World Championships preview – part 1 Men’s Heavyweight

Time for the big one….it’s the World Championships!
FISA have a policy of holding the big event of the year outside of Europe once every Olympiad. This cycle it’s the turn of South Korea. It has to be said that earlier this year the growing tension between the North and South meant it looked as though the event might have to be moved. But, the sabre-rattling has ceased and we look good to go. Early reports from the course say conditions are fantastic and extremely welcoming.

so, part one of the blog will look at the men’s heavyweight events…..

M1X
A great entry with 36 scullers lining up including debutants from the Ivory Coast, the Sudan, Malaysia, Qatar. This really does show the growth of rowing into “non-traditional” nations. It’ll be really interesting to see how these scullers get on and the D,E & F finals will be really competitive. But, it’s what’s happening at the sharp end that we are really interested. Who will be battling for the medals?
Well, the in-form sculler so far this year is Ondrej Synek. He’s not lost a race since the Olympic final and has looked imperious all season. He will be starting in Chungju with high hopes of taking the title he last won in 2010.
The last man to beat Synek was Kiwi Olympic Champion, Mahe Drysdale. Drysdale took an extended break after London 2012 and only returned to rowing in mid-June. He had a bit of a rude awakening coming 3rd at the Holland Bekker and losing in the early rounds of the Diamonds at Henley. He didn’t race at Lucerne, instead he returned to New Zealand for some intensive training followed by a Time Trial to win selection for the New Zealand team. Obviously the TT was successful and he booked his place. But, the question remains, what sort of shape is Mahe in? Will he be able to beat Synek? He has not had the best preparations for Chungju, wrecking his boat in a collision with the NZ W2- and then suffering a bike accident whilst training in Korea. Fortunately he suffered no serious injury, but it’s hardly ideal prep!
Another Olympic medallist who’s not had it easy since London is GB’s Alan Campbell. The Olympic bronze medallist has yet to fire so far this season with a 6th place at Lucerne and a silver at Eton Dorney. He was comprehensively beaten by Aleksandrov at Henley and also lost the GB trials back in April. But, after a successful training camp at altitude in Silvretta in the Austrian Alps he will be hoping to mount a serious challenge for a major medal.
If Drysdale and Campbell have struggled this season the veteran German, Marcel Hacker has had something of a mini resurgence. He took silver in Lucerne along with silver at the European championships and was 4th at Dorney. The enigmatic German is either brilliant or, frankly, nowhere. On the evidence of this season so far he is erring on the former and will be up there chasing the medals.
Another of the veterans who blows hot and cold is Slovenia’s Luka Spik. The Olympic M2X bronze medallist moved to the single for Lucerne but trailed in towards the back of the “B” final. He’ll be hoping for better in Korea.

As well as the “old guard” there is a bunch of exciting young scullers making a big impact this season. Aleksander Aleksandrov of Azerbaijan took the Diamonds at Henley this year and an impressive 4th at Eton Dorney. Georgi Bozhilov of Bulgaria might not please the purists with his style but it is very effective with 1st, 3rd and 5th places at the World Cups this season.
A couple of other scullers showing good form this season are Roel Braas of the Netherlands and Mindaugas Griskonis of Latvia. Braas won bronze at the Europeans and was the first Dutchman since the 1990’s to win the Holland Bekker. In Lucerne he was 4th and he’ll be hoping to go at least one place better in Chungju. Griskonis raced in the M2x at Lucerne picking up a bronze medal, but Rolandas Mascinskas has moved back into that boat with Griskonis returning to the single, a boat he raced to 8th at the Olympics and 4th at the Europeans.
John Graves of the USA has been racing the single all season but for the World Championships he has moved to the M2x, so the US is now represented by Stephen Whelpley who earned the spot by winning the final US trials a couple of weeks ago. Whelpley makes his first international appearance since the 3rd World Cup of 2010.
The final sculler to highlight is the big Cuban, Angel Fournier Rodriguez. He was another to take a break after the Olympics 9where he finished 7th). He made his competitive debut for 2013 at Lucerne picking up a very strong bronze.
So, who will emerge as world champion? It’s hard to see anyone beating Synek. Drysdale’s form is still a bit of an unknown quantity but he will always pose a threat whenever he lines up on the start line. Campbell can’t be discounted either……gold Synek, silver Hacker, bronze Drysdale.

