with a boat load of U23 internationals. They will be very, very strong contenders to retain the headship.

Such is the strength of the Brookes squad (very reminiscent of the University of London in its heyday of the late 70’s and early 80’s), that their 2nd VIII will be disappointed if they fail to take a top 5 spot. They are a “proper” student crew and will be odds on favourites to take the University pennant.

 

Leander

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Leander have two top boats taking aim at Brookes. Leander I (starting 2nd) is a boat full of their top sweep athletes, with Olympic champion Will Satch and fellow Olympian Stewart Innes. They are joined by a number of former U23 internationals and names that we could well see appearing in the GB squad during this Olympiad – the likes of Jacob Dawson and Matt Rossiter.

Leander II is an exciting-looking boat – it’s a “scullers” crew including a number of the British sculling team from Rio. John Collins and Jonno Walton from the M2X and Jack Beaumont & Pete Lambert from the M2X along with Will Fletcher from the LM2X. Also in the crew is GB international Nick Middleton and U23 international Frazier Christie. Starting 7th it’ll be fun to see whether the Leander Sweepers or Scullers take the bragging rights. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Scullers may get the better of the sweepers!

 

Molesey

Molesey

Molesey welcome back Olympic Champion, Moe Sbihi to their Head of the River crew. He’s joined by 2015 lightweight world champion Sam Scrimgeour. Also in the crew are Alistair Douglass and George Stewart who were the fastest U23 pair at last month’s GB trials.

 

Thames

Thames crest.jpg

Thames have had a great couple of years, victory in the Thames Cup at Henley in 2015 was followed by a win in the Visitors Challenge Cup last year. At last year’s Head they finished a superb 3rd, their best result since 1961. This year’s boat contains just one member of their 2015 Thames Cup winning crew – James Palmer. They finished 3rd at this year’s Reading University Head, and will probably be favourites to retain the Vernon Trophy (for the fastest Tideway Club crew).

 

Imperial College

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Starting 5th are Imperial College. There top student boat includes four that won Champ 4X at the BUCS Head of the River earlier this month (Harry Uglow, Toby Heaton, Ollie Hines & Tristan Vouilloz). The rest of the crew (Alex Ball, Ed Bentley, Jon Edwards & Tiby Heaton) raced in the Champ 4- at BUCS but were disappointed with a 7th place. As an 8 they trailed in 3rd behind Edinburgh and UL. Imperial also have a non-Student boat racing. In this crew is former GB lightweight stalwart Adam Freeman-Pask. He’s joined by a number of guys who have made the long journey from the club next door – Thames! James Padmore, Anthony Lester and Nicholas Turnbull. Also in the crew is former U23 silver medallist Wilf Kimberley.

 

Edinburgh University

Edinburgh.png

Starting back in 16th are the BUCS Head champions Edinburgh. They include half of the U23 LM4X World Champion winning crew; Gavin Horsburgh and Matthew Curtis, these two were also part of the M4+ that won the Prince Albert Challenge Cup at Henley last year. Also in the crew is U23 silver medallist Calum Irvine and 2015 junior world champion Josh Armstrong.  The Scots are probably the best University crew in the country – apart from Oxford Brookes that is!

 

Newcastle University

NUBC.png

Starting one place ahead of Edinburgh are their perennial rivals, Newcastle.  They finished 4th at the BUCS Head and they have their share of international experience, Oliver Varley was a crewmate to Horsburgh and Curtis in the gold medal U23 LM4X. Also in the boat is U23 silver medallist James Rudkin along with U23 international Ollie Knight. Their battle with Edinburgh is going to be exciting.

 

University of London

ULBC.png

In the 1970’s and 80’s UL were the dominant force in European university rowing, they were rarely out of the top 3 at the Head of the River. Those glory days are now over, but this year’s crew has already produced some strong results. They are starting 8th as the first Intermediate 1 crew. So far this season they’ve produced a strong 2nd to Edinburgh at the BUCS Head and were 4th at the Hammersmith Head. Their crew contains three old Abingdonians (which I always like to see being an OA myself!) Whilst they don’t quite have some of the international pedigree of Edinburgh or Newcastle, they have shown excellent speed and will be pushing Edinburgh and the Brookes 2nd 8 for the University pennant.

 

Whilst the Head of the River is the highlight of the winter season for British crews, it also attracts a large number of crews from overseas. This year no fewer than 36 overseas crews have entered from 9 different countries – Germany (15 crews), Ireland (7 crews), Switzerland (7 crews) Portugal (2 crews) and 1 from Norway, France, Italy, Poland and the USA.

The pick of the overseas crews are probably Bayer Leverkusen of Germany.  Their crew includes double Olympic medallist, Max Reinelt at 7 along with fellow senior internationals Hannes Heppner and Max Bandel.

Another crew to watch out for include UL Tyrian (start number 109) including Olympic champion Paul Bennett at 6.

 

So, who will win….my money is on Brookes to retain the Headship with the two Leander crews in hot pursuit (with the Scullers boat getting the better of the Sweepers). One of the big questions is whether Brookes 2nd 8 can win the University pennant ahead of Edinburgh, UL and Imperial. I think the Scots will just pip them.

So, my top 5 is:

Oxford Brookes I

Leander II

Leander I

Edinburgh

Oxford Brookes II

All we have to do now is pray to the weather gods to play nice!

The Cancer Research UK Boat Races – The men’s race

CRUK BR

Following on from my preview of the Women’s Blue Boats it’s time to turn my attention to the men. Last year saw an excellent Light Blue crew break a run of three Oxford wins to record only their 6th win of the century. The question this year is with just 2 Blues returning from last year’s crew, can Cambridge repeat their win from 2016?

CUBC 16

Cambridge winning the 2016 Boat Race. Photo PA

Here is the seat by seat analysis….

 

Bow seat

Oxford

warr2

Name: William Warr

Nationality: British

Age: 25

Height: 195cm

Weight: 94.2kg

Warr has already won a Blue, albeit in Cambridge colours. He was part of the losing Light Blue boat in 2015. He’s raced for GB at U23 level, just missing a medal in the M4+ in 2014. He’s also raced in the Senior GB M8 at the EON Hanse Cup and won the Ladies Plate at Henley with what was, in effect, the GB 2nd 8. At the World University Championships he was part of the GB M8 that won gold in 2014. He has his sights firmly set on senior international honours and perhaps a place at the Tokyo Olympics, at the recent GB Senior trials he and crewmate Josh Bugajski finished 6th (7 seconds ahead of the best Cambridge pair).

 

Cambridge

Ben Ruble 7 CUBC

Name: Ben Ruble

Nationality: American

Age: 26

Height: 188cm

Weight: 87.3kg

Winning his third Blue, Ruble has a record so far of won one, lost one. A graduate of Wisconsin University he’s been a mainstay of the Cambridge boat throughout his three years. Last year’s 7 seat he’s now moved to the other end of the boat. Ruble was part of the top Goldie coxed 4 at the Head of the River Fours in November which won the elite 4+ division, beating the top Isis boat by a whopping 12 seconds (repeating the feat they achieved at the 2015 HOR4’s).

 

Verdict: this is an interesting battle between two former crewmates. Ruble is one of the most experienced Boat Race rowers in the Cambridge crew, but Warr is an athlete about to break into the big time. I’m calling this a narrow advantage to Oxford.

