Time for part 2 of my preview of the European Championships, the women’s events.
This has the prospect of being a very open event. On paper the favourite should be Mirka Topinkova Knapkova. The Olympic champion and 2011 World Champion has been the best single sculler in Europe for years. Silver medallist last year her 2016 season had a bit of a stuttering start at the first World Cup when she didn’t even make the B-Final instead taking 13th overall – her worst ever performance in her 15 year senior international career. The question is can she bounce back from that shock? If anything the competition in Brandenburg is fiercer than in Varese. With the top two scullers in the world (Emma Twigg of New Zealand and Kimi Brennan of Australia) obviously not racing, Knapkova will be looking to re-establish herself as Europe’s number one.
Standing in her way is the most experienced athlete in world rowing – Ekaterina Karsten. The 43 year old has spent the last couple of season in the double but I’ve always felt that she was better suited to the single and it looks like the Belarussian federation have listened to me! She took 2nd behind Carling Zeeman of Canada at the first World Cup and on her day can produce some outstanding performances.
After a 4th place finish in 2014, Sanita Puspure of Ireland looked set to step up to the podium in 2015. But in the end she had a slightly disappointing 2015 finishing towards the back of the B-Final in Aiguebelette. She’s made a great start to the 2016 season with a bronze medal in Varese and if Knapkova slips up again she could well move up a step or even two in Brandenburg.
The other potential medallist is Switzerland’s Jeannine Gmelin. Her standout performance in 2015 was a silver medal at the Europeans in Poznan. So far this season she raced to a 4th place in Varese.
Great Britain hadn’t initially named a single sculler for these championships, but the 21 year old Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne has been given the nod and wins her first senior international vest.
The other scullers to note are Austria’s Magdalena Lobnig who, until last year’s World Championships hadn’t failed to reach an A-Final in over 3 years of racing. Unfortunately she’s started 2016 as she finished 2015 by missing the A-Final in Varese, taking 8th overall.
My picks…tricky….Karsten for the win with Puspure in 2nd and Knapkova 3rd
Another fascinating contest in prospect. For me there are six doubles battling for the medals – The Greeks, Germans, British, Dutch, Poles and Lithuanians. The Poles, Magdelena Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj won last time out in Varese and they are the defending European champions. 2nd to the Poles were the Dutch, Lisa Scheenard and Marloes Oldenburg. They are a new double and a silver medal in Oldenburg’s debut international was an outstanding start and they are a double with a huge amount of potential.
A double with a huge amount to prove are the British. Katherine Grainger is the reigning Olympic champion and is one of the superstars of British rowing. Since her return to competition in 2015 she’s formed a new partnership with the new queen of British sculling, Vicky Thornley. So far they’ve not really fired. They’ve had some bad luck with injuries but their best result so far has been a bronze at the 2nd World Cup. There will be a huge amount of pressure on this combination heading into the Olympic season, Grainger is the most successful British woman rower in history and she will not be expecting anything less than gold to end her career.
The Greeks are a precocious young crew with the hugely talented Sofia Asoumanaki, who doesn’t turn 19 until later this month, and her partner Aikaterina Nikolaidou at the ripe old age of 23. They took silver behind the New Zealanders at the World Championships last year in their first season together. Nikolaidou is a former lightweight international and took silver in the LW1X in 2014. The question is can they build on this performance in the heat of an Olympic year?
Another crew with a precocious youngster are the Lithuanians. Milda Valciukaite turns 22 later this month partnered by Donata Vistartaite. They were world champions back in 2013 but have just missed out on the medals in both 2014 and 2015. Like the Greeks, the question is can they step up when it really matters in Olympic year?
Finally the Germans….Marieke Adams and Julia Lier. For the German women the top boat is always the quad so those that find themselves in the double tend to be the 5th and 6th ranked athletes. But when German sculling is so strong that’s still usually good enough to be medal contenders. Last year this duo were bronze medallists and can’t be discounted to make their mark in Europe.
Outside this six the best of the rest are probably the Belarussians. With Karsten moving back to the single the double is now Yuliya Bichyk and Tatsiana Kukhta. Kukhta was 5th in the W1X in Varese and it’ll be interesting to see how this new combination fares.
My picks….Greece in gold, Poland in silver and GB in bronze.
