Lucerne World Cup – post regatta thoughts

Well…that was a pretty eventful regatta and as a pundit not my finest hour! But here are my thoughts on each event and a comparison of what I predicted v what actually happened.

M1X
My predictions: Gold Synek, Silver Campbell, Bronze Fournier Rodriguez.
Actual result: Synek, Hacker, Fournier Rodriguez
In the absence of Mahe, Ondrej Synek is looking imperious in this event and he won at Lucerne pretty comfortably. Hacker showed that despite being the “old man” of the field he is still dangerous and came with his trademark fast finish to overtake Angel Fournier Rodriguez. The Cuban has made a satisfactory return to international competition but just seemed to run out of steam in the final quarter.
As for Campbell….he is a bit of an enigma at the moment. His performance at Eton Dorney was encouraging pushing Synek quite hard. But since Dorney he seems to be going backwards and has been beaten by scullers he has never previously lost to (Aleksandrov at Henley and Bozhilov at Lucerne). At Lucerne he tried his trademark race pattern of going out hard and hanging on, but he just ran out of gas in the 2nd 1000 delivering his worst performance since Amsterdam in 2007.

M2X
My predictions: Gold NZ, silver ITA, bronze GB
Actual result: NZ, ITA, GER
In my preview I said that Kiwis Arms & Manson had picked up the mantel laid down by Olympic Champions Cohen & Sullivan, and they certainly delivered this at Lucerne producing a middle 1K which was 2 seconds faster than the rest of the field. The Italians made the race interesting with a great finishing sprint to overhaul the Germans.
As for my bronze medal pick, GB…never in it, dropped off the start and never got back into the race. Again, it looked as though they just didn’t have the gas. It makes me wonder whether the whole men’s squad was suffering from the Henley exertions, but when I asked Bill Lucas the question on twitter his response was forthright and honest:
“Bill Lucas ‏@BillLucas2012 14 Jul
@fatsculler no excuses for us, kiwis did both and won both so shows that it was possible.”

M2-
My predictions: Gold NZ, Silver France, Bronze Poland
Actual result: NZ, ITA, ESP
So the aliens didn’t arrive to snatch up the Kiwis, so of course they won. But behind them it was a really entertaining race. The Kiwis race profile is becoming quite predictable. It is now commonplace for them to be lead to the 500m mark, but then they unleash a devastating middle 1000 that no-one can live with. The NZ middle 1K was 3:10 compared with Italy 3:16 and Spain 3:18. The Spanish had a great race, they really went for it off the blocks leading by 2 seconds at the first marker. They then had an epic contest against the Italians being exactly level at the 1500m. The French tried a fast start like the Spanish, but they faded faster.

M4-
My predictions: Gold AUS, Silver GB, bronze NED
Actual result: USA, AUS, ITA
Hmm possibly my worst prediction “Both North American boats are new, development boats, and will do well to make the “A” final”…OK so I got that one about as wrong as I could! The US were very impressive, blasting out of the blocks and never looking threatened. The Aussies looked a bit shell-shocked and were in an epic photo finish with the Italians. The Italians finishing sprint was pretty impressive lead by their 20 year old stroke man Guiseppe Vicino (who is among the rare breed of oarsmen to medal at Junior and U23 in the same season). They are a young crew (bowman Matteo Lodo is still only 18) and are an exciting prospect for this Olympiad, recalling the great Italian 4 from Sydney 2000 that pushed the British slow close.
As for the British…a pattern is emerging, a strong start to the season with silver in Dorney pushing the Aussies hard, a win at Henley and then a disappointing result at Lucerne. They are a far, far better crew than the 10th place suggests.

M4X
My predictions: Gold Croatia, Silver Germany, Bronze GB
Actual: CRO, GER, EST
Another fabulous battle between the Croatians and the Germans watching these two go head-to-head in Korea is going to be one of the races of the Championships. But, unlike some of the other GB crews, the quad had a really encouraging performance, certainly the best performance by a men’s heavyweight boat. They were well in the hunt for a medal until they caught a crab handing the bronze to the Estonians. But it was an encouraging performance (especially as regular crewman Graeme Thomas was out injured).

M8
My predictions: Gold GB, Silver Germany Bronze USA
Actual: USA, Germany, Netherlands
This was meant to be all about the showdown between the British and the Germans with the USA playing the supporting role. Unfortunately no-one told the Americans. It was they who went head to head with the Germans, not the British. The Americans produced a storming 2nd K to hand the Germans their first defeat at a FISA event since the Beijing Olympics. The Americans did the damage in the middle 1000 with a time 2 seconds faster than the Germans.
The British….where to begin…on paper this is an exceptional crew and reports suggest that they are producing incredibly fast times in training. But so far, in a racing context, they have yet to show this speed. Alarm bells started ringing when rumours surfaced on Saturday night that Grobler had changed the line up between the rep and the final. This was proven true when Pete Reed was moved from 3 to 7, but they also looked to run out of steam in the final sprint and missed out on the medals entirely. Needless to say this has caused a few palpitations amongst the GB fan club and it’ll be an “interesting” session on Wednesday when the squad reconvenes at Caversham! But, “In Grobler we trust!”

