So, it’s time to crank up the “old predictor” for the final time of the season…but it’s the “big one”….the World Championships. This is what it’s all about, the culmination of all the training and racing so far this year. But, as well as being an end in itself, it’s also worth placing the results at this year’s championships in the context of the Rio Olympiad. For some crews it is all about winning medals this year but for others they will be looking for the quality of the performance and the progress made towards the critical Olympic qualifying year next year.
This year’s championships are in Amsterdam on the Bosbaan course. Hopefully the weather gods will be kind because if the wind blows the course can become “challenging”!
So, off we go with this year’s entries…..
A whopping 32 scullers – the largest entry at the championships.
Defending champion: Ondrej Synek (Czech Republic)
So far this season it’s been all about Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand. The Olympic Champion had a torrid 2013 crashing out of last year’s championships at the quarter final stage. At the start of the season things weren’t going too well either, beaten several times in domestic regattas by Hamish Bond, he came into the International season with relatively low expectations….it was all about rebuilding towards Rio. But, much to his own surprise, the 35 year old is unbeaten so far in Europe winning both the 2nd and 3rd World Cups as well as his 5th Diamonds Sculls title at the 175th Henley Royal Regatta.
At the start of the 2014 season I was expecting the World Champion, Ondrej Synek, to pick up where he left off, and he duly won the European Championships in May. But the Czech suffered his first defeat since the 2012 Olympic final at Aiguebelette coming off 2nd best to Mahe. This was followed by a repeat result at Lucerne. The question is, can Synek defend his title and take the win when it really matters?
Behind these two it’s going to be a tight struggle for bronze. For my money anyone of perhaps six scullers are in with a shout of a medal.
Leading the charge is most likely going to be Cuba’s Angel Fournier Rodriguez. Last year’s silver medallist, he has raced once in Europe so far this season picking up the bronze at Aiguebelette.
Finishing one place behind the Cuban at Aiguebelette (as he did at Chungju) was the mercurial German Marcel Hacker. The 37 year old is always “there-or-thereabouts”, having made an “A” final every time he’s raced since winning the “B” final at the Beijing Olympics. If Hacker gets it right on the day he can be up challenging for the medals….if he doesn’t he will be out the back of the “A” final! One of the delights about watching Hacker race is you’re never 100% sure what you’ll get…but, it’s never dull!
Another strong contender for a medal will be the big Dutchman, Roel Braas. A relative newcomer to the world of single sculling……when compared to the likes of Drysdale, Synek and Hacker that is! He is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in world sculling. A winner at the Holland Beker and runner-up to Drysdale at Henley, Braas finished an excellent 4th at Lucerne. It can surely only be a matter of time before he’s amongst the medals at the World Championships, and on home water it could well be this year.
Aleksandar Aleksandrov of Azerbaijan is doubling up in the Double Sculls event at Amsterdam which could be a huge challenge given the volume of racing required. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him scratch from the single. If he does race, and race to his best, he’s capable of being at the business end of the “A” final. The 25 year old finished 5th in the Olympic 1X final but has been focussing on the double this year winning a silver in that event at Aiguebelette.
A couple of other scullers to highlight are Canada’s ex-French Olympic bronze medallist, Julien Bahain. He made his competitive debut for the Maple-leafs at the 2nd World Cup finishing 6th followed by an 8th place at Lucerne. If he gets it right on the day he could certainly make the “A” final and once there anything could happen.
Also look out for Lithuanian Mindaugus Griskonis. He was 6th at Lucerne following a bronze at the European Championships and a silver at the first World Cup in Sydney. He could be another that, if it all clicks, could be challenging for medals.
The “old man” of the field, Olaf Tufte continues on the comeback trail. The 38 year old double Olympic champion missed the whole of the 2013 season but has been slowly getting back to speed in 2014. A 15th place at the Europeans was followed by a 9th at Aiguebellte which in turn was followed by a 5th place at Lucerne. At this rate he will be a big, big contender for the medals in Amsterdam….and few medallists would be more popular than the big Norwegian.
A couple of other things of note in this event. It’s disappointing not to see an entry from Great Britain. GB’s regular M1X, Alan Campbell is having a break from competition following a disappointing drop in form, but it’s a shame that GB didn’t let another sculler race….maybe one of the U23’s like Jack Beaumont or Angus Groom. It could’ve provided excellent experience for the future. Finally a shout out to Switzerland’s Barnabe Delarze. The Imperial College student was extremely disappointed to miss out on selection for the M4X despite having successfully defended their U23 world title. Instead he’s racing the single…hopefully he will have got over the disappointment and will do his undoubted talent justice in the M1X.
Defending Champion: Kim Crow (Australia)
If 2013 was all about Ondrej Synek in the M1X’s the same can be said about Kim Crowe in the W1X. Like Synek, Crowe went unbeaten throughout the 2013 season. But also like Synek she’s been undone this season by an antipodean rival. In Crowe’s case it’s in the form of Emma Twigg. Crow lost out to an astonishing final sprint from Twigg at the first World Cup in Sydney – the Kiwi coming from over a length down in the final quarter to win by 14/100ths of a second. Many (myself included) thought this was a mere blip and explained by the timing in the season. But, Twigg followed this up with a dominant performance at Lucerne leading at all the markers to win by a comfortable 2 seconds over Crow. The question is, can Twigg make it a hat trick of wins over Crow…can the Kiwis do a double in the single sculls….something they’ve never achieved before?