Who will win silver and bronze, that’s the only question here. The British make their debut for 2016 on the back of a four year unbeaten run and there’s not many in Europe that can get close to Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. The crew that have come closest are the Danes, Hedvig Rasmussen and Anne Andersen – 4th at the World Championships last year. The Germans, Kerstin Hartmann and Kathrin Marchand, raced in Varese and finished 4th following an 8th place finish last year. One place behind the Germans in Varese were the Russians, Ekaterina Potapova and Maria Kraslinikova. These two represented Russia in the W2X last year finishing 15th but for the Olympic season they have swapped two blades for one and will try and qualify the boat at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta.
The Romanians have a strong pedigree in this boat class and the pairing of Laura Oprea finished 7th in the pair last year and Madalina Beres was in the 8 which finished in a similar position.
My picks….GB by a country mile with the Danes in silver and Germany in 3rd.
Germany liked to feel this is their event. Therefore it was something of a shock when they were beaten into silver by the USA last year. They’ve kept faith with the same line-up, Annekatrin Thiele, Carina Baer, Marie-Catherine Arnold and Lisa Schmidla and will be looking to reassert their dominance in Europe. They didn’t race in Varese but the four crews that did are all represented in Brandenburg. The Dutch and Poles had a great battle in Varese with the latter taking the gold by just 13/100ths of a second. The Ukrainians and British had a similar titanic battle for 3rd and 4th with the Ukraine coming out on top by 15/100ths of a second. With both GB and Ukraine still trying to qualify for Rio it was a great first test of how these two crews match up. GB’s Kris Stiller, Jess Leyden, Holly Nixon and Ros Bradbury will be keen to reverse the result in Brandenburg and a 4th place finish as a minimum would be a great confidence boost as they head towards Final Qualifying. Both the French and Belarussians have young relatively inexperienced quads. The French boat has an average age of 20 and includes 18 year old Ann-Sophie Marzin making her senior debut and 20 year old Camile Julliet who took bronze in the U23 W4X last year. The Belarussians also average just 20 years old and are based around their 5th placed U23 W2X from last year, Tatsiana Klimovich and Krystina Staraslets. The Russians are a little more experienced but still include teenager Ekaterina Pitirimova who was 9th in the U23 W1X last year.
My picks….If Germany don’t win then alarm bells will start ringing. I expect another great battle between the Poles and Dutch for silver with the Netherlands getting the better of the Poles this time. GB will want to be close to the medal battle to boost their confidence heading to the FOQR. Anything less than a close 4th place for the British will be very concerning.
A good sized entry but it should be a three horse race for the medals. GB and Russia have already qualified for Rio and the Dutch were the unlucky ones in Aiguebelette just missing out by finishing 6th. In Varese the Dutch produced a superb race to beat the Canadians in the final with the Russians back in 3rd. They will be focussed on Lucerne later this month to secure Rio qualification and will probably be a little race sharper than the rest of their competition. But, the British will want to lay down a marker for the season and establish themselves as the no.1 European challenger. Only five of last year’s crew remains; Zoe De Toledo, Katie Greves, Jess Eddie, Olivia Carnegie-Brown and Zoe Lee. The remaining seats are filled by Polly Swann, returning after a year dogged by injury, Fran Houghton, who looks on course for her 5th Olympics, Melanie Wilson, moving from the W4X and Karen Bennett, silver medallist in the W4- last year. With Swann and Houghton in the boat there is certainly a lot more experience and power than in 2015 and the British will be expecting to win in Brandenburg.
The Romanians have a long history in this boat class and last won a major medal at the Chungju World Championships in 2013 when they took silver behind the Americans. But since then the medals have been a little harder to come by with just a silver in Lucerne in 2014. Since then they have struggled to challenge for the medals, 4th in 2014, they missed the A-Final completely in 2015 (something that’s only happened once before since 1990). This year they have made one change to the crew that finished 7th in Aiguebelette with Ioana Vrinceanu moving across from the W2X. As with the Dutch, they will be focussed on the Final Olympic Qualifying regatta, should they miss out on Rio it’ll be the first time the Romanian W8 will have failed to make it to the Olympics….no pressure then!
Women’s sweep rowing in Germany is always seen as the poor relation to the sculling squad so it’s no great surprise that their W8 has struggled to be competitive. 4th in Varese they finished 10th out of 10 in Aiguebelette last year. The Belarussians have a young crew based around their 6th place U23 crew from last year and the Ukrainians also have a relatively inexperienced line-up. The Germans, Ukrainians and Belarussians will be battling amongst themselves to avoid being the one crew that misses out on the A-Final.
My picks….GB will want, and expect, to win gold but they will be pushed hard by the Dutch and Russians. GB in gold, Netherlands silver and Russia bronze.
Next: The Lightweights.