Better late than never….time to have a review of the lightweight Olympic events at the Aiguebelette World Championships. Plus I’ll try and summarise everything in terms of who’s qualified, which country had a good regatta and which country had a bad one…..
The poster-boys of the championships, Stany Delayre and Jeremie Azou, were the hot favourites coming into the championships. Some feel they should have been the defending champions but they were pipped by the South Africans on the line in Amsterdam. On home water they had a relatively straight-forward passage to the final. The main interest was who would step-up to challenge the French. The South Africans were out to retain their title and the Norwegians (world champions in 2013) were showing good form, winning their quarter-final. But, it was the British, Richard Chambers and Will Fletcher who emerged as the main threat to the French. In the semi-finals the British set the fastest time, 7/10th faster than the French. It was all set up for a great final and that’s definitely what happened. the British decided they needed to get out in front and try and rattle the French. The two crews shadowed eachother for the first 1000m with no more than a couple of tenths between them. But the French class showed in the 3rd 500m and they just pulled out a half a length meaning the British started chasing the race. At the line the French took the gold (their first) by 1 3/4 seconds. The British just held off the fast finishing Norwegians with last year’s World champions from South Africa in 4th.
This was a really encouraging performance for the the British, and they will probably take more from the race than the French in a funny way. Delayre and Azou have been sculling together for several years whereas the British are in their first season together. The British have also had a disrupted season with Fletcher withdrawing from Lucerne. So, with that in mind it was a spectacular performance from the British and will definitely have given the French something to think about.
I’d also like to mention the great performance from the young German double, Moritz Moos and Jason Osborne. They produced a superb semi final to make the A-Final. As with the British they have had a disrupted season, with Osborne missing Lucerne. But and A-Final is a superb result for them. They may find the racing in Rio a bit too hot, but they will be a major force in the Tokyo Olympiad.
In the B-Final it was also great to see the Irish O’Donovan brothers secure Olympic qualification. But, it was a less successful regatta for the Kiwis, Peter Taylor and Hayden Cohen who are yet to really “fire” in this boat class. The Dutch brothers, Tycho and Vincent Muda will also be bitterly disappointed in missing qualification. They were A-finalists last year, winners of the 1st World Cup and winners of the B-Final at Lucerne. It was also a disappointment for the Danish, Henrik Stephansen and Jens Nielsen. There were signs that the Danish were finally finding some good speed with an A-Final finish in Lucerne so 3rd in the C-Final (15th overall) is a return to the bad old days.
Medals: Gold – FRA, Silver – GBR, Bronze – NOR
Olympic Qualifiers: FRA, GBR, NOR, RSA, ITA, GER, POL, USA, AUT, SUI, IRL
In the last few years this event has been all about Denmark v New Zealand with the likes of South Africa and GB occasionally getting in on the party. But this year there is another crew muscling in on the party. The Swiss (Lucas Tramer, Simon Schuerch, Simon Neipmann & Mario Gyr) have raced together in various combinations and boats for the last few years. In the LM4- they finished 5th at the London Olympics. This season they have made the step-up from the back-end of the A-Final to the podium. They won the European Championships this season and were 2nd to the Kiwis at Varese and Lucerne. But in Aiguebelette they looked superb, their rowing just looked so smooth and slick they were in a different class beating the Danes by the relatively huge margin of 2.27 seconds. The French had a good regatta taking the scalp of the Kiwis to finish on the podium. For their part the Kiwis will be disappointed to have missed out on the medals but the silver lining for the silver fern is the Olympic qualification.
The British have been tweaking their line-up all season and were never in the hunt in Aiguebelette. A 9th place finish overall was not what they were looking for, but again, the best that can be taken from the championships is that they have qualified for Rio. I’m pretty certain the crew will look a little different come the 2016 season. The USA on the other hand had an excellent regatta. They have been struggling in the previous few years to get a crew that was competitive but with their performance in France was really encouraging, taking the win in the B-Final .
Medals: Gold – SUI, Silver – DEN, Bronze – FRA
Olympic qualifiers: SUI, DEN, FRA, NZL, NED, ITA, USA, CHN, GBR, CZE, CAN
The Kiwis have found a really talented duo in Sophie Mackenzie and Julia Edward. They have lost only once since the 2nd World Cup in 2014 and that was to the British in Varese this season. In Aiguebelette they didn’t have it all their own way. The South African’s (Ursula Grobler and Kirsten McCann) led their semi-final until the last couple of strokes when they were overhauled by the fast finishing Canadians. in the final the Saffers were the fastest starters again and led to the 1000m mark with the Kiwis back in 3rd. But the class of the Kiwis then began to show and they moved through the field in the 3rd 500 to take the lead.
