Time for part 2 of my preview of the Lucerne World Cup…the Women’s events.
This event sees the reigning Olympic champion against the reigning World Champion against the reigning European Champion and the current World Cup leader….basically all the major players in the event (bar one).
Lucerne sees the first appearance of the season of the world champion Kim Brennan (nee Crow). The showdown between her and the 2014 World Champion Emma Twigg, will be one of the highlights of the Olympics (and probably the 3rd World Cup).
Magdalena Lobnig of Austria was, perhaps, the surprise (and runaway) winner of the European Championships winning her first gold medal since the 2012 U23 World Championships. It was a great result for the Austrian following a disappointing result in Varese where she was 8th.
Carling Zeeman was also a somewhat surprise winner this season, taking the gold medal at the first World Cup. This was Canada’s first W1X gold medal at a World Cup since Lucerne 22 years ago (when Silke Laumann and Marnie McBean took a 1 – 2). After finishing 6th at Aiguebelette last year, Zeeman is definitely becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Mirka Knapkova has been one of the dominant forces in this boat class, winning senior medals since 2002, she’s an Olympic Champion, World Champion and four-time European champion. From 2001 to 2014 she made the A-Final every time she raced. But at the Worlds in Amsterdam the record was broken and she slipped to the B-Final. In 2015 she returned to form taking the silver medal behind Australia. But, in 2016 she’s had a very disappointing start to the season. Varese was her worst ever performance in 15 years of international competition when she ended up in the C-Final…13th overall. At Brandenburg she was back in the A-Final but finished over 50 seconds behind the winner perhaps struggling more than some others with the truly atrocious racing conditions all of the finalists faced. The question now is are these performances blips, or is there an underlying problem with the defending Olympic Champion as she heads to her 4th Olympic Games?
Two-time World Championship bronze medallist, Jingli Duan of China will also be a strong contender for medal in Lucerne. She raced in Varese finishing 6th which was a decent enough start to the season for her.
2015 was a bit of a breakthrough year for the USA’s Dr Gevvie Stone. The Bostonian won her first ever senior medal in Varese that year taking silver behind Brennan, and followed that up with bronze in Lucerne. A great season was topped off with an excellent 4th place at the World Championships (the best performance at a World Championships by a US W1X since Michelle Guerette won bronze in 2007). Could this be the year that Stone goes from medallist to champion?
Switzerland’s Jeannine Gmelin is another sculler who had a great 2015. Silver at the European Championships was followed up with a 5th place at the World Championships, the best ever performance by a Swiss W1X at a World Championships. So far this season she had a strong performance in Varese just missing the medals and then had to withdraw from the European Championships on medical grounds. Another good A-Final finish in such a strong field will be a great result as she seeks to become the 1st Swiss woman to race the single scull at an Olympic Games since Caroline Luethi in Athens.
New Zealand’s 2014 World Champion Emma Twigg won’t be racing at the World Cup having just raced the Qualifying Regatta. In her place New Zealand have the young Olivia Loe – silver medallists in the U23 4- in 2014.
My picks….Brennan for gold ahead of Stone in silver and Zeeman in bronze
GB’s outstanding women’s pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning look to continue their 4 year unbeaten run. They were untroubled at the European Championships winning by over 8 seconds ahead of Germany. It is outside of Europe where the real challenge lies for the British. The USA and New Zealand will be the main threats to the British dominance. Both countries have two pairs racing. The Kiwis no.1 pair of Rebecca Scown and Genevieve Behrent are doubling-up in the W8 and were silver medallists in that boat last year. Scown is highly experienced in the pair and was a runner-up to the British in 2012. The 2nd Kiwi pair are the far less experienced duo of Ashlee Rowe and Holly Greenslade.
The USA have two formidable pairs entered at Lucerne – Felice Mueller and Grace Luczak as USA1 and Meghan Musnicki and Elle Logan as USA2. Both of these pairs are doubling-up in the W8. All four of these athletes are world champions and the Americans have been the ones to push the British the hardest in the last few years.
