This weekend sees the 2nd Assessment for the 2014 GB rowing team. A lovely little 5K time trial in the dilightful surrounding of Boston, Lincolnshire. This is the first to include all of the 2013 World Championship squad and promises some intriguing racing.
Here are my thoughts on the “runners-and-riders”
30 pairs entered (including 11 U23 pairings).
Chief men’s coach, Jurgen Grobler, has decided to keep things interesting by mixing up the pairings, putting the “old guard” in with some of the “young guns”. This weekend sees the first appearance this season of Andy Hodge. He missed out on the British championships (having just become a father) and also missed the Head of the River Fours so it’s great to see him back in the boat. He’s partnered by UL’s young star Oli Cook (who raced the pair at the World Championships winning the “B” final).
Alex Gregory returns to sweeping after his sculling exploits at the Head of the River Fours. He’ll be hoping for a better experience than he had in the quad on the Tideway a couple of week’s ago when the number 1 Leander crew suffered the ignominy of being overtaken just after Barnes Bridge. He’s joined by Matt Tarrant (one of 25 Oxford Brookes rowers in the pairs event). Matt spent the 2013 season as stroke of the GB M4- finishing a creditable 5th at Chungju.
The 3rd of GB’s men’s Olympic champions racing is Pete Reed. He’s joined by the other member of the M2- from Chungju, James Foad. With an Olympic bronze medal to his name, Foad had a disappointing 2013 after suffering early season injury he missed out on a place in the World Championship winning 8 but performed superbly at Chungju with Cook having only had a few week’s together. Reed, like Gregory, will be hoping for a better experience than he had at the Head of the river fours where his Leander crew, full of world champions were blown away by not only Isis, but also Cambridge. I’m sure if you asked Reed he would say the trials are all about focusing on your own performance, but I’m certain underneath he’ll be desperate to get his own back on the Oxford boys.
Stan Louloudis won the 1st assessment by an impressive 16 seconds with his pairs partner, Karl Hudspith finishing 19 seconds back in 4th. Both these two were in the Isis crew that won the M4+ event at the Fours head and also both are pretty handy in a pair….don’t forget Louloudis won the U23 world pairs title in 2011 and Hudspith raced the pair at the Eton Dorney World Cup this year.
Whilst most of the 2013 worlds crew have been split up there are a couple of pairs who were in the boats together at Chungju. Dan Ritchie and Tom Ransley were the bow pair in the world championship 8, and they, too, will be hoping to get revenge on the Isis boys who stuffed them in fours. The other crewmates from 2013 are from the 4-…Nathanial Reilly-O’Donnell and Alan Sinclair (interestingly entered as UL…even though Sinclair is a Leander man!)
Mo Sbihi, for me, is establishing himself as the leading oarsman in the current squad, he’s joined by the “young gun” Scott Durant from Brookes who was another of the M4- at Chungju….this pair could be very, very rapid.
2 other combinations have caught my eye, Paul Bennett and George Nash racing as UL/Molesey. Nash is another one of the world championship 8 and Paul Bennett partnered Hudspith in the 2- at the Dorney World Cup and was unfortunate to miss out on selection for the Worlds team. The other crew to watch are Will Satch and Matt Gotrel…world Champion Satch is joined by Gotrel who raced in the GB 2nd 8 (officially known as Leander/Molesey) that won the Ladies Plate at Henley.
Who will win?…..it’s difficult to call at this time in the season. Hodge has been out of the boat for a while so it’s difficult to assess how he and Cook will fare. Reed and Foad will be a very strong combination but I think the Isis boys could just sneak it.
28 scullers (11 U23’s – although there may be a few medical exemptions…Jack Beaumont for one…he didn’t even realise he’d been entered!)
Alan Campbell had high praise for the superstar quad he raced in at the Head of the River Fours and said that it improved him as a sculler. After a relatively disappointing 2013 season Campbell will be looking to re-exert his authority on GB sculling…if he doesn’t he may come under increasing pressure for his 1X seat on the team.