The British (Kat Copeland and Charlie Taylor) are renowned for their fast finish. And they showed it again in Aiguebelette. They overhauled the South Africans and were gaining on the Kiwis before they ran out of water. Watching the two Brits being interviewed by the BBC after the race was brilliant, Copeland rushed past saying “I need the loo” and Taylor was so overwhelmed by the experience that she was in tears….it was brilliant to watch!
The Canadians had the fastest final quarter but it wasn’t enough to overhaul the South Africans who took the bronze. The Danes and Germans were never in the hunt for the medals but qualifying for Rio is what it’s all about.
A quick comment on the B-Final the highlight for me was the qualification of the Irish, Sinead Jennings and Claire Lambe…for Jennings it’s her first Olympics (assuming she’s selected for the boat) at the age of 39 in her 15th year of senior racing.
Another quick comment on the B-Final, the Chines took the honours with what must be some of the worst technique I’ve ever seen. Stroke girl Feihong Pan has her hands down the loom, she bum-shoves and takes the catch with bent arms….all things as a coach would have you pulling your hair out. But, it clearly works for her so who am I to criticise!!
Medals: Gold – NZL, Silver – GBR, Bronze – RSA
Olympic Qualifiers: NZL, GBR, RSA, CAN, DEN, GER, CHN, POL, IRL, RUS, USA
Here’s a quick summary of how each of the major rowing nations have qualified for Rio:
GBR 12 boats
USA 10 boats
NZL 9 boats
GER 9 boats
AUS 7 boats
CAN 6 boats
NED 6 boats
FRA 6 boats
ITA 5 boats
So…GB qualified the most boats for the Olympics and finished top of the medal table, so a good regatta for them then? Well…..yes…..and no. The top boats (W2- and M8) performed to expectations. There were a couple of boats (M4- and LM2X) that performed above expectation. But there were quite a few crews who didn’t deliver as expected – the men’s quad were disappointing, the W2X showed signs of life but ultimately fell away, the W8 were close to a good performance and a medal but missed and the M2X were never in the hunt. Interestingly though for the M2X when you look at the % of Predicted Gold Medal Time (PGMT) the double of Collins and Walton scored 97% which was the best of all of the GB men’s heavyweight squad. It does show what a tough event the men’s double is at the moment.
The Kiwis had a mixed regatta. Their stars (M2-, W2X and LW2X) all delivered. But the NZ Federation set out a bold target to qualify in all 14 Olympic classes, so to miss out on 5 in Aiguebelette will be causing some headaches. The boats that missed were a long way from qualifying, with the likes of the M4- and LM2X of particular concern. The W8 however really stepped up to take the silver behind the USA.
It wasn’t a great regatta for the Aussies either. The both men’s and women’s 8’s failed to qualify, the LW2X could only manage a D-Final and they didn’t enter a LM2X or LM4-. The heavyweights aren’t doing to badly but Australian lightweight rowing is in a pretty parlous state.
The USA had a mixed regatta. For the openweight women it was a superb championships. The W8 took their 10th successive title and the W4X won for the first time ever and Gevvie Stone in the W1X was brilliant in 4th. For the men though it was a slightly different story. The headline news is the failure of the M8. In a country where only the 8 really matters it’s a big blow to their prestige not to qualify first time round. The M4- were unlucky having had the illness, I was really looking forward to them taking on the Italians and the Aussies in the final. But, the silver lining is that they qualified for Rio as did the M2-, LM2X and LM4-
For the German’s it was pretty disastrous. The two flagship boats (the M8 and W4X) both lost (and for the W4X it was a major surprise) and that will have been a big dent to the national pride. The M4X redeemed the situation somewhat with a great win, but in the Olympic class events that was their own top finish.
So that’s it….there’s going to be a lot of debate over the winter about who is going to be in what boat for 2016….all eyes (in heavyweight men at any rate) will be on the British….which boat will Jurgen Grobler prioritise… the M4- or the M8?? In the Kiwi camp will Twigg get the nod for the W1X and will Fiona Bourke get a seat in an Olympic boat? Will Tufte carry on in the M1X or will he be pushed into a 2X?
Whatever happens it’s going to be fun to watch!!