The Tokyo Olympiad has officially started – it’s the first World Cup. This year the honour goes to Belgrade in Serbia to launch the international season. I love the first World Cup of the year, it’s the chance to see international crews compete for the first time. The first regatta of an Olympiad is even more interesting as it’s the time when new athletes come to the fore and new combinations are tried.
The Ada Ciganlija Regatta course in Belgrade is on Sava Lake, just 5km from the city centre. It last hosted a World Cup in 2012 and was also the host of the European Championships in 2014.
So, who will be challenging for the honours, and laying down a marker at the start of the new Olympiad?
Aleksandar Aleksandrov – Azerbaijan
27 year old Aleksandrov was World Rowing’s “Rising Star” in January 2013, he won Junior world silver at just 16 and followed that up with gold aged 17. Medals at U23 level followed and he ended the London Olympiad with a superb 5th place. Since then he’s been switching between the single and double and hasn’t, if I’m brutally honest, delivered on the promise he showed in the London Olympiad. I thought he would become a regular on the podium. The move to the M2X didn’t really work, a 12th place in Rio showed that. What’ll be really interesting now is to see if he focusses on the single and recaptures the sort of form that made him a medal contender in London.
Stanislau Shcharbachenia – Belarus
Shcharbachenia ended the Rio Olympiad with a superb 5th place in the M1X. The Olympics was his first A-Final appearance since the 2nd World Cup in 2015 (apart from the 2016 Euro’s). So it could be argued he over-performed at Rio – or, peaked at just the right time depending on your point of view. The question now is, can he build on that Rio performance and become a regular A-Final performer?
Boris Yotov – Bulgaria
Yotov made is senior international debut on this course in 2012, 2.5 months after his 16th birthday. Throughout his international career he has raced for Azerbaijan, culminating in 12th place in the M2X with Aleksandrov in Rio. But he is now using his Bulgarian heritage to race in their colours. It’s going to be interesting to see him line up against his former team-mate.
Damir Martin – Croatia
The stand-out sculler of 2016, the dual he had with Mahe Drysdale in the Olympic final was one of the greatest races in Olympic history. With the absence of the big Kiwi it’s now Martin who is looking to be top dog. In 2016 no-one (except Mahe) could get close to Damir. He won the first World Cup by 6 seconds and the European Championships by a frankly ridiculous 14 seconds. But, When Drysdale appeared in Europe he was pushed down to 2nd. He’ll be looking to repeat the performance of 2016 and lay down a big marker with a gold
Martin Sinkovic – Croatia
Probably the biggest challenger to Damir Martin could from his fellow countryman. The Sinkovic brothers formed the most outstanding M2X in history – becoming the first crew in that boat class to break 6 minutes. After Rio they announced they were switching to the M2- and this was the crew I was most looking forward to seeing race this year. But, Valent Sinkovic is injured so I’ll have to wait a little longer! In his absence Martin returns to two-oared racing. He’s coming off the back of a win at the Croatia Open and will provide a massive test for Damir Martin. If Sinkovic does get the better of Martin that’ll raise some interesting questions for the Croatian selectors!
Angel Fournier Rodriguez – Cuba
The big Cuban finished 2016 somewhat disappointingly. Medals at both the first and 2nd World Cups suggested that he could make the podium in Rio. As it was he only just made the final, holding off a late charge from Mexico’s Juan Carlos Cabrera, to claim 3rd in the semi-final. In the final he was never in the hunt and ended up 6th, 7 seconds behind Shcharbachenia. Angel is a frustrating sculler to watch sometimes, he sculls beautifully, but occasionally he seems in a world of his own.
Pete Lambert – Great Britain
Pete spent the Rio Olympiad as part of Great Britain’s outstanding M4X, winning an historic World Championship silver in 2014. Injuries robbed the British of a possible medal in Rio. Following a slightly disappointing result at the recent GB Trials (where he finished 5th) he loses his seat in the M4X and is (for this regatta at least) racing the single. Whether he stays in this boat class for the rest of the season remains to be seen. GB haven’t yet selected a M2X, and with the likes of Angus Groom currently out injured it’s highly likely that Lambert will move into a crew boat later in the season. But, for Belgrade, he’s racing the single, and he’ll be keen to impress the British selectors with a strong performance. Reaching the A-Final would certainly be a good result for him.
Dominykas Jancionis – Lithuania
Jacionis is probably the pick of the three Lithuanian scullers racing in Belgrade (the others being Zygimantas Galisankis and Armandas Kelmelis – more on him below). Jancionis raced in the M4X in Rio finishing 9th. A former U23 M2X World Champion, Belgrade will be the first time he has raced internationally in the M1X and, like Lambert, will be keen to impress his country’s selectors as they look at crew boat selection.
Armandas Kelmelis – Lithuania
As mentioned above, there are three Lithuanians entered in the M1X at Belgrade, and the rivalry between countrymen always makes for an interesting side battle at international regattas. Kelmelis is an exciting young sculler, following a re-jigging of crews in the Lithuanian squad because of injuries, he was selected to race the M1X at the Rio Olympics at the age of 18, finishing 19th (Not many athletes can say they made their senior international debuts at an Olympic Games). He followed this up a couple of weeks later with gold at the Junior World Championships. It’ll be interesting to see how the Lithuanian team use him, if he stays in the single he could well be a force to reckon with in Tokyo and beyond.
Stefan Broenink – The Netherlands
The Netherlands have two scullers racing in Belgrade, the first is Stefan Broenink and the other is international debutant Bastiaan Collette of the Okeanos Club. Broenink raced the World Cup series last year in the M1X with a best performance of 4th in Lucerne. He’s a little inconsistent, the 4th in Lucerne was preceded by 14th at the Europeans and 9th in Varese. It’ll be a great performance for him to make the A-Final in Belgrade.
Dariusz Radosz – Poland
The 2nd of two Polish scullers (Poland 1 is Maciej Zawoski). Radosz is doubling up in the M4X in Belgrade. He spent the Rio Olympiad in the quad finishing up just outside of the medals in 4th place. Belgrade will be the first time he’s raced internationally in the single scull.
Vladislav Rybacev – Russia
There’s a large Russian contingent at Belgrade, and I must admit am a little uneasy about their participation. The spectre of doping still hangs over the Russian team. Rybacev was a member of the Russian M4X that won the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta before being disqualified after Sergey Fedorovstev was caught doping. He’s undoubtedly a very talented sculler and he and the whole Russian team will be under enormous scrutiny this year as they all try and rebuild Russia’s tarnished reputation.
Marko Marjanovic – Serbia
A University of California alumni, Marjanovic raced in the M2X at the Rio Olympics finishing 4th in the B-Final. The highlight of his career so far was silver in the M2X at the 1st World Cup in 2015.
Nico Stahlberg – Switzerland
The Swiss M4X was one of the outstanding crews of the Rio Olympiad, medals at the 1st and 3rd World Cups was followed by a 7th place finish in Rio. The quad isn’t racing in Belgrade so it’ll be interesting to see how Stahlberg fares in the single, the last time he raced in this boat class was at Lucerne in 2014 where he finished 16th. I expect he’ll do much better than that in Belgrade.
