Hot on the heels of the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta is the 2nd Rowing World Cup, also on the Rotsee in Lucerne. It promises to be a pretty epic regatta with almost all the “major players” competing. Lucerne see the first appearance of the New Zealand and Australian squads and will act as the first real benchmark for Rio later this summer.
So, without further ado here’s my look at each boat class….
A big field, which not only includes all the major contenders for Rio but there will also be some very interesting inter-country races, as a number of nations have more than one competitor racing. For Zimbabwe, who have qualified for Rio, Lucerne looks set to be a race-off between Peter Purcell-Gilpin (who raced at the African Qualification Regatta) and Andrew Peebles who was Zimbabwe’s single sculler at the 2014 World Championships. The winner goes to Rio? A similar showdown looks in store for the Egyptians as well. Abdel Khalek Elbana won the African Qualification Regatta but he’s up against Nour El Din Hassanein who was Egypt’s representative at the London Games.
What this means is that there will be as much interest (for sad rowing geeks like me at any rate) in what’s going on in the B, C and D finals as there is in the A Final.
But, what about up at the sharp end? Damir Martin of Croatia has been making all the running so far this season with convincing wins in Varese and Brandenburg. In fact so convincing have been his two victories that he’s made his competition look distinctly sluggish. But, standing in the way of a hat trick of 2016 wins for the Croatian is the Olympic Champion, Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand. The 37 year old is making his first appearance on the international circuit for 2016. It’ll be really interesting to see whether Martin uses his same race tactic (get as much of a lead as possible as early as possible and hang on!) against the Kiwi and how Drysdale responds. It’ll also be interesting to see what sort of shape Mahe is in. Obviously his focus is on Rio and he may not be quite as “race ready” as some of his competitors who have already been racing in Europe. But I would imagine the defending champion will be keen to lay down a marker to his competitors saying “I’m ready to defend my title”.
The reigning World Champion, Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic has had a very mixed start to his 2016 season. He didn’t race in Varese and had a disappointing regatta at the European Championships. He won his heat but then only managed to qualify for the final by scrapping through in the semi-final in 3rd place. This gave him the worst lane for the final and in the terrible conditions he came in for a bronze medal over 20 seconds behind Martin in gold and 6 seconds behind Griskonis of Lithuania in silver. He’ll be hoping and expecting better conditions in Lucerne and for a better performance. He and Drysdale have been the dominant single scullers for the past decade, the last 9 World championship M1X titles have been shared between the 2 men (it’s currently 5/4 to the Kiwi). Can Damir Martin muscle in on this duopoly?
Another sculler who’s made a solid start to 2016 and has eyes on a Rio medal is Cuba’s Angel Fournier Rodriguez. Cuba’s most successful ever rower is heading for his 3rd Olympic Games and so far this season he has a silver medal from Varese. He’s always there of thereabouts, but on the biggest stage his performance have been declining so far this Olympiad, silver medallist in 2013 he was bronze medallist in 2014 and then out of the medals altogether in 2015 finishing 6th. A medal in Lucerne will also be a big statement from the Cuban that he’s a real contender for Rio.
GB’s Alan Campbell has had a torrid few years. Apart from an excellent bronze at Lucerne last year he’s struggled to recapture the form that won him an Olympic medal in London. His first appearance in 2016 was disappointing as he crashed out at the semi-final stage finishing 5th and then could only manage 3rd in the B Final. Can Campbell get his mojo back. He’s one of the most courageous racers on the circuit, anyone who watched his race in the Olympic final in London will see that, but he’s been dogged by illness and injury. I for one dearly hope he can recapture that sort of form and once again be battling it out towards the front of the A-final.
As mentioned above, Lithuania’s Mindaugas Griskonis was a silver medallist at the Europeans in Brandenburg and was bronze medallist behind Synek and Drysdale in 2015. He’s going to be another sculler who will be up at the front of the race challenging for the medals.
As well as the “established players” in the single sculling field there are also a number of young scullers competing in Lucerne. The German’s are hoping to qualify the M1X at the FOQR with Philipp Syring. He’s not racing at the World Cup but in his place the Germans have Max Fraenkel and Patrick Leineweber. Fraenkel makes his senior debut after racing in the U23 squad back in 2012. Leineweber has more experience having raced as GER2 at the Lucerne World Cup last year (finishing 14th – 1 place behind Olaf Tufte).
