Time for part two of my Varese World Cup….the Women’s events.
Seven of the countries racing in Varese have qualified boats for Rio. Leading the way is the defending champion, Mirka Knapkova. She was 2nd in Aiguebelette to Kim Crow (now Brennan). The 35 year old hasn’t quite recaptured the form she showed in the London Olympiad. She’s been overshadowed by Kim Crowe and Emma Twigg and the only wins she’s had during this Olympiad has been at the European championships. One place behind Knapkova in Aiguebelette was China’s Jingli Duan following up the bronze she took in 2014.
Belarus have three scullers racing including the great Ekaterina Karsten. She raced in the W2X last year with Yuliya Bichyk finishing 9th and qualifying the boat for Rio. I’ve always felt that the 43 year old is better suited to the single scull rather than crew boats. Last year showed that she still has great speed in the 1X when she switched from the double at the last minute at the 1st World Cup in Bled winning the gold medal. It remains to be seen if the Belarus coaches feel the same. If so then she’ll have to take her chances at the FOQR (where it’s safe to assume one of the qualifying slots will be taken by the 2014 world champion Emma Twigg). If Karsten goes to Rio in the single or the double it will be her 7th Olympic Games, an outstanding achievement. The third Belarussian sculler is Tatsiana Kukhta, 10th in the single last year.
Austria’s Magdalena Lobnig has been named as her countries single sculler for Rio. She had a disappointing end to 2015 finishing 9th, although this had the consolation of qualifying for the Olympics. This brought to an end a run of 11 consecutive A-Finals.
One of the “finds” of the season last year was Switzerland’s Jeannine Gmelin. She made her first A-Final appearance at the European Championships and took a superb silver medal behind Knapkova. Her next A-Final appearance was at the World Championships where she took 5th. Varese has a strong field, but if she can pick up where she left off in 2015 she can be pushing to move higher up in the A-Final.
One place the Swiss in Aiguebelette was Canada’s Carling Zeeman. She’s made a good start to her European campaign with victory at Piediluco last month. She’s a very consistent sculler, having appeared in the A-final every time she’s raced in her 4 year international career.
Other scullers to look out for are Sweden’s Anna Svennung, 7th last year and assuming the mantle of Sweden’s top single sculler from Frida Svensson. Also look out for Sanita Puspure, the Latvian born Irish woman had a superb 2014 finishing 4th in Amsterdam. She’s not quite been able to follow that up in 2015 with B-finals at Lucerne and Aiguebelette but she’s shown she has the speed to challenge the very best. The final sculler to mention is Denmark’s Olympic silver medallist has struggled to recapture her form from the London Olympiad and was disappointed to finish 14th in Aiguebelette. But if she can get close to her 2012 form she will be a force to be reckoned with.
My picks….Knapkova for the win with Karsten in silver and Gmelin 3rd
As with the men’s pair the event is overshadowed by a crew who isn’t racing. For the women’s event it’s the British, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, unbeaten in the entire Olympiad they are, in my book, the finest sweep crew (male or female) in world rowing. Their main competitors, the USA and New Zealand, are also absent from Varese so the World Cup competition is all about finding a crew that can step up to challenge for the medals. Leading the challenge will be the South Africans. They have changed their line-up from the crew that finished 5th last year with Kate Christowitz replacing Lee-Ann Persse. Christowitz makes her senior international debut having last raced as an U23 in 2011. Another country to have tweaked their line up from last year are the Canadians. Jennifer Martins is now joined by Caileigh Filmer in place of Cristy Nurse. Like Christowitz for South Africa, Filmer is making her senior international debut having last raced as an U23. In the Canadians case it was more recent having taken silver in the BW4- in 2015.
A crew that are unchanged from last year’s World Championships are the Germans, Kerstin Hartmann and Kathrin Marchand. They finished 8th last year which was a reasonable result for what was, at the time, a new combination. Given the level of competition at Varese they will be expecting to step up to the A-final, although I think a medal may be beyond them. The Dutch have a new combination for this year with Aletta Jorritsma and Heleen Boers both having raced in the W8 at some point in 2015. As a bit of an unknown quantity as a pair it’ll be interesting to see what sort of pace they have.
The Irish have a powerful-looking crew with Leonora Kennedy and Barbara O’Brien coming out of the W4- from last year. Kennedy’s an experienced athlete having been part of the Great Britain squad through to 2012 before switching to Ireland. O’Brien, from Thames Rowing Club, made her international debut in 2014. It’s a crew that could well spring a surprise on some more established pairings.