The British also have a 2nd pair racing, Donna Etiebet and Vikki Meyer-Laker. These two were part of the W8 last year but lost their seats for 2016. By the looks of things they will be the spares for Rio.
The South African pairing of Lee-Ann Perse and Kate Christowitz made an impressive start to their 2016 campaign with a win at the first World Cup. For Christowitz it was especially impressive as it marked her senior debut. Perse was in this boat for the 2015 season finishing 5th at the World Championships.
The Canadians have also made one change to their 2015 crew with Cailegh Filmer replacing Christy Nurse in the boat with Jennifer Martins. Filmer is making her senior debut this season following a silver medal at U23 level last year. At her first senior regatta she and Martins finished 7th in Varese.
The Chinese are one of the few boats racing who also raced at the FOQR, Min Zhang and Tian Miao successfully qualified for Rio by finishing 2nd to the Spanish.
The final 2 crews to mention are the Germans and the Danes. Sweep rowing always seems to be the poor relation of German women’s’ team where sculling is everything. But, in Kerstin Hartmann and Kathrin Marchand the Germans have a good quality pairing that took silver behind the British in Brandenburg and were 4th in Varese.
The Danes, Hedvig Rasmussen and Anne Andersen, are also a strong unit and were the 2nd best European crew in 2015 finishing 4th at the World Championships.
My picks…GB to continue their unbeaten run with the USA in 2nd (not sure if it’ll be USA1 or 2) and NZL 1 in 3rd.
This is almost as much about who isn’t there as who is. The British are the defending Olympic Champions but their revised line-up of Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley haven’t shown consistent speed and medal potential. This culminated in a disappointing 4th place at Brandenburg and the announcement that after Lucerne they will be trialled in the W8. If they don’t make the boat faster then we could still see them race the double in Rio, unless Grainger decides to retire rather than risk her medal record. If they do go into the 8 then I expect GB to put together a new W2x from a group consisting of the W4X (who failed to qualify at the FOQR) and whoever gets bumped from the 8.
Anyway….enough of the machinations of GB selection…onto those crews who are racing in Lucerne.
New Zealand will be starting as strong favourites, world champions for the past 2 years they are the dominant nation in this boat class, and the latest iteration of Zoe Stevenson and Eve Macfarlane look worthy successors to the Evers-Swindell twins, winners of the prestigious Thomas Keller medal this year.
Leading the chase of the Kiwis will be the Germans, Julia Lier and Mareike Adams were silver medallists in Brandenburg and bronze medallists in Aiguebelette last year. Lier was in the gold medal quad in 2014.
Another medal potential crew are the young Greek crew, Aikaterini Nikolaidou and Sofia Asoumanaki. They were runners-up to the Kiwis at the World Championships last year and are one of the most exciting young crews on the circuit. There 2016 season got off to a shaky start when they missed the A-Final at the European Championships ending up 7th overall. I would expect a stronger performance in Lucerne and they will be expecting a medal.
The Belarussians had a good start to 2016 with the double of Yuliya Bichyk and Tatsiana Kukhta taking gold in Brandenburg. The question is how much did they benefit from a favourable lane draw in the Brandenburg final?
The Lithuanians are another medal winning crew who’ve had a rocky start to 2016. The 2013 World Champions were 5th in Brandenburg and were also 5th at the World Championships last year. They’ve yet to recapture the form that won them gold at the start of the Olympiad.
My picks…New Zealand for the win with Germany 2nd and Greece in bronze.
A relatively small field (that includes 2 US boats). But it’s a high class field with the top 5 from Aiguebelette all racing and all with the same line-ups (with the exception of the World Champion US crew who have made one change with Kara Kohler replacing Amanda Elmore). This has the makings of a really tight contest. The Germans were devastated to lose their world title to the Americans last year and will be looking for this first opportunity to gain revenge. They raced in Brandenburg and won their 2nd consecutive European title.