M2X
18 entries. Can anyone stop the Kiwis? we are used to saying that about the M2- but we are beginning to have to say it about Arms and Manson in the M2X as well. They raced all three World Cups this year and won all three. They also had a convincing win at Henley and look to be following in the footsteps laid down by Murray and Bond. As I mentioned in the Lucerne preview, the similarities between the 2 crews are striking. Both where part of a foursome which failed to reach and Olympic final (Murray & Bond from the M4- at Beijing and Arms and Manson from the M4X in London). They both then moved to small boats and are unbeaten since making that move. The rest of the world will be hoping that the similarities stop there!
Looking to spoil the Kiwi party (or chasing for the minor medals depending on your point of view!) will be the Italians, Germans and British. The European Champions; Francesco Fossi and Romano Battisti of Italy, got the closest to the Kiwis taking silver in Lucerne. Germany’s Eric Knittel & Stephan Krueger were 3rd at Lucerne and 2nd to the Kiwis at Eton Dorney. They have definitely stepped on from the 9th place they achieved at London 2012.
The British, Matt Langridge and Bill Lucas have yet to really hit top gear so far this season. A bronze at Eton Dorney was followed by a 2 length defeat to the Kiwis at Henley and only a 6th place at Lucerne. Like Campbell in the single they will be expecting a much stronger performance in Chungju after an intensive altitude training camp.
Outside of these 3 chasing crews look out for the Argentinians, Cristian Rosso & Ariel Suarez. They took a magnificent 4th place at the Olympics but have not yet found that sort of speed so far this season having to settle for a B final win at Lucerne. Also look out for the Norwegians, Nils Jakob Hoff & Kjetil Borch. They haven’t really fulfilled the promise they showed in taking 4th place at Karapiro in 2010. But with a European bronze this year and a 5th at Lucerne they could be coming to the boil at just the right time.
My predictions….gold for the Kiwis, silver Italy, bronze GB

M2+
4 entries…the “lead-Sled” creaks on. The Italians will probably be favourites with one of the most famous names in World Rowing and also a name synonymous with this event, Abbagnale. This time it’s Vincenzo who is hoping to add another Abbagnale name to the list of M2+ World Champions. Both he and his partner, Luca Parlato and U23 world champions from the BM4+ and they are joined by the cox of the 2012 World Junior champion 8, Enrico D’Aniello.
The French have a very experience pairing of Matthieu Moinaux and Laurent Cadot. Cadot raced the coxless pair at Beijing finishing 9th and Moinaux raced the BM2- in 2012 finishing 5th. They are coxed by Benjamin Manceau who is also coxing the M8.
The Germans, Bastian Bechler and Paul Schroeter were both in the U23 M4- that won gold in 2012 and are coxed by 2013 U23 bronze medallist Jonas Wiesen.
Finally the USA, who always seen to love this boat, have 2012 U23 World Champion Robert Munn partnered by Matthew Wheeler who makes his senior international debut (having raced at U23 level in 2009). They are coxed by Stephan Young Jr who steered the US M8 at the Sydney World Cup.
My picks: Italy, Germany, France

