Next weekend are the senior and U23 final trials for the GB squad, the entries were released on Tuesday so I though I’d have a quick look….
M1X 21 entries. Frustratingly there is still no Alan Campbell, apparently he picked up a minor niggle which means he won’t be able to race this weekend. There have been reports that he has been performing really well in training and it was going to have be fascinating to have seen him race to see if he was back on form….but for that we’ll have to wait for (hopefully) the European Championships in Poznan at the end of May.
From those who are racing the hot favourite will be Charlie Cousins, the defending champion. He’s a sculler who leaves his heart on his sleeve and I love watching him race. The main challenges will come from his M4X team mates, Sam Townsend, Graeme Thomas and Pete Lambert (although Lambert has only just returned to training following illness and is not race fit yet, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he missed the “A” final).
An interesting battle will be between the M2X crew mates from last year, John Collins and Jonno Walton and the “young guns” Jack Beaumont and Angus Groom. Beaumont was the spare for the senior team in 2014 and must be on the verge of grabbing a permanent seat. The battle for places in the M2X will be fascinating.
My pick is Charlie Cousins for the win
M2- 25 pairs. This looks to be an outstanding field, there are some really tasty combinations with medalists littered throughout the field. Last year’s champions are racing together again, Alex Gregory and Mo Sbihi. They are going to be pushed by fellow world champions Will Satch and George Nash…the Olympic bronze medal winning pair. Another world championship duo are Pete Reed and Stan Louloudis. On paper these two look potential winners, but this has to be tempered by the fact that they will be a scratch pair. Stan’s been on Boat Race duty until last weekend whereas the other pairs have been training together on training camp. But, they are 2 exceptional athletes and have paired together before so anything could happen.
A fourth pair to watch out for are last year’s silver medal crew, James Foad and Matt Langridge, who are, officially, the fastest British pair in history after their 6:13.75 in Amsterdam last year. Another crew of world medalists are Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell and Alan Sinclair. Noddy was a world champion in the 8 and Sinclair won silver in the coxed pair. Also world champions Paul Bennett and Matt Gotrel and world medalists Scott Durant and Matt Tarrant,It really is an outstanding field – we are likely to see world gold or silver medalists that don’t make the “A” final at national trials…that just goes to show what outstanding strength in depth there is in the squad – even with some notable absentees like Andy Hodge.
It’ll also be fascinating to see the U23’s race, there are a lot of light blues making an appearance, they will be looking to put the disappointments of last weekend behind them and produce results that will get them U23 slots. The battle between the U23 guys, not just from Cambridge, but from Brookes, Newcastle, Leander and Edinburgh is going to be fierce! My pick of the crews to watch at this level are probably Hoogland & Hawkins of Oxford Brookes, the Leander pairing of Joel & Leask and the Newcastle pair of Knight & Rudkin.
The big question for after these trials will be what is the priority boat for GB. The rumours are that Grobler is going for another “big” 8….taking the 3 remaining guys from the 2014 M4- and sticking them back in the 8. Last year proved that GB could win gold in their no.1 boat with athletes 1-4, but also gold in the 8 with athletes 5-12. If GB does prioritise the 8 this year the question will be can they win gold in the 4 again with athletes 9-12? At the moment I consider the competition in the M4- to be slightly less fierce than the 8, so I reckon GB has the strength in depth to retain both their world titles regardless of the prioritisation. Whoever ends up in the 3rd ranked boat – the M2- – will also be more than capable of winning a good medal. I see no reason, even at this early stage, why GB can’t repeat the medals from last year.
My pick for the win are Alex & Mo to defend their title Now onto the women’s events…
W1X 19 scullers. The excitement here will be to see how Katherine Grainger gets on. It’s going to be a good benchmark of how her comeback is progressing. The benchmark she will be measuring herself against is Vicky Thornley. Thornley won trials last year and competed superbly in the W1X at the world championships last year. A lot of people are touting these two as a possible new W2X. If I’m honest I’d love to see Vicky give the W1X a real good go this year and try and qualify the boat for Rio.
She’s been on the verge of a world championship “A” final for the past 2 years (and both years she hadn’t planned to race the single). With a season’s focus on the boat I reckon she could secure that “A” final place, and who know’s by 2016 she could be pushing for a medal. I’ve got a feeling she won’t go down that route though, and is more likely to be utilised in the double or quad.