The American 2nd boat are no slouches…all four of them have World Championship gold medals (Grace Latz, Amanda Polk, Emily Huelskamp and Kerry Simmonds). From the look of it they could well be the US W4- for the World Championships but as no other country entered the women’s 4 in Lucerne they’ve switched to the quad instead.
The Dutch were bronze medallists last year and have had a good start to their 2016 season. Silver medallists in Varese they were 4th in Brandenburg. The Dutch have high hopes that this crew can grab a medal in Rio and a medal in Lucerne will be a great result for them.
The Poles won gold in Varese and silver in Brandenburg, but were beaten to the bronze by the Dutch in Aiguebelette last season, it’s always mighty close between these two boats, in Varese they beat the Dutch by just 13/100th of a second. It’s going to be exciting seeing these two going toe-to-toe again.
Australia have the same line up that finished 5th last year and 4th in 2014 with Jessica Hall, Jennifer Cleary, Kerry Hore and Madeleine Edmunds. With Lucerne being their opening race of the 2016 season it’ll be interesting to see what speed they have brought to the Olympic season.
The final crew racing are the Chinese. They have half the crew that took silver in 2014, Yan Jiang and Xinyue Zhang. They are joined by Ling Zhang and Wuyei Wang. This quartet won the FOQR at the start of the week to book their place in Rio. It’ll be a good test for them to go up against the top 5 crews from last year.
My picks…Germany in gold with Poland silver and the USA in bronze.
There are 7 crews on the entry list but only 5 on the startlist for the “Exhibition” race. Australia and China aren’t listed as racing the exhibition race so it’s not clear if they have withdrawn or if there will be a 7 boat final (it’s not mandatory to race an “Exhibition” race). Both of these crews raced unsuccessfully at the FOQR so they may have decided to give their legs a bit of a rest.
The leading boat, as always, in this boat class are the USA. You have to go back to Gifu in 2005 for the last time the USA were beaten at a World Championships. What’s more they’ve never looked like being beaten since then either. It’s a testament to the strength of women’s rowing in the US that they can produce such outstanding crews year after year. A lot of this is down to the US Collegiate system which is rumoured to be worth $50m per year and provides a huge talent pool on which to draw.
The chasing pack behind the Americans however is getting very tight. More often than not it’s been the Canadians who have been playing the Bridesmaid to the US, a position they filled throughout the 4 years of the London Olympiad. So far in this Olympiad it’s been a bit more varied with the Romanians taking silver in 2013 and the Kiwis last year.
In Lucerne it looks like the battle for the silver will come down to the Cannucks, Kiwis and the new European champions Great Britain. The Kiwis are doubling up in the W2-, which they did last year as well. I’m not convinced this helps them in either boat class but has been successful in bringing home medals..just not gold ones.
The British have strengthened their boat from last year and their victory in Brandenburg was the first gold medal for a GB W8 since the 1st World Cup in Bled in 2010. There is a lot of pressure on this crew as they know they face further selection battles with Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley as soon as they get back from Lucerne. A good medal in this World Cup will be a good marker for Rio but also a strong message to the selectors to be wary of mucking around with a successful line-up.
The final crew to mention are the Russians, bronze medallists at both Varese and Brandenburg this season. They took the final direct qualifying spot for Rio last year when they finished 5th. However, given what has been going on with Russian sport recently and all the allegations of systematic state-sponsored doping (which has now extended to include a member of the Russian M8) I am a strong advocate of a total ban on Russia competing at the Rio Olympics. I think the IOC and all relevant sporting bodies need to send a clear and unequivocal to the Russian authorities that this sort of flagrant disregard of the doping laws will not be tolerated. Yes, this may mean that some “clean” athletes will have their Olympic dreams shattered but that is the price Russia, as a nation, must pay for the damage they have inflicted on the Olympic movement. I cannot trust any performance by a Russian sports team at the moment. A horrible state of affairs to be in.
My picks….USA for gold, New Zealand in silver and GB bronze.