W1X
My predictions: gold Knapkova, silver Crow, Bronze Twigg
Actual result: Crow, Logan, Knapkova
The Olympic champion beaten into bronze, another Henley winner suffers defeat…hmm is there a pattern emerging (damn those Kiwis 😉 )
Anyway, another great race with the Antipodeans leading the way in the first 1000. Kim Crow of Australia then dominated the 2nd half to set a blisteringly fast time just 2/10ths off the world best. Crow, who also won the Holland Beker, is emerging as the real force in this boat this season and will go into the Worlds as favourite for gold….has an Australian woman ever won the world W1X?? I’ll have to check.
Behind Crow Twigg started to fade whilst Ellie Logan of the USA put in a huge push to come through to take silver. She has definitely stepped on from the third place at Dorney and the 5th place at the Holland Beker. If she remains in the single it’ll be a good battle in Chungju.

W2-
My predictions: Gold GB, silver NZ, bronze USA
Actual result: GB, NZ, USA
aah, I knew I’d get one right! Any crew with Helen Glover in it is going to be fast and with Polly Swann she has formed a combination that is just as dominating as the one with Heather Stanning. The British decided to dominate the race and went out hard building a 2 second lead by halfway. They were then able to watch and cover the moves from the other pairs giving a relatively comfortable victory. Behind them the Kiwis and Americans duelled to 1500 before the US ran out of puff allowing the Kiwis a comfortable silver. This was the one bright performance in an otherwise disappointing day for Britain.

W2X
My predictions: Gold GB, Silver NZ, Bronze LTU
Actual result: LTU, NZ, USA
Again, my predictions for gold, GB, were never really in the hunt, with the Lithuanian European Champions leading from start to finish. But they were pushed incredibly hard by the Kiwis. Have the Oar-Blacks finally found the successors to the Evers-Swindell sisters? Could this become yet another small boat dominated by the Kiwis? They put in a huge sprint finish and just missed gold by 2/1000ths of a second.

W4X
My predictions: Gold Germany, silver USA, bronze Poland
Actual result: Germany, Poland, Australia
With the great Britta Oppelt on board the result for gold was never really in doubt. The Germans are desperate to restore their dominance of this event. Behind the Germans the Poles and Aussies kept within a second of eachother hunting for silver & Bronze. The Americans tried to muscle-in on the act but suffered a boat-stopper crab breaking a blade meaning they limped over the line with only 3 rowing. But the Germans looked very, very good and it would be a brave man (or woman) who bet against them for world gold.
As for the British? I’ve been very critical of this crew for failing to deliver the sort of results expected of a GB boat. But, there were encouraging signs at Lucerne that this development boat is doing just that, developing. They had a great battle with the Canadians in the “B” final just missing out on 9th place overall finish. As a long-term project this has potential to get amongst the “A” finalists by 2016.

W8
My predictions: Gold Romania, silver Canada, bronze GB
Actual result: USA, ROU, CAN
Again I totally underestimated the power of the US boat, considering it had 2 International debutants on board the performance is even more impressive. But, I think the secret of the success is sheer strength and power. The Americans were certainly not the best technical crew on the water, but they were far and away the most powerful and “simply” muscled their way to victory, but hey, whatever works!
Behind them it was a good scrap for silver and bronze between the Romanians and Canadians with the British trying to go with them. The Romanians got the better of the fight with the British fading into fourth. It’s an encouraging performance for the British 8 and they are certainly not out of the medal hunt in Korea. But I think the message to the rest of the world is clear, if you want to challenge the Americans you’ve got to hit the gym and “power-up”.

