GB team for the European Championships – my thoughts

Today saw the announcement of the GB team for the European Championships in Belgrade at the month. In most years this would barely register on any but the most geeky of rowing geeks (people like me in other words) as it was used largely as a regatta for development athletes. This year is different. It’s the first time that British Rowing have entered a full strength team at this championships. I was very lucky to have been invited by some of the men’s squad to attend the press conference at Caversham and I got to pretend I was a bona fide journalist!
Anyway, onto my thoughts on the team…I’ll go boat by boat

M1X Alan Campbell
Alan retains his seat in the single scull. Given his 3rd place finish at Trials there may be some people surprised that he has not been moved across to a crew boat. But, he’s been in this boat since 2007 and has rarely been out of the medals. Last season wasn’t great for the Ulsterman and he’ll be hoping to return to the podium in Belgrade and get back on track towards Rio

M2X John Collins and Jonny Walton
A brand new combination this year. The double from last year has been broken up, with Bill Lucas out for the summer with a back injury and Matt Langridge fighting for a seat in the M8. That opens the way for Collins & Walton. Last season Walton raced the first 2 World Cups as the 2nd M1X before switching to the M4X for the final World Cup as a sub for Graeme Thomas. At the recent final trials he won the B final. John Collins finished 4th at the final trials and spent last season on the verges of the senior squad, racing in the quad at the first World Cup. They are an exciting and young combination. A medal may be just beyond them at the Europeans but I don’t expect them to be too far away (but we’ll have to wait for the entries to make a proper prediction!)

M4X Graeme Thomas, Sam Townsend, Charlie Cousins, Pete Lambert.
No change from last season’s record breaking crew. At Chungju this quartet became the first British men’s quad to win a world championship medal. A bronze was an outstanding result and it was so nearly a silver. This crew just looks to be going from strength to strength. If they all stay fit and healthy they will be really challenging the Germans and Croatians for the top honours.

M2- Nathaniel Reilly O’Donnell and Alan Sinclair
Noddy and Alan have been rowing together for several years and are a well-established pairing. They finished 3rd at the final trials in 2013 and again in 2014. They’ve shown great consistency in training but perhaps would be hoping to move to a bigger boat for the World Championships. A medal at the Europeans in this boat class is a strong possibility but, as the whole world knows, at the World Championships it’s all about the Kiwis. These guys will be wanting to be in a gold medal and, barring injury or “Act of God” that won’t be in the pair.

M4- Alex Gregory, Mo Sbihi, George Nash & Andy Triggs Hodge
Perhaps the main story of the day is the switch back to the 4- as the priority boat, a fact that Mo revealed ahead of the press conference when he was interviewed on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2. The other news story on this boat is just who is in it, or rather isn’t. For the first time in 10 years Andy Hodge and Pete Reed will be competing in different boats at a major championships. It was always going to be a battle for seats in the top boat and Pete has been struggling all winter. In his own words he said “I don’t deserve to be selected in the top boat”. But, the positives for Reed are that his dip in form can be attributed to a dog hair allergy which caused breathing difficulties (the reason he withdrew from the GB trials). But, selected in this boat is George Nash. Even a fully fit Reed may have had a real fight on his hands to win selection ahead of Nash. The Olympic bronze medallist has made fabulous progress since 2012 and produced a great race in the pair with Hodge at trials. I’ve always felt that GB would switch priority back to the four. At the Olympics this boat has GB DNA running through it all the way back to the “Redgrave 4” in 2000
Pinsent, Cracknell, Redgrave and Foster in Sydney
Pinsent, Cracknell, Williams & Coode in Athens
Williams, James, Hodge & Reed in Beijing
Gregory, James, Hodge & Reed in London
It’ll be interesting to see which crews emerge from the woodwork this season. Obviously the Dutch will be strong, the reigning world champions, and the Australians have named a very strong boat. But the rest of the world will be looking at this combination and will be very, very worried.

M8 Phil Congdon, Ollie Cook, Scott Durant, James Foad, Matt Gotrel, Matt Langridge, Pete Reed, Will Satch, Matt Tarrant & Phelan Hill.
For those who can count they will see that there are 9 rowers named! The final line up has still to be officially announced (although unofficially I believe Matt Langridge will miss out – he wasn’t in the line-up that went out on the water today). This boat is a good mixture of youth and experience with the likes of Reed, Satch and Foad bringing the experience with Gotrel, Congdon, Cook and Durant the youth. It’s a good, strong line-up and will definitely be up there challenging for the medals. What’s most interesting is who is missing from the line-up, with the likes of Tom Ransley and Stan Louloudis still to challenge later in the season I would expect the line-up to change quite a bit before the World Championships.

W2X Vicky Thornely & Fran Houghton
A very exciting combination. But, I’m just a little disappointed that Thornely didn’t get another season in the W1X. She made fantastic progress last year winning the B final at Chungju. With another season under her belt I feel she is a real “A” final contender and a stron medal contender by 2016. But, for this regatta at least, it’s not to be. Instead she forms a double with the “grande old Dame” of the women’s team, Fran Houghton – going for her 5th Olympics. Last year’s combination with Vicky Meyer-Laker didn’t quite deliver to the potential they showed on paper. Let’s see how this new pairing get on in Belgrade (especially against the likes of the Lithuanians and Germans).