 

2 seat

Oxford

oleary

Name: Matt O’Leary

Nationality: American

Age: 26

Height: 180cm

Weight: 74.8kg

The shortest and lightest man in the race (he’s a full 17cm shorter and 26.4 kg lighter than team mate Olivier Siegelaar) O’Leary is nevertheless an experienced senior international oarsman. He made his international debut racing in the US U23 LM4X at the 2011 World Championships. He then made his senior debut in 2014 racing in the LM8 and the LM4X the following year. A Harvard graduate, he won the Lightweight Varsity 8’s at the IRA Championships and the Eastern Sprints and was co-captain in the 2012 boat that went undefeated all season.

 

Cambridge

Davidson.jpg

Name: Freddie Davidson

Nationality: British

Age: 18

Height: 188cm

Weight: 81.9kg

The youngest man in the race (he doesn’t turn 19 until the end of May) Davidson is one of the most exciting young oarsmen in Britain. No stranger to the Tideway, he learnt to row at St. Paul’s School and was a member of their outstanding 1st VIII that won the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley in 2015. He went on to make his international debut that year finishing 5th in the JM8 at the World Championships in Rio. The following year he was part of the top GB junior M4- that won a silver medal. He raced at the senior GB trials last month with Charlie Fisher finishing a strong 7th and was the top ranked U20 oarsman at Trials.  Expect to see him make his U23 debut this year and senior representative honours in the very near future.

 

Verdict: another very tight contest, but O’Leary’s greater international experience just gives Oxford the edge.

 

3 seat

Oxford

ollie-cook

Name: Oliver Cook

Nationality: British

Age: 26

Height: 194cm

Weight: 91.7kg

A graduate of the London School of Economics, Cook was the non-travelling spare for the GB Olympic team in 2016. He made his senior international debut in 2012 in the GB M8 that finished 5th at the European Championships. In 2013 he was again in the GB M8 that won gold at the World Cup in Eton and was a member of the Leander Club and Molesey composite that won the Ladies Plate at Henley Regatta and went on to finish 8th at the Lucerne World Cup. Last year he teamed up with Callum McBrierty and Henry Fieldman to win gold in the M2+ at the World Championships. He describes himself as the “perennial spare for the GB team” having been the spare throughout 2014-16. At the recent GB trials he paired with teammate (and former schoolmate) Vassilis Ragoussis finishing 10th (as an interesting little side note, at GB Trials Cook and Ragoussis raced as Isis whereas team mates Warr and Bugajski raced as Oxford University – this is because only those who have won a Blue can row as “Oxford University” otherwise it’s “Isis”).

 

Cambridge   

Letten.jpg            

Name: James Letten

Nationality: American

Age: 23

Height: 208cm

Weight: 106.4kg

Standing at 208cm, or 6ft 10in Letten becomes the tallest man ever to row in the Boat Race (beating by 1cm Olympic medallists Josh West and Paul Bennett). At 106.4kg he’s also the heaviest man in this year’s race. Letten is the 2nd Wisconsin graduate in the Light Blue boat and has been on the verge of breaking into the US U23 national team having been invited to final selection camps in the last two years. A “monster” on the erg, he is the current World Record holder in the 19-29 age bracket for the 10K. He also won the Indoor World Championships at the CRASH-B’s last year. If Cambridge coach Steve Trapmore has found a way of transferring that huge power into an effective boat mover (something Letten’s US coaches haven’t yet managed) then he could provide a massive engine to the Light Blue boat.

Verdict: despite his size and huge power, I’m giving this to the more experienced Ollie Cook of Oxford.

 

4 seat

Oxford

bugajski

Name: Josh Bugajski

Nationality: British

Age: 26

Height: 195cm

Weight: 99.3kg

Another returning Blue, Bugajski raced for Great Britain at the 2012 U23 World Championships. A graduate of Cardiff University, he’s represented Wales at the Home International Regatta, winning gold in the M1X in 2015. At the senior GB trials last month he partnered William Warr finishing an excellent 6th. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Welshman make his senior international debut in the near future.

 

Cambridge

Tracey.jpg

Name: Tim Tracey

Nationality: American

Age: 22

Height: 196cm

Weight: 97.4kg

A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Tracey made his international debut in 2015 as part of the US U23 M4- that finished just outside of the medals at the World Championships. At the Head of the River 4’s last year he was part of the 2nd Goldie Elite 4+ that finished 4th in the division and 24th overall. He learnt to row as a “plebe walk on” at Navy becoming team Captain for the 2015-16 year. In 2016 his Navy crew finished 10th at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships. In 2015 he was nominated for the USRowing Collegiate Athlete of the Year award.

 

Verdict: Tracey is a great oarsman and his international record is stronger than Bugajski, but the Welshman is in excellent form and his Tideway and Boat Race experience gives him the edge. Advantage Oxford.

 

5 seat

Oxford

siegelaar

Name: Olivier Siegelaar

Nationality: Dutch

Age: 30

Height: 197cm

Weight: 100kg

The oldest man in the race, Siegelaar is one of the most experienced oarsmen ever to row in the Boat Race. With three Olympic appearances to his credit he raced in the Dutch M8 at the Beijing, London and Rio Olympics culminating in an outstanding bronze medal in Rio. He made his senior international debut in 2007 in the M4X and then the M2X at the start of the 2008 season before moving to the M8 for the Olympics. A bronze medal in the M8 at the 2009 World Championships was followed by a 4th place in 2010, 6th in 2011 and a 5th place finish at the London Games. After a break in 2013 he returned to international competition in 2014 picking up a silver in the M4- at the Lucerne World Cup and 4th at the World Championships. In 2016 he won gold at both the first and second world cups before finishing with a superb bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with whom he won the IRA Championships in 2010.

 

Cambridge

malowany.jpg

Name: Aleksander Malowany

Nationality: Canadian

Age: 23

Height: 194cm

Weight: 94.4kg

A graduate of the University of Washington, Malowany was the Canadian School’s M1X champion in 2011. He made two appearances for Canada at the World Junior Championships, both in the JM4X finishing 24th in 2010 and 11th in 2011. Whist at Washington he won the Freshman Varsity 8’s at the IRA’s 2012 and followed that up with a win in the Temple Challenge Cup at Henley.  In his sophomore year he rowed in the UW 2nd Varsity winning both the PAC-12 and IRA Titles, a feat he repeated in his Junior year. In 2015 he rowed in the UW 4- at Henley that lost in the semi-finals of the Visitors Challenge Cup.

Verdict: advantage Oxford

 

6 seat

Oxford

disanto

Name: Michael DiSanto

Nationality: American

Age: 27

Height: 185cm

Weight: 89.9kg

This year’s Oxford President, DiSanto already has two Blue’s to his credit with wins in 2014 and 2015. He took time away from his studies in 2016 to row for the US national team racing in the 6 seat of the US M8 that finished 4th at the Rio Olympics. A Harvard graduate Di Santo had a highly successful rowing career making the Varsity 8 in his Sophmore year and winning the Ladies Plate at Henley. In 2011 he won the Eastern Sprints and finished 2nd at the IRA’s. He was made Captain in 2012 and rounded off his Harvard career with a bronze at the IRA’s. He made his International debut in 2011 finishing 6th in the M4- at the U23 World Championships. He won his first senior international vest in 2013 at the Lucerne World Cup before being selected for the M8 for the Rio Olympics.

 

Cambridge

Eble.jpg

Name: Patrick Eble

Nationality: American

Age: 22

Height: 193cm

Weight: 90.5kg

Eble started rowing in 2009 at the La sale High School in Pennsylvania. Whilst at High School he made two appearances for the US junior national team finishing 5th in the JM8 in both 2011 and 2012. After High School he went to Princeton and helped them win bronze at the IRA’s in 2015 (their first IRA medal since 2006). He followed this up with a 2nd bronze medal in 2016.

Verdict: A clear advantage for Oxford in this Harvard v Princeton battle.