John Graves – United States of America
The sole US entry in Belgrade, Graves won the US Speed Order trials recently establishing himself as the fastest sculler in America. He was part of the US quad that narrowly missed qualification for the Rio Olympics. His last appearance internationally in the single scull was back in 2013 when he finished 9th in Lucerne. I would expect a solid B-Final finish for him in Belgrade.
Other scullers racing are Steve Hiestand of Brazil (16th at the final World Cup last year), Bendeguz Petevari-Molnar of Hungary (14th in Rio), Zygimantis Galisankis of Lithuania (6th in the M4X in 2015), Bastiaan Collette of the Netherlands (making his international debut), Maciej Zawoski of Poland (14th in the M2X in 2015), Maksim Golubev of Russia (who raced in the M8 last season).
My picks – I think this could be a Croatian 1,2 but as to who is first and who is 2nd……I think Sinkovic could get the better of Martin with Shcharbachenia of Belarus in 3rd.
The Belarussians have three crews racing in this event. The pick of the three looks to be BLR2 with Mikalai Sharlap and Ihar Pashevich. This duo were part of the M4- that won silver at the European Championships and went on to finish 9th at the Rio Olympics.
Lukas Helesic and Jakub Podrazil. This pairing finished just outside of the medals at the 2016 European Championships and qualified for the Olympics by winning the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta. In Rio they had a strong regatta, bouncing back from a disappointing 6th in the semi to win the B-Final and claim 7th overall (the best performance by a Czech pair at the Olympics since Czechoslovakia finished 5th in 1980). 2017 could see them build on that performance and step up to become regular A-Final performers.
Pau Vela Maggi and Alexander Sigurbjonsson. These two have been racing as a pair for the last six years and in that time have become Spain’s leading boat. They just missed qualifying for the London Olympics but ended the 2012 season as European silver medallists. Perhaps their strongest performance was a 4th place at the 2014 World Championships. They couldn’t quite match that level of performance in the run up to the Rio Olympics and finished last in their Repecharge meaning they missed out on the B-Final. They are a very talented pairing and one their day they could be medal contenders.
The British have two pairs racing in Belgrade, both are talented young pairs. Racing as GBR1 are Jacob Dawson and Matt Rossiter. Dawson is one of the first US educated athletes to be selected for the senior British men’s team. The University of Washington graduate is making his international debut. He’s joined by Matt Rossiter who is also making his (long overdue) senior debut. He last raced internationally when he won silver at the U23 World Championships in 2010. A serious back injury followed and he’s finally getting a chance to fulfil the promise he showed as an U23. This pairing won the right to race the M2- after a strong performance at the British trials where they finished a superb 2nd. A medal in Belgrade is a definite possibility. The 2nd British boat are Sam Arnot and Tom Jeffrey. This pairing are both Henley winners and Arnot is World University Champion with Newcastle. They finished 6th at the British trials and a good B-Final finish in Belgrade will be a good job done.
Adrian Juhosz and Bela Simon Jr are a long established pairing having been racing in this boat class together since 2009 when they won silver at the U23 World Championships. The highlight of their career so far is probably a somewhat unexpected gold at the 2016 European Championships. They qualified for the Olympics by taking 2nd at the Final Qualifying Regatta and then performed well in Rio taking 9th overall.
The Irish look to have come to Belgrade to have fun and get lots of racing. Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll are doubling up in the LM2- as well. Last year they just missed out on the medals in the light pair at the World Championships and like most lightweights they will be relishing the chance to race with the “Big Boys” and see how many heavyweight scalps they can claim.
Mitchell Steenman and Mechiel Versluis. On paper the 2016 crew of Steenman and Roel Braas looked to be strong medal contenders at the Olympics. They had finished 4th in 2015 and were regulars on the podium throughout the 2016 season. However their performance in Rio was disappointing. In the run up to the Games they were considered (especially by me) as strong medal contenders, but a lacklustre performance in the heat and semi-final saw them relegated to the B-Final where they finished 2nd to the Hungarians. It’s perhaps not surprising therefore that for 2017 the Dutch are trying a new combination. Braas is out and in his place comes Mechiel Versluis. He was a member of the outstanding Dutch M8 that won bronze in Rio and was also a member of the M4- that won world championship gold in 2013. This is a very exciting combination, and in the absence of the mighty Kiwi pair could become the leading crew of 2017.
The Poles are another nation with two boats racing. The lead boat are Piotr Juszcak and Krystian Aranowski. They were both members of the Polish M8 that finished 5th in Rio. For Belgrade they have been replaced in the M8 but will be looking to establish themselves as a strong M2-. Racing the small boat will be something of a novelty for both men, neither have raced internationally in any boat class apart from the M8 since a brief foray into the M4- in 2009! The 2nd Polish pair are the Leszczynski brothers, Filip and Karol. They are making their senior debuts having both raced at U23 level.
Nenad Bedik and Milos Vasic. Another experienced pairing, the highlight for the Serbians is undoubtedly their World Championship bronze medal in 2015. Their 2016 form couldn’t quite match the heights they reached in 2015 making the A-Final at the European Championships and Poznan World Cup. In Rio they are best remembered for capsizing shortly after the start of their heat, fortunately for them they were allowed to continue but struggled in the semi-final and missed out on a A-final spot. In the B-Final they finished 4th taking 10th overall.
Silvan Zehnder and Markus Kessler. A new pairing, Kessler spent 2016 sculling, winning bronze as part of the M4X in Lucerne and finishing 9th in the M1X in Poznan. His partner, Zehnder, is also a sculler and finished 12th in the LM1X at the 2016 World Championships.
My picks…The Dutch look the strongest on paper but I expect good things from the young British pair. Netherlands for the win, with GB in 2nd and the experienced Serbians in bronze.
Mihal Dzianis and Pilip Pavukou. Mihal was a member of the M4- that finished 9th in Rio and Pavukou finished 8th in the U23 M1X last year. They have raced as a M2X on these waters before, back in 2014 when they finished 17th at the European Championships.
Kristian Vasilev and Georgi Bozhilov. This double finished 2015 in 11th place, securing their entry to the Rio Olympics. At the Games they had a disappointing semi-final but followed this with a good performance in the B-Final taking 3rd (9th overall). They ended the 2016 season at the World Championships in Rotterdam racing in the M2+ where they finished 15th.
For the past few years seeing Croatia on the entry list for the M2X meant a guarantee of a gold medal. But, the awesome Sinkovic brothers have left this boat class. In their place are David Sain and Luka Baricevic. Sain was part of the outstanding Croatian M4X that won silver at the London Olympics. 2015 was spent in the M2- that failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics and now his back in a sculling boat. He’s joined by 22 year old Baricevic who makes his senior international debut in Belgrade after three years as part of the Croatian U23 team. In 2016 he raced the BM1X at the U23’s finishing 22nd. This duo have big shoes to fill as the Croatian M2X!
Tonu Endrekson and Allar Raja. The Estonians were members of the outstanding M4X that won bronze in Rio. For 2017 they step out of the quad and look to form a fast double. With the dominant Sinkovic’s now out of this boat class, there’s a certain amount of scrambling around in the boat class as nations look to find fast combinations that can step into the gap left by the Croatians. On paper it looks like the Estonians could be strong medal contenders.
