The World Championships – a review of the heavyweight men’s events

Aiguebelette

Wow, what a truly fantastic championships, there were shocks and surprises throughout. Some performances exceeded expectations and some fell well below. But it certainly wasn’t dull!

Here are my thoughts on the racing and a few musings on what might happen in the Olympic year….

M1X
I really thought this was going to be a straightforward win for Mahe. I really didn’t expect Synek to have such a good regatta. He’s had a torrid season, with surgery in February he really didn’t show World Champion speed during the World Cup season. But, what he showed this week is he knows just how to peak at the right time. His dual with Mahe in the final was brilliant and there was little to choose between them the whole way down the course. Behind these two Griskonis of Lithuania has firmly established himself as a major contender and his bronze was an excellent achievement. But, for me the result of the event was seeing Olaf Tufte taking 4th place. This was a fantastic result for the Norwegian and meant that he had qualified a boat for the 6th consecutive Olympic Games – a remarkable achievement. There has been some reports in the Norwegian press that Tufte may, potentially, move to the M2X (which, surprisingly, didn’t qualify for Rio). If this happens it means that they will have to try and qualify via the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta next year. I find this a little strange to be honest, A 4th place in Aiguebelette show’s Olaf is still capable of mixing it with the best and could even get a medal. He’s more likely to get a medal in the single than any other heavyweight Norwegian sculler. So, I really can’t see why coach Flodin would want to move him into a boat that has yet to qualify is beyond me.
Damir Martin of Croatia is another sculler who has had a very up-and-down season so a solid A-Final finish is a good result for him.
I was a little surprised that Angel Fournier Rodriguez wasn’t nearer the front of the field. Mind you he did seem to struggle all week and only just squeaked into the final. It seems to me that his no.1 focus was qualifying for Rio and with that done he wasn’t really in the hunt.
In the B-Final both Shcharbachenia of Belarus and Campbell of GB would’ve been a little disappointed not to have made the A-Final. But their Olympic qualification was never really in doubt. In the end it was a great battle. The British Olympic bronze medalist established a commanding lead, but he will be a little concerned about how the Belarussian reeled him in with a superb final quarter which was 2.5 seconds faster than the Brit. The final qualifier was the young Pole, Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk. The 22 year old, who is currently studying at the University of Southern California, was an U23 bronze medalist this season and it’s a great result for him to take the final Olympic qualification place ahead of more experienced scullers like Hannes Obreno.

Medalists: Gold – CZE Silver – NZL Bronze – LTU
Olympic qualifiers: CZE, NZL, LTU, NOR, CRO, CUB, BLR, GBR, POL

M2-
KiwiM2-
It was very much business as usual in this boat class. Murray and Bond of New Zealand extended their unbeaten run to an incredible 61 races all the way back to 2009.
Behind them it was also pretty much as expected with the British, James Foad and Matt Langridge comfortably in silver. But, what was really interesting is what will happen with the British pair in 2016. After the race Foad said “I’ve got four silvers, I’m not here for silver”. So, what does this mean? I think this was probably the last time we will see Foad and Langridge race internationally in the coxless pair. They are after gold, and barring some illness or injury to Murray or Bond that isn’t going to happen in the coxless pair. So what boat will they go in to? Well, that depends a lot on which boat is the priority for GB for Rio….the 8 or the 4-. More on that later….
One of the surprises of the regatta was the failure of the French heavyweight men’s crews. The M8 was never in the hunt, neither were the M4-. Their best hopes were Olympic silver medal pair, but they were off the pace in the semi-final and ended up in the B-Final. They’ve secured an Olympic spot but they would’ve hoped for a better finish than 8th. There does seem to be something wrong with French heavyweight rowing at the moment, they are definitely not maximising the talent they have.

Medals: Gold – NZL Silver – GBR Bronze – SRB
Olympic qualifiers: NZL, GBR, SRB, NED, ITA, AUS, RSA, FRA, USA, ESP, ROU

M2X
Another event which was “business as usual” at the top. The Sinkovic brothers of Croatia are a truly outstanding outfit. If you want to show someone how to scull a double-scull then just show them these two. But, whilst the gold medal was no surprise the same can’t be said for the other medals. Coming into the championships the biggest challengers to the Croatians came from the Germans, Marcel Hacker and Stephan Krueger. However, on the day it was the Lithuanians, Rolandas Mascinskas and Saulius Ritter who came to the fore. It was a stunning result for the Lithuanians. They’ve not raced together since the World Championships last year (finishing 4th) so to come into the most important World Championships in the Olympiad and produce the race they did was really quite something. The New Zealanders also really stepped up at this regatta (which was actually quite a mixed bag for the Kiwis). A bronze medal was a great end to the season for them. This meant that the German’s were pushed down into 4th, a disappointment for them, they would’ve expected a medal.
From the British perspective it was good to get the boat qualified for Rio but I have concerns about their ability to challenge for medals. So far their performances have been bottom end A-Final/top end B-Final at best. This boat needs a bit of a shake up to see if a combination can be created that will be pushing the top end of the A-Final. The emergence of Angus Groom this season has been one of the finds of the season for the British. I don’t see Groom breaking into the quad so the obvious target would be the double. It remains to be seen how this pans out over the winter.
Medals: Gold – CRO Silver – LTU Bronze – NZL
Olympic qualifiers: CRO, LTU, NZL, GER, AUS, FRA, AZE, GBR, CUB, ITA, BUL

