There was some great racing at the first World Cup in Varese two weeks ago, but next week’s European Championships promises to ramp it up to another level. Brandenburg plays host to its first senior international championships, and its first international regatta since the 2008 World University Championships.
Before I get into the boat by boat review, it’s worth commenting on one of the major news stories of the week in rowing, the news that Italy’s triple Olympian, Niccolo Mornati has tested positive for anastrozole, a breast cancer treatment that can be used as a masking agent for testosterone.
This is particularly embarrassing for the Italian federation as Niccolo’s older brother, Carlo, is Deputy Director of the Italian National Olympic Committee and will be head of the Italian delegation at Rio. This failure comes after another “superstar” of Italian Rowing, Vincenzo Abbagnale, is also facing censure after missing three successive dope tests. Italy as a nation does seem to have an issue with doping, it suffered the 2nd highest number of adverse results after Russia in 2014 (source: WADA 2014 Anti-Doping Violations Report). Time will tell if this is the tip of the iceberg for Italian rowing and it’s probably no great shame that they aren’t competing in Brandenburg.
So, with that out of the way onto the boat previews…
A comparatively small field but one of extremely high quality. Damir Martin of Croatia is the defending champion and stormed to victory in the first World Cup winning by over six seconds. But, we’ve seen Martin perform this way before, he has a blistering opening to the season but then either goes backwards as the season progresses or watch the rest of the world catch up with him. But, the main challengers to Martin didn’t race in Varese and the field in Brandenburg should provide a much sterner test. Principal amongst the contenders will be the reigning World Champion, Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic. Synek starts his Olympic year in Brandenburg and will be looking to pick up where he left off at the end of 2015. But, looking at Synek’s season as a whole last year it could be argued that it was one of his worst. He missed the podium completely at the 2nd and 3rd World Cups the first time that had happened since 2009. But, he produced the result when it mattered and arguably against the run of form took the world title. But, with the main threats to the Olympic title coming from outside of Europe he’ll be keen to re-establish his credentials as the European no.1.
Another sculler opening his 2016 campaign in Brandenburg is Great Britain’s Alan Campbell. He’s another sculler who has had a disappointing couple of years, missing the A-Final at the last two World Championships. Indeed, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that Campbell would even make the British team let alone retain his spot in the single. But, a superb win in the GB trials shows that the old fella had got some of his mojo back which is great to see.
If Alan Campbell has had a disappointing couple of years then Mindaugus Griskonis of Lithuania has been going in the other direction. 2014 saw his reach his first World Championship final and he followed it up in 2015 with his first World Championship medal. Brandenburg will be his 10th European Championships but should do better than his 6th place finish of last year.
The “new kid on the block” in the single is Germany’s Philipp Syring. He’s raced only once at senior level finishing 8th at Varese in 2015. But, the 19 year old won the right to represent his country in this boat class by taking a somewhat surprise victory at the German small boat championships beating the far more experienced Stephan Kreuger. It remains to be seen if he can transfer this speed onto the international stage but he’s an exciting young prospect.
France have only a small team competing in Brandenburg, but among them is the highly experienced Cedric Berrest. After a couple of unsuccessful years in the French men’s 8 Berrest returns to sculling and is racing in the single for the first time since the 1st World Cup of 2011. An A-Final finish in his first international single sculling race in five years would be a significant achievement.
Another impressive young sculler is Hannes Obreno of Belgium. 3rd at the first World Cup represented his first senior medal. A repeat in Brandenburg will probably be a tall order given the quality of competition, but, as with Syring he’s an exciting new addition to the field.
The final sculler to mention is Belarus’s Stanislau Shcharbachnia. He made his breakthrough in the single sculling field in 2015 with a bronze at the 2nd World Cup. This season he missed the A-Final in Varese so will be looking to make amends in Brandenburg.
My picks..Synek ahead of Martin with Campbell taking the bronze.
