Wow, that was a fairly “eventful” European Championships! Perhaps it’s not surprising that not too many senior International regattas have been held on the Beetszee course. The conditions as the A-finals progressed made some of the racing farcical and threw up some very strange results.
The single scullers suffered more than most in the difficult conditions. All the racers were informed that it would be a “Fast Start” process, in other words there would be no roll call, just “Attention, Go”. Unfortunately Lithuania’s Mindaugus Griskonis didn’t seem to have got the message because as the other five scullers took off into the waves he was left sitting on the start wondering what had happened. After 5 or 6 seconds he decided he better get on with it and took off after the rest. As for the rest the race followed a similar pattern to Varese, Croatia’s Damir Martin took off like a scolded rabbit and opened up a 6 second lead by the 500m mark. Despite his dodgy start Griskonis chased the field down and took over 2nd. By the line Martin had opened up a 14 second margin of victory with Griskonis in silver and World Champion Ondrej Synek back in 3rd.
For GB, Alan Campbell had a regatta to forget. In his semi he was in a qualifying position to halfway before trailing off and finishing 5th. In the B-Final he had a slow start and never really got into the race eventually taking 3rd – 9th overall. Given his strong performance at the GB trials this weekend’s result is very disappointing and will no doubt cause some heads to be scratched in the offices at Caversham.
A great race which was also influenced by the conditions. The Hungarians benefitted from being in the favoured lane 1 meaning they had some shelter from the brutal headwind. The British looked to have snatched the win with a late surge only to catch a crab in the final 10 strokes. In fairer, calmer conditions I think the British would’ve taken the win. Lucerne is going to be very interesting to see if the winning GB pair from Varese (Nathaniel Reilly O’Donnell and Matt Tarrant) get to race the GB pair that raced at the Europeans (Alan Sinclair and Stewart Innes).
The French had a disappointing championships, their Olympic silver medal pair of Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette missed out on the A-Final and then withdrew due to illness to Chardin. They can’t have been too impressed with their opening race of the season.
Business as usual for the Sinkovic’s who made light work of the conditions and opened up a commanding lead from the off. From then on it was a bit of a procession with Hacker and Krueger leading the chasing pack. No great surprises in the top three with the Lithuanians moving clear of the Swiss. It’s been interesting to see the Swiss in the double rather than the quad, there must be some injury with the rest of the crew that means Roeoesli and Stahlberg are in the double (a non-qualified boat) rather than the quad which has qualified. It remains to be seen what they do for Lucerne. Tufte and Borch looked to be struggling in the conditions and will, perhaps, be a little disappointed with 5th, but their focus is the Qualifying regatta in a couple of weeks. For the British it was much the same. They just about qualified for the A-Final and had the slightly favoured Lane 1 in the final but were never in the hunt and struggled in the conditions. They were 9 seconds off the Croatians after 500m and ended up 6th, 11 seconds behind the 5th placed Norwegians. The British double are a real conundrum. In training they are producing some extremely good performances and their percentages are comparable to some of the top boats in the British squad, but when it comes to racing they can’t seem to reproduce that sort of form.
This was one of the races that a lot of people were looking forward to. A chance to see the top British four. When it came to the race the Russians gave the British a good workout to the 1000m mark but couldn’t cope with the power and technique of the British. In the end it wasn’t the best of rows from GB but they led at every marker and ended up winners by 3/4l without having to try too hard, Moe Sbihi said after the race that they hadn’t had to sprint too much in the final stages. The Russians paid the price of trying to challenge in the first half of the race by fading to 4th. Instead it was the Belorussians and French in the favoured lanes 1 & 2 who took the lesser medals.
Speaking about the conditions after the race, GB’s strokeman Constantine Louloudis said they were the worst he’d ever faced in a 2K.
It was very interesting to see the Danish LM4- make the A-Final beating a number of heavyweight fours who have qualified for Rio. This could, perhaps, add fuel to the fire of those calling for the LM4- event to be dropped from the Olympic programme – the top lightweight fours can be competitive with the heavyweights. By doing so well the Danes may have added another nail to the coffin of their favourite event.
The Russians came into Brandenburg on the back of a scintillating performance in Varese. In the final they leaped off the start and had a lead of a second and a half at 500m and three seconds at half way. But then they started to pay the price and the Estonians and surprisingly the Lithuanians overhauled them. These two boats were in lanes 2 and 1 respectively and again shows the advantage those lanes provided. The German world champion quad struggled in the middle lane and finished more than a length behind the Russians. The British also struggled in an unfavoured lane and came a couple of seconds behind the Germans. Overall it was a weird race.