M4-
This was meant to be all about the US. They had prioritised this boat and looked very impressive at the World Cup. But, illness struck during the regatta and they raced the semi-final with a substitute and ended up missing out on the A-Final. In their absence it became a very open field with the Italians and Australians that battled it out at the front of the field. The Italians emerged victorious and their enthusiasm on the podium was a joy to watch! Their win was the first Olympic class heavyweight gold medal since 1995. The Aussies took silver, which for them was also a strong performance given the disruption to the crew before the championships. For the British it was a great result to take the bronze, and certainly a stronger performance than I was expecting. It was a great scalp for the British to beat the Canadians, who themselves had had a difficult path to the final catching a crab in the semis. It’s been really interesting this season to see the development of some of the younger guys in the British squad, I’ve already mentioned Angus Groom, and on the sweep side the name to remember is Stewart Innes. He started the season in the M8 keeping the seat warm for Stan Louloudis, raced as a 2nd GB M2- at Lucerne before moving into a rejigged GB M4-. I didn’t have too many hopes for this crew to be challenging for medals, expecting them to be a “safe” Olympic qualifier with a mid-B-Final finish. So, for them to take a bronze having only had a few weeks together in the boat is a great result.

Medals: Gold – ITA, Silver – AUS, Bronze – GBR
Olympic qualifiers: ITA, AUS, GBR, CAN, GER, NED, USA, BLR, GRE, RUS, ROU

M4X
This was a really strange event with both the 2014 gold and silver medalists relegated to the repecharge – that’s not something that happens too often. I had picked the British as gold medal favourites, despite not having raced with Charlie Cousins all season. But, they looked rusty and didn’t have the cohesion that won them so many medals last year. In the end a fourth place was not a bad result, yes it was a bit disappointing not to get a medal, but with hindsight it was possibly the best result they could’ve hoped for. As a crew they have beaten all their opposition at one time or another so I fully expect them to be the favourites when the 2016 season starts. The biggest shock was the failure of Ukraine. The 2014 World Champions looked out of sorts and were never really in the fight for an A-final spot. However in the B-Final they just about managed to hold off the New Zealanders to snatch the final qualifying position by just 5/100ths of a second. It was desperately unlucky for the Kiwis, they will have to try and grab one of the remaining 2 spots at the FOQR. So, withe neither the British nor the Ukraine performing to expected form it was the Germans who stepped up and won this event for the first time this Olympiad. Behind them it was great to see the Estonians take the bronze – a crew which contained the oldest man in the event, 36 year old Tonu Endrekson. They really peaked at the right time following a great bronze medal at Lucerne.

Medals: Gold – GER Silver – AUS Bronze – EST
Olympic qualifiers: GER, AUS, EST, GBR, SUI, LTU, POL, UKR

M8
What.A.Race. Yet another epic in the GB v Germany saga that has been playing out all season. It’s been brilliant to watch (although not too good for the blood pressure). The British kept their composure entering the final 250 with a third of a length lead. Will Satch in the stroke seat kept the rte relatively low, consistently 1-2 pips lower than the Germans. But they held form and got their bowball over the line first….just! The Kiwis were really impressive and really took on the Germans and the British. At one point they were running 2nd. But their decision to challenge for the lead cost them in the final sprint when they were overhauled by the Dutch (very reminiscent of the British and Canadians at the London Olympics). The big surprise in this event was who missed out. The repecharge was truly brutal Netherlands v USA v Australia v New Zealand v Australia v Spain with only two to qualify. The shock was that two of the powerhouses of world rowing, the USA and Australia missed out. For the Aussies they faced an uphill battle having lost their key man, Josh Dunkley-Smith to the M4-. for the Americans it’s a real body blow as they love the 8. They will face the cauldron of the FOQR to try and get on the startline in Rio.

Medals: Gold – GBR, Silver – GER, Bronze – NED
Olympic qualifiers: GBR, GER, NED, NZL, RUS

So, the big, big question heading into the winter is, what will Jurgen do? will he keep the M8 as the priority boat for GB or will he go back to the M4-?
Well, I did a little straw poll on twitter and after an initial flurry of support for the M4- it actually ended up as a pretty even split between those who thought it should be the 8 and those who preferred the 4-. Here’s what I think….For GB the M4- is THE

    Olympic boat. I asked Grobler at the start of the summer whether the selection of the M8 was a pragmatic one with Olympic qualification in mind (given that there were 11 places for the M4- but only 5 for the M8). His response was basically that GB has a massive heritage in the 4- but the M8 was a really interesting project. Speaking to some of the athletes like Mo Sbihi, they were very keen on completing a hat-trick of World Championship victories and then going on to win Olympic gold – something that the German’s accomplished at the London Olympiad.
    But, when I look at the respective fields I can’t help but think that a top GB M4- (with the likes of Sbihi, Gregory, Nash, Satch) would be convincing winners in Rio. The M8 is a much tighter field. The Germans are never very far away and the Kiwis and Dutch are also very much in the frame and could spring a surprise on the the “big” two. So the question is, can GB win the M8 gold with athletes ranked 5-12, or, can they win gold in the M4- with athletes ranked 9-12?? For me, Jurgen is “risk averse”. He will go for which ever event he thinks is more likely to deliver gold, and in my opinion that’s the coxless four. I also believe he as the talent at his disposal to put together an 8 that will be very strong contenders for the gold, especially if Foad and Langridge are moved back into the 8. Then there are the likes of Matt Tarrant and Nathanial Reilly O’Donnell – who sent Jurgen a big message when they took gold in the M2+. It remains to be seen if Andy Triggs-Hodge returns to the fray as well. With that sort of talent pool a gold medal-winning crew is lurking in their somewhere.

    Those are my thoughts on the heavyweight men’s events.I’ll post more on the women’s and lightweights tomorrow.

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