The World Rowing Championships review – a few thoughts

Amsterdam Worlds

Now the dust has settled after the World Championships (and I’ve had a chance to watch or re-watch all the finals) I thought I would just put down a few thoughts about this year’s championships.
Now, I wasn’t fortunate enough to be in Amsterdam so I cannot comment first hand on the conditions or organisation. But, from everything I’ve read and heard it was a fabulous regatta in terms of the organisation and the volunteers – there was some grumbling about some over-officious enforcement of kit rules, but apart from that there was little in the way of grumbling. Where there was a lot of noise was about the fairness of the Bosbaan course. It’s notorious for its fast times and potential for disparity between the lanes. In the BBC presentation James Cracknell said there was a rule of thumb that there was a 1 second difference between the lanes. I’m a little sceptical that the difference is so great, but there is no doubt that the conditions affected the outcome of some races. But, as has also been said, rowing is an outdoor sport and managing the conditions is part and parcel of our sport.

Anyway, enough of that. Onto my thoughts on the racing….
M1X
Predicted finish: Drysdale, Synek, Rodriguez
Actual finish: Synek, Drysdale, Rodriguez
This was a great contest. I thought Mahe was going to rule the roost but Synek looked back to his best. It’s been an incredibly difficult summer for the Czech who lost his father earlier in the year. It was a fitting tribute for Ondrej to bounce back and take the world title. Mahe looked a little off form in the final and didn’t look to have his customary sprint. He was also in a slightly less favoured lane to Synek but I do not think that affected the result. Rodriguez is the coolest man on the circuit, although I’m not a massive fan of his very upright style of sculling.
It was a disappointing championships for local favourite Roel Braas. He looked bitterly disappointed to miss out on the “A” final and didn’t seen “up” for the “B” final finishing 3rd (9th overall). It was also disappointing to see Olaf Tufte back in the middle of the “C” final. I thought, given his strong performance at Lucerne, that he could make the “A” final. Hopefully he’ll continue to progress and be able to qualify for Rip next year.

W1X
Predicted finish: Twigg, Crow, Knapkova
Actual finish: Twigg, Crow, Duan
Twigg looked imperious all week and she has capped off an outstanding season. She now is taking a break and spending the year studying abroad as part of the FIFA master in Management, Law & Humanities of Sport programme. She intends to keep training and be available for competition once her studies have finished in July. But, Rowing New Zealand have indicated that as she is not going to be in NZ over the summer she will not be considered for selection. If they maintain this position it would mean another athlete trying to qualify the boat at next year’s worlds or Twigg having to go through the uncertainties of the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta in 2016. Hopefully common sense will prevail and we will get to see Emma defend her title at next year’s championships.
I was most surprised at the performance of Knapkova. It was the first time since the worlds in 2001 that she didn’t make the “A” final. It looks as though she paid the price for a disappointing Quarter Final which meant she had a tough lane draw for the semis. I’m sure she’ll bounce back to medal form next year but it must have been a very disappointing end to what has been, by her standards, a disappointing season.
Just a quick comment on GB’s Vicky Thornley. I thought she had an excellent regatta and wasn’t far behind Knapkova in the “B” final and would’ve been delighted to have beaten stone from the US. What’s particularly pleasing is that this was not the event Thornley planned to race, she should’ve been in the W2X. In my opinion GB should get Thornley to concentrate on this event. With 2 years dedication to the single she could well be a medal challenger in Rio.

LM1X
Predicted finish: Campbell, Fraga, Schmid
Actual finish: Miani, Hartig, Schmid
Campbell’s early bath in the quarters threw this event wide open. I said in my preview that it would be interesting to see what sort of speed Miani had as he hadn’t raced much this season – well the answer is “quite a lot” – a World’s Best Time of 6:43.37 to be precise. A superb performance.
It was also a great result for Ireland’s Paul O’Donovan, 4th place for the 20 year old is a fantastic way to end the season. He’ll be one to watch in 2015 and beyond.