This promises to be a fascinating contest. The Sinkovic’s of Croatia are the class of the field and it’ll be a major shock if they don’t extend their unbeaten run in this boat class to at least 23 races. But, behind the dominant Croats it’s going to be a great fight. Two “old stagers” of the sculling world, Marcel Hacker of Germany and Olaf Tufte of Norway (with 9 Olympic appearances between them) have moved out of the single and into the doubles. Hacker is partnered by Stephan Kreuger and Tufte by Kjetil Borch. Kreuger is one of the most experienced double scullers in the field having raced almost exclusively in the boat class since 2008, including taking the world title in 2009 and silver in 2011. As a double he and Hacker have been dogged by illness and injury (Hacker missed the German National Small Boat Championships due to the flu) but they had a strong 4th place finish at last year’s World Championships and are definitely capable of pushing the Croatians. But, it’s the battle with the Norwegians that will be most fascinating to watch. Like Hacker, Tufte is also partnered by a former World Champion double sculler. Borch won the title in 2010 with Nils Jacob Hoff. It’s an interesting decision by the Norwegian team to put together the new double. Tufte had already qualified the single scull in what would be his 6th Olympic Games. But it was felt that the double stood a stronger chance of medalling so into the double they go (with just the small matter of having to qualify in Lucerne in three weeks’ time!)
But, whilst the romantics may say that the “old boys” will be taking the medals, it’s far more likely to be the younger crews pushing the Croatians. Principle among these will be the Lithuanians, Rolandas Mascinskas and Saulius Ritter. They took the silver medal behind the Sinkovic’s last year and logic dictates that they will be the chase leaders again this year. The British have kept faith with the same line-up from the last couple of years, John Collins and Jonno Walton. There was some doubt at the start of the season whether this combination would continue but carry on they are. They are a good duo, but have yet to make the step up into the medal zone, they are consistently at the back end of A-Finals or top of B-finals. They need some sort of spark that’ll show they’re capable of challenging the likes of the Lithuanians, Germans and Norwegians.
The last two crews to mention are the French, Hugo Boucheron and Matthieu Androdias, 6th at last year’s World Championships, and the Swiss – Nico Stahlberg and Roman Roeoesli, bronze medallists from the Varese World Cup.
My picks…Croatia for the win, Lithuania in silver with the Germans in bronze.
This event is all about who’s leading the chase of the Kiwis. For the past couple of seasons it’s been the British, James Foad and Matt Langridge. But that pair has been disbanded following Foad’s back injury. At the 1st World Cup the “spare pair” of the GB sweep squad, Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell and Matt Tarrant demolished the rest of the field winning by a length over the Dutch of Braas and Steenmann. But, in Brandenburg the British are represented by Al Sinclair and Stewart Innes following their excellent 4th place finish at the GB trials. Ironically the main challenge to Sinclair and Innes will probably be from their own team mates. Sinclair/Innes are expected to be a faster pairing than Noddy/Tarrant so anything less than a convincing victory against similar competition will start raising questions about who gets the nod for the Olympic spot. Could we see a race-off between Sinclair/Innes and Noddy/Tarrant at the Lucerne World Cup?
The main challenge to the British will most likely be the French. Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette are the Olympic silver medallists and also silver medallists from 2013, but after a disappointing season in the M8 in 2014 they returned to the pair in 2015 but were overshadowed by the British and finished the season a disappointing 8th. What will the 2016 season bring for the French….the contest against the British is going to be intriguing. Outside of these three crews the “best of the rest” are likely to be the Serbians, bronze medallists from last year and the new Russian pairing of Ivan Podshivalov and Georgij Efremenko, 5th at the 1st World Cup.
My picks…A win for GB ahead of the Dutch with the Serbs in 3rd.