The only member of the 2013 Worlds sculling squad not racing is Sam Townsend…the rest of the sculling squad are in Boston and will be gunning for Campbell. Charlie Cousins won the final trials last year but I just have a sneaking suspicion that the “old” Alan is back, and he’ll be the one to beat this weekend.
Unlike the men the women’s squad are all racing in singles.
35 scullers (4 U23’s) It’s this event that has sparked the interest of the media and it’s due to one person…Captain Heather Stanning…Olympic champion…has returned to the fold following her tour of duty in Afghanistan and the talk and speculation this weekend (and I expect for the whole of the selection process) will be who will partner Helen Glover. 3 into 2 just won’t go. Polly Swann had a spectacular season in 2013 and went undefeated. At the start of 2013 it may have been thought that Polly was just keeping the seat warm for Heather, but the performance in 2013 blew that concept apart. It is going to be a huge (but I’m sure amicable) battle between Polly and Heather to get that seat with Glover (assuming Robin Williams decides the W2- will still be the lead boat!) Whoever misses out will be a massive addition to whatever boat they end up in. But, I’m not expecting too many fireworks from Stanning this weekend as she’s only just returned to training.
It’s also great to see Rachel Gamble-Flint making a return to competition having missed the whole of the 2013 season through injury (she was meant to race at the Fours Head but injuries and illness at Leander meant her crew were forced to scratch).
This event looks to be really, really close….all the top women from the sweep and sculling squad are racing…Fran Houghton…(the grande damme of the whole team 😉 ), Beth Rodford, Vicky Thornley, Vicky Meyer-Laker, Lou Reeve. But the really exciting name to watch is Jess Leyden. The World Junior W1X champion won the 1st assessment and was in the winning quad at the Head of the river Fours. At just 18, she is a prodigious talent…it’ll be interesting to see how the team handle her….will she go for the U23’s in 2014 or be “fast-tracked” into the senior team. In my opinion I hope she does at least one year at the U23 level…by Rio she could make a very big impact.
Who will win….I really don’t know…Glover is a great sculler and a fierce competitor but Thornley performed superbly in the W1X during the 2013 season….I’m going to go for Thornley to win
35 scullers (13 U23’s) Adam Freeman-Pask has withdrawn which is a great shame. In his absence it’s got to be a battle between the Chambers brothers…doubles partners in 2013 they’ll each be desperate to get the better of each other. Jamie Kirkwood spent 2013 racing the LM1X finishing 8th at Chungju (a great result given the high quality of the field). Freeman-Pask’s team-mates from the LM4- are all racing..Jonno Clegg, Will Fletcher and Chris Bartley…all three will give the Chambers brothers a run for their money.
The winner of the first assessment was Zac Lee-Green and he’ll be hoping to repeat the performance and make the step-up from the U23’s to the senior squad.
One absentee is Zac Purchase…he entered the heavyweight division at the first assessment but missed the ergo standard….I’m sure once he’s back to racing weight and racing fitness he will have a part to play in the lightweight squad.
My pick…I reckon Chambers will win….just don’t ask me which!….alright…Chambers R
20 scullers (5 U23’s) The most exciting entry is the long-awaited return of Olympic champion, Kat Copeland. It remains to be seen where she is at in terms of her training, but it’s great to see her back! But the competition is going to be fierce. Ruth Walczak won a fabulous bronze at the world championships and Imogen Walsh along with Kath Twyman just missed out on a medal in the LW2X. Look out for the “young guns” of the squad…Brianna Stubbs and Ellie Piggott…U23 LW2X champions. With just 1 Olympic class boat the competition in this event is ferocious and GB is looking in a very strong position. It’s going to be fascinating to see who gets the nod for the doubles spot in 2014.
My pick…impossible to call, it really is.
So that’s it. The first “proper” trials of the 2014 season. Whilst the results are just a part of the selection process and only have a small impact on what will happen next summer, everyone will be wanting to lay down their marker….the established guys that they’ve “still got it” and the young guns will be wanting to knock a few of the world champions and senior squad members off their perches!
2013 was a relatively relaxed season, a chance to try different combinations, but 2014 is much, much more serious as combinations that could feature in Rio start to come together. It’s going to be a fascinating selection process!