M2-
21 entries. What more can be said about Eric Murray and Hamish Bond…officially the most dominant crew in world rowing with 15 consecutive gold medals. Looking at the entry list I don’t really see too much that will prevent them from making it 16. Their dominance has had a similar effect to that caused by Redgrave & Pinsent at the height of their powers, they have scared the rest of the world out of the event. Very few of the other “major” rowing nations have made the pair the priority boat. The two main challengers will be the Italians and the French. Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette are the Olympic silver medallists although they have blown “hot and cold” this season. They were a disappointing 6th at the Europeans and only 5th at Lucerne. But if they put a decent regatta together they can make the silver medal their own. But, at Lucerne it was the Italians, Marco Di Costanzo and Matteo Castaldo who took the honours behind the kiwis. The Italians also have a win at the Mediterranean Games this season.
As for the rest of the world, the Aussies have a different pairing from Lucerne, James Mcrae and Bryn Coudraye raced at the first world cup taking silver. Both of these guys were at the Olympics with Mcrae taking a bronze in the M4X and Coudraye 6th in the M8.
The surprise package at Lucerne were the Spanish, Alexander Sigubjonsson Benet and Pau Vela Maggi, 9th at the Europeans they produced a stunning race at Lucerne to take the bronze medal. It remains to be seen if they can reproduce this sort of form at Chungju. The early season pace-setters were the Dutch, Rogier Blink & Mitchel Steenman. They took bronze at the Europeans and were both in the Dutch 8 that came 5th at the Olympics. Blink has been suffering with an injury this season which forced them to miss the world cups. But he is back and they will be wanting to make an impact in the A final.
Like the Australians, the British have also put together a new combination for Chungju. Olympic bronze medallist James Foad has been suffering from a long term injury and made his competitive return with a win in the M8 at Eton Dorney. He is joined by Oli Cook who also raced in the M8 at Dorney and was in the GB2 boat that was a disappointing 8th at Lucerne. These two have a huge amount of talent and ability but they may suffer from lack of preparation time. I would hope they will make the A final and could challenge for the bronze.
The Poles are another combination that have had a “hit-and-miss” season. Wojciech Gutorski and Jaroslaw Godek won silver at the Europeans and again at Eton Dorney but could only manage 11th at Lucerne. They will definitely be looking to improve on that at Chungju.
The final crew to highlight are the current European champions, Nenad Bedik & Nikola Stojic. The Serbians were, perhaps, surprise winners in Seville and were last in the A final at Lucerne. But, like the French, on theor day they are medal contenders.
So who will take the medals…obviously the Kiwis will take the gold but behind them it’ll be a real Bun-fight. My money is on the Italians for silver and the Aussies bronze, but it’ll be very tight for the minor medals.

M4X
18 crews. This season has all been about Croatia v Germany.In the last 2 World Cups the Olympic Champions from Germany have been bested by the Olympic silver medallists from Croatia. The only time the Germans have beaten the Croatians this season was at the Europeans where Germany won and the Croats had a disaster finishing 6th.
Behind these two its been an equally enthralling battle between the Estonians and the British. Estonia have bronze medals from Lucerne and Eton and the British a 4th at Lucerne and a 5th at Eton.
The Poles have a long history in this event but their new line-up has struggled so far this season. 2nd at the Europeans they were 7th at Dorney and went one place better at Lucerne.
On paper the Kiwis have an extremely talented quad including Olympic champion Nathan Cohen and his U23 world champion brother, Hayden. But they have yet to fulfil this potential on the water with a 9th place finish at Eton followed by an 11th at Lucerne. If, or when, they do “click” they will be a fearsome combination.
The Italians have chnged the line-up from the crew that finished 12th at Lucerne with Matteo Stefanini and Simone Raineri being replaced by Gabriele Cagna and Domineco Montrone. The Italians will be hoping this brings better results than at Lucerne.
The last of the big challengers will be the young Swiss quad. They won the U23 World Championships in Linz following a 5th in the European championships. They may not quite have the firepower to take a medal in Chungju but they are definitely a combination to watch in the run up to Rio.
The US have completely changed the line-up from the crew that raced at Lucerne so will be a bit of an unknown quantity although they do not have a particularly strong heritage in this event.
It’s also great to see quads from India and Iraq competing and also that the host nation have put a crew together for the event.
My medal picks….the Croatians to get one over the Germans again with the British just squeezing in ahead of the Estonians.