 

7 seat

Oxford

j-cook

Name: Jamie Cook

Nationality: British

Age: 24

Height: 187cm

Weight: 84kg

Younger brother to Oliver, Jamie is a returning Blue having won in 2015 and lost in 2016. He raced for the GB U23 team between 2012-2104 making the A-Final in all three of his appearances. He made his one and only (so far) senior appearance in 2013 at the Eton World Cup racing as the 2nd GB M2- finishing a superb 5th. In 2012 he won the Prince Albert Challenge Cup at Henley with the University of London and also won silver at the world University Championships that year. One of three Old Abingdonian’s in the Oxford crew, Cook won World Rowing’s Parmigiani Spirit Award in 2013.

 

Cambridge

Tredell.jpg

Name: Lance Tredell

Nationality: British

Age: 28

Height: 194cm

Weight: 94.3kg

The 2nd returning Blue from last year’s winning crew, Tredell has a host of international honours to his credit. Unlike many of the other rowers in the race Tredell didn’t race at Junior or U23 level, instead he made his international debut in the senior team in 2012 racing the the GB M8 at the European Championships. In 2013 he raced for Great Britain at both the 1st and 2nd World Cups winning gold in Sydney. He was a member of the Leander Club/Molesey composite that won the Ladies Plate at Henley in 2013. He stroked the Cambridge Elite 4+ to victory at the Head of the River 4’s last year.

Verdict: this is really tight between two of GB’s most talented young rowers. I’m going to give it, just, to Cambridge.

 

Stroke seat

Oxford

ragoussis

Name: Vassilis Ragoussis

Nationality: British

Age: 24

Height: 194cm

Weight: 86.6kg

Vas is one of three Abingdon School alumni named in the Oxford boat (along with the Cook brothers). Whilst at Abingdon he was part of the outstanding crew that won the “Triple” (the School’s Head, The National Schools Regatta and the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley). He raced for GB as a junior in 2011 finishing 10th in the JM4-.  After leaving school he went on to study at Boston University in America, winning bronze in the Junior Varsity event at the Eastern Sprints. In 2013 he won his 2nd Henley medal taking the Thames Cup with the Griffen Boat Club (the Abingdon School Alumni).  He has his eyes set on senior international honours and raced with Ollie Cook at the GB Trials in February finishing 10th.

 

Cambridge

Meek.jpg

Name: Henry Meek

Nationality: Australian

Age: 24

Height: 193cm

Weight: 95.4kg

Aussie Meek is the 2nd Washington Huskie in the Cambridge boat.  He started rowing at Geelong Grammar school and was a member of the Banks Rowing Club and Melbourne University crew that won the Fawley Challenge Cup at Henley in 2010. He followed this up with a win in the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley the following year as part of the Upper Yarra Rowing Club Crew (under the guidance of Alex Henshilwood).  In his Freshman year at Washington he won his third straight Henley medal taking victory in the Temple Challenge Cup. His Freshman crew also won the PAC-12 and IRA Championships. In his Junior year he raced in the 1st Varsity 8 that won both the Pac-12 and IRA’s and beat the Polish national team in the semi-finals of the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley before losing to the World Champion British crew in the final. In his senior year he won his 4th IRA title. He’s made one appearance for the Australian national team, taking silver in the U23 M8 in 2014 (in a crew made up entirely of US based athletes). He was part of the winning Head of the River 4’s crew in November, although spent time out of the boat earlier this year due to a back injury.

Verdict: Advantage Cambridge – Meek is an outstanding oarsman and was part of an outstanding Washington Huskies crew.

 

Cox

Oxford

collier

Name: Sam Collier

Nationality: British

Age: 21

Height: 172cm

Weight: 55kg

Collier coxed Isis in 2015 and was the Blue Boat cox in 2016. A Hampton School old boy, Collier coxed the GB Junior M4+ at the World Championships in 2013.

 

Cambridge

ramambason.jpg

Name: Hugo Ramambason

Nationality: British

Age: 20

Height: 175cm

Weight: 58kg

The third Westminster School Alumni to cox in this year’s race (both coxes in the Women’s race after from Westminster. Ramambason wins his first Blue having coxed Goldie in both 2015 (where is was up against his opposite number Sam Collier) and again in 2016. Collier’s Isis got the better of his crew in 2015 and he’ll be desperate to get his own back.

Verdict: As a returning Blue (albeit a losing one) the advantage goes to Collier of Oxford.

 

So those are the crews, here are a few little stats…..

Crew weight averages: Oxford 90.2kg Cambridge 93.4kg

Crew height averages: Oxford 190.9cm Cambridge 194.4kg

Crew average age: Oxford 25 Cambridge 23

Nationalities: Oxford 3 (6 GB, 2 USA, 1 NED) Cambridge 4 (USA 4, GB 3, CAN 1, AUS 1)

Excluding the coxswains, there is only one Undergraduate in the race (Freddie Davidson of Cambridge).

There are more Americans in the race than were in the top three Varsity crews at the IRA Championships in 2016

6 of the Cambridge crew and 3 from Oxford were educated at American Universities.

Olivier Siegelaar of the Netherlands becomes the first triple Olympian to compete in the men’s race.

 

So who’s going to win?  The build-up to the race has been fascinating. Cambridge definitely fared better when the two squads met at the Head of the River Fours with their top coxed boat beating the top Oxford boat. Both crews have raced Oxford Brookes, winners of the Head of the River and Temple Challenge Cup last year. In the two pieces against Cambridge the honours were even in the first but in the 2nd the Light Blues struggled in the rough water and went down by 2 lengths. Against Oxford it was Brookes who struggled in the rough allowing the Dark Blues to win the first piece comfortably. In the 2nd it was much closer with Oxford leading by ¾ length coming into the final stretch and just managing to hold off a late Brookes surge to win by a few seats. So, advantage Oxford. Cambridge raced Leander on home water in Ely a few weeks ago but there’s not been much information coming out from Ely about how it went. Oxford raced Leander this weekend dispatching them quite comfortably. Cambridge’s final fixture was against a strong (albeit scratch) Italian National squad boat containing all the top Italian oarsmen (including world and Olympic medallists). The first piece resulted in a narrow win for the visitors. The 2nd piece looked like it was going to be another close race until the Italians hit rough water and their lack of fitness began to tell allowing Cambridge to take 3 lengths off them in 90 seconds. This would have been a big morale booster for Steve Trapmore’s men, the Italians were a class outfit.

But, after all of the pre-race fixtures it’s definitely the Dark Blues who have emerged the stronger, although if I’m going to be critical I don’t think Bowden has quite gotten the best out of what is, on paper, an outstanding crew. But there’s still a few weeks to go to race day and Oxford have shown that they handle rough water well and have a huge amount of power. Cambridge’s fortunes have been a bit more mixed, and Trapmore will be under pressure to deliver a strong performance. With a record of 2 wins and 4 losses in his 6 years in charge, another defeat may see calls for changes in personnel. In my seat by seat comparison I have it 7-2 in the Dark Blues favour. Unfortunately for the Light Blues I’m going to go for a Dark Blue win by at least 3 lengths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cancer Research UK Boat Races – Women’s race preview

CRUK BR

This year is the 90th anniversary of the first Oxford v Cambridge Women’s Boat Race and April 2nd sees its 3rd running since its move to the Tideway course in 2015. Oxford have been the dominant force since that move. Their crew in 2015 was truly outstanding, led by triple Olympic medallist, Caryn Davies they were a crew of international standard. In 2016 Oxford were again a more dominant crew and coped much better in the torrid conditions.

cambridge-sink.jpg

Cambridge almost swamping in 2016. Photo: The Independent

So, will Oxford make it a hat-trick of wins in 2017, or will Cambridge record their first Tideway victory?