Amidst the battle between Crow and Twigg the Olympic Champion, Mirka Knapkova has been somewhat eclipsed. She’s won only twice this season, at the European Championships and the Princess Royal at Henley. But has been out of the medals at all three World Cups this season. Can she recover the form that has taken her to Olympic and world titles?
One of the surprise packages of this season has been Magdalena Lobnig of Austria. 4th at last year’s Worlds, she has two bronze medals so far this season from Aiguebelette and Lucerne and is, therefore the top ranked European sculler.
Originally Vicky Thornley of GB should’ve been racing in the W2X. But her partner Fran Houghton is injured so she’s racing in the W1X. She also raced this boat at Lucerne and finished an excellent 5th.
It’ll be very interesting to see how she fares in the W1X, as the W2X with Houghton has huge potential but has, so far, failed to deliver. She may well be better suited in the W1X with Houghton teaming up with Grainger in the W2X (if Katharine makes her long-awaited return)……now there’s a thought!
Another sculler who has raised her game this season is Ireland’s Sanita Puspure. She won a superb bronze at the European Championships this season and made the “A” final at Aiguebelette. At Lucerne she just missed out on another “A” final appearance but responded by winning the “B” final in some style ahead of Russia’s Julia Levina. Another “A” final appearance would be a great result.
Dane, Fie Udby Erichsen made her return to competition at Lucerne finishing 9th. Erichsen took time off following her bronze medal at the Olympics to have a family. An “A” final at Amsterdam might be a stretch but for her it’s all about the progress to Olympic qualification.
The final sculler to highlight is Germany’s U23 bronze medallist Anne Beenken. She missed out on a “A” final place at Lucerne and was a DNS in the “B” final. An “A” final appearance would be a great achievement for the 19 year old.
Defending Champion: Henrik Stephansen (Denmark)
The defending champion, Stephansen, is having another go at making a fast LM2X. In his absence the favourite could well be Andrew Campbell of the USA. He’s had a great season so far having successfully defended his U23 title he’ll be looking to make it a superb double in Amsterdam.
The main challengers to Campbell will probably be two highly experienced athletes more normally used to racing in the LM2X. Portugal’s Pedro Fraga raced in this event last year finishing 4th. This season he started off in the single again winning the European championships before rekindling his long-standing partnership with Nuno Mendes in the LM2X – a partnership that competed at 2 Olympics. But, for whatever reason, they did not gel this season only finishing 15th at Lucerne. So Fraga is back in the single…..it’ll be the “old guard” v the “young gun”.
The other sculler more used to the double is Germany’s Lars Hartig. Hartig and partner Steinhuebel have been racing as the LM2X for the past couple of years. But, this season they have lost out to the youngsters, Jason Osborne and Moritz Moos. The U23 World Champions have won the selection battle for Germany, as a result Hartig is in the single and Steinhuebel the LM4X. No doubt Hartig will be desperate to prove a point to the selectors ahead of next year and take a medal in the single.
Adam Freeman-Pask of GB should’ve been racing at Amsterdam but injury has forced him out. His place is taken by Zak Lee-Green. Lee-Green was 6th at the U23 championships and 9th at Aiguebelette. An “A” final finish at his first senior Worlds would be a great achievement.
A medal favourite will also be Switzerland’s Michael Schmid. The gold medallist at Lucerne he was 3rd at the Europeans and 6th at Chungju. He’ll be definitely there or thereabouts on the Bosbaan.
Watch out as well for the Frenchman Damien Piquerais. He took silver behind Schmid at Lucerne and was 4th at Aiguebelette.
The final two scullers to highlight are Spyridion Giannoros of Greece – 4th at Lucerne – and Italy’s Macello Miani – the European silver medallist. Miani hasn’t raced much this season so it’ll be interesting to see what sort of speed he has.
Another event that is devoid of the defending champion, nor does it include the winners of any of the 3 World Cups – Wenyi Huang of China who won in Sydney and Julia Edward of New Zealand who won the 2nd and 3rd World Cups. In their absence the favourite is surely Aikaterina Nikolaidou of Greece. She’s the reigning European champion, 2014 U23 silver medallist and runner up from Lucerne and Chungju. Given her pedigree it should be a comfortable victory for her.
Leading the chase behind her will probably be Marie-Anne Frenken of the Netherlands. She was the runner-up to Nikolaidou at the Europeans and bronze medallist at Lucerne. At last year’s World Championships she won gold as part of the LW4X.
Despite not including the reigning champion nor the World Cup winners, this event does include the 3 medallists from the European championships. The bronze medal in Belgrade was won by Leonie Pless of Germany. Pless has spent the season in and out of the LW2X as the German’s sought to find the fastest combination for the Olympic boat class. In the end Pless fills the singles slot with Anja Noske and Lena Mueller in the LW2X (more on them later).
Behind these three the chase will probably be led by Eveline Peleman of Belgium. She has a bronze medal from this year’s U23’s and made the “A” final at Belgrade.
Look out also for Christina Pultz of Denmark who made the “A” final at Aiguebelette and also Kate Johnstone of South Africa who won the “B” final at Lucerne.
The final mention is for Teresa Berkholtz of Canada who makes her international debut at the tender age of 32 having only started rowing at 28 – it’ll be a steep learning curve for her!
That’s it for part one….part 2 will be the pairs and doubles…