LW1X
Predicted finish: Nikolaidou, Frenken, Johnstone
Actual finish: Peleman, Nikolaidou, Bertko
What a topsy-turvy race! Peleman looked to have it in the bag coming into the final 500 but then caught a real boat-stopper with 100m to go and looked to have thrown it away. But, incredibly she got herself together and sprinted to the line just squeaking ahead of Nikolaidou! All very reminiscent of Peter Haining in the LM1X back in 1991 who did something similar (although he did it further up the course than the Belgian).
It was also a great performance by Bertko (who I didn’t mention in my preview as she wasn’t officially listed in the entries for some reason). She had abdominal surgery earlier this year and to bounce back to take a world Championship medal is a superb achievement.
M2X
Predicted finish: Croatia, Australia, GB
Actual finish: Croatia, Italy, Australia

5:59 in a M2X……5:59! That’s simply outrageous. The Sinkovic brothers have been one of the outstanding crews of the season and they never looked troubled throughout the regatta. It’s going to be very interesting to see if they stay in the double for next year and for Rio as on current form they will be gold medal favourites. It was a great scull by the Italians to grab silver and the Aussies as well to grab a medal.
It was disappointing for the Brits to miss out on the “A” final as I thought they had a great chance for a medal. But they bounced back from the disappointment in style winning the “B” final convincingly ahead of the Kiwis. The British are a young crew and will definitely be faster next year. They will hopefully also show more consistent speed. When they get it right they will be up among the medals but when their current inconsistency sometimes mean they miss out – as happened in a very tight semi.
The Kiwis will also only get stronger in the next 12 months. It’ll be fascinating to watch these two crews develop as we progress toward Rio.

W2X
Predicted finish: Lithuania, New Zealand, Australia
Actual finish: New Zealand, Poland, Australia
The Kiwis did what they did at Lucerne….start slowly and then work their way through the field before hitting the front in the final couple of hundred metres. They timed their race to perfection overhauling the Aussies and then the Poles. The Australians must have thought they were favourites for gold. They set a new World’s Best Time in the semi but looked like they ran out of steam in the final sprint allowing the Poles to get by them for the silver.
It looks like the Kiwis have finally found some worthy successors to the Evers-Swindell sisters!

LM2X
Predicted finish: France, Norway, Germany
Actual finish: South Africa, France, Norway
The shock of the regatta, no question. Coming into these championships you would’ve bet your house on the French to win. They were unbeaten all season, in fact no one had got close to them all season. The South African’s on the other hand had not impressed at all. Beaten comfortably by the French at Henley they only managed 13th at Lucerne. Looking back at the records I don’t think anyone else has ever made the jump from 13th at the final World Cup to gold at the World Championships. It was remarkable. Some may argue that they had the best lane in the final and there may be an element of that, but the South African’s had to put themselves in a position to take advantage of any lane benefit and they did that superbly. They also got another WBT to boot. The South African’s performance at the London Olympics showed that they have a superb ability to both sprint, and, more importantly, to peak at just the right time.
It was also pleasing to see the Norwegians return to medal form after a somewhat up-and-down season. 2015 is going to be a truly fascinating season in this event.
The “B” final was also a fantastic race with the Brits leading coming into the final 200m only to be overhauled by the Czechs and then responding with a sprint of their own. It took forever for the result to be announced with the verdict going to the Brits by 1/100th of a second! It was a satisfying end to the season for the young British double who were disappointed not to make the “A” final. Next season I’m convinced they will be up challenging for the medals.
The Danes continue to struggle to get a fast double with Stephansen. It’ll be intriguing to see what happens in 2015 with the likely return of the Olympic champions Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist.

LW2X
Predicted finish: GB, Italy, China
Actual finish: New Zealand, Canada, China
Another shock with the British missing out on the “A” final altogether. Walsh & Copeland didn’t look their usual confident selves and catching a crab in the final few strokes of the semi was very unfortunate, but, they had put themselves under pressure in their semi rather than dominating it as I would have expected. It’s a disappointing end to what has otherwise been a very successful season for the new GB combination and I’m sure they will be back on the podium consistently next season.
The Kiwis have been something of a revelation this season. The usual combo of Strack & Edwards was broken up due to injury and the new pairing of Edwards and Mackenzie came into Amsterdam with no form as a double. But, U23 world Champion Mackenzie has quickly formed a very effective partnership with Edward and they looked superb in the final setting a new World’s Best Time into the bargain.