The USA also have two scullers entered. Ken Jurkowski is bidding to qualify for Rio at the FOQR and Tom Graves raced in Varese finishing 20th. Should Jurkowski qualify to Rio and lose to Graves at the World Cup, what then??
My picks…..really tricky to call, if Martin does what he’s done so far this season he might give Mahe something to think about, but the Kiwi will have been watching him and will know what to expect. I’m going to go for a Croatian win with Mahe in silver and Cuba edging out Synek for bronze.
The first appearance of the season of the mighty Kiwi pair, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray. Their unbeaten run now extends to 8 years and 63 races, an astonishing feat. Such is their dominance that few other countries make the M2- their priority boat, thus making the competition “relatively” easier for the Kiwis. For what it’s worth I don’t think any nation would get close to them anyway even if they did make it their priority boat. The British got the closest in 2010 when Andy Hodge and Pete Reed (GB’s no.1 bow and strokeside oarsmen at the time) got within 3/10th of a second. Since then the closest anyone has gotten to the New Zealanders in a final was the GB pairing of James Foad and Matt Langridge who finished 2.5 seconds adrift at Lucerne last year. Barring illness or injury I can’t see anyone breaking the Kiwis unbeaten run and the battle is all about who can win silver.
Foad and Langridge of GB were the leading contenders, but with Foad suffering from a serious back injury the mantle has been passed to Alan Sinclair and Stewart Innes. These two took silver in Brandenburg (perhaps unlucky not to take gold when the caught a crab in the last few strokes). But this is another event where the inter-country rivalry will be an interesting sideshow. Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell and Matt Tarrant are the nominal spares for the Olympic team. However they raced at Varese and dominated the field, winning in some style. Whilst Sinclair and Innes are the nominated pair if they lose to Noddy and Tarrant the selectors could well have a difficult decision on their hands. The blunt facts so far this season are that the “Spare” pair have a gold medal and the “No.1” pair have silver. The battle of the British pairs is going to be very, very interesting.
The Australians have also entered two pairs, but in their case it’s pretty clear cut who is the top pairing. Spencer Turrin and Alex Lloyd. They were both in the M4- that won in Lucerne last year. They’ve been replaced in the M4- by Josh Dunkley-Smith and Josh Booth and have now formed what looks to be a very talented M2-. The 2nd Aussie boat is Josh Hooper (there are a lot of Josh’s in the Aussie squad!) and Sam Hookway. Hooper is making his international debut and Hookway was part of the M8 last season. It appears that these two could well be the current spares for Rio (although if the M8 fails to qualify that will probably change).
The Dutch have been chasing the British all season, Mitchell Steenman and Roel Braas were runners up to Reilly-O’Donnell and Tarrant in Varese and then finished behind the Hungarians and British (Sinclair/Innes) at the Europeans. The Dutch also have a 2nd pair entered. This one includes Steenman’s former pairs partner, Rogier Blink along with Sjoerd De Groot.
Not to be outdone in the 2nd boat stakes, the Kiwis also have a no2 racing. They are represented by Robert Kells and George Howard. Both these guys were in the M4- which finished 16th at the World Championships.
The Olympic silver medallists from France, Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortellete were World silver medallists in 2013 and then spent 2014 in the M8 before moving back to the pair in 2015. Since returning to the pair they have struggled to recapture their medal winning form. A win in Bled and silver at the Europeans were the high points but after that the struggled. 7th in Lucerne and 8th on their home water in Aiguebelette meant they ended the year on a low (albeit with the consolation prize of booking a slot for Rio). At the Europeans this season they had a bit of a disaster, missing the A-Final by 7/10th second and then withdrawing on medical grounds. They are a very talented pairing but need to recapture their 2012 spark if they are to get among the medals.
The Spanish pairing of Alex Sigurbjonsson Benet and Pau Vela Maggi are one of the best men’s crews to come out of Spain for a very long time. They took 4th place in both 2013 and 2014 and their best result was a silver medal at the 2012 European Championships.