W2- Helen Glover and Polly Swann
It’s strange when the big news story is that the reigning World Champions are selected together. But, Glover should’ve been in the boat with her London 2012 partner, Heather Stanning. But, with Heather taking a break on medical grounds, Polly Swann steps back into the boat. She was suitably diplomatic during the press conference but she will definitely wanting to prove a point in Belgrade. Anything less than a comfortable gold medal will be a blow.

W4X Beth Rodford, Lucinda Gooderham, Vicky Meyer-Laker & Tina Stiller
Last year’s W4X were a little disappointing if I’m honest. GB has struggled to find an effective line-up for a number of years. This year the crew has been strengthened significantly with Beth Rodford and Vicky Meyer-Laker coming in. Rodford knows how to win in this boat, winning gold in 2010. Last year she switched 2 blades for 1 at rowed in the 4th place W8. The move back to the quad brings some much needed experience to the crew. I can’t wait to see how they get on against the Germans.

W8 Ros Bradbury, Olivia Carnegie-Brown, Jess Eddie, Donna Etiebet, Katie Greves, Zoe Lee, Caragh McMurty, Lou Reeve, Monica Relph & Zoe De Toledo.
Like the men’s 8 the final line-up has yet to be announced. It’s great to see some new names breaking into the squad, Donna Etiebet is making her international debut after impressing at the GB trials with a 4th place finish in the pairs with Monica Relph. Last year’s crew just missed out on a medal at the worlds. It remains to be seen if this year’s crew has quite the strength of the 2013 boat but they should definitely be challenging the Romanians and Dutch for medals at the Europeans.

LM1X Adam Freeman-Pask
I think Adam will be slightly disappointed with his results so far this season. Last year he finally got his chance to race in an Olympic class boat and took an excellent bronze. I had thought he’d be in the running for that boat again, or for the LM2X. But a 7th place at trials wasn’t the result I was expecting from him. So, for the Europeans he’s in the single (where he may face the mighty Henrik Stephansen of Denmark). A strong performance at Belgrade may see A F-P back in the running for an Olympic class boat.

LM2X Jamie Kirkwood and Will Fletcher.
Personally I’m absolutely delighted that Kirkwood has been selected for the double. Last year’s LM2X, the Chamber’s brothers, made no secret of their desire to move back into the LM4-. But with Kirkwood and Fletcher finishing 1-2 in the trials the Chambers brothers may not have had a choice! What’s especially pleasing is that Kirkwood had a very difficult end to 2013 with a nasty injury but has fought his way back and completely obliterated the rest of the field at trials. Fletcher was also in the LM4- last year with A F-P but is no stranger to racing the LM2X with Kirkwood. These two made their international debuts together way back in 2006 when they raced for England at the Home International Regatta. It’s always a fearsomely competitive event, especially if the Olympic champions, Quist & Rasmussen of Denmark return as expected. It’ll be great to see Kirkwood & Fletcher scrapping with the Danes and French at Belgrade and a medal is not out of the question.

LM4- Pete Chambers, Richard Chambers, Mark Aldred, Chris Bartley.
After their sabbatical in the LM2X the Chambers brothers return to their favoured boat class. The interesting selection in this boat is that of Mark Aldred. Last season he raced a brilliant LM2- with Sam Scrimgeour culminating in the bronze medal at the World Championships. When asked about his selection Mark said that in 2012 he was sitting in the stands at Dorney watching the Chambers brothers win Olympic silver and now he’s sitting in the boat with them. It was something he couldn’t quite believe! But, no one gets a seat in a GB boat unless they earn it and Mark has been producing some excellent results in training and deservedly takes the seat. As with the LM2X it’ll be fascinating to see how they get on against the Danes.
LM2- Sam Scrimgeour & Jonno Clegg
A strong line-up, both of these guys have bronze medals from last year’s World Championships and will be expecting to add European gold to their collections. These are two very talented guys, Clegg has an U23 World title to his name and Scrimgeour partnered Aldred to a bucket load of World Cup golds last season.

LW2X Kat Copeland & Imogen Walsh
Another big news story is the return of Kat Copeland from an extended break. No-one will ever forget the wonderful look of disbelief on her face when she crossed the line to take gold in 2012. Filling Sophie Hosking’s shoes is Imogen Walsh. She raced in this event last year just missing out on the medals. When asked what she thought about racing with Kat she said that some may consider it a burden, if they do well then it’s down to Kat, if they do badly then it’s down to her. But she didn’t see it that way and that they had formed a very effective partnership very quickly. Let’s see how they do against the Greeks, Italians and Germans.
The last crew selected is LW1X Charlotte Taylor. Charlotte has earned the spot by finishing a brilliant 3rd in the Final Trials (following a 5th place in 2013). The Europeans sees her win her first senior vest and an “A” final appearance would be a great achievement for the Putney Town sculler.

That’s it….once the entries have been released I’ll do an in depth preview, but until then…night, night.

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