M2-
Predicted finish: New Zealand, GB, USA
Actual finish: New Zealand, GB, South Africa
No surprises really, the Kiwis carried on their imperious form. The only question is would they have set a new World’s Best Time if they hadn’t also raced the M2+? As it was they were only a second off their own record.
What is amazing about the Kiwis is their consistent speed. Looking at the GPS data their meters per second speed doesn’t vary by more than 0.1m throughout the whole race from the 150m gone. They stay at 5.4-5.5 mps for the whole race (with a brief push up to 5.6 at the 1350m mark). No other crew can match that consistency and it’s that ability to move at a consistently high speed for the majority of the course that blows away opponents. There are no fireworks…no big pushes…it’s just a relentless fast speed.
The British did exceptionally well to take the silver medal and in doing so set the fastest ever time by a British pair (6:.75) which given the famous combinations GB has had in the past 25 years (Redgrave/Holmes, Redgrave/Pinsent, Pinsent/Cracknell, Hodge/Reed) as a fantastic achievement.
The South Africans were, perhaps the surprise of the event in taking the bronze and it was a great result for Shaun Keeling who’s been in this boat class since 2008.
The USA would’ve been disappointed with their 6th place finish. The BBC commentary said that this was the top US boat (although I would’ve said that was the M4- ) so there was a lot of expectation on them to get a medal.

W2-
Predicted finish: GB, USA, New Zealand
Actual finish: GB, USA, New Zealand

As with the Kiwi M2- the British continue their dominance of this event. Also like the Kiwi M2- the British showed remarkably consistent fast boat speed, moving at 4.9 mps for almost the entire race (just dipping to 4.8 for a couple of 100 metres from the 850m mark). This just enabled them to move away from the field. The USA took the bronze as expected and made sure the British worked all the way to the finish. The US were also consistent in their speed but it was just that fraction down on the British (4.8 average to GB’s 4.9). The Kiwi’s also took the bronze as expected, the interesting question here is would the younger u23 Kiwi pair have won a better medal if they had been in this event rather than the W4- ? we’ll never know!

LM2-
Predicted result: Switzerland, Czech Republic, GB
Actual result: Switzerland, France, GB
No great surprises in this event either. The Swiss are a superb crew and have been the form pairing all season and were one of only 3 unchanged crews to successfully defend their title (the others being Ondrej Synek in the M1X and the Greek LM4X). The icing on the cake was a new World’s Best Time of 6:22.91

M4-
Predicted result: GB, USA, Canada
Actual result: GB, USA, Australia
Another result that went with the form book. The British have dominated this event all season and once again looked untroubled as they took another gold. They will be slightly miffed they didn’t break their own World’s Best Time given the favourable conditions. Looking at the GPS it’s the British’s devastating 1st 1000m that destroys the opposition. They stayed at >6 mps all the way to the 750m mark whereas most of the opposition could only maintain that sort of speed for the first 500m. The USA tried to go with the British maintaining 6.0mps through to the 650m point but they couldn’t stay with them in the next 250m.
I would fully expect Jurgen Grobler to keep this boat as the priority crew for 2015 and Rio, what’ll be interesting is to see if the line-up remains the same. Grobler maintains that every crew starts afresh at the beginning of the season and there be a number of athletes looking to get a seat in the top boat. But, looking at how beautifully this current combination rows it’ll require something very special to break up this combination.
The Canadian’s will be a bit disappointed with 5th. Whilst it’s a great improvement on their performance in 2013 there were very high hopes that this combination would be at the front end of the “A” final rather than the back end. It typified what was a slightly disappointing championships for the Canadian men’s squad.

W4-
Predicted result: USA, New Zealand, France
Actual result: New Zealand, USA, China

The Kiwi four were a class apart, they smashed the World’s Best Time by an astonishing 11 seconds and lead from start to finish with a display of beautiful, power rowing. It perhaps might be a bit cheeky to suggest it was a message to the Kiwi selectors from the U23 W2- Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler that perhaps they should’ve been in the Olympic class event?
The US would’ve hoped to have got the gold, especially for Zsuzsana Francia for whom it was her last ever international race. But they will be pleased with the silver meaning the USA open-weight sweep women all won at least a silver medal (a feat only matched by the GB heavyweight sweep men).

LM4-
Predicted result: New Zealand, Denmark, GB
Actual result: Denmark, New Zealand, GB

The Kiwis chances were dealt a serious blow with the withdrawal of James Lassche with a back injury. The fact that they were so competitive in the final racing with sub Alistair Bond shows what an outstanding performance, and an outstanding squad, the Kiwis have. Had the Kiwis been at full strength I’ve no doubt they would have beaten the Danes.
It was an epic race between the Danes, Kiwis and Brits as we’ve come to expect in this event, less than half a second separated these three boats at the 1500m mark. Perhaps it was in this final sprint that the kiwis suffered marginally with having a substitute on-board, they just couldn’t quite match the Danes finishing sprint which just enabled them to pull away to take the win. All credit to the Kiwis for the silver, it was a remarkable achievement in the circumstances.