Gergely Papp and Jozsef Mathiesz. Papp raced in this boat class in 2015 finishing 21st. In Belgrade he’s joined by Mathiesz who has finished 11th in the BM1X at the last three U23 World Championships.
Paul and Gary O’Donovan. Undoubtedly the most popular crew of 2016, their silver medal in the LM2X at the Rio Olympics (and their subsequent tv appearances) have become legendary. They have a massive workload ahead of them in Belgrade as they are slated to race, not only the M2X, but also the LM2X and LM1X. As with their countrymen in the M2-, they will relish the chance of knocking off a few heavyweight crews, and who knows, they could even make the podium.
The Lithuanians have 2 crews racing, undoubtedly the strongest, and favourites to win gold in Belgrade, are Mindaugus Griskonis and Saulius Ritter. This double was only put together just before the Olympics after Ritter’s regular partner, Rolandas Mascinskas, was injured. Griskonis was due to race the M1X but was drafted into the M2X. With only a few weeks to prepare it looked like Lithuania’s strong medal chances had gone. But, Griskonis and Ritter had an outstanding Olympic regatta, winning their heat and semi-final and giving the Croatians a real run for their money in the final, leading to half way and ending up taking the silver just over a second behind the Croats. Heading into the new Olympiad this double will surely start as favourites. The 2nd Lithuanian crew are the U23 pairing of Bieliauskas Giedrius and Armandas Kelmelis (who’s also racing the M1X).
Domink Czaja and Adam Wicenciak. Czaja raced at the World Cups with Dawid Grabowski in the M2X last year, finishing an excellent 2nd in Varese. They were disappointed not to qualify for Rio and Czaja ended the season with a 4th place in the U23 BM4X. Wicenciak raced with Czaja at the European Championships last year, finishing 8th. In 2013 he raced in the Polish quad that won silver at the European Championships.
Pavel Sorin and Andrey Potapkin. Sorin raced in the M8 during 2016 taking silver at the European Championships. He ended the season racing at the U23 World Championships where he was part of the BM4X that finished 7th. His partner, Potapkin, missed qualification in the M1X for the Rio Olympics finishing 4th in the Semi-final at the Final Olympic Qualifying regatta. He subsequently raced at the U23 World Championships finishing 6th in the BM1X
Nik Krebs and Miha Aljanic. 18 year old Krebs and 19 year old Aljanic are both making their senior international debuts. It’s likely they will be the Slovenian U23 double and will be using Belgrade to gain valuable racing experience.
Roman Roeoesli and Barnabe Delarze. This is one of the crews I’m most looking forward to watching. They were both part of the excellent Swiss M4X last year that finished 7th at Rio. Now that boat has disbanded it’s a great opportunity for the Swiss to establish a strong new doubles combination. If they get it right they could be serious medal contenders.
My picks – the Lithuanians must start as clear favourites, but the battle behind them will be intense. I’m picking the Swiss for silver with the Bulgarians in bronze with the Estonians and Irish chasing them hard.
Dzmytry Belaus, Yauhen Aliakhnovich, Artsem Melnikau, Raman Vaitovich.
This quartet raced as part of the M8 at the European Championships last year finishing 4th behind the Germans, British and Russians. The Belarussians always have strong 4’s and this combination look to have some potential.
CZE1 Jakub Paroulek, Jan Potucek, Jakub, Makovica, Kornel Altman. Paroulek and Potucek raced in the men’s 8 at the European Championships last year finishing 9th. Makovica was in the M4- last year that missed qualification for the Olympics and Altman raced in the M2- in 2015 finishing 25th.
CZE2 Jan Vetesnik, Jan Hajek, Milan Viktora, Jiri Kopac. A boat of lightweights – Vetesnik and Kopac raced the LM4- at Rio finishing 12th. Hajek raced in the LM2- last year finishing 14th and Viktora finished 15th in the LM1X. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare against their heavyweight opponents and whether this is a permanent move towards heavyweight following the removal of the LM4- from the Olympic programme?
Jon Carazo Tobar, Javier Garcia Ordonez, Ismael Montes, Jaime Canalejo Pazos. Ordonez, Montes and Pazos were part of the M4- that missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics after a 4th place finish at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta. For 2017 they are joined by Tobar who raced in the M8 in 2016 that also missed qualification for Rio at the FOQR.
Mo Sbihi, Will Satch, Matt Tarrant, Stewart Innes. Great Britain’s flagship boat and the standout crew at the regatta. Sbihi and Satch are Olympic champions and both three-time World Champions from the M8. They are joined by Stewart Innes who finished 4th in the M2- in Rio and Matt Tarrant, World Champion in the M2+ in 2015. The British have big shoes to fill from the outstanding boat of 2016 and they will expect to win. They will be looking to put down a dominant performance to show the likes of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA that, as far as the British are concerned, it’s business as usual.
NED1 Roel Braas, Bjorn Van Den Ende, Boaz Meylink, Ruben Knab
The Dutch have two very strong boats in Belgrade to try and spoil the British party. The no.1 boat has three Olympians, Braas raced in the M2-, Meylink won bronze in the M8. and Van Den Ende who finished 11th in the LM4-. The 4th member of the crew is Ruben Knab who raced in the M1X at the first World Cup last year finishing 14th. It’ll be interesting to see how this boat gets on as Braas and Knab are known to be quite “fiery” characters.
NED2 Vincent Van der Want, Jaspar Tissen, Harold Langen, Govert Viergever.
The 2nd Dutch crew may well be the stronger of the two. Van der Want, Langen and Viergever were all part of the M4- that finished 5th in Rio. They are joined by Jaspar Tissen who makes his senior debut following an 8th place in the U23 BM8 in 2014.
RUS1 Roman Lomachev, Ivan Podshivalov, Yuriy Pshenichnikov, Dmitry Kuznetsov
Kuznetsov was part of the M4- that finished 4th at the European Championships last year. Pshenichnikov raced at the 1st World Cup last year finishing 17th in the M2-, Podshivalov raced at WC2 in the M8 and Lomachev was in the M8 that won silver at the European Championships.
RUS2 Daniil Andrienko, Alexandr Stradaev, Grigorii Shchulepov, Semen Yaganov
Andrienko and Yaganov raced in the M8 that came 6th at Lucerne last year and took silver at the Europeans. Stradaev and Shchulepov raced in the U23 M8 last year that finished 9th
RUS3 Alexander Chaukin, Maksim Telitcyn, Aleksandr Bogdashin, Aleksey Vikulin
This quartet were the Russian LM4- last year, they won the Final Olympic Qualifying regatta but were unable to take up their spot as they couldn’t satisfy the anti-doping criteria laid down by FISA and the IOC. They will be starting 2017 with something to prove.
Igor Djeric, Igor Lucic, Damjan Lazic, Aleksandar Bedik
A young crew, three of the boat (Djeric, Lazic and Bedik) will make their senior debuts in Belgrade having come from the junior team. Only Igor Lucic has senior international experience, and was in this boat last year finishing 9th at the first World Cup.
Nicholas Kamber, Scott Baerlocher, Joshua Meyer, Benjamin Hirsch
Another young crew, all making their senior international debuts. Kamber and Hirsch finished 7th in the U23 BM4+ last year and Meyer 24th in the BM1X. 19 year old Baerlocher from Baden Ruderclub makes his first appearance in the national team.