Let’s take a look at the two crews:

 

Bow:

Oxford

Flo Pickles.jpg

Name: Flo Pickles

Nationality: British

Age: 20

Weight: 60kg

Height: 169cm

A graduate of the Gloucester Hartpury College’s “Start” programme (a joint initiative between GB Rowing and Gloucester Rowing Club) Pickles is an outstanding talent. A double Henley winner she won bronze at the Junior World Championships in 2014 and has raced at the U23 World Championships for the past 2 years. More renowned for sculling than sweep (she won bronze in the W1X at the 2016 European University Championships) she has been out of the boat earlier in the year through injury and her return has definitely strengthened the boat.

 

Cambridge

Ashton Brown

Name: Ashton Brown

Nationality: Australian/Canadian

Age: 28

Weight: 82kg

Height: 173cm

The heaviest rower in the race is perhaps an odd choice for the bow seat, but Brown is one of the most experienced athletes in the race. This year’s Cambridge President, she is set to win her third Blue and, and after two successive losses will be desperate to make it “third time lucky”.  The 28 year old is reading for a PhD in education having already studied at the University of Ottawa and Princeton University. She represented Canada at the 2009 and 2010 U23 World Championships, winning a bronze medal in 2010. Whilst at Princeton she won gold in the NCAA championships and Head of the Charles.

Verdict: a slight advantage to Cambridge, but it’s close.

 

2 seat

Oxford

Alice Roberts.jpg

Name: Alice Roberts

Nationality: British

Age: 19

Weight: 67.5kg

Height: 169cm

Alice Roberts learnt to row whilst at Cheney School in Oxford. The state school only started rowing in 2011 in partnership with Falcon Rowing Club. Coached by former Olympian Peter Haining the school has quickly gained a reputation for producing some outstanding talent. In 2012 a 14 year old Roberts is quoted in an Oxford Times article saying “I never thought I would have been able to become a rower – it always seemed too expensive. But now it has me hooked”. The youngest rower in the women’s race she is definitely another rower with a bright future ahead of her and she becomes the first athlete from Cheney Falcons to win a Blue.

 

Cambridge

Imogen Grant.jpg

Name: Imogen Grant

Nationality: British

Age: 21

Weight: 58.2kg

Height: 168cm

The shortest and lightest member of the Cambridge crew (she’s 1cm shorter than cox Matthew Holland!), Grant is, nevertheless an extremely talented oarswoman She only started rowing when she went up to Cambridge and quickly progressed through the development squad. In 2016 she was part of the Blondie crew that won the Reserves race by 3 lengths and also raced in the Lightweight Blue Boat. The 21 year old also won gold and silver medals at the 2016 British University Championships and medals at both the 2015 and 2016 European University Rowing Championships. In 2016 she was also part of the Cambridge University LW2- that won the Parkside Trophy at Henley Women’s Regatta.

Verdict: Despite giving away 9kg’s to her opposite number, this is advantage Cambridge.

 

3 seat

Oxford

esselstein.jpg

Name: Rebecca Esselstein

Nationality: American

Age: 24

Weight: 70.8kg

Height: 170cm

A Rhodes Scholar from the United States Air Force Academy reading for a DPhil in Astrophysics, Esselstein is a relative novice when it comes to rowing. Whilst at the USAF Academy she was more renowned as a runner posting some of the best 800m and 1500m times in the Academy’s history. She only started rowing when she came up to Oxford, but her undoubted athletic prowess has seen her win her seat in the Blue Boat.

 

Cambridge

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Name: Claire Lambe

Nationality: Irish

Age: 26

Weight: 64.8kg

Height: 178cm

The complete opposite of her Dark Blue opponent in terms of rowing experience, Lambe is the most experienced rower in the race. Lambe has been racing at senior international level since 2010 and in 2016 she competed in the LW2X at the Rio Olympics finishing 6th with her partner Sinead Lynch. A graduate of University College Dublin she also made the final of the World University Championships in 2012.

Verdict: Advantage Cambridge

 

4 seat

Oxford

te water naude.jpg

Name: Rebecca te Water Naude

Nationality: British

Age: 20

Weight: 67.2kg

Height: 182cm

The tallest member of the Oxford crew, Wales’s Rebecca te Water Naude is another relative newcomer to rowing having only taken up the sport in 2014. But her talent was quickly spotted by the Welsh Rowing Academy in Cardiff and she was put on their fast track development scheme. She just missed out on a place in the Blue Boat last year and raced in the losing Osiris boat.

 

Cambridge

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Name: Anna Dawson

Nationality: New Zealander

Age: 26

Weight: 78.6kg

Height: 180cm

One of six U23 internationals in the Cambridge Blue Boat, New Zealand’s Anna Daswon is another outstanding athlete. Winner of a gold medal at the World Junior Championships in 2008 she followed this up with a silver medal in the W8 at the 2011 U23 World Championships. A Psychology graduate from Stanford University she raced in their Varsity 8, and in 2014 was in the crew that won the PAC-12 Championships and in the same year was voted the PAC-12 female athlete of the year. In 2012 she won gold in the W4X at the New Zealand National Championships and narrowly missed out on selection for the 2012 Olympics.

Verdict: Advantage Cambridge

 

5 seat

Oxford

austin.jpg

Name: Harriet Austin

Nationality: New Zealander

Age: 28

Weight: 76.5kg

Height: 178cm

The most experienced member of the Oxford crew, Austin made her senior international debut in 2008 as part of the New Zealand W8 at the Munich World Cup and just missed qualifying for the Beijing Olympics.  In 2009 she switched to the quad winning bronze at both the Munich and Lucerne World Cups and took 7th at the World Championships. In the 2010 season she raced in three different boat classes, finishing 8th in the W4X at the first World Cup, 12th in the W1X at the 3rd World Cup and 8th in the W8 at the World Championships. In 2015 she was named as part of the Central Regional Performance Centre squad in New Zealand but has come to Oxford for the 2017 season to read for an MBA at Christ Church. Once completed she could well be back in the mix for a seat in the New Zealand squad for the Tokyo Olympics.

 

Cambridge

Hill.jpg

Name: Holly Hill

Nationality: British

Age: 23

Weight: 75.1kg

Height: 183cm

Hill was part of the losing 2015 Blue Boat and after taking a year out of her studies in 2016 to focus on her rowing, she’s back for her 2nd Blue. She’s one of the most talented young women rowers in Britain. She made her international debut in 2015 winning bronze in the W4- at the U23 World Championships and last season she went one better as part of the British U23 W8. She has her sights firmly set on representing Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics and is part of the British High Performance squad. At the GB National trials last month she finished 2nd with teammate Melissa Wilson in the W2- losing out by less than 1 second over 5Kto a Leander Club pair containing Olympic silver medallist Karen Bennett. I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t make her senior international debut in the very near future.

Verdict: A draw!

 

6 seat

Oxford

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Name: Chloe Laverack

Nationality: American

Age: 24

Weight: 75.3kg

Height: 177cm

Laverack took up rowing at Northeastern University as a “walk on” and progressed from the 3rd to 1st Varsity boats in her 3 years at Northeastern. In her freshman year she finished 3rd at the Eastern sprints. As part of the 1st Varsity crew in 2015 she raced at the Eastern Sprints and won the CAA Championships. At the NCAA Championships they finished 1st in the D Final (19th out of 22). She has a strong connection with Oxford, her uncle Bill Lang, was a winning Oxford Blue in 1983 and 1984.