M4X
Predicted result: GB, Germany, USA
Actual result: Ukraine, GB, Germany

Another absolute classic of a race. The record books show that Ukraine led from start to finish and the British were 2nd at every marker, but the reality looked anything but boring. The British mounted a huge final sprint to close down the Ukrainians but they ran out of water losing by just 9/100th of a second. It was a fantastic contest with the Ukrainians setting a new World’s Best Time of 5:32.26. The British will be disappointed not to take the gold, but in the context of the Rio Olympiad it’s a real step on from the bronze last year. This crew will be one of the favourites for gold next year.
For the impartial observer it’s great to see the Ukrainian’s take the gold, given all the political upheaval they are going through at the moment. You could tell from their faces just what it meant to them to take the title.
The USA were a big disappointment. There were high hopes that they would be challenging for a medal, especially after their performances at Henley and Lucerne but they were never really in the hunt for an “A” final place in any of their races. I think there will be a fair amount of head-scratching going on in the US over the winter months.

W4X
Predicted result: Germany, Belorussia, New Zealand
Actual result: Germany, China, USA

No great surprise that the German’s took the title, and set a new World’s Best Time. They dominated the event winning by 4 seconds. The Chinese were an unexpected silver. They have been mixing their line-up and had not raced internationally in this combination before Amsterdam so were a bit of an unknown quantity (although they had a very talented, experienced line-up).
The US performed really well and followed up their silver from Aiguebelette with another one in Amsterdam. As I said in my preview, they are beginning to develop a real tradition in this event and are proving that USA Women’s rowing isn’t just about the eight.

LM4X
Predicted result: Denmark, Greece, Germany
Actual result: Greece, Germany, China

Another World’s Best Time, a frankly astonishing 5:42.75. The Greeks retained their title in some style. Silver for the German’s will be some consolation for Konstantin Steinhuebel after missing selection for the LM2X.
The Danes struggled with super-sub Mads Rasmussen. A quad is an incredibly difficult boat to jump into and they did well in the circumstances to finish 5th .

LW4X
Predicted result: GB, The Netherlands, USA
Actual result: The Netherlands, Australia, Germany
The Dutch comfortably retained their title and set yet another World’s Best Time. It was always going to be tricky to predict this event as there haven’t been too many events. I must admit I thought the British would do better, they are a very talented quartet but, as with the openweight GB W4X, it shows that it’s not easy to make a quad go fast regardless of the talent in the boat.
I thought the Americans would be quicker as well.
It was a good result for the Aussies in what was, overall, a bit of a disappointing championships for them.
M8
Predicted result: Germany, GB, USA
Actual result: GB, Germany, Poland

What a race! Possibly the best M8 race since the Sydney Olympic final. The British have talked about the narrow window in which an eight comes to its peak. That peak for them was Sunday afternoon. I reckon 9 times out of 10 the German’s would beat the British, but that one race where they didn’t was the only one in the year that mattered. The middle 1000 was outstanding from the British they did it in 2:43.4 1.5 secs quicker that the German’s. The Germans threw everything at the British in the final sprint but they had built up enough of a lead that the line came before the German’s could draw level.
It was an outstanding performance for the British who had not raced in their final line-up until Amsterdam. The other notable element is that the M8 is the 2nd ranked GB boat whereas for the Germans and Poles the eight is the lead crew. It’s the first time since the Canadians in 2003 that one country has won the world title in both the M4- and the M8. This result meant that every GB heavyweight sweep oarsman won at least a silver medal – a remarkable show of strength in depth that hasn’t really been seen since the days of the East German dominance in the 70’s and 80’s. If it wasn’t for those pesky New Zealand pair GB could be looking at a clean sweep of the men’s heavyweight sweep events 
The Polish also had a fantastic regatta. I said in my preview that they can be a little inconsistent but on their day they could challenge for the medals. Like the British, they peaked at just the right moment.
The threat from the Mike Spracklen’s new Russian crew never really materialised. They had the worst lane and were never in the hunt. I’m sure we will be seeing more of this crew in 2015.
The USA were also disappointing at Amsterdam. There seems to be a trend with the US men’s crews….they appear at Lucerne and take major medals only to tail off when it really matters. Throughout the regatta they never really looked like a medal crew, as with the US M4X I think there will be a certain amount of head-scratching going on over the winter to try and make them competitive for next year.