My picks…anything other than a win will be disappointing for the British, but the Dutch will chase them hard as will the Russians. I’m picking a British win with the two Dutch boats in silver and bronze.
Martin Basl, Tomas Emr, Matyas Klang, Vojtech Rimak
Basl and Rimak raced in this boat class last season finishing 8th (of 8) at the European Championships in Brandenburg. Emr is making his senior debut after an appearance in the junior team back in 2008 and Klang narrowly missed qualifying for Rio finishing 3rd in the M2X at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta (where he raced with the late Michal Plocek).
Joosep Laos, Kaur Kuslap, Kaspar Taimsoo, Sten-Erik Anderson
This new look quad from Estonia has only one survivor from the line-up that won the European championships and went on to take bronze in Rio – Kaspar Taimsoo. He’s joined by Sten-Erik Anderson who raced the M2X at the European Championships finishing a disappointing 14th (of 14). Kaur Kuslap and Joosep Laos who both raced in the M2X during the 2015 season. This looks to be a development boat for the Estonians with Tokyo very much in mind.
GBR1 Tom Barras, Jonny Walton, Jack Beaumont, John Collins.
The British are another country with a new look quad, albeit with a lot of experienced and familiar faces. Walton, Collins and Beaumont all raced at Rio with Collins and Walton finishing 5th in the M2X and Beaumont (called in as a last minute sub for an injured Graeme Thomas) finished 5th in the M4X. Collins and Walton were the GB M2X throughout the Rio Olympiad and the change to the quad is a significant step change for them. Interestingly GB haven’t entered a M2X at this regatta. The fourth member of the crew is the young Welshman, Tomm Barras. He finished 5th at the U23 world Championships last year and produced an outstanding performance at the GB Trials taking 4th and effectively pushing Pete Lambert out of the crew. There are high expectations of this crew and they will be expecting a decent medal.
GBR2 Andrew Joel, Harry Leask, Rowan Law, Harry Glenister
This quartet are the reigning U23 silver medallists and will be looking to go one better at this year’s U23 World Championships. The opportunity to race against senior crews will give invaluable experience in their campaign to win U23 gold. They are four very evenly matched scullers (just what you need for a quad) at the recent GB trials they finished 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th.
Rolandas Mascinskas, Martynas Dziaugys, Aurimas Adamovicius, Dovydas Nemeravicius
This crew contains three of the boat that finished 9th at Rio (Dziaugys, Adamovicius and Nemeravicius). The fourth member of the crew is Mascinskas. As mentioned above, he was part of the highly fancied M2X heading into the Olympics, but injury ruined his Olympic hopes of competing at his 2nd Olympics.
Amos Keijser, Koen Metesmakers, Nikki Van Sprang, Wouter Withagen
Keijser made his senior debut at the 3rd World Cup in 2016 where he finished 14th in the M1X, he followed that up with a bronze medal in the BM2X at the U23 World Championships in Rotterdam. Koen Metemakers is another who made his senior debut during the 2016 World Cup series racing in the M2X at Poznan finishing 9th. At the 2015 Summer Universiade he took bronze behind Lithuania and Italy. Van Sprang and Withagen both raced in the Dutch U23 M8 in 2014 and make their senior debuts in Belgrade. Van Sprang is another graduate of the University of California and won several IRA medals during his time at Berkeley.
Mateusz Biksup, Dariusz Radosz, Wiktor Chabel, Miroslaw Zietarski
The Poles will be starting as clear favourites in Belgrade. They are the only settled line-up from 2016 and just missed out on the medals in Rio finishing 4th. Poland have a strong tradition in this boat class, in the mid 00’s they dominated the event winning 4 World Championships and Olympic gold between 2005 and 2009. With their current line-up retained from last year they will definitely be strong challengers for honours during this Olympiad.
My picks: It’s going to be really tight between the Poles and the British, but I think the Poles greater experience together will see them take it, with the Lithuanians in bronze.
Tom Ford, Tim Clarke, Callum McBrierty, Cam Buchan, Tom Ransley, Adam Neill, James Rudkin, Lance Tredell, Henry Fieldman (cox).
This is a new look British 8 with only one member of the Olympic gold medal boat remaining, Tom Ransley. He’s joined by 2016 M2+ World Champion Callum McBrierty, and four guys making the step up from the U23 team (Ford, Clarke, Rudkin and Buchan). Cambridge University President, Lance Tredell last raced for GB at the 3rd World Cup in 2013. I have a feeling that this crew is very much a “one-off” for GB. There are a number of athletes who, through injury or University commitments, were unavailable for selection for Belgrade (guys like Pete Reed, Alan Sinclair, Ollie Cook, Will Warr, Josh Bugjaski). I think the crew for the European Championships (to be announced on 11th May) will have quite a different look to it. But, for the guys that have been selected to represent Great Britain it’s a fabulous opportunity to get racing experience at the senior level. For the GB management it’s all about building a good pipeline of talent to take them through to Tokyo.
Bo Wulling, Jaap Scholten, Nelson Ritsma, Michiel Oyen, Abe Wiersma, Lex Van den Herik, Freek Robbers, Mick Makker, Dieuwke Fetter
As with the British, the Dutch have a very different crew to that which raced last season. None of the Olympic bronze medal crew are racing in this boat in Belgrade. Instead the Dutch have selected the Nereus University crew, the first time in decades that a national M8 has been selected from a single University crew. This is the crew that lost in the final of the Ladies Plate at Henley last year (beaten somewhat controversially by a Leander crew containing 4 of the GB M8) and in the build up to this year’s Boat Race they had a couple of excellent races against the Oxford Blue Boat. The battle between them and the British is going to be fascinating. As an aside, this Dutch crew will also make history, they will become the first Senior Men’s 8 to be coxed by a woman at a World Cup Regatta (this follows the change in the rules of racing earlier this year). Now that’ll make a good question for your club’s next pub quiz!
Robert Fuchs, Bartosz Modrzynski, Marcin Brzezinski, Michal Szpakowski, Ryszard Ablewski, Daniel Trojanowski, Mateusz Wilangowski, Zbigniew Schodowski, Mikolaj Burda
The British and Dutch may have made wholesale changes to their crews from 2016 but the Poles have not. They keep seven of the crew that finished just out of the medals in Rio. The only two changes are Bartosz Modrzynski and Ryszard Ablewski. 20 year old Modrzynski makes his senior debut following two years in the U23 team, and Ablewski moves to the M8 having raced once in 2016 in the M2- and the previous 4 years in the M4-.
Artem Kosov, Ivan Balandin, Alexander Kulesh, Nikita Mogachev, Alexander Kornilov, Georgij Efremenko, Aleksander Stromkin, Anton Zarutskiy, Pavel Safonkin
Coached by the legendary Mike Spracklen, the Russian M8 made a big impact during 2016. But the strict anti-doping restrictions put on the Russians meant that the M8 didn’t get to race in Rio. Three of the crew raced in a makeshift M4- finishing 10th (Kosov, Morgachev and Zarutskiy). Balandin and Kulesh raced in the M4- that finished 4th at the European Championships with Kornilov and Efremenko part of the European silver medal M8. The Russians will have a big point to prove following their exclusion from Rio, but, at the same time the whole Russian team will be under intense scrutiny following the doping scandals affecting almost all Russian sport.