The final crew to mention are the Norwegians, Hanna Inntjore and Anna Sture. They are stepping up to the senior ranks this season following a 5th place at the U23’s last year.
My picks…A very open field but I’m going to pick the South Africans in 1st, the Dutch in 2nd and the Canadians in 3rd.
One of the weaker fields at the regatta with only two countries racing who have, so far, secured their places at Rio, China and Poland. The Poles will start as favourites in Varese with Magdalena Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj. They finished just out of the medals last year in Aiguebelette, but did make the top of the podium at the European Champs. The Chinese have qualified for Rio but have a different lie-up racing in Varese – Jie Wang and Xiaoxing Shen. Shen raced in the quad last year and Wang raced in the quad and double on this water last year.
Of the rest of the entries none finished above the C-Final last year, although there have been a number of changes to the line-ups. The Danes have swapped Nina Hollensen for Mette Petersen. Hollensen is another athlete making the step up to the senior international scene following a season as an U23.
Austria have an experienced double with Lisa Farthofer joined by former German international Leonie Pless. Pless is a former lightweight who finished 4th in the LW1X in 2014. Farthofer is a former U23 World Champion but has yet to really make her mark in the senior ranks.
My picks…it should be a comfortable victory for the Poles but behind them it’s anyone’s guess…if I have to pick I’ll go for China in 2nd and Austria in 3rd.
4 crews. Another small field which is fairly typical of this event at this time of the season. Of the 4 crews, two of them – the Netherlands and Poland have secured qualification for Rio. The Dutch will be starting as clear favourites having taken bronze in Aiguebelette last year and were runners-up to the Germans at the European championships. The main challenge to the Dutch will be from the Poles. They have the same line up that finished one place behind the Dutch at both the World and European championships.
The Ukrainians are the defending Olympic champions in this event but have struggled to recapture that sort of form this Olympiad (given the political unrest in their homeland it’s amazing they are able to continue to compete at all). Last year they finished at the back of the field, but for the 2016 season Olympic champion Anastasia Kozhenkova returns to the boat and will be looking to give them the spark that ignites their qualification challenge.
Like the Ukrainians, the British have also struggled to find form in a boat class in which they saw considerable success in the recent past. For the British they made regular visits to the podium in the previous Olympiad but have, so far, failed to recapture that sort of performance. They have made a couple of changes to the crew that finished 8th last year with Ros Bradbury and Holly Nixon coming in for Fran Houghton and Melanie Wilson. For the 22 year old Nixon this marks her senior international debut following a bronze medal in the U23 W8 last year. They face a challenging few weeks as they try to produce a combination that can grab one of the remaining two qualifying spots. Varese will be a good test for them. They will want to beat the Ukrainians and be in touch with the Dutch and Poles to give them the confidence boost heading into Lucerne to take on the likes of New Zealand, China and Russia.
My picks…The Dutch in first, Poles 2nd and the British getting their first W4X medal of the Olympiad.
Also just 4 entries. The Canadians will be clear favourites, they have been playing bridesmaid to the USA for a number of years and will have been disappointed with the way their 2015 season finished, taking “only” a bronze behind the USA and New Zealand. The Russians have also qualified for Rio and have kept with the same line up that finished 5th in Aiguebelette. The Dutch were the unluckiest crew in Aiguebelette, making the A-Final but coming in 6th and missing the automatic qualifying spot. They will be confident of securing one of the two remaining places for Rio via the FOQR and will want to get their campaign off to a strong start by giving the Canadians a good race. They have made one change from their 2015 crew with Lies Rustenburg replacing Aletta Jorritsma.
The final crew racing at Varese are the Germans. It’s been a long time since the Germans had a world class women’s sweep crew as their focus is much more on the sculling side. They have made a couple of changes from the crew that finished last in 2015 but it’s going to take something special for them to challenge for a medal or to qualify for Rio.
My picks…the Canadians for a comfortable with the Dutch in silver and the Russians in bronze.
12 entries from 9 countries.
There are no standout scullers in this event although Poland’s Joanna Dorociak (racing as Poland 2) was part of the LW2X that finished 8th last year and qualified for Rio. She’s also entered in the light double in Varese so it remains to be seen if she does race the single as well (especially as it’s a big and very competitive field in the LW2X). If she doesn’t race then it’s likely that China’s Cuiming Chen will be the favourite. She was also in the Light Double last year and qualified the boat by finishing in 7th place at Aiguebelette. It looks as though she may have lost her seat as her partner from 2015, Feihong Pan, is now partnered by Wenyi Huang.