 

Cambridge

white.jpg

Name: Alice White

Nationality: British

Age: 24

Weight: 76.3kg

Height: 176cm

Born and educated in Hamilton, New Zealand, White raced for the Kiwis at the 2011 Junior World Championships taking a bronze medal in the JW4-. She then studied at UCLA and rowed in the Bruins Varsity 8 throughout her 4 years of study.  She switched to racing for GB in 2015 and was part of the U23 W8 that won bronze at the World Championships. At the recent GB Trials, she and partner Lucy Pike, finished 8th . She’s another athlete that will be looking to gain senior international honours in the near future, and has eyes on a place at the 2020 Olympics.

Verdict: Advantage Cambridge

 

7 seat

Oxford

cameron.jpg

Name: Emily Cameron

Nationality: Canadian

Age: 34

Weight: 76kg

Height: 165cm

The oldest rower in the race, she has a wealth of international experience to her name. She made her senior debut in 2010 racing to an 8th place in the W4X at the World Championships. In 2011 she took a 13th place in the W2X. 2013 saw her best ever result when she was part of the W4X that took silver at the World Championships in Chungju. In 2014 the same quartet finished 6th. A graduate of the University of Toronto, she’s at Mansfield College reading for a Masters in Public Policy.

 

Cambridge

goudet.jpg

Name: Myriam Goudet

Nationality: French

Age: 28

Weight: 79.5kg

Height: 183cm

One of three returning Blues, Goudet is a highly experienced international athlete. She has progressed through the French national team, starting with the juniors in 2005 and 2006, finishing 5th in the JW8 in ’06. She then moved up to the U23 team in 2007 finishing 7th in the W4X and then 4th in the W4- in 2009. She made her senior debut the same year finishing 6th in the W8 at the European Championships. At the same event the following year she was part of the W8 that finished 8th. In 2012 she was part of the French W4X that tried to qualify for the London Olympics, just missing out in 3rd place. She knows the Tideway extremely well, not only as a returning Blue, but as a graduate of Imperial College. Whilst at IC she won Elite 2X at Henley Women’s Regatta and then bronze in the W4- at the World University Championships.

Verdict: a very narrow win for Oxford

 

Stroke seat

Oxford

hebert.jpg

Name: Jenna Herbert

Nationality: American

Age: 23

Weight: 67.1kg

Height: 165cm

The 2nd Rhodes Scholar in the Oxford boat, Hebert is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.  She spent four years as part of the Penn Quakers Varsity 8 and helped them to their best ever finish at the Ivy League Championships and was awarded the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Academic performer of the Year.  In 2013 she made her international debut, finishing 5th in the LW4X at the U23 World Championships.

 

Cambridge

Melissa Wilson.jpg

Name: Melissa Wilson

Nationality: British

Age: 23

Weight: 77.1kg

Height: 178cm

Wilson already has three (losing) Blues to her name and will be desperate to make it 4th time lucky! Along with crewmate Holly Hill, she finished 2nd at the recent GB National trials and will be looking to establish herself as a regular in the senior GB team.  She competed for the GB U23 team twice, winning silver in the W8 in 2014 and a bronze in 2015. Also in 2015 she and Holly Hill won gold in the U23 division at the Essen International Regatta.  In 2016 she was part of the Leander Club/Reading Rowing Club composite that won the Princess Grace Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta. Like her crewmate, Holly Hill, I expect Wilson to become a regular in the senior GB team and could well feature at the Tokyo Olympics

Verdict: advantage Cambridge

 

Cox

Oxford

Shearer.jpg

Name: Eleanor Shearer

Nationality: British

Age: 21

Weight: 48kg

Height: 155cm

Shearer is no stranger to the Tideway, the former Westminster school pupil grew up coxing on the championship course and since going up to Oxford coxed the University Lightweights at the Head of the River and the Head of the River Fours.

 

Cambridge

Holland.jpg

Name: Matt Holland

Nationality: British

Age: 19

Weight: 51.3kg

Height: 169cm

Another old Westminsterian, Holland coxed the outstanding school 1st VIII in 2015-16. Under his guidance the school won the school’s Head of the River and the National School’s Regatta twice and were finalists in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley in 2015. In 2014 he coxed the Imperial College W8 at the Women’s Head of the River and competed for GB in the Anglo-French match in 2014.

Verdict: advantage Cambridge.

 

Those are the crews, so who will win? I’ve put Cambridge ahead in 7 of the 9 seats and their performances so far this season have shown that coach, Rob Baker, has put together an outstanding boat, possibly the finest Cambridge crew for a number of years. In recent fixtures Oxford had a good battle with Oxford Brookes, having to come from behind on both occasions to win. Whilst Cambridge haven’t had a match race against Brookes, they both competed at the recent Women’s Head of the River with the Light Blues finishing 38 seconds ahead of Brookes. At the Reading University Head of the River Oxford were the fastest women’s crew, 13 seconds faster than Brookes. I think it’s clear from the pedigree of the crew and their performances so far this season that Cambridge will be favourites on April 2nd. I’m picking a Light Blue win by 3 lengths.

The Women’s 8’s Head of The River

WEHORR

Photo: wehorr.org

 

This weekend sees the 77th running of the Women’s Head of the River…possibly the biggest women only sporting event in the world. 321 crews are in the draw, that’s more than 2500 athletes racing the 4.5 mile course from Chiswick to Putney.

At the top end of the field this was looking to be a three-way battle between Leander, Cambridge and a 7 club composite. Unfortunately it looks as though the squad composite – which had included Olympic silver medallist Zoe Lee – has scratched.  But, there are plenty of other Olympians slated to compete. Leander (starting no.51) look to be the favourites with Olympic silver medallists Vicky Thornley and Karen Bennett along with 2016 W4- World Champions Holly Nixon, Fiona Gammond and Holly Norton.

CUWBC v ULBC.jpg

Photo: The Boat Race Company Ltd

Cambridge University will be using this race as a major test for their prospective Blue Boat. They have had an excellent build up so far this season, winning the Quintin Head of the River and dominating all their match races so far. They start in 4th and will be chasing Oxford Brookes University. The Brookes crew features Olympic silver medallist Olivia Carnegie-Brown

Starting Head are Imperial College, they will be followed by Molesey – winners of Senior 8’s Hammersmith Head (and the fastest women’s crew).  UL will also be looking for a strong finish, their crew includes U23 silver medallist Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne. UL won the BUCS head and Elite 8’s at Hammersmith Head.

Ryan Demaine’s Headington School have been the dominant force in junior women’s 8’s for nearly a decade. At the Reading University Head they finished less than 1 second behind Oxford Brookes and could well improve on their 8th place starting position.

There are 7 overseas crews racing with the pick being the young Italians from CUS Milano (start number 6), they will be looking to defend their overseas pennant against 2 Swiss and 4 German crews.

Competition in the Intermediate category will be particularly fierce with 165 entries (competing for Club, Provincial Club, Medium & Small Club and University pennants). The Club pennant will be a good battle between Tideway rivals Thames and Tideway Scullers with the Provincial Club looking to be a fight between Cantabrigian (winners of the Head of the Nene) and Agecroft.

Hopefully the weather gods will play nice, the forecast is looking good with light winds, cloud and temperatures in the low teens….it should be a great day’s racing.

 

The battle of Oxford

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Oxford University v Oxford Brookes in 2016. Photo: OBUBC

As part of their preparations for the 2017 University Boat Race, Oxford take on their neighbours, Oxford Brookes University, on Sunday over the Championship course in London. To those of us who follow the machinations of the Boat Race, this has the makings (on paper at least) to be one of the most eagerly awaited contests for years. Brookes are the fastest University crew in the country at the moment (and possibly one of the fastest in Europe). A few weeks ago they raced the provisional Cambridge Blue Boat and won one of the pieces comfortably (the other being declared a draw).