My picks: I think the Poles will be a bit too strong for the rest of the field. The battle between the young British and Dutch crews is going to be fascinating with the Russians fired up after the disappointments of last year. Despite only being a four crew race it has the potential to be quite a battle. Poland for gold with GB just ahead of the Dutch.
Nils Van Zandweghe – Belgium
The 2016 U23 BLM1X World Champion won a hoard of admirers last year after he and partner Tim Brys won the LM2X at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta only to have to forego their Olympic ambitions as the rules stated that only one male crew per nation can qualify via the FOQR. The Belgians decided that that would be Hannes Obreno in the M1X and not the LM2X.
Lika Radonic – Croatia
Radonic has been racing in the LM1X since 2014 and took bronze at the U23 World Championships in 2015. He had an excellent 2016 World Cup series with medals at all three Regattas, including gold at Lucerne. After such a strong season his performance at the World Championships was a bit of a disappointment for him where he struggled throughout the regatta finishing up 5th in the B-Final (11th overall).
Jan Cincibuch – Czech Republic
18 year old Cincibuch is making his senior debut in Belgrade. The 2016 World Junior 1X champion is an exciting young sculler. It’ll be a big step up for him competing in a world class field but it’ll offer great racing experience.
Jesus Gonzalez Alvarez – Spain
At the other end of the age spectrum to Cincibuch is 42 year old Jesus Gonzalez Alvarez. His international career stretches back to 1994 when he finished 7th in the U23 BM8. More recently he’s been racing in the LM2-, finishing 3rd at the 2016 European Championships and 12th at the World Championships.
Peter Galambos – Hungary
Galambos has been winning medals in this event since 2010 when he won gold at two World Cups and bronze at the World Championships. During the Rio Olympiad he raced in the LM2X with Daniel Matyasovszki, but the combination struggled and they missed out on qualification for Rio. Galambos returned to the single for the World Championships in Rotterdam winning a superb silver medal, his first medal since the 2013 World Championships.
Gary O’Donovan – Ireland
Part of the superb Irish LM2X with brother Paul, winning silver at the Rio Olympics. As mentioned above, the O’Donovan’s have a busy time ahead of them in Belgrade with racing not only in the LM1X, but also both the light and heavy doubles.
Paul O’Donovan – Ireland
It’s clear the Irish boys love to race. It would be easy to have expected Paul O’Donovan to have a well-earned rest after the silver medal in Rio. But the younger of the two O’Donovan’s raced the LM1X at the Rotterdam World Championships and took gold. He seems to be at his happiest when he’s racing. Despite trying to balance training with his studies at University College, Dublin the reigning World Champion will start as favourite in Belgrade.
Artur Mikolajczewski – Poland
Mikolajczewski was a member of the LM4X that won the World Championships back in 2012, the same year he also took silver in the U23 BLM2X. Throughout the Rio Olympiad he raced in the LM2X with his partner from the 2012 U23’s Milosz Jankowski. Their best performance was gold at the Eton World Cup in 2013. At Rio they had a good regatta making the A-Final. Belgrade will be his first international race in the LM1X and an A-Final placing in such a strong field would be a good result.
Rajko Hrvat – Slovenia
The Slovenian has raced the majority of his career in the single scull. His best performance was a silver medal at the 2015 World Championships. In 2016 he took bronze at the European Championships and at the Rotterdam World Championships he just missed out on the medals finishing in 4th.
Milos Stanojevic – Serbia
Stanojevic took bronze in the LM1X in 2015 before switching to the LM4- in 2016 in an attempt to qualify for the Olympic Games. This attempt was unsuccessful and Stanojevic returned to the LM1X for the World Championships. In Rotterdam he made the A-Final finishing up 6th.
Michael Schmid – Switzerland
Schmid took bronze in the LM1X in 2014, in 2015 he switched to the LM2X with partner Daniel Wiederkehr. They qualified for the Olympics and finished 13th overall.
Florin Rueedi – Switzerland
The 2nd of the Swiss boats, Rueedi is racing in the LM1X for the first time on the international stage. In 2016 he competed in the LM2- finishing 6th at the Lucerne World Cup and winning gold at the U23 World Championships.
Lukas Babac – Slovakia
Babac has the almost unique experience of racing both the LM1X and M1X at the same World Championships. In 2010 he took silver in the lightweight event and 18th as a heavyweight. In 2015 he settled in the lightweight single taking medals at all three World Cups and the European Championships. In 2016 he won gold at the European Championships and followed this up with bronze in Rotterdam.
Other scullers racing are two Austrian’s Matthias Taborsky and Jakob Zwoelfer and Tunisia’s Mohamed Taieb.
My picks….it’s a world class field with four of the six A-Finalists from last year’s World Championships. Along with O’Donovan senior and the talented young Van Zandweghe it’s possibly a stronger field than at last year’s World Championships. I’m going for Paul O’Donovan to take gold with his brother in 3rd and Hungary’s Galambos sandwiched between them.
Great Britain – Joel Cassells & Sam Scrimgeour. The British pair have been the leading crew in this event for the last couple of years winning a medal every time they raced. They won the World Championships in 2015 and went unbeaten throughout 2016 right up to the World Championships where, by their own high standards, they were slightly disappointed to “only” take bronze.
Hungary – David Forrai & Roland Szigeti. This duo raced in the LM4- during 2016 striving to make the Olympics. A 6th place at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta ended these hopes and they moved into the LM2- for the World Championships ending up 15th out of 16 boats.
Ireland – Mark O’Donovan & Shane O’Driscoll. As mentioned above the Irish are out to get as much racing experience as possible. O’Donovan and O’Driscoll are racing both the light and heavyweight pairs. In Rotterdam they finished one place behind the British just outside of the medals.
Russia – Nikita Bolozin & Aleksei Kiiashko. Bolozin is making his senior debut following two years in the U23 team which saw him finish 16th in the BLM2X in 2016. Kiiashko makes his 2nd senior appearance after finishing 10th in this boat class last year.
My picks, difficult to see anyone beating the British with the Irish in silver and the Hungarians in bronze.
Great Britain – Will Fletcher and Pete Chambers
Will Fletcher raced with Richard Chambers throughout the 2015 and 2016 season. A silver medal in their first race together at the European Championships in 2015 augured well and they followed that up with silver at the World Championships. There were high hopes of a medal at the Olympics but they struggled throughout the regatta and missed out on the A-final ending up 7th overall. Rich Chambers has now retired to take up a coaching job at Cambridge, in his place comes his younger brother, Pete. The younger Chambers raced in the LM4- for the past few years winning numerous World Cup and European Championship medals. He’s no stranger to the light double having raced with his brother to a World Championship bronze in 2013. A lot is expected of British crews and this new combination will be looking to lay down a strong marker.
Great Britain – Sam Mottram and Zak Lee-Green
It’s interesting to see a 2nd GB boat entered, it’s always fun to see competition between fellow countrymen. Mottram is a hugely talented U23 sculler having won silver in the BLM4X in 2015 and placed 6th in the BLM1X in 2016. Lee-Green raced in the LM4X in 2015 and 2016 finishing 4th and 6th respectively. At the recent GB Trials they finished 2nd and 3rd (behind Fletcher) and will definitely be looking to get one over on their team mates to give the selectors something to think about.