The excitement in this event is the first appearance of the new GB crew, Alex Gregory, Moe Sbihi, George Nash and Stan Louloudis. This is seen by many (me included) as the “Dream Team” of the strongest ever GB men’s team. This should be a great opportunity for them to lay down a marker for the top American, Canadian and Australian boats. Anything less than a dominant performance will be a surprise. In the absence of the Italian World Champions the chasing pack will most likely be led by the Dutch, 3rd in Varese and 6th in the World last year. The most intriguing entry are actually the Danes. They have entered their silver medal Lightweight four to take on the big boys and could prove a sharp test for some of the bigger guys. The Germans have kept faith with the line-up that finished 5th last year as have the Greeks who finished 9th.
Chasing the tail end of the medals will also be the French with Benjamin Lang and Valentin Onfroy from the abortive M8 along with Mickael Marteau from the 2015 quad and lightweight Theophile Onfroy. The final crew to mention are the Russians, 5th in Varese.
My picks….GB by a substantial margin….nothing else will be considered acceptable with the Dutch in 2nd and the Danish lightweights in 3rd
This has the makings of a really interesting contest. The Germans are the reigning World Champions and retain three of last year’s crew with Tim Grohmann returning following a year out in 2015 replacing Hans Gruhne. The British were one of the dominant crews in 2014 just missing out on the gold to the Ukrainians. But in 2015 they were dogged by injury, with key man Charlie Cousins missing most of the season. When he did return they were a slightly disappointing 4th in Aiguebelette. Cousins’ injury woes continue and in his place comes Angus Groom. Interestingly the GB quad now has the same line up that took gold at the 2nd World Cup last year. With more preparation under their belts they could well return to the sort of form that won them two World Cup golds in 2014.
The surprise of the season so far have been the new Russian quad. Under the tutelage of the great Mike Spracklen they stormed to victory at the first World Cup winning by nearly 3 seconds. For a lot of the crew it’s their first season sculling so the performance in Varese was remarkable. The question is can they continue with this sort of form in Brandenburg? But, unlike the British and Germans the Russians still have to qualify for the Olympics so their focus will be more on what’s happening later this month in Lucerne rather than on the waters of the Beetzsee River.
The Poles had a good first World Cup taking a bronze medal after they missed out on the A-Final last year. The final crew to mention are the Estonians, very consistent performers, bronze medallists last year and 4th in Varese they are a settled and strong unit.
My picks….I’m going to put my neck on the line and say the British will win just ahead of the Germans with the Russians in 3rd.
This is the one everyone’s waiting to see and with all due respect to the seven other boats it’s all about GB v Germany. These two have been knocking three bells out of each other all Olympiad and when it’s really mattered the British have come out on top. The only time the Germans defeated the British in 2015 was at these championships. For 2016 Great Britain have changed their line-up, and some would argue they have weakened it by switching Gregory, Sbihi, Nash and Louloudis to the four. But with Hodge returning after a year out through illness, Matt Langridge moving from the pair and Tom Ransley and Scott Durant coming from the M4- it’s still an incredibly powerful line-up. The GB team don’t see the men’s squad as having no.1 and no.2 priority boats, but that the M8 and M4 are equal. This race is massively important psychologically for both nations at the start of the Olympic season. For their part the Germans have also been tinkering with their line-up in the hope of overhauling the Brits. This hasn’t been without controversy. Anton Braun has been dropped from the 8 despite winning the German trials in a pair with Felix Drahotta. Drahotta retains his place but Braun misses out and rumours are that he is considering retiring. Coach Holtmeyer has indicated that the door to selection hasn’t been shut completely but it’s a crushing blow to go from the top rower to being out of the crew, and for the Germans the M8 is everything (the squad is even called the Deutschlandachter – The German 8). A defeat to the British may open the door a little wider for Braun but the question of his motivation must remain.
Behind these two the Dutch will be hoping to muscle in on the party. Good winners in Varese they took bronze in Aiguebelette last year and have the same line-up heading into 2016. Another settled crew are the Poles. 3rd in Varese they had a disappointing season last year finishing 2nd in the B-Final and missing qualification for Rio. They will be focussed on Lucerne where they face the likes of the USA and Australia to try and secure Olympic qualification.
My picks….GB to get the better of the Germans again with the Dutch a comfortable 3rd.
Next up the women’s events.