This was the race was the one everyone wanted to see. It was a great battle between the British, Germans and Russians. Russia had the advantage of lane 2 and led for the middle 1000m. But all eyes were on the British and Germans going head to head. But in the end the Germans coped with the conditions better than the British and their power enabled them to overhaul the Russians and pull away from the British. For their part the British were hunted down by the Belorussians. On the line it looked to be as near enough a dead-heat as possible, but the British were given the nod and got the bronze.
As an aside there was some confusion over this. On the World Rowing Facebook page they announced that it was a dead-heat and that the British were awarded bronze as they had performed better in the earlier rounds (Rule 80 of the FISA Rules of racing if you’re interested). However, the eagle-eyed FISA Umpire, Chris Anton, pointed out that so-called Count Back didn’t apply to finals (Rule 80.3 if you’re interested) and that on close scrutiny of the photo finish it does show the British just ahead by no more than an inch or two. World Rowing have since updated their Facebook post!
A great race, but also one where the outcome was definitely influenced by the conditions. The Norwegians, Are Strandli and Kristoffer Brun led at the first three timing points, but when the sprint came on in the final 200m the Irish and Germans put the pressure on and the Norwegians caught a blade on a wave allowing the Irish to take a superb gold medal, Ireland’s first at a Senior FISA championships since Lucerne in 2006.
Switzerland were the clear favourites for this race and in the end they ran out clear winners by 2.5 seconds. But they were given a great race by the new British crew. This was an encouraging performance for the Brits given that they finished 9th at the world Championships. These two crews were comfortably clear of the Germans in bronze.
This was one of the most farcical races in the whole championships. The sight of watching some of the best scullers in the world effectively creeping along in the waves desperately trying to stay afloat was bizarre. Karsten in lane 1 barely got beyond half slide, and all the scullers were “racing” at 25 strokes a minute! But amid all the chaos Magdalena Lobnig of Austria seemed to be in a bubble…by 500m she led by 7 seconds, by the 1K her lead was 17 seconds a margin she maintained all the way to the finish…possibly one of the biggest margins of victory in a major championships. Behind Lobnig, Gulbe of Latvia and Puspure of Ireland made the best of it to take silver and bronze but it’s a mark of just how odd the race was that Olympic Champion, Mirka Topinkova Knapkova finished last, almost a minute behind Lobnig….crazy!
Another case of “Business as Usual” Glover and Stanning of Great Britain looked relatively untroubled. The Germans tried to go with them, keeping the Brits lead down to 3 seconds at the 1000m mark, but they could keep up the pressure and by the finish the British had a comfortable 8 seconds margin of victory. The win in Brandenburg extended Glover’s winning streak to 43 consecutive W2- races (for Stanning the tally is 32 as she spent 2013 serving in the Army). By my reckoning that means Glover is the most successful British athlete, of any gender and in any sport.
Another curious event. The world Silver medallists from Greece failed to make the final. In the A-Final the Germans tried to take the race by the scruff of the neck and dominate the conditions rather than allow the conditions to dominate them. For the first 600-700 meters this tactic worked, however after that the conditions started to bite back.
In the end it was the Belorussians in lane 1 who made the most of the opportunities of a favourable draw to take an unexpected gold medal. The Germans held on to take the silver with the Czechs being the real surprise in taking the bronze (from lane 2).
The Lithuanians had a very disappointing race, the 2013 World Champions struggled throughout the race and ended up more than 10 seconds behind the Belorussians. For GB it was also a disappointing final. They’d had a good start to the championships with a strong win in their heat, but this gave them a tough lane in the final and like a lot of crews in lane 3 and 4 they struggled, and ended up in 4th 5 seconds behind the Czechs (whom they’d beaten in the heat).
On the BBC coverage Sir Steve Redgrave suggested that Grainger and Thornley would be better used in the W8, and at the time of writing a Twitter poll I ran was 70% in favour of bringing them into the W8. I’m not convinced, they are a medal winning combination and I’m reserving judgement until I’ve seen them race in good conditions (which we’ll hopefully get in Lucerne). If they perform poorly there then perhaps something different needs to happen.