Hungary – Bence Tamas and Peter Csiszar
Tamas raced in the LM1X last season, winning the B-Final at the World Championships to take 7th overall. Csiszar also raced in Rotterdam, but at the U23’s were he finished 11th in the BLM2X partnered by Bence Szlovak. Together Tamas and Csiszar raced in the LM4X in 2015 that came 8th. An A-final finish in Belgrade would be a great result for them.
Ireland – Paul O’Donovan and Gary O’Donovan
I’ve already spoken about the O’Donovan boys twice in this preview. They are the Olympic silver medallists and (on paper) should be favourites for the gold in Belgrade, unless their hectic schedule counts against them. It’s a really strong (and big) field in Belgrade so they may have bitten off more they can chew. But if anyone can do it, it’s the Irish!
The Netherlands – Jort Van Gennep & Bart Lukkes
Van Gennep has, to date, spent his entire senior international career as part of the LM4- consistently reaching the A-Finals of international regattas. At Rio they had a tough regatta and “only” managed an 11th place. With the loss of the LM4- from the Olympic programme, the Dutch are now looking to find a competitive LM2X. Van Gennep is joined in Belgrade by Bart Lukkes. Lukkes is a two-time U23 BLM2X medallist and represented his country in the LM1X at the 2016 World Championships finishing 16th overall. Belgrade will be a good test of whether the Dutch have found a competitive double or not.
Poland – Milosz Jankowski and Jerzy Kowalski
Jankowski was a member of the LM4X that won gold at the 2012 World Championships. For the Rio Olympiad he switched to the LM2X with Artur Mikolajcewski. As a double they were always “there or thereabouts” at the front end of the B-Final. In Rio they had a great regatta making the A-Final finishing 6th overall. For 2017 Jankowski has a new partner, Jerzy Kowalski. Kowalski was part of the Polish LM4- that tried to qualify for the Olympics, unfortunately they failed to progress from the Repecharge. After this disappointment he switched to the LM1X and raced to a 13th place at the World Championships. I would expect a mid-B Final finish to be a reasonable result for the new Polish pairing.
Portugal – Pedro Fraga and Nuno Mendes
This duo seems to have been around forever. They first raced together way back in 2004 when they won silver at the U23 World Championships. They finished 7th in Beijing and followed that up with a wonderful 5th place in London. They took a break from partnering each-other after London, but came back together in 2016 to try and reach their 3rd Olympics. Unfortunately they missed out at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta finishing 5th.
Serbia – Marco Josic and Petar Jovanovich
This duo raced together at the 2015 and 2016 U23 World Championships finishing 7th and 8th respectively. They were joined by Nikola Cvijetic and Filip Prodanovic in an attempt to qualify the LM4- for Rio but did not progress past the Repecharge at the FOQR. Now back in the LM2X they are looking to make the step up from U23 to senior level racing.
Other crews: Belgium (Ruben Somers and Ward Lauwers – both making their senior debuts), The Czech Republic (Miroslaw Vrastil Jr and Jiri Simanek), Spain (Patricio Rojas Aznar and Alejandro Vera Ortega), A 2nd Dutch double (Freek Temming and Floris Loeffen – both making their international debuts) and a 2nd Portuguese double (Dinis Duarte Costa and Afonso Costa – 14th at last year’s U23 World Championships), Slovenia (Ales Jalen and Marko Bohla) and 2 Swiss doubles (Pascal Ryser and Andri Struzina in SUI1 and Julian Mueller and Matthias Fernandez as SUI2)
My picks. So long as the schedule is not too hard for them then the Irish must start as favourites. But the British have a lot to prove and the scalp of the Olympic silver medallists would be a great start to the Olympiad. The Poles are another strong outfit and will be challenging for medals along with the 2nd GB boat. I’m going for an Irish win with GBR1 in 2nd and Poland 3rd.
No entries, zilch, nothing…not a sausage. The first time in World Cup history that there haven’t been any LM4- entries at a European World Cup (There were none at the 1st World Cup in Sydney in 2014 but that can be explained more by geography than anything else). We’ll have to wait and see if there are any entries at the 2nd World Cup and European Championships, but it definitely looks like the decision by FISA to drop the LM4- from the Olympic programme has had an immediate effect. National teams are reluctant to expend precious resources on a boat class that won’t deliver in terms of the Olympics or help develop an Olympic class boat.
Magdalena Lobnig –Austria
Lobnig is one of the most consistent scullers on the international circuit, since making her debut in the single scull in 2013 she’s only failed to reach the A-Final twice, the first at the 2015 World Championships and then at the 1st World Cup in 2016. This blip was soon forgotten when she won her first single scull title winning the European Championships in Brandenburg. She had a solid regatta at Rio, again making the A-Final making it 15 A-Finals out of 17 Regattas.
Ekaterina Karsten – Belarus
What else can one say about Karsten? The 44 year old is starting her 26th international season and has won all there is to win in World rowing. The fact that she’s still one of the best scullers in the world at an age when most athletes are long retired is a testament to her talent. Can she really carry on all the way to Tokyo and race at her 8th Olympic Games aged 50?? It wouldn’t surprise me.
Tatsiana Kukhta – Belarus
The 2nd of 3 Belarussians in the W1X event, Kukhta is seen by many as the natural successor to Karsten. The 26 year old won bronze in the W1X at the 2015 European Championships before moving to the W2X partnering Yulia Bichyk to European gold and 8th place in Rio.
Alena Furman – Belarus
The third of the Belarussian triumvirate, Furman is a former lightweight who won silver in the BLW1X at the 2013 U23 World Championships and then finished 6th at the Senior Worlds. In 2015 she switched to heavyweight sweep rowing and was in the W2- that raced in Rio finishing 15th and then the W4- that finished 4th at the World Championships.
Lucie Zabova – Czech Republic
Zabova raced in the W2X at the 2014 World Championships finishing 13th. In 2016 she competed at the U23 World Championships making the A-Final.
Vicky Thornley – Great Britain
A lot has been written about the torrid time Thornley and her doubles partner Katherine Grainger had during 2016 (quite a bit of it by me!). Bust-ups, arguments with coaches and selection doubts made the run-up to the Rio Olympics a sorry saga. But their performance at the regatta was the stuff of legend and so nearly had a fairy-tale ending, leading with 150m to go they were just overhauled by the Poles. But a silver medal was truly remarkable. Now with her illustrious partner Dame Katherine Grainger retired and off to Chair UK Sport, it’s time for Thornley to emerge from her shadow and establish herself as not only the best sculler in Britain (which she was anyway even when Grainger was still around) but also potentially the best sculler in Europe and in the top 3 in the world. I’ve long argued that I wanted to see Thornley give the single scull a “proper” go. So long as she gets the full support from the GB team (who don’t try and shoe-horn her into a crew boat) and stays healthy, I believe she could become a dominant force in world sculling. This is going to be a big year for Thornley.
Sanita Puspure – Ireland
Puspure has been Ireland’s single scull representative for the last 5 years. At her first Olympic Games in London she finished 13th. Her breakthrough performance came in 2014 when she took bronze at the European Championships and followed that up with 4th at the World Championships – the best ever performance by an Irish W1X. After the strong performances in 2014, 2015 was a little disappointing as she only finished 11th at the World Championships. 2016 was a step up with medals at both the 1st World Cup, European Championships and Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta. After these highs Rio was a little disappointing as she could only match her performance in London with a 13th place. But, on her day Puspure can challenge the best in the world.