Bronze medallists in Varese were the South Africans, Shaun Keeling and Lawrence Brittain. These two raced as a pair during the 2013 season finishing 8th. Throughout the 2014 and 2015 season Keeling had a number of partners, winning a bronze medal with Vincent Breet in 2014 and finishing 7th with David Hunt in 2015. But, for the Olympic season the 2013 combination has been reunited. For his part Brittain raced in the unsuccessful M4- in 2015.
Russia also have 2 pairs entered, with the no.1 pairing of Ivan Podshivalov and Georgij Efremenko racing at the FOQR. They were 7th in Brandenburg and were both part of the Russian M8 last season. The 2nd Russian pair is Grigorii Shchulepov and Alexandr Stradaev. These two raced as the Russian M2- last season finishing 14th overall.
My picks….the Kiwis for the win (obviously) with GB2 (Noddy/Tarrant) in silver and AUS1 in bronze.
The Sinkovic brothers of Croatia are beginning to establish a dominance in the double akin to the Kiwis in the coxless pair. Their run extends to 24 races which includes an astonishing 5:59.7 in the semi-final in Amsterdam, making them the first double in history to break the 6 minute barrier. They are a joy to watch race and they are a perfect demonstration of how to move a boat quickly.
Chasing the Croatians are the Lithuanians, Saulius Ritter and Rolandas Mascinskas. They were runners-up to the Croatians in Aiguebelette in 2015 and 3rd in their first outing this season in Brandenburg. Finishing one place ahead of them were the Germans, Marcel Hacker and Stephan Krueger. 39 year old Hacker is the oldest man in the race but also one of the most successful with one Olympic and 7 World Championship medals to his credit. He’s formed a very effective partnership with Krueger, 11 years his junior. The younger man was world champion in this event in 2009 and is heading for his 3rd Olympic Games. Despite a 2015 season that was disrupted through injury to Hacker, the Germans took silver in Lucerne and then 4th in Aiguebelette. The Germans have high hopes that this double can deliver a major medal for them in Rio.
The Kiwis have a good tradition in this boat class, Olympic champions in 2012 and World Champions for the preceding two seasons. A couple of lean years in 2013 and 2014 were followed by an excellent bronze medal in Aiguebelette. The Kiwi selectors have kept faith with that pairing, Robbie Manson and Chris Harris, and such is the “Kiwi machine” in small boats that nothing less than a medal will do for the “Oar-Blacks”.
The Australians secured their spot for Rio by finishing 5th in Aiguebelette last year with Alex Belonogoff and James McRae. However for the Olympic season these two have moved to the M4X. In their place comes Chris Morgan, who raced in the Aussie quad in 2014, and David Watts who took silver in the quad last year.
Great Britain have two boats entered. The no.1 crew of Jonno Walton and John Collins qualified for Rio last season by finishing a disappointing 8th. I said in my preview of the European Championships that this double have shown flashes of speed but frustratingly can’t seem to translate that into racing. They are a good, solid double but at the moment everything points to them being 6th or 7th. The 2nd GB double are the young crew of Jack Beaumont and Nick Middleton. These two raced in Varese and finished and made the A-Final. They are definitely ones to watch for the Tokyo Olympiad and could give their more experienced team mates a run for their money.
Another crew that has promised much but has, so far, not quite delivered are the Azerbaijanis, Aleksandar Aleksandrov and Boris Yotov. Aleksandrox was World Rowing’s “Rising Star” in January 2013 having finished 5th in the M1X in London. He formed a double with Yotov in 2014 winning silver at the Europeans and again at the 2nd World Cup. But medals have eluded them since and they finished 7th in Aiguebelette and so far this season took 11th in Brandenburg. They will be hoping for a much better showing in Lucerne.
The USA crew, Stephen Whelpley and William Cowles are racing at the FOQR. They are untested as a double on the international scene but both of a wealth of international experience and Whelpley was part of a very strong M4X that won bronze at Lucerne in 2014.
My picks…Croatia to continue their unbeaten run with the Kiwis in silver and the Germans in bronze.
This promises to be one of the best events of the regatta. A chance for a proper showdown between the top British, Australian and American men’s sweep boats.