LM2X
My predictions: Gold France, Silver GB, Bronze Poland
Actual result: Fra, Ita, GB
The French are unbeaten so far this season and were never seriously challenged in this race, the Italians and British put in a big push to draw level at the 1000 but the French turned on the gas in the 2nd K to pull clear. Beind them it was a scrap for silver & bronze with the Italians producing the better sprint to grab silver.
The French have laid down a big marker in this event with the 3 medallists from London 2012 not on the scene. For the Chambers brothers its a reasonable result. Rich Chambers has always indicated that he’s not a fan of sculling and is racing this boat as a break from his preferred option, the LM4-. It’s highly likely that we’ll see the Chambers boys back in the 4 next year and a new fast LM2X being formed with Zac Purchase likely to return in September. Peter Taylor of New Zealand has done the opposite to Richard Chambers, and moved out of the double to the four. But unlike the British the Kiwis are enjoying a strong run in the LM4- (more below). But Taylor has to make the decision of whether to stick with the 4- through to Rio, or go back into his preferred LM2X boat. Whatever happens this event does have a bit of “wait-and-see” feel about it with the British, New Zealanders not to mention the Danes all potentially having new combinations next year. On the subject of the Danes, Lucerne was another example of how it doesn’t always work just putting 2 fast sculler in a double and expecting it to be fast. Henrik Stephansen is the fastest LM1X in the world (and the fastest lightweight on the erg) and Stephan Jensen won silver at Dorney. But together they just did not make the double fly as some were expecting. It’ll be interesting to see if the Danes can form a fast double to defend the Olympic title, and whether this includes Stephansen or not.

LM4-
My predictions: Gold New Zealand, silver Denmark, bronze GB
Actual result: NZ, DEN, NED
LM4- races are not meant to be this clear cut. The Kiwis have discovered a very, very fast combination and are unbeaten in the World Cup this season. After Dorney the expectation was that this was going to be another neck-and-neck battle between the Kiwis and the Danes with the addition of the defending Olympic champions from South Africa. In reality the Kiwis blew the field away winning by 2 seconds (a massive margin in this event). Behind them the Dutch pushed past the British at the 1000m mark and went clear for bronze. The British and South Africans had a massive scrap for 4th and 5th with the Olympic Champions coming out on top by 5/100ths of a second.
But, as described above it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens in this event next year, will Peter Taylor stay in this boat of go back to the LM2X and how fast will GB be with the Chambers brothers back in the 4 (assuming they do go back).
The lightweight men’s division is fascinating and getting to be quite a soap-opera!

LW2X
My predictions: Gold Italy, Silver New Zealand, Bronze Germany
Actual result: ITA, USA, NZL
Again I was guilty of underestimating the US crew (but I don’t think I’m alone in that!)
The US went out hard but were overhauled by the Italians and these 2 boats were clear in gold and silver. But behind them it was an epic scrap for bronze. Neither the British nor the Kiwis started quickly, in fact the Kiwis sat at the back of the field through to the 1500m point. But they produced the fastest 500m (1:41.3) of the whole field in the final qtr to go from 6th to 3rd and snatch the bronze from the British by 9/100ths of a second.

International events:
In the LM1X neither of the Danes I’d picked to medal actually raced so it’s a bit of a non-starter but unsurprisingly Pedro Fraga took the gold ahead of the two Swiss with a great performance from GB’s Jamie Kirkwood to take 4th. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Kirkwood tried in a double next year with Purchase.
LW1X A welcome return to form for Fabiana Beltrame getting the better of the winner from Dorney, Michaela Taupe-Traer. The Brazilian obviously prefers the warmer weather!

LM4X No great surprise with the gold and silver medallists finishing as expected. I was a little surprised that the Portugeuse were off the pace. Of the two from the Portugeuse double, Pedro Fraga seems to be having the better time with Nuno Mendes struggling both in the single and in the quad. It’ll be interesting to see if these two go back into the double next year.

W4- No great surprises with the Canadians moving clear of the field by the 1000m mark and winning comfortably.

So, overall, what to make of the 3rd World Cup? There were quite a few surprises and the USA definitely made a big impact. But, it’s difficult to know who was at what stage in their race training. I have heard a rumour that the US men were specifically targeting Lucerne to “make a statement”….whether this is true or not remains to be seen.
For the British, on the face of it it was their worst performance at a World Cup for 10 years. The squad themselves are not making any excuses for the underperfomance but for almost the whole squad to miss their targets shows that there is either something wrong with the preparation or, they are coming feeling the effects of Henley more than others. But, it’s not all “doom and gloom”, 4 boats came 4th and narrowly missed out on a medal…if a couple of these had gone the other way the British would be leaving Lucerne in a slightly happier position.
It was also a disappointing regatta for the Germans who saw both their Olympic champion boats losing. For the M8 it was their first defeat at a FISA event for 5 years. In fact looking at the results, only 4/14 defending Olympic Champions (regardless of line-up) won at Lucerne. It shows how the first year of a new Olympiad is one of transition.

A few other stats to finish….
Of the nations that eneterd a minimum of 10 boats (including International events):
% of boats making the final
GB 76%
GER 42%
NED 57%
NZL 67%
USA 71%
ITA 58%

% of Finalists winning a medal
GB 23%
GER 60%
NED 38%
NZL 60%
USA 80%
ITA 71%

so now we look forward to the World Championships in Korea at the end of next month. One thing is for certain it’s not going to be easy to predict the medals! But that’s why we race and why we love sport, it’ll be boring if it was too predictable!

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