This weekend is the final trials for the GB rowing team with places up for grabs at the European Championships (and the Under 23 team as well). As GB didn’t send a team to the first World Cup in Australia, the Europeans are being used as a season opener for the full squad for the first time in a number of years. So the racing this weekend promises some intriguing contests.
But what is most disappointing is that the trials are being held “behind closed doors” at Caversham with “Only bona fide members of the working media will be permitted to attend”. It’s amazing, and extremely frustrating, that GB Rowing do not make more of the trials as a public race. There is a definite appetite amongst the rowing public to watch the finals of trials and have the (increasingly rare) opportunity to watch the current (and future) stars racing on home water. Surely it would have been feasible to hold the trials at Dorney or even Nottingham to allow the public to come and watch? I can think of few British sports which are so reluctant to “open up” their trials to public spectating, especially given the need for GB Rowing to secure a title sponsor. I would have thought they would have grabbed every opportunity possible to promote the “GB Rowing” brand to potential sponsors. It’s a definite opportunity missed yet again, and, for a rowing geek like me, an extremely frustrating one as well!
Anyway, rant over….on to my preview of the racing.
31 scullers. Almost all the “big” names are taking part although Matt Langridge has withdrawn on medical grounds. It’s shaping up to be an epic battle between Alan Campbell & Charlie Cousins. Campbell has been GB’s single sculler since 2006, but 2013 was not one of his better years. Beaten by Cousins at the trials last year, then by Aleksandrov at Henley and missed out on the medals at Chungju. Cousins on the other hand had a great year. Winning trials and then being part of GB’s first ever medal winning M4X. But the irrepressible Ulsterman is a fantastic racer and he’s said that it’s been neck and neck between him and Cousins at the recent training camp. But it’s not just about these two. They are joined by Cousin’s crewmates from the M4X, Sam Townsend, Graeme Thomas and Pete Lambert and there will be a lot of media interest in Constantine Louloudis, fresh from his victory in the Boat Race with Oxford. He’s a talented sculler, having won the 1st Assessment trials in November.
Another sculler looking to improve on last year is Bill Lucas. The M2X of him and Matt Langridge promised much at the beginning of the season, but 9th at the World Championships was a bitter disappointment and not reflective of them at their best. It’ll be interesting to see if this combination continues this season. Lucas will be looking for a place in the “A” final to ensure he’s in with a shout. The late withdrawal of Tom Ransley on medical grounds has meant his pairs partner, Dan Ritchie, moves to the single. It’ll also be interesting to see how the “young guns” fare. The U23’s will be battling it out for selection as well. the leading U23 will probably be Jack Beaumont along with his team mate from last years U23 4X, Angus Groom. They will be chased by the top juniors from last year making the step up into the U23’s, Seb Deveraux and Sholto Carnegie.
So who will come out on top? It’ll be a major surprise if it’s anyone other than Campbell or Cousins….I’m going to go for Charlie Cousins to make it back-to-back trials wins.
22 pairs. This is shaping up to be a pretty epic battle. 3 pairs, on paper, look to be ahead of the rest, Andy Hodge with George Nash, Alex Gregory with Mo Sbihi and Pete Reed with Will Satch….world champions all. There aren’t many nations that could put together such a strong field. Watch out also for Alan Sinclair and Nathanial Reilly O’Donnell. These two raced trials last year and came 3rd and then went on to row together in the GB M4- at Chungju. Their team mates from the M4-, Matt Tarrant & Scott Durant are also paired together and it’ll be a major shock if they don’t make the “A” final. GB’s representatives in this boat class at last year’s World Championships, Ollie Cook and James Foad are also still paired together. Logic dictates that as they have been a settled partnership that they will be a strong contender….but the battle will be fierce. Behind the “top” boats the battle of the U23’s will be just as interesting with the likes of UL’s James Cook & Rory Bufacchi, Leander’s Francis Highton & George Rossiter all experienced U23 internationals.
My pick for the win…I like the look of the Gregory/Sbihi combination….I think they will sneak the win ahead of Hodge/Nash.
18 scullers. The “Grande Dame” of British rowing, Francis Houghton takes on her doubles partner, Vicky Meyer-Laker. These two just missed out on the medals in Chungju and the “bragging rights” are up for grabs. But they will face a very stiff challenge from last year’s W1X representative, Vicky Thornley. Thornley won the “B” final at Chugnju and has made huge progress as a single sculler in the past year. If she maintains that development curve she could become a real medal contender at Rio. Gloucester’s Beth Rodford will also be making a strong challenge for a medal position at the weekend. After Houghton she’s one of the most experienced members of the women’s squad and is in her 3rd Olympic cycle.She spent last season in the sweep squad coming 4th in the W8. It’ll be interesting to see if she’s part of the sculling squad this season….perhaps a new W4X will be put together after the relative disappointment of last year’s boat (she is a former world champion in that boat class after all).