Milda Valciukaite – Lithuania
In her first season as a senior international in 2013 Valciukaite became European and World Champion in the W2X with her partner Donata Vistartaite. A slightly disappointing 5th place in 2015 nevertheless guaranteed their spot at the Olympics, and they went into the Games on the back of a gold medal at the Lucerne World Cup. In Rio they had a good regatta and took bronze behind the Poles and British. She’s not raced a huge amount recently in the W1X but did win the U23 BW1X in 2014 so she’s no slouch in the single! The interesting point for 2017 will be whether she remains in the W1X or moves back into the double.
Jeannine Gmelin – Switzerland
2015 was the breakthrough year for Gmelin, silver at the European Championships was followed by an excellent 5th place at the World Championships. She headed into the Olympic year as one of the ones to watch, 4th at Varese and bronze in Poznan set her up nicely for the Games. She had a great regatta in Rio making the A-Final and taking 5th, the best ever performance by a Swiss W1X. Heading into 2017 she will be one of the main challengers for the title of “best sculler in Europe”.
Other scullers racing are Valentina Plejic of Croatia, Virginia Diaz Rivas of Spain and Diana Dymchenko of Ukraine.
My picks…it promises to be a really good contest but I reckon Thornley will take her first W1X gold ahead of Gmelin in silver and Lobnig in bronze.
Great Britain – Holly Norton and Karen Bennett
Winners of the recent GB trials, Bennett is one of the few returners from the British W8 that won an historic silver medal in Rio. She’s joined by Holly Norton who won silver in the U23 BW2- in 2015 before moving to the W4- winning silver at the 2015 World Championships and then gold the year after. They are GB’s only women’s sweep crew in Belgrade and have the nigh-on impossible task of filling the void left by the imperious Glover and Stanning. But, they are a highly experienced and very talented pair and given the small field in Belgrade will be disappointed if they don’t win a major medal.
The Netherlands – Lies Rustenburg and Jose Van Veen
The first of three Dutch boats in the event. This lead boat were both in the W8 that raced in Rio finishing 6th. Van Veen last raced the W2- in Lucerne in 2015 when she and Kirsten Wielaard finished 9th (one place ahead of GB’s Bennett).
The Netherlands – Aletta Jorritsma and Karolien Florijn
Racing as NED2 this is a combination of youth and experience. Jorritsma won bronze in this boat class at the 2014 European Championships and went onto represent the Netherlands at the Rio Olympics, where she and partner Karien Robbers finished 13th. She’s joined by 19 year old Karolien Florijn. The youngster won JW1X gold at the European Junior Championships and followed that with bronze at the World Junior Championships.
The Netherlands – Karien Robbers and Monica Lanz.
Robbers partnered Jorritsma at the Rio Olympics and for Belgrade she changes partner and is joined by Monica Lanz. Lanz was part of the Dutch W8 that finished 6th in Rio. Belgrade is the first time she’s raced internationally in the pair having been a member of the W8 since 2012. Both this boat and the Jorritsma/Florijn combination are doubling up in the W4-.
My picks…one thing’s for sure, The Netherlands will win a couple of medals! A lot is expected of the British pair and a strong performance at the GB Trials puts them in a great position to take the gold. GB in gold with NED1 in silver and NED3 in bronze.
Belarus – Krystina Staraselets and Tatsiana Klimovich
This duo made their senior debuts at the European Championships last year as part of the W4X that finished 8th (of 8). They then split into the W2X racing at the Poznan World Cup and then took silver at the U23 World Championships.
Czech Republic – Kristyna Fleissnerova and Lenka Antasova
The only extant Olympic combination racing in Belgrade. They were 12th at the 2015 World Championships and then in 2016 won bronze at the European Championships. 1st place at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta secured their spot at Rio where they had a solid regatta finishing 4th in the B-Final, 10th overall.
Great Britain – Jess Leyden and Holly Nixon
The British hadn’t originally planned to enter this event but have split their W4X in order to get valuable racing experience. Leyden & Nixon spent the Rio Olympiad as part of the British W4X but were unsuccessful in their attempt to qualify. After this disappointment Leyden teamed up with Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne to win the U23 BW2x World Championships. After the W4X disbanded Nixon moved into the W4- and won gold at the World Championships in Rotterdam. Its unlikely this combination will race as a double for the rest of the season, but Belgrade offers good racing opportunities.
Great Britain – Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne and Beth Bryan
Hodgkins-Byrne made her senior international debut last year when she was selected as the W1X for the European Championships. She had a great debut, just missing out on qualifying for the final finishing just behind Ekaterina Karsten in the semi-final. In the B-Final she led from start to finish to take 7th overall. She then went to the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta in an attempt to qualify for Rio. After the FOQR she teamed up with Leyden to win gold at the U23’s. Beth Bryan is making her senior debut in Belgrade after two years in the U23 squad, during which time she won silver and bronze medals in the BW8.
The Netherlands – Lisa Scheenaard & Marloes Oldenburg
Scheenaard made her debut in 2013 winning silver in the W4X at the European Championships. She raced in the W1X at the World Championships in 2014 and 2015. She teamed up with Marloes Oldenburg in 2016 to try and qualify for the Olympics. After a good silver medal at the Varese World Cup and 6th at the European Championships they ended up with disappointment when they finished 5th at the FOQR.
The Netherlands – Inge Jansse and Sophie Souwer
Both Jansse and Souwer competed at the Rio Olympics. Jansse was a member of the outstanding Dutch W4X that won silver in Rio, whilst Souwer was part of the women’s 8 that finished 6th. This is an exciting looking double that could be strong contenders this season.
Poland – Olga Michalkewicz and Joanna Hentka
Michalkewicz made her senior debut at the Lucerne World Cup last year when she finished last in the W2X with Katarzyna Zillmann. She’s had four years in the Polish U23 team winning gold in the BW4X in both 2015 and 2016. She’s a hugely talented sculler and definitely a name for the future. She’s joined by the very experienced Joanna Hentka, now in her 10th season as a senior international. She raced as part of the W4X at the London Olympics placing 8th and then carried on in that boat class throughout the Rio Olympiad winning numerous World Cup medals culminating in a superb bronze at the Games. This has the makings of a very strong double to carry on the mantle from the Olympic champions. They will probably start as favourites in Belgrade.
Other crews racing are another Dutch crew (Kirsten Wielaard and Roos De Jong – racing as NED2) and a young Swiss U23 duo (Andrea Fuerholz and Pascale Walker).
My picks…as mentioned, the Polish look to be a very strong new combination. I reckon they’ll take gold ahead of the Leyden/Nixon British combo with the Jansse/Souwer Dutch boat in bronze.