One of the more straightforward of races. The Germans led from start to finish and looked relatively untroubled. The Poles, winners in Varese, were clear in silver but the Ukrainians and Dutch had a great battle for the bronze with the Dutch missing out by just half a second. Despite finishing 5th it was an encouraging performance from the British. They were in touch with the field at half way but caught a boat-stopper of a crab in the rough water which dropped them back into 5th. Fortunately they had enough to hold off the Russians. The GB performances are improving as the season progresses and heading to the Final Olympic Qualifying their confidence will be growing that they can grab one of the precious 2 spots available for Rio.
For me this was the race of the championships. GB started as favourites, they had beaten everyone else in the field at one point or another. But the conditions were a great leveller and the Dutch were coming off of the back of a good win in Varese and are aiming to peak at the FOQR later this month. The Russians did what the Russians do and went off very hard. They led by over a second at the 500m mark and the 1000 with the Dutch tracking them and the British over 3 and a half seconds adrift. I must admit I was getting a little nervous and was beginning to think this could be another example of a British W8 underperforming. But this GB W8 are made of sterner stuff. Crucially they were playing the waiting game, in the words of cox Zoe De Toledo they were “sassy with their rowing”. Aware that conditions were foul their approach was lower rating and huge power. They raced over the course at 31-32 strokes per minute, consistently under-rated their opponents by 3 or 4 strokes per minute. Instead of rating they relied on controlled power, minimising the impact of the storm-like conditions. It was a tactic that worked beautifully stroke woman Zoe Lee raised the rate to 38 for the final few metres to edge the British bows in front and they took the win by 4/10th second. To be honest it was a race they should’ve won regardless of the conditions, but the controlled way they rowed down their opposition was wonderful to watch. It’s a great platform for them to build on for the next test in Lucerne against the American, New Zealanders and Canadians.
The biggest shock in this event was the failure of the British to reach the final. In scenes reminiscent of the 2014 World Championships the British (pre-race favourites) crashed out in the semis and ended up finishing 2nd in the B-Final. So far there’s not been too much coming out of Caversham to explain this poor performance. No doubt they’ll be itching to put it right in Lucerne. I suppose if you’re going to have one poor race in the season it’s better for it to be the first one rather than the last!
Anyway, in the A-Final the home favourites Fini Sturm and Marie-Louise Draeger went neck and neck with the Dutch, Isle Paulis and Maaike Head. There was less than ¾ of a second between these two he whole way down the course, but in the final sprint the Germans struggled with the rough water and the Dutch capitalised and ended up winning relatively comfortably. The Poles were a comfortable 3rd 7 seconds ahead of the Swiss.
In the non-Olympic event finals the weather was kinder and GB’s Sam Scrimgeour and Joel Cassells had a comfortable win in the LM2- 3 seconds ahead of the Danes. The LM1X was a great contest between Steinhuebel of Germany and Lukas Babc of Slovakia. Babac was able to pull away from the German in the sprint to the line winning by 2 seconds. Rajko Hrvat took bronze just ahead of GB’s Jamie Kirkwood who had a great race from a very unfavoured lane 6.
In the LW1X the pre-regatta favourite, Imogen Walsh of GB had a bit of a nightmare. By her own admission she got her pacing all wrong in the heat finding herself 9 seconds down at 500m. The repecharge was a little better, but even then she finished 2nd losing to her namesake from Ireland Denise Walsh (someone she’d never lost to before). Still, she had a chance to get it right in the final but in the end she appeared almost just to be paddling over the course rather than racing – 11 seconds down after 500m she ended up finishing 6th, almost a minute behind the winner. Clearly she was not happy. But, if Walsh had had a poor regatta the same can’t be said of Germany’s Anja Noske. She stormed ahead of the field both in the heat and again in the final, chased hard by Denmark’s Runge Holmegaard who kept the German honest by staying within a couple of seconds of her until the final sprint for the line when the German opened up to a 5 second margin of victory.
As I said at the start, it was a very odd regatta with some very curious results. I’m not sure what, if anything, can be read into some of the performances in Brandenburg. Clearly some boats significantly underperformed and some confounded the predictions. The temptation is to write-off the results as an anomaly and in some circumstances I think that probably fair, but for those boats that didn’t perform to expectation the questions will be why? Why was it that other countries were able to cope with the extreme conditions? Personally I think some crews were beaten before they even took to the water, mentally they were more worried about the water than the opposition.
All I can say is roll on Lucerne and trust that the Lake of the Gods delivers its usual spectacular event (both for the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta and the World Cup). I can’t wait!