W8
Predicted result: USA, Canada, GB
Actual result: USA, Canada, China

No great surprises with the gold and silver medals. The USA are an outstanding outfit and the gold never looked in doubt. Neither, to be honest, did the silver. It would’ve taken something quite remarkable for the Canadian’s to have defeated the US, but they were a solid silver medal crew. The British were a major disappointment. I really expected them to be leading the pack behind the top 2 but they had a bad regatta from start to finish and were never in the hunt. With the exception of Glover & Stanning (and to a certain extent Vicky Thornley) the GB women seriously underperformed at this year’s championships. There will be some tough questions to answer when the squad reconvenes at Caversham in 3 weeks’ time. By then we should also know whether Katharine Grainger is returning. She confirmed during the BBC coverage that she has made a decision and that she “was comfortable with that decision”. Reading between the lines I think this means she isn’t coming back, but it remains to be seen. If she does come back it’ll give a very different dynamic to the women’s squad. Personally I’d like to see her and Houghton in a W2X with Thornley remaining in the W1X. We shall see!

Finally:
LM8
Predicted result: Italy, Germany, Turkey
Actual result: Germany, Italy, Turkey
Not much to say on this, being only a 5 boat event. It was a great result for the Turks to take a world Championship medal. The Americans will be disappointed in coming last (7 secs off the medals). Some people are beginning to question the wisdom of the US team sending so many uncompetitive boats. The LM8 came last, the M1X finished 25th, the M2X 20th, the LM2- 15th….for a country like the US these results are, frankly, poor.

So that’s it for another year. The Worlds were certainly exciting. In my preview I (foolishly) said:
“In most events this year there have been some clear favourites for the gold so picking the potential winners has been relatively straight forward”
– How wrong I was!!
2015 is going to be a really exciting year with Olympic qualification up for grabs – the build-up to the Rio Olympics is well underway!

Appendix:

A few stats (I love stats!)

Of the nations that entered 10 or more of the able-bodied events (2013 figures in brackets):

Germany
22 entries (19)
13 finalists 59% (68%)
62% finalists won medals (54%)
15% finalists won Gold (8%)
36% of entries won a medal (37%)

USA
22 entries (22)
10 finalists 45% (55%)
60% finalists won medals (58%)
10% finalists won Gold (17%)
27% of entries won a medal (32%)

Italy
19 entries (20)
8 finalists 38% (60%)
38% finalists won medals (58%)
13% finalists won gold (25%)
14% entries won medal (35%

China
19 entries (0)
10 finalists 53%
60% finalists won medals
0% finalists won gold
32% entries won medal

Netherlands
19 entries (13)
7 finalists 37% (77%)
14% finalists won medals (30%)
14% finalists won gold (20%)
5% entries won medal (15%)

Great Britain
17 entries (17)
10 finalists 59% (71%)
80% finalists won medal (58%)
30% finalists won gold (17%)
47% entries won medal (41%)

Australia
16 entries (16)
11 finalists 69% (44%)
45% finalists won medal (57%)
0% finalists won gold (14%)
31% entries won a medal (25%)

New Zealand
13 entries (14)
10 finalists 77% (50%)
90% finalists won a medal (71%)
60% finalists won gold (14%)
69% entries won medal (36%)

Canada
12 entries (9)
6 finalists 50% (44%)
33% finalists won medals (75%)
0% finalists won gold (0%)
17% entries won a medal (33%)

France
12 entries (5)
5 finalists 42% (100%)
40% finalists won medals (60%)
0% finalists won gold (0%)
17% entries won medal (60%)

Czech Republic
10 entries (6)
2 finalists 20% (50%)
50% finalists won medals (67%)
50% finalists won gold (33%)
10% entries won a medal (33%)

Denmark
10 entries (7)
2 finalists 20% (57%)
50% finalists won medals (54%)
50% finalists won gold (50%)
10% entries won a medal (29%)

I’ll try and do a breakdown between men’s and women’s events when I get a chance….

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