The Great Britain team for the European Championships later this month was announced at Caversham today, and I was lucky enough to be there to hear first hand the thoughts of David Tanner, Jurgen Grobler and Paul Thompson. These are my thoughts on the selections….
With the absence of Alan Campbell who is still on the sick list, it’s a bold and exciting selection that sees Groom make the step up to the senior team and win his 2nd senior vest. He’s won the place by great performances so far this season and a strong finish at trials. He’s due to race the M1X at Essen this weekend against the likes of Germany’s Paul Heinrich who was in the silver medal quad last year, and also his team mate Jack Beaumont (who is the sculling spare for Poznan)
John Collins and Jonny Walton
no change from last year, although reading between the lines it looks like these two had a tough battle to hold off the challenge from Angus Groom and Jack Beaumont. The team will be looking for a more consistent performance from these two this season and improve on the 6th place they achieved at last year’s championships. But, if the Sinkovic’s return to competition in Poznan and with the strong new German double it’s going to be a very competitive event.
James Foad and Matt Langridge
Another unchanged line-up from last year. The fastest British pair in history will be looking to cement their position as the “best of the rest” in the M2-. At the Europeans the big challenge will be to take on the French Olympic silver medalists, winners from the 1st World Cup. Their campaign was almost derailed when James broke his foot on training camp. Speaking to him today he says he’s pain free and making good progress, it remains to be seen what impact his injury has had on their preparation.
Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell, Alan Sinclair, Tom Ransley, Scott Durant
Perhaps the big news from the men’s side today, was the decision to prioritise the M8 over the M4-. I asked Jurgen Grobler whether this was a pragmatic decision based on Olympic qualification at this year’s World championships….there are 11 spots in the 4- but only 5 for the 8. He gave me a detailed and in-depth answer which, basically, said yes. He said with the absence of two of his best guys (Hodge and Louloudis) the squad was comparatively “weak”! The task this year is to qualify as many boats as possible for Rio and any wins are a bonus. The pragmatic approach therefore is to put out as strong an 8 as possible to give the best chance of qualification as possible. If a 4- of the quality of this boat can’t finish in the top 11 at the World Championships then there is something seriously amiss!
speaking to Noddy, he’s really excited by the 4- saying that the boat has a really strong vibe. It may not be the top ranked GB boat but it still contains two reigning world champions and 2 world silver medalists. At Poznan they will definitely be one of the favourites for gold.
Graeme Thomas, Sam Townsend, Charlie Cousins, Pete Lambert
no change from last year and these guys are just oozing confidence. During the press conference Cousins was fulsome in his praise for his crew mates, especially Thomas.They will be in the unusual position (for a GB M4X) of starting the season as favourites. The German’s have a strong boat and were winners last week, but the British fear no-one and I’m willing to put money on them becoming European and World champions this year.
Matt Gotrel, Stewart Innes, Pete Reed, Paul Bennett, Mo Sbihi, Alex Gregory, George Nash, Will Satch, Phelan Hill
As mentioned above, the story today on the men’s side was that the 8 became the no.1 boat. There was a lot of discussion from the guys about the challenge of becoming only the 2nd nation to be world champions in the M8 for the 3 years between Olympiads. The German’s were the first to do it from 2009-11, but now the British want to add their name to that list [Edit: what I should have said is the German’s were the first country to win all three World Championships and the Olympics in a single Olympiad – lots of people have reminded me that several countries have won all three consecutive worlds]. It’s an immensely strong line-up with World and Olympic champions throughout the boat – with one exception – It’s great to see Stewart Innes of Leander Club winning his first senior vest. One can’t help thinking though that when Stan Louloudis returns to the team after finishing his studies at Oxford Innes will be the one to make way. Talking to some of the experienced guys, Reed, Gregory and Sbihi, there was a real business-like approach to the boat. They fear no-one but have huge respect for the likes of the Germans, Poles, Russians and Americans. The first race against the Germans could well set the tone for the whole season and it’ll also be interesting to see what the Dutch bring to Poznan as they are prioritising the M8 as well. But, this is GB’s no.1 boat…the top crew from the top rowing nation in the world….the expectations, and the pressure, will be very, very high.
There have definitely been some interesting selections on the women’s side and I would imagine a lot of the debate was around who would go into the W2X. In the end Houghton misses out, she’s had a lot of injury troubles over the past 12 months, so perhaps the decision to put he in the W1X is a pragmatic one. If she went into the quad and became injured again it would disrupt that boat (which is in need of all the help it can get given it’s performances over the past couple of seasons).
She’s a great sculler and has a huge amount of experience. She’s raced this boat class internationally before finishing 10th in 2011, but all her other experience, dating right back to her debut as a junior in 1996, has been in crew boats. There isn’t a huge strength in depth in the women’s single field in Europe (a strong top end, but a long tail) so I’d hope she’d make the “A” final in Poznan, but I’m sure she would’ve been happier in a crew boat.
Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley
This was the story that most of the media were interested in, where was Grainger going to go, and who was going to partner her? Somewhat unsurprisingly it was back in the W2X and she was being partnered by the winner of trials, Vicky Thornley. It was clear from the press conference that these two have a strong chemistry already (perhaps not quite yet on the level Grainger had with her former partner Anna Watkins, but there was a definite chemistry). This is still a very new combination, Thornley said they still haven’t done a flat-out 2K but it’s a boat with a huge amount of potential. It’s also a partnership that appears very equal. Grainger is, by all accounts, a very “giving” person to row with and has the ability to draw out strong performances from her crew-mates. I spoke to Vicky about the boat and she was very excited, but also stressed how much she has learnt by being in the single for the passed couple of seasons – the self-determination and technical boat-moving ability. I’m really, really excited to see this combination race this season.
Helen Glover and Heather Stanning
The only crew that is unchanged from London 2012. It would’ve been an earth-shattering event if these two had not been selected together. The European’s “should” be a formality for the World champions and they will have bigger fish to fry later this season. During the press conference Helen said that they have particular respect for the Kiwis and Americans, so it’s really the 2nd world Cup in Varese that will be the real test for this combination.
Melanie Wilson, Kristina Stiller, Beth Rodford, Jess Leyden
This has been the “problem child” boat of the GB team in the past few seasons. No boat has really lived up to it’s potential since 2010. This is the latest combination to try and find that elusive spark. It’s an interesting combination of youth and experience, with Beth Rodford, a veteran of two Olympic games joined by Jess Leyden, 13 years her junior (she’ll hate me for mentioning that – sorry Beth!) But, with Dr Melanie Wilson and Kristina Stiller on-board it’s a boat that has promise. The European’s will be a baptism of fire as the German’s, Poles and Dutch all have strong boats, but a solid “A” final finish will be a great start to the season.
Katie Greves, Olivia Carnegie-Brown, Lucy Gooderham, Donna Etiebet, Jess Eddie, Lou Reeve, Ros Bradbury, Zoe Lee, Zoe De Toledo
The women’s squad has got it’s fair share of injuries at the moment and with no Polly Swann or Vicky Meyer- Laker the squad is somewhat weakened. The W8 suffered from inconsistent performances last year. Certainly in Europe they should’ve been the top crew, but missed out to the Romanians, at worlds they suffered with the conditions and finished last in the final. For Poznan it very much depends on what the Romanians produce, but this boat should be looking to take the title and establish their credentials ahead of the bigger challenges from Canada and the mighty US.
During the press conference Sir David Tanner said that the Europeans were part of the “blooding” process for new athletes and it’s great to see Zak getting the nod for Poznan. Last year’s spare at the Worlds he raced the single and finished a strong 10th. He’s a great talent and I would think he could make the “A” final in Poznan.
Pete Chambers, Jonno Clegg
some of the lightweight selections have raised a few eyebrows (and flutterings on twitter). One of those sees Chambers minor move out of the LM4- and join Jonno Clegg in the non-Olympic light pair. They are certainly going to be one of the stronger pairs in this class this year and would be expected to win medals – indeed Chambers was a world champion in this boat class 4 years ago, but the move away from the Olympic class boats is a little surprising. It’s also the first time since winning the LM2- gold in 2011 that Pete hasn’t been racing with his older brother
Richard Chambers, Will Fletcher
I’m really interested to see how this boat goes. Last year’s combination of Kirkwood and Fletcher showed a lot of promise, but with Chambers coming into the boat it’s bringing a huge amount of experience and is going to be great to watch. The big challenge for these guys in Europe will be to take on the French and the Norwegians as well as the winners from Bled, the Muda twins from the Netherlands. But, those crews will be looking at this new British combination and will be very wary of them.
Sam Scrimgeour, Joel Cassells, Mark Aldred, Chris Bartley
Great to see 20 year old Joel Cassells named in the boat for Poznan although there may be a change to the line-up before we get there. Trials winner Jamie Kirkwood has been in the 2 seat during training but has picked up a niggle (caused by the switch to sweep following several years sculling). speaking to Jamie he’s confident that he will be back in time for the European’s it just remains to be seen whether “management” will risk slotting him back in, or give Cassells a “blooding” with Kirkwood stepping back in for Varese. It’s another strong-looking boat and I know they are relishing the opportunity to go up against the likes of the Danes, French and Swiss at the Europeans.
another surprise in the selection….Walsh won the trials last month but lost her seat in the Olympic class boat. By all accounts it was very, very close for selection in the LW2X but she must be disappointed to miss out, especially given the disappointment of last year’s Worlds….the Europeans would’ve been her first chance to put that result right with Kat Copeland in the LW2X. But, she’s in the single and I would expect her to dominate that category, at least in Europe.
Kat Copeland, Charlotte Taylor
As mentioned above this must have been a very, very close call for selection. It required a photo finish at trials to separate Walsh and Taylor. But the 29 year old from Putney Town Rowing Club got the nod. They will be anxious to make a strong start to their campaign in Poznan and as with the W2- they will be looking to lay down a marker for the bigger competition from the likes of Australia and New Zealand.
So those are my thoughts on the team….the start of the big push to qualify boats for Rio.