The British will start favourites with their crew of Alex Gregory, Mo Sbihi, George Nash and Stan Louloudis. Three of this crew were World Champions in the M4- in 2014 and the inclusion of Louloudis arguably makes the boat even stronger than it was in 2014 (Hodgey won’t like me for saying so, sorry Andy!) All four of them were in the M8 last year that won the World championships and they have the makings of one of the best coxless fours in history. Their first outing at the Europeans was a comfortable, if unspectacular victory. Hopefully conditions will be perfect in Lucerne and we will get a glimpse of what this crew is capable of.
But, as strong as the British look they are certainly not going to get an easy ride of it. The Australians also look to have a very talented boat. They have made one change to the silver medal crew from 2015 with Josh Booth replacing Spencer Turrin in the 3 seat. In the 2 seat is Josh Dunkley-Smith, one of a select band of athletes who have broken the 5:40 barrier for the 2K ergo. He already has an Olympic silver medal to his name from London and also 5 World Championship medals, but is yet to win an elusive World or Olympic gold. At bow is fellow 2012 crewmate Will Lockwood and in the stroke seat is the youngest member of the crew, Alex Hill aged 23.
The Americans have also prioritised this boat with their crew of Charlie Cole, Matt Miller, Henrik Rummel and Seth Weil. They were likely gold medallists at last year’s World Championships before being scuppered by illness before the semi-final and missed out on the A-Final and ended up 7th overall. At the start of the 2016 season they laid down a big statement of intent by winning in Varese beating the Italian World champions.
But it’s not just about these three boats. The Belarusians had a great race at the Europeans finishing 2 seconds behind the British in the silver medal position making the most of a favourable lane draw in the torrid conditions.
I’ve spoken many times before about the Canadian M4-. On paper they are an outstanding crew with two Olympic medallists on board (Conlin McCabe and Will Crothers), but they haven’t as yet really transformed that experience into making a medal winning 4-. So far they have 2 bronze medals from World Cups in 2014 and 2015 but have been out of the medals at World Championships. They opened their 2016 season at Varese and also missed out on the medals finishing 4th overall. If they can find that elusive spark then they will be capable of beating the best.
The Germans have made one change to the crew that finished 7th in Brandenburg with Anton Braun replacing Johannes Weissenfeld. Braun won the German small boats championships but was somewhat controversially dropped from the M8 and there were rumours that he was so disappointed that he considered retiring. Instead he’s got a seat in the M4- but this doesn’t look to be a boat capable of winning a medal so it’s not much consolation for Braun.
The Dutch were World Champions in this event in 2013 but have found the event a little tougher since then with a 4th place in 2014 and 6th in 2015. So far in 2016 they have a bronze medal at Varese but withdrew from the Europeans after missing out on the A-Final when strokeman Govert Viergever fell ill.
My picks…GB ahead of the USA with Australia in 3rd
Germany are the reigning Olympic and World Champions and have made one change to their 2015 crew, with Tim Grohmann replacing Hans Gruhne and therefore reuniting the 2012 Olympic gold medal crew. They started their Olympic season at the European Championships and had a bit of a shock, winning their heat comfortably but then they struggled in the tough conditions missing out on the medals altogether. They will probably put this down to a “blip” caused by the poor conditions. On the still waters of the Rotsee they will be expecting “business as usual” and be at the front of the field.
The Australians have 2 of last year’s silver medal crew, Karsten Fosterling and Cameron Girdlestone. David Watts and David Crawshay from the 2015 crew make way for James McRae and Alex Belonogoff. These two were in the M2X last year that finished 5th. McRae and Fosterling were also part of the crew that won bronze in London. The Australians have been steadily improving during this Olympiad, there was no Aussie representative at the 2013 Worlds and in 2014 they came 15th, they followed that up with the superb silver in 2015. They will be one of the favourites to medal in Lucerne.
The British looked to be on the verge of making this event their own. Gold medals throughout the 2014 season they narrowly missed out on the gold at the World Championships. 2015 was blighted by injury to Charlie Cousins, GB’s no.1 sculler, and they finished just out of the medals in Aiguebelette. As with the Germans they had a disappointing regatta at the European Championships finishing 5th. But, like the Germans they will be expecting a much stronger performance in Lucerne and if they can recapture their 2014 form they will be medals challengers.