One sculler who will definitely be lining up in Rio is Algeria’s Amina Rouba. She finished 2nd in the W1X at the African Olympic Qualifying regatta and so will be using Varese as a good test of speed.
The Netherlands are represented by Mirte Kraaijkamp who has a bronze medal from the LW4X last year and Canada by Katherine Sauks who finished 9th in this boat class at the 2015 world championships. Elsewhere, the Irish have two scullers entered with Denise Walsh racing as Ireland 1 being the more experienced having finished 14th last year and Ireland 2 represented by Siobhan McCrohan, making her first international appearance since 2011.
The home nation are represented by former U23 Federica Cesarini making her senior debut.
My picks….China 1st, Poland (if she races) 2nd and the Netherlands in 3rd (Canada to take bronze if the Pole doesn’t race).
19 crews including 4 from the host nation. Of the 14 countries entered half have already qualified the boat for the Rio games. Some, like the British have sent development boats to varese, whereas others like the South Africans and Canadians are using Varese to kick start their European campaign. Other countries like Italy, and the Netherlands have multiple boast entered and could well be using the heat of international competition to trial different combinations ahead of the FOQR. Whatever the reason for entering the line-ups they have this looks to be one of the most competitive events of the regatta.
Starting as favourites are probably the South African’s, Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler. They took bronze last year and would expect to have the measure of their competition in Varese. It’s taken Grobler a while to settle into the double scull, she showed a lot of potential when she raced for the USA a few years ago under the guidance of Carlos Dinares, but it’s only since her move back to her native south Africa that she’s formed an effective partnership with McCann that makes the most of her undoubted power.
Leading the chase of the South Africans will most likely be the Canadians and Chinese. Canada have a settled and highly experienced lined up with Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee. They finished one place behind the South Africans last year and will be keen to start their European campaign with a strong performance.
The Chinese have two very strong doubles, with Olympic silver medallist, Wenyi Huang joining Feihong Pan who was in this boat last season. The 2nd China boat consists of Dandan Pan, who won bronze in this boat in 2014, and Miao Wang who was U23 silver medallist last year. I would expect the no.1 boat to be the fastest but it’s sometimes difficult to call with the Chinese as their strength in depth, and variation in performance from one season to the next is quite marked.
Great Britain are the reigning Olympic champions, but their crew for Varese is a young, development boat with Ellie Piggott and Emily Craig. They were the stern pair from the LW4X that won silver at the World Championships last year. Their performance against the likes of South Africa and Canada will offer their coaches a good benchmark for their no.1 boat of Taylor and Copeland.
Another crew that have already qualified for Rio are the Irish, Sinnead Jennings and Claire Lambe. They secured their qualification with a strong 9th in Aiguebelette. They’ve made steady progress since finishing in the C-Final in 2014, making the A-Final at the European Championships and winning the B-Final in Lucerne. Another strong A-Final performance will be a great start to the season for them.
The hosts have four doubles entered with the lead boat being Elisabetta Sancassini and Laura Milani. They were 6th in 2014 but withdrew from Aiguebelette due to injury. They will be one of the strongest favourites to secure one of the two final qualifying spots (if they stay fit and healthy). The no.2 Italian boat is also strong, with U23 world champion Valentina Rodini joining Guilia Pollini who finished 5th in the LW1X last year. The internal battle with their no.1 boat could be very interesting.
The Dutch have two exciting crews, particularly their number two boat which includes 2015 JW1X World Champion and World Rowing’s Rising Star, Marieke Keijser. She’s joined by Amber Van Zomeren who finished 10th in the LW1X last year. The no.1 Netherlands boat is Ilse Paulis and Elisabeth Woerner. They were both part of the world championship gold medal LW4X from 2014. 2015 was less successful for Paulis as she and partner Maaike Head finished 14th in the double. Head suffered a bad injury on her bike earlier in the year and is a doubt for Rio. In her place Woerner steps in to try and qualify the boat.
The final crew to mention are the Poles, Joanna Dorociak and Weronika Deresz. They secured qualification for Rio finishing 8th last year, the same as they did in 2014.
My picks….South Africa for the win with China 1 and 2 taking the other medals.
Bring on the racing!