The Brookes crew contains eight of the crew that won the Temple Challenge Cup last year and all but stroke man James Stanhope have won representative honours for Great Britain at U23 level (and in the case of bowman Jamie Copus, senior level). They are a well-established and well drilled crew, and will give Oxford a really stern test.

So, who’s been named in the Dark Blue boat (not in seat order);

 

Vassilis Ragoussis

Ragoussis.jpg

Nationality: British

Age: 24

Height: 194cm

Weight: 87kg

Vas is one of three Abingdon School alumni named in the Oxford boat. He raced for GB as a junior and went on to study at Boston University in America winning bronze in the Junior Varsity event at the Eastern Sprints. In 2013 he won the Thames Cup at Henley with the Griffen Boat Club.

 

Oliver Cook

Ollie Cook.jpg

Nationality: British

Age: 26

Height: 194cm

Weight: 94kg

Another Abingdon School old boy, Cook was the non-travelling spare for the GB Olympic team in 2016. Last year he teamed up with Callum McBrierty and Henry Fieldman to win gold in the M2+ at the World Championships. He describes himself as the “perennial spare for the GB team”. Once his Oxford days are over he should be able to cement himself a permanent spot on the national team.

 

Jamie Cook

J Cook.jpg

Nationality: British

Age: 24

Height: 187cm

Weight: 84kg

Younger brother to Oliver and the third Abingdon alumni, Jamie is a returning Blue having won in 2015 and lost in 2016. He raced for the GB U23 team between 2012-2104 and in 2013 made his senior debut at the Eton World Cup. In 2012 he won the Prince Albert Challenge Cup at Henley with the University of London.

 

Josh Bugajski

Bugajski.jpg

Nationality: British

Age: 26

Height: 195cm

Weight: 96kg

Another returning Blue, Bugajski raced for Great Britain at the 2012 U23 World Championships. A graduate of Cardiff University, he’s represented Wales at the Home International Regatta, winning gold in the M1X in 2015.

 

Michael DiSanto

diSanto.jpg

Nationality: American

Age: 27

Height: 185cm

Weight: 88kg

This year’s Oxford President, DiSanto already has two Blue’s to his credit with wins in 2014 and 2015. He took time away from his studies in 2016 to row for the US national team racing in the 6 seat of the US M8 at the Rio Olympics.

 

Olivier Siegelaar

Siegelaar.jpg

Nationality: Dutch

Age: 30

Height: 197cm

Weight: 100kg

The 2nd Rio Olympian in the Oxford crew, Siegelaar rowed in the Dutch M8 that took bronze. For Siegelaar Rio was his 3rd Olympics – making him one of the most experienced athletes ever to race for Oxford. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with whom he won the IRA Championships in 2012. He’s also the oldest, tallest and heaviest man in the Oxford boat.

 

William Warr

Warr2.jpg

Nationality: British

Age: 25

Height: 195cm

Weight: 92kg

Warr has already won a Blue, albeit in Cambridge colours. He was part of the losing Light Blue boat in 2015. He’s raced for GB at U23 level, just missing a medal in the M4+ in 2014. He’s also raced in the Senior GB M8 at the EON Hanse Cup and won the Ladies Plate at Henley with what was, in effect, the GB 2nd 8 (although I got told off for calling it that when I was commentating for Regatta Radio 😉 )

 

Matthew O’Leary

O'Leary.jpg

Nationality: American

Age: 26

Height: 180cm

Weight: 78kg

The 2nd American in the crew, O’Leary is an experienced senior international having raced for the USA in the LM8 in 2014 and the LM4X in 2015. Whilst at Harvard he won the Lightweight Varsity 8’s at the IRA Championships and was co-captain in the 2012 boat that went undefeated all season.

 

Sam Collier (cox)

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Nationality: British

Age: 21

Height: 172cm

Weight: 55kg

Collier coxed Isis in 2015 and was the Blue Boat cox in 2015. A Hampton School old boy, Collier coxed the GB Junior M4+ at the World Championships in 2013.

 

So that’s the provisional Blue Boat. It’s a very impressive line-up, possibly the strongest Oxford crew since 2013 (which included the likes of Stan Louloudis, Malcolm Howard, Karl Hudspith, Sam O’Connor and Paul Bennett). It’s a testament to the strength of the Oxford crew that two of last year’s Blue Boat (James White and Jorgen Tveit) miss out. Also missing out are 2015 Lightweight world Champion Claas Mertens and Washington Huskies alumni Dusan Milovanovic.

The race v Brookes should be an epic. Oxford look to have a huge amount of experience and firepower whereas Brookes are a well-established and very talented unit. If I have to call the result, I’m going to go with a Dark Blue win by a length or so. It’s going to be good!

GB Trials preview and thoughts on the FISA Congress

 

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First of all let me apologise for being a bit quiet on this blog for a while, as I’ve mentioned before (and if anyone who follows me on twitter will know) I’ve been unwell for the last few months. Fortunately I’m now almost (but not quite) completely well again, so I thought I would dive back into the fray as there’s quite a lot going on in the rowing world at the moment. In Britain this weekend sees the 3rd Winter assessment (and the first to include returning Olympians) and in Tokyo the FISA Extraordinary Congress will vote on the future of rowing at the Olympics.

Right,lets have a look at the GB trials….

As mentioned above, the trials are the first of the new Olympiad to include returning Rio Olympians. Here’s a quick look at which of the athletes have retired, who’s carrying on and who’s taking a break.

Campbell

M1X: Alan Campbell. After 4 Olympic Games and a senior career spanning 12 years, the 33 year old Northern Irishman has officially hung up his sculls.

 

gb-m2-rio

M2-: Alan Sinclair and Stewart Innes. Both are carrying on although Sinclair is absent from this weekend’s racing. Innes is in a pair at the trials with 2015 M2+ World Champion Matt Tarrant.

 

GB M2X

M2X: John Collins and Jonny Walton. These two have been the GB M2X for the past couple of years and both are racing at the trials. It’ll be interesting to see if they continue their partnership in 2017.

 

M4-: Alex Gregory, George Nash, Moe Sbihi, Stan Louloudis. GB’s flagship boat from the Rio Olympics, returning the 5th consecutive gold medal in this event. But, only one of the crew is racing this weekend. George Nash was the first of the crew to retire and has gone off to utilise his Cambridge degree in engineering and will be working as an R&D Engineer for Kineterol Ltd. Alex Gregory was the next to hang up his oars after winning his 2nd Olympic Gold medal.  Stan Louloudis has yet to formally announce his intentions, the former Oxford University President went travelling after the Rio Olympics and is currently listed among the “undecided” camp. A lot of people (me included) will hope Stan continues to Tokyo but I wouldn’t be surprised if he calls it a day, he’s achieved all he set out to do and has been quoted as saying he didn’t want “to be defined as a rower”. The fourth member of the crew is Moe Sbihi. Mo made it clear fairly soon after Rio that he would be carrying on and will be the backbone of the new-look GB squad.

Mo_Alex

Alex Gregory (left) and Moe Sbihi on the start line in Rio

 

M4X: Jack Beaumont, Angus Groom, Sam Townsend, Pete Lambert. Of this crew only Sam Townsend has retired – taking up the position of Master in Charge of Rowing at Radley College. Beaumont and Lambert are racing this weekend with Groom absent. The GB sculling team is very open this season and it’s going to be very interesting to see who fills which seat.