It’s also great to see Rachel Gamble-Flint back in contention again. She’s suffered with illness and injury that blighted her season last year, she’s a great talent and is a strong contender for this season (if she remains healthy!)
Another double Olympian racing the single is Lou Reeve. More renowned as a sweep oarswoman than a sculler she’s a skilled and experienced racer and can’t be discounted. If Reeve, Houghton & Rodford represent the “old guard” then Jess Leyden is very much the future. The 19 year old Junior World Champion has the pace to mix it with the more experienced women and should be up there for an “A” final spot. Who knows, maybe she can add the U23 title to her Junior title this year?
My picks….Fran for the win ahead of Thornley with Rodford 3rd just from Meyer-Laker.
17 pairs. The big news story in the run up to the trials is the reuniting of Olympic champions Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. Stanning has returned from her tour of duty in Afghanistan and is now back in training full-time. She finished down the field at the December trials but had only just returned to training. With 4 more months under her belt she will be much more competitive. Coach Paul Thompson is quoted on the BBC saying “Heather has come on faster than I would have thought at the beginning and positively, there is still plenty of scope to improve. She’s done very, very well.” This could be ominous news for their opponents this weekend, and around the world. But’ it’s not all about Glover & Stanning. Glover’s partner last season, Polly Swann blossomed whilst rowing with her becoming a World Champion and rowed absolutely superbly with a wonderfully natural, seemingly effortless stroke.
This weekend Swann teams up with Jess Eddie, another of GB’s double Olympians. These two look to be a very exciting combination and will certainly hoping to dislodge the Olympic Champions. Selection for the top women’s boat is still very open. It’s going to be fascinating.
My pick….it’s very, very hard to pick anyone other than Glover and Stanning.
23 scullers. The big story in this event is the return of Olympic champion, Kat Copeland. Like Stanning she made her comeback at the December trials and finished 2nd behind Imogen Walsh. Walsh will be hoping to repeat the win over the side-by-side 2K racing. Unfortunately world bronze medalist, Ruth Walczak, has withdrawn on medical grounds. So without Ruth, the main challenge to Copeland and Walsh will come from the U23 World Champions Brianna Stubbs and Ellie Piggott. It’s a mark of the strength of GB’s Lightweight women’s squad that there are world champions and world medalists throughout the line-up.
My picks…I think Imogen Walsh will just pip Kat again.
33 scullers. This is a hugely competitive event. It’s likely that you won’t get in the “A” final if you haven’t got a World Championship medal sitting in your trophy cabinet. The Chambers brothers are the natural lead contenders. They raced the LM2X last year taking bronze. But I doubt very much they will still be in that boat this season. Richard Chambers has always said that he raced the double as a change from his preferred LM4-. Where Richard goes, so Peter follows and they form a dynamic duo in whatever crew boat they are in. The main challenge to a Chambers 1-2 will be Adam Freeman-Pask. For a long time Pask has been the “nearly man of the lightweight squad…the super-sub. Last year he got his chance to step up into an Olympic class boat and came away with a world championship bronze medal. Also in the mix is Olympic silver medalist Chris Bartley….better with one oar rather than two, but still a fearsome competitor. Jonno Clegg and Will Fletcher were also in the bronze medal LM4- last year. Both of these two were U23 medalists in the LM4X back in 2009 so they definitely have form with 2 blades. The other 2013 medalists racing are Mark Aldred and Sam Scrimgeour. They led the world in the LM2- during the World Cups, but had to settle for the bronze in Chungju. Racing the LM1X last year was Jamie Kirkwood. In an incredibly competitive event Kirkwood managed an 8th place. If he can break into the “A” final this weekend it’ll be a great achievement.
My pick….I’m going for P Chambers for the win with A F-P 2nd and Chambers senior in 3rd.
Those are my thoughts…for what it’s worth. What’s going to be fascinating in the coming months is finding out what the crew combinations will be. Will the heavyweight men focus on the 8 again, or will we see the four as the lead boat? Who will be in the W2-….will it be Glover/Stanning or Glover/Swann or some other combo and in the Lightweight men’s event will the Chambers brothers move back to the LM4-? We shall see….