M4-
17 crews. Now it’s getting really interesting. In my Lucerne preview I completely misjudged the US M4-. They blasted the opposition taking a superb gold. The smart money was on the Australians who had won at Dorney and also taken the top 2 spots at Sydney. But they had no response to the firepower of the Americans at Lucerne. The big question is, have the US “shot their bolt”. Rumour is that the US were specifically tapering for Lucerne and were more “race-ready” than some of the opposition. Whether this is true or is just “smoke-and-mirrors” remains to be seen. But what is for certain is that the rest of the world will be fully aware of the threat posed by the the US and will not be caught napping again.
3rd at Lucerne were the Italians, stroked by Guiseppe Vicino…one of a rare breed of oarsman who has medalled at junior and U23 level in the same season. They had a great race in Lucerne finishing just 7/100ths of a second behind the Australians.
The British like to feel the own this event with 4 consecutive Olympic golds. But in Lucerne the GB four had a nightmare only managing 10th. They have shown they have the ability to win major medals finishing just behind the Aussies at Eton and winning at Henley. As with all the GB heavyweight men they will be expecting a much stronger showing after the intensive altitude camp earlier this month.
The Canadians, surprisingly, have not entered an 8 this year, instead they have prioritised the M4-. Their line-up has changed from Lucerne with Spencer Crowley and Steve Vanknotsenburg being replaced by Rob Gibson and Conlin McCabe. This means the Canadians have three of their Olympic silver medal M8 on board and will definitely be ones to watch.
The Netherlands won the European championships this year and have kept the same line-up that also finished 4th in Lucerne.
Like their M4X, the Kiwi M4- have yet to really show the potential that the crew has. 3rd in Sydney, they were 4th at Eton and 11th at Lucerne and they lost to the South African lightweights at Henley. But, you can never discount a Kiwi crew and if they make the “A” final anything can happen.
My picks…..I’m going to get flack from my US readers for this but: Australia gold, Canada silver, USA bronze.

M8
10 crews. Another example of the US blitzing the field. Again, I have heard rumours that the Americans were specifically tapering for Lucerne, but as with the M4- this may be a case of “smoke-and-mirrors”. Former GB cox, Rowley Douglas, has done an excellent review of the Lucerne final in this month’s “Regatta” magazine and it’s well worth a read if you can get hold of a copy.
But, at Chungju the Americans have made one change to the line-up with Glen Ochal unavailable. His place is taken by 2012 U23 World Champion Ambrose Puttmann.
For the German’s it is all about the 8. They were undefeated for the whole London Olympiad. But since London they have lost the air of invincibility they had. Losing to the British at Essen they emerged for the European championships and took gold ahead of the Poles but were taken to the cleaners by the US in their one and only World Cup appearance this season. I would be very, very surprised if they let this happen again!
The British did not perform at Lucerne. 4th place was not in the script. The British boat is stacked with Olympic medallists and “should” be winning gold at a canter. They have shown glimpses of what they are capable of with a stunning 5:54 at Henley but the problem appears to be consistency and rhythm. To address this Grobler has moved the Olympic M2- George Nash and Will Satch to the Stern pair. Reports from the Silvretta training camp are extremely positive and if the British find their mojo they will be unstoppable.
3rd at Lucerne were the Dutch. They were also 3rd at the Europeans and have been quietly going about their business whilst most eyes have been upon the Germans, British and Americans.
The Polish are the most settled crew in the event having kept faith with the same line-up that raced at the Olympics. But, their results this season have been deteriorating. A strong silver at Eton and at the Europeans was followed by defeat to the University of Washington at Henley and 6th at Lucerne.
so the medals…..again, my US readers ain’t going to like this but my gut instinct says the British will find their mojo and sneak the gold just ahead of the Germans with the Americans third, but it’ll be close….I reckon the medallists will all be within 0.5l of eachother.

So that’s it for the Heavyweight men’s events. The women’s, lightweights and para-rowing events to follow.

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2 thoughts on “World Championships preview – part 1 Men’s Heavyweight

  1. Blackrock

    Great reading. Remember contrary to all info you may have the Germans are entered in the LM4x (same crew as Lucerne). Take it from me this crew is in Korea and getting ready;) However they are having problems with their boat:(

    Reply

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