Grainger will be looking for a top 2 finish to give her a greater say in how the team use her. She’s on record as saying that she prefers a crew boat so it remains to be seen if she will try and defend her title in the double or move to the boat she won 2 Olympic medals in, the quad.
Outside of these two there are a host of highly experienced athletes. Fran Houghton was the grande dame of the team before Grainger made her return. She will be competing in her 5th Olympic Games and going for her 3rd Olympic medal. She struggled with injury last year and missed the Worlds, so it’ll be interesting to see if she’s back to form. Another of the “old guard”…I mean experienced athletes 😉 is Beth Rodford. Beth is in her 3rd Olympic cycle and has been a stalwart of the W4X. She seems to perform better in crew boats than the single but I will expect a solid performance from her.
Mel Wilson is another who should produce a strong performance, and could also stake a claim to form a double with Grainger. She raced with Grainger in the W2X at a World Cup in 2010 when Anna Watkins was out injured and won gold. She’s been switching between the sculling and sweep squads, so by racing in the single at trials I have to assume she’s going to be used in the sculling squad this year.
As well as these highly experienced athletes there are some very exciting young races. The most notable is Jess Leyden. Some have suggested she could form a tantalising combo with Grainger. She’s only just turned 20 and there is a question of whether she’ll make the transition straight to the senior squad or go for the U23’s this year….or both? Of the U23’s I most interested to see how Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne and Holly Nixon get on. I’m going to pick them as the top 2 U23’s (after Leyden).
My pick for the win…..it’s going to be close between Thornley and Grainger but I’m going for a 1,2,3 of Thornley, Grainger and Wilson.
W2- 13 pairs. This should be about who will finish 2nd and 3rd. With the reigning World and Olympic champions in the field, Glover and Stanning, it would be an upset of monumental proportions if they were to lose (a bit like Redgrave and Pinsent losing trials in the late 1990’s).
Behind the Glover/Stanning combination it’ll be a battle of the pairs from the GB W8. The combinations are Jess Eddie and Lou Reeve, Katie Greves and Zoe Lee with the final pairing being Ros Bradbury and Olivia Carnegie-Brown. I reckon Eddie and Reeve will get the edge on their team mates and the challenge will be to see how close they can get to Glover & Stanning. Anything less than clear water will be a great achievement.
I’d like to see GB rowing put out a W4- this year as a development boat. This boat class is growing in popularity and there have been rumours floating around that it might get included in the Olympic programme. I think the squad need another sweep boat racing throughout the season, it’ll help the progression through to the Olympic class boats. We might see it at the European’s but I’m not holding my breath!
LM1X 29 scullers. This is going to be an absolute barnstormer. Last year’s champion, Jamie Kirkwood, will be looking to repeat he performance and secure his seat in the LM2X. But the competition will be fierce with the Chambers brothers always near the front of the field and Will Fletcher (Kirkwood’s partner in the LM2X last year) will also be challenging.
There are also a big number of hugely talented U23’s racing, making this a really exciting contest. Look out for Joel Cassellls of Brookes and Iain Mandale of Oxford who were both in the silver medal U23 LM4- last year. Also watch for former junior international Callum Gathercole of Bristol Uni and Sam Mottram of Leander who was the U23 LM1X sculler in 2014.
This is a difficult one to call, but I’m going to plump for Pete Chambers just ahead of Jamie Kirkwood.
Finally LW1X 18 scullers. Kat Copeland and Imogen Walsh have a huge amount to prove this season. They were hot favourites for gold last year in the LW2X but crashed out at Worlds and failed to make the final. The two of them will expect to finish at the front of the field this weekend to secure their partnership. They will want another go at the LW2X to put right the things that went wrong in Amsterdam.
Behind these two the competition will be as fierce as the men’s race with Charlotte Taylor, Ruth Walczak, Ellie Piggott and Brianna Stubbs all looking to muscle in on the Olympic boat. These four raced as the LW4X last year but were a little disappointing to finish 6th.
Among the U23’s racing Flo Pickles is a really exciting prospect, the 18 year old stroked the JW4X to a bronze medal last year and is part of the outstanding Gloucester Hartpury set-up. Also watch out for Lucy Cruxton who stroked last year’s U23 LW4X.
My pick….Kat Copeland will be expecting the win but it’ll be a big, big battle behind her.
Whatever happens, I love the trials…it’s the mark of the beginning of the summer season and it gives an early indication of how the squad’s winter training has got on. Bring it on!!