 

M8: Phelan Hill, Will Satch, Matt Langridge, Paul Bennett, Pete Reed, Matt Gotrel, Andy Hodge, Tom Ransley, Scott Durant.

Hodge

Andy T Hodge, retiring after winning his 3rd Olympic gold medal

This boat has, not unsurprisingly, seen a few retires. Most notable among them is Andy Hodge, with 3 Olympic gold medals and 4 World titles to his name it was no surprise he’d had enough. Andy’s also been quite vocal about the difficulties faced by senior members of the squad being able to support their families on the funding given, and the hurdles put in front of them to augment these earnings. Andy is now working as a consultant in water management. His long-time rowing partner, Pete Reed on the other hand has committed to Tokyo, with the permission of his employers in the Royal Navy. Pete’s not competing at the trials as he continues his rehabilitation following hip surgery. Both Paul Bennett and Matt Gotrel have decided to take a break from rowing but may yet return in 2018 to compete for seats at Tokyo. Matt Langridge and cox Phelan Hill have also retired (although no official announcement has been made). Hill returns to his job at the Treasury and Langridge is, I believe, training to be a pilot. Strokeman Will Satch is carrying on and is racing in a pair with Moe Sbihi at trials.

 

LM2X: Richard Chambers and Will Fletcher. Chambers quit soon after the Rio Olympics, a stalwart of the GB Lightweight team for 10 years he leaves with an Olympic Silver medal and 2 World Titles to his name. He’s now assistant coach for the Cambridge University Boat Race squad. His partner in Rio, Will Fletcher, is back for more and will be looking to lay down a marker as the number 1 lightweight sculler.

 

LM4-: Pete Chambers, Mark Aldred, Jonno Clegg, Chris Bartley.  So far only Chris Bartley has officially retired (after a decade in the senior squad). But, only Pete Chambers is competing at this weekend’s trials. With the future of lightweight sweep rowing so undecided it wouldn’t be too surprising to see a number of official retirement announcements in the coming weeks.

 

Glover & Stanning

Helen Glover and Heather Stanning of Great Britain

W2-: Helen Glover & Heather Stanning. Major Stanning announced she was returning to her Army duties fairly quickly after the Olympics. Helen Glover, World Rowing’s no.1 rower of 2016, is taking a break. She married TV presenter and Naturalist Steve Backshall and has spent the past few months in Japan and Australia making a film for  BBC World. Whilst in Japan she did do some rowing, getting out in a eight with a local club. She’s said in interview that she’s not yet decided on her future in the sport but has given strong indications that she doesn’t quite feel finished just yet. She’s expressed an interest in the W1X and if she does return it’ll be a fascinating contest to see her and Vicky Thornley battling it out for supremacy.

 

W2X: Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley. With 5 Olympics medals and a Damehood to her name Dr Katherine Grainger has still not officially announced her retirement from the sport.  It’s highly unlikely the 41 year old will make another comeback, especially after the emotionally draining 2016 season, but until she officially says “that’s it” we can’t completely rule it out! Thornley, on the hand, has committed to Tokyo. She’s racing at the Trials and will expect to be GB’s no.1 sculler. As such she may have some say over which boat she races in. We could well see a showdown between her and Glover for the W1X (or how about a Glover/Thornley W2X….now that would be interesting!)

 

W8: Zoe De Toledo, Zoe Lee, Karen Bennett, Olivia Carnegie-Brown, Jess Eddie, Polly Swann, Fran Houghton, Melanie Wilson, Katie Greves.

Only one member of this crew, Karen Bennett, is racing at the GB Trials this weekend. She was due to partner Zoe Lee but Zoe has withdrawn due to illness.  Fran Houghton has stepped down after an astonishing career in the British Team which included racing at five Olympic Games, winning 3 silver medals and 4 World Titles. Personally I’m a little disappointed that despite all her success, she’s yet to receive any form of Honour…not even an MBE. In my opinion no-one in the British team, male or female, typifies the phrase “for services to rowing” more than Fran. Maybe now she’s retired she might get the recognition she deserves.

Polly Swann has decided to take a break from rowing as she competes her medical degree but has indicated her intention to try for Tokyo. Katie Greves has retired after a career spanning 15 years and Olivia Carnegie-Brown has taken up an internship at Ernst & Young. Cox Zoe De Toldeo, Jess Eddie and Melanie Wilson have also retired although not yet formally announced their decision.

 

LW2X: Kat Copeland and Charlotte Taylor.  Both Copeland and Taylor (now racing as Charlotte Booth having married after Rio) are racing at the GB trials. After a bitterly disappointing 2016 they will be looking to retain their seats in the LW2X and re-establish themselves as one of the best crews in the world.

 

So that’s the state of play of the returning Olympians, but who to watch at the trials….

Competitors face a 5K time trial in singles or pairs on the waters of the River Witham in Boston, Lincolnshire

Boston.jpg

Competitors at the recent GB Junior Trials on the River Witham in Boston

M1X

34 scullers. Among the senior athletes it’s going to be a showdown between Jack Beaumont, Pete Lambert, John Collins and Jonny Walton. Watch out also for Leander Club captain Nick Middleton. Among the younger scullers the ones to watch are last year’s U23 M4X; Rowan Law, Harry Glenister, Harry Leask and Andrew Joel and also Welshman Tom Barras – fifth in the U23 M1X last year. Cambridge University President, Lance Tredell, is also racing in the M1X.

Edit: Jack Beaumont has just withdrawn from this weekend’s trials due to a hamstring injury.

M2-

31 pairs. Moe Sbihi and Will Satch will be looking to win, and win well. What’ll be interesting this season is what boat these two find themselves in. With the Kiwis taking a break from the M2- the field has suddenly opened up and the switch of the Olympic M2X champion Sinkovic brothers from Croatia to the M2- makes it one of the events to watch this year. My gut instinct is these two will eventually find a seat in the M4- at Tokyo but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them have at least one season in a smaller boat. The biggest challenge to the Sbihi/Satch combo will be Stewart Innes and Matt Tarrant. Innes was 4th in this boat class in Rio and Tarrant won gold in the coxed pair in 2015. I expect these two pairs to be well clear of the rest of the field. “Best of the Rest” may well be the young crew of Callum McBrierty and Jacob Dawson. McBrierty won the M2+ world title this year and was sub in the M4- in Lucerne. Dawson is in his first year in the senior squad after an extremely successful career at the University of Washington – I could well see Dawson becoming the first US educated man to win a senior international vest for GB. Oxford University also have a couple of strong boats racing with senior international William Warr racing with Josh Bugajski and 2016 World Champion Ollie Cook racing with Vassillis Ragoussis. Watch out also for the fleet of Oxford Brookes boats especially Morgan Bolding and Michael Glover.

LM1X

40 scullers. Pete Chambers will be starting as favourite, especially after it appears Will Fletcher has withdrawn. Chasing Chambers will be 2015 world LM2- champion Sam Scrimgeour of Molesey Boat Club along with three of the 2016 LM4X – Charlie Waite-Roberts, Zak Lee-Green and Jamie Copus (the 4th member of that crew, Jamie Kirkwood has retired and is now working as Assistant Coach with the Oxford University Women’s Boat Race crew). The U23 version were world champions last year, and all four of the crew (Hugo Coussens, Oliver Varley, Matthew Curtis and Gavin Horsburgh) are racing at trials.

At this point it’s worth discussing what may happen with the lightweights. It’s looking highly likely that the LM4- will be dropped from the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020 (more below). This raises the question of what will GB do? Will they continue to run a lightweight sweep programme if it’s no longer part of the Olympics. With funding always an issue I can see an argument that says “why spend money on boats that won’t feature at the Olympics, or aren’t a development boat for the Olympics”. I would not be surprised to see GB (and other big rowing nations) drop out of lightweight sweep racing.