Four of the crews racing in Lucerne are also entered for the Final Olympic Qualifying regatta, Russia, Canada, China and the USA. The Russians have made the strongest start to the season, with gold at Varese and bronze at the Europeans. They have a blistering start and got the drop on the field in Varese, in Brandenburg they tried the same tactic but got overhauled in the sprint to the line. The Canadians were 2nd to the Russians in Varese and at the time of writing finished 2nd to them again in the heat of the FOQR.
The Lithuanians, Dovydas Nemeravicius, Martynas Dziaugys, Dominykas Jancionis and Aurimas Adomavicius, finished runners up in Brandenburg, a strong start to the season following a 6th place last year.
The final crew to mention are the Swiss, Markus Kessler, Augustin Maillefer, Nico Stahlberg and Roman Roeoesli. 5th in the world last year they had some injury worries to Maillefer at the start of the season meaning Kessler raced the single and Stahlberg and Roeoesli in the double at the Europeans. Back in the quad it’ll be interesting to see what form they have.
My picks…Germany, Australia, Russia
Both the Australians and Americans are racing at the FOQR as well, so it remains to be seen if they decide to race at Lucerne as well….I guess a lot depends on if they both qualify….it’s looking tight between them and the Italians for the 2 spots..
But, for most observers the M8 is all about GB v Germany. The British have won the World titles in 2013, 2014 and 2015 with the Germans taking silver each time. At the European Championships the Germans got the better of the British 8 (who only just managed to hold off the Belarussians for bronze). But, for British supporters the “silver lining” in this result is that it follows the pattern from 2014 and 2015 when the British 8 finished behind the Germans but then went on to win when it matters. The British were bitterly disappointed with their showing in Brandenburg and will be itching to put things right in Lucerne.
For their part the Germans will have been pleased to have made a winning start to their Olympic year and Brandenburg was their first win against a British 8 since the corresponding Championships in 2015.
One of the surprise performances at Brandenburg was that of the Russians. They had a storming middle 1K (perhaps aided by a favourable lane draw) and were leading both the Germans and British, in the final quarter they were unable to hold off a massive sprint from the Germans (who covered the final 500m 2.5 seconds quicker than anyone else). I am very sceptical about all Russian athletes at the moment given the accusations of an endemic doping culture throughout Russian sport. There is some discussion about whether Russia will be suspended from competing at Rio entirely, a position a strongly endorse. It remains to be seen if the Russians appear in Rio and whether their early season speed lasts.
The Kiwis are the other crew that are likely medallists. They are a young crew having raced together at U23 level and narrowly missed out on the medals in 2015. They are one of the best Kiwis M8 since the great Olympic gold medal crew of 1972, indeed the 2015 crew became the first NZL M8 to reach a World Championship A final in 30 years.
The Dutch had a great race at Varese taking the win ahead of the Italians and Poles. But in Brandenburg they suffered from an unfavoured lane. They gave it a good go, leading to the first marker and 2nd at halfway, they then struggled in the rough water eventually ending up 6th. Interestingly this weekend they were racing on home water at the Bosbaan Regatta and beat an outstanding Nereus student crew by just 8/10th of a second!
My picks….I’m going to allow myself a bit of national favouritism and go for a GB victory ahead of the Germans with the Kiwis in 3rd.
Edit: The British heavyweight men have been struck down by the flu, Pete Reed Stan Louloudis and Stewart Innes have all succumbed. This means that some musical chairs have been going on in the British team. Callum McBrierty replaces Louloudis in the flagship M4-. It’s a great opportunity for him but also something of a poison chalice…if they win it’ll be put down to the strength of the rest of the crew, if they lose then it’ll all be blamed (unfairly) on him. As for my predictions I think the British will have a hard time in this revised format and may lose out to the USA.
Pete Reed’s replacement is Alan Sinclair. He’s an able substitute but it does naturally weaken the boat to a degree. The Brits had a tough challenge at full strength, with a slightly weakened line up the challenge just got harder. My instinct is that the Germans will make it 2 from 2 for 2016.
What this also means is that there will only be one GB M2- racing in Lucerne, robbing us of the fascinating contest between the two British pairs.