W2-

15 pairs. As mentioned above, the only returning Rio Olympian is Karen Bennett. She’s partnered by Leander club-mate Katherine Douglas. They will have their work cut-out against Fiona Gammond and Holly Norton both of whom were in the gold medal W4- last season. Another boat to watch out for is the Southampton Coalporters/Agecroft combo of Caragh McMurtry and Rebecca Chin. McMurtry last raced for GB in the W8 at the 2014 World Championships and Chin won a silver medal in the W4- in 2015. Cambridge University have three boats entered with the pick possibly being the Holly Hill and Melissa Wilson pairing. These two were in the U23 W4- that won bronze in 2015. Also in the U23 W4- from 2015 was Sam Courty of Bath University, she’s joined by former Oxford President Anastasia Chitty (herself an U23 medallist from 2014). The final crew to mention is the Molesey Club pairing of Katie Bartlett and Ruth Whyman – both of whom raced in the U23 W8 that won a silver medal in 2014.

 

W1X

40 scullers. As mentioned above, Vicky Thornley will be expecting to come out on top and continue her status as GB’s no.1 women’s sculler. Behind her though it should be a good fight. U23 W2X World Champion Jess Leyden raced in the W4X last season narrowly missing qualification for the Olympic Games. Holly Nixon of Leander club has swapped one oar for two having been part of the World Championship winning W4- last year. Another talented young oarswoman swapping from sweep to scull is Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne of the University of London. The 20 year old was a member of the silver medal winning W8 at last year’s U23 World Championships. Watch out too for Bethany Bryan, the 23 year old from the Leander Club will be looking to win her first senior vest this season having won a bronze medal at U23 level in 2015

LW1X

29 scullers. Kat Copeland and Charlotte Booth (nee Taylor) will expect to be well ahead of the rest of the field, especially after their disappointing 2016 season. If Copeland and Booth had a disappointing 2016 the same definitely can’t be said for three of their rivals – Ellie Piggott, Brianna Stubbs and Emily Craig won gold in the LW4X at the 2016 World Championships (the 4th member of the crew, Imogen Walsh, is currently working to develop rowing in the Maldives). The pressure in the lightweight women’s team for the coveted seats in the double is going to be extreme.

 

FISA Congress.jpg

Delegates at the FISA Extraordinary Congress in Tokyo

So that’s a look at trials…but 6000 miles away the future of rowing at the Olympics is being discussed at the FISA Extraordinary Congress.  The biggest single issue they are voting on is which events to recommend to the IOC for inclusion at the Tokyo Olympics. I’ve written at length on the two options available, but basically it’s between dropping the LM4- in favour of the W4- or dropping the M4- in favour of the LW4-. The first is the preferred option of the FISA Council and the latter has been proposed by a group of nations including China, Ireland, Switzerland, Canada and Australia. Today was devoted to the discussions of the proposals. FISA President Jean-Christophe Rolland opened the debate saying that when

discussions [started] with the IOC for the 2020 programme, the starting point was: zero lightweights”.

FISA’s challenge therefore was to do what they could to preserve lightweight rowing in some shape or form at the Olympics. The chances of the alternative proposal were dealt a blow when one of the original proponents, Canada, withdrew their support;

 “We are withdrawing our individual proposal. We looked at a number of factors. We feel there’s no appetite with IOC to increase the number of Olympic events. Universality argument we haven’t seen the data. When you look at participation over the last 2 decades, in lightweight rowing it is dominated by big rowing nations. I think with that the FISA council proposal is the one we support”.

Morten Espersen (currently Irish High Performance Director – although he has resigned from this post a couple of weeks ago) argued that the removal of the LM4- will mean an number of countries would suffer and called on “all countries that have not won medals yet, should vote for the alternative proposal.” He was also critical of FISA President J-C Rolland saying he shouldn’t have claimed that to vote for the alternative proposal was “irresponsible”.

Other nations took a more pragmatic approach, Germany stated that we shouldn’t “decide what is good for rowing as a rower but…what the IOC thinks is good for the Olympics”. The South Africans said that despite winning gold in the LM4- in London “we’ve elected the FISA leadership and have to support them”.  Annamarie Phelps, representing GB, tried to move this away from a discussion about lightweight rowing and instead focussed on rowing’s need to be flexible and innovative and “cannot risk….asking the IOC to do something we know they don’t wish to do”.

But perhaps the most important voice of the day came from Denis Oswald:

Two years ago the Olympic Programme commission had decided to eliminate lightweights, and thanks to the work of Jean-Christophe and Matt [Smith], they have managed to keep the doubles, based on their contribution to universality. We cannot afford to lose them. I like the alternative proposal and if I was the one to decide I would choose it, but I do not decide. And it is just not realistic, and not possible, unfortunately. The FISA Council has done its best to keep the principle of lightweight rowing, to keep our events and our quota. The Council proposal is the only one that has a realistic chance of being accepted by the IOC Executive Board”.

So, at the time of writing voting hasn’t yet taken place, but it looks a foregone conclusion that the FISA Council proposal will be adopted and the LM4- will be replaced by the W4-. But, it’s important to stress that this doesn’t automatically mean that all 14 events will be raced at Tokyo. FISA will make a proposal to the IOC about which events they would like included, but it’s up to the IOC Executive Board, in consultation with both FISA and the Olympic Programme Commission, to make the final decision. It’s still possible that they may decide to drop all lightweight events from the Tokyo 2020 programme. There is also a concern that losing the LM4- will be the “this end of the wedge” the light doubles may survive to the Tokyo Olympics but may not make it to 2024. As mentioned above, the removal of the LM4- from the Olympic programme also poses a significant risk to the future of lightweight sweep rowing. It would be highly unlikely that the major rowing nations (who’s funding is totally geared towards the Olympics) would continue to divert funds into a non-Olympic boat class. Personally I think by 2019 at the latest lightweight racing at World Cup and World Championship level will be restricted to sculling events. Lightweight sweep died on February 1th 2017….RIP.

 

Edit: Saturday 11th February

Votes were cast earlier today and the result was closer than I expected. The FISA Council proposal to replace the LM4- with the W4- was accepted by 94 votes to 67. This will now be presented to the IOC Executive Board for a final decision in July. Fingers crossed the IOC accept the proposal in full and rowing keeps 14 events in the programme for Tokyo 2020. Needless to say the decision has resulted in a lot of disappointment from the rowing world, but as I mention above, it was the most pragmatic decision FISA could have made and should protect the light doubles (at least for this Olympic cycle).

A couple of other interesting changes approved by Congress is the increase in the distance for Para-rowing from 1000m to 2000m. On the face of it this makes excellent sense and should make organisation simpler. It also makes sense for a boat like the LTAMix4+ and TAMix2X. My only small worry is for the two 1X para events. When the races were held over 1K they would take around 5;30mins for the men and 7 mins for the women (so not too dissimilar from some of the able-bodied events). But, with the distance doubled I have a worry that the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) may be reluctant to have races that could last anything up to 18-20 minutes. Hopefully I’m worrying over nothing as the ASM1X and ASW1X are great events, but you never can tell.

The other significant change approved at the Congress this weekend was the decision to remove the restriction that said coxes had to be the same gender as their crew. Thus men may cox a women’s 8 and vice versa. I wonder who’ll be the first to apply the rule. In GB with both Phelan Hill and Zoe De Toledo stepping down from their coxswain’s duties, selection will become very, very interesting….