Aliaksandra Yukhnovich, Tatsiana Piharava, Kseniya Ramanouskaya, Ina Nikulina
The first of two Belarussian boats racing. Yukhnovich and Ramanouskaya were members of the U23 BW4- that finished 6th at the U23 World Championships last year. Piharava raced in this boat class at the senior World Championships last year finishing 4th in the straight final. The 4th member of the crew, Ina Nikulina, is the only one with Olympic experience. She was in the W2- that finished 15th (out of 15) in Rio
Marharyta Krechka, Yana Tsupa, Darya Marchanka, Anastasiya Siamionava
Both Krechka and Marchanka raced in the W4- in Rotterdam last season. Krechka is a former U23 World Champion in this boat class and Marchanka has a world junior bronze medal to her credit. Tsupa and Siamionava were in the U23 BW4- (with Yukhnovich and Ramanouskaya) that finished 6th last season.
Aletta Jorritsma, Karien Robbers, Monica Lanz, Karolien Floijn
All four of this boat are doubling up in the W2- event. As a foursome this combination looks exciting and with the W4- becoming an Olympic class boat the competition is going to be intense. The Dutch will be looking for a solid performance to start their Olympic campaign.
Monika Ciaciuch, Maria Wierzbowska, Anna Wierzbowska, Joanna Dittmann
Ciaciuch has spent her entire international career since debuting as a junior in 2010 racing in the W4X. She’s won medals in this class at U23 and senior level, culminating in a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. Now, for the first time she swaps the quad for the 4-. She’s joined by the Wierzbowska sisters, who rowed as the W2- at the Rio Olympics placing 10th. The final member of the crew is Joanna Dittmann, she was in the W4X that won bronze at the 2014 European Championships and went on to win silver in the BW4X at the 2014 U23 World Championships.
My picks….although this is a small field, it’s a hugely significant race. This is the first international regatta since the W4- was nominated as an Olympic class boat. The competition will get much more intense as the season progresses (I expect much bigger fields at the Europeans and 2nd and 3rd World Cups). But, of the four boats entered I think the Dutch will take the gold ahead of the Polish with the Belarussian no.2 boat getting the better of their team mates to take the bronze.
Great Britain – Jess Leyden, Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, Holly Nixon, Beth Bryan
As mentioned above, all four are doubling up in the W2X. The Rio Olympiad was one of disappointment for the British W4X. There were high expectations on them, GB have a good tradition in this boat class, winning numerous world and Olympic medals over the last 16 years. But the Rio iteration never really fired. It wasn’t for lack of talent, they just never seemed to make the boat fly. Now with two changes to the crew it has to be hoped that they can find that elusive spark that turns 4 talented scullers into an effective quad where sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. At least the British will be guaranteed a medal with only 3 crews racing (which will be their first senior medal in this boat class since the Munich World Cup in 2012.
Netherlands – Nicole Beukers, Olivia Van Rooijen, Inge Janssen, Sophie Souwer
Janssen and Souwer are also doubling up in the W2X. They are joined by Nicole Beukers and Olivia Van Rooijen. Beukers was a team mate of Janssen in the silver medal winning Olympic quad in Rio and Van Rooijen was in the Olympic W8 with Souwer. The Dutch quad last year were a joy to watch and had a fantastic battle against the Poles, both in the build up to the Olympics and at Rio itself. Van Rooijen is no stranger to the quad having raced it at the 2014 Worlds and Souwer raced in it to a 4th place the year before. This is a very exciting-looking combination and could in time prove to be faster than the 2016 combination.
Poland – Katarzyna Zillmann, Maria Springwald, Agnieszka Kobus, Marta Wielczko
The Poles are another nation who have made a couple of changes from their Olympic crew. Springwald and Kobus continue in the boat in which they won bronze in Rio. They are joined by two outstanding young scullers, Katarzyna Zilmann and Marta Wielczko are both two-time U23 BW4X World Champions from 2015 and 2016. Wielczko is making her senior debut having spent 4 years in the U23 squad which also included BW4X silver medals in 2013 and 2014. The battle between the Dutch and Poles that was so fascinating and fun to watch in 2016 looks like it’s going to carry on into 2017!
My picks…I think the Dutch will take gold ahead of the Poles. It’s massively important for the British to be in contention with the other two boats. With their competition both containing Olympic medallists I think it’s too much to expect the British to take gold or silver, but If they can finish within half a length of the other two it’ll be an encouraging start to their 2017 campaign.
Denise Walsh – Ireland
The Irishwoman had an up and down season in 2016, 7th in the LW1X at the Varese World Cup was followed by a career best finish of 4th at the European Championships. Expectations were high for a good performance at the final World Cup, but she struggled in the Repecharge and ended up contesting the D-Final finishing 19th overall. She’ll be hoping for a good start to her 2017 campaign and an A-final finish would do just that.
Donata Karaliene – Lithuania
More well-known by her maiden name Vistartaite, Karaliene is a European and World Champion in the W2X and at the Rio Olympics took bronze with Milda Valciukaite. But, with a quoted weight of 65kg she is far more suited to lightweight rowing and she will be the favourite to take gold in Belgrade. It’ll be interesting to see what the Lithuanian’s do in terms of selection this season, with Valciukaite racing the W1X time will tell if they two will reunite in the double later this season or not.
Joanna Dorociak – Poland
The pick of the three Polish scullers in this event, Dorociak took bronze in the LW2X at the 2015 European Championships and followed that up with 8th at the World Championships. She took another bronze at the 2016 Euros with Weronika Deresz, but lost out in the selection battle for the Olympics to Martyna Mikolajczak.
Anastasiia Ianina – Russia
Ianina made her international debut at the European Championships in 2015 finishing 5th. She followed that up with another 5th place at the U23 World Championships. In 2016 she raced in the LW1X at the World Championships making the A-Final.
Patricia Merz – Switzerland
Merz’s best performance to date came at the 2015 U23 World Championships where she and partner Frederique Rol took bronze. In 2016 this partnership finished 4th at the European Championships and just missed qualification for the Olympics when finishing 5th at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta. Merz finished the season racing the LW1X at the World Championships winning the B-Final.
Pauline Delacroix – Switzerland
The 2nd of the two Swiss entrants, Delacroix won bronze in the BLW4X at the 2014 U23 World Championships, following that up with a 5th place in the same event the year after. In 2016 she raced the World Cup season in the LW1X with a best finish of 8th in Varese. She ended the season with her third U23 appearance securing her best ever result with a silver medal in the BLW4X.
Other scullers racing are Anja Maniutscheri (Austria) 5th at the U23 World Championships last year. Syham Abid (Hungary) 21st at last year’s World Championships, Monika Kowalska (Poland) 11th in the U23 BLW2X last year, Sylwia Zimnicka (Poland) making her international debut. Another international debutant is Joana Branco (Portugal). The 2nd Russian sculler racing is Anastasia Lebdeva (12th in the LW2X at the 1st World Cup last year) and finally Nour Elhouda Ettaieb (Tunisia) 20th in the LW2X at the Rio Olympics.
My picks….it’s hard to look beyond Karaliene for the gold with Dorociak in silver and Merz bronze.
Czech Republic – Zuzana Necasova and Kristyna Neuhortova
A young and inexperienced crew, both making their senior debuts. Necasova finished 23rd in the JW1X in 2014 and Neuhortova is making her international debut. They will struggle to stay in touch with a small but highly competitive field, but its good experience for what will most likely be the Czech U23 LW2X for later in the year.
Great Britain – Kat Copeland & Charlie Booth
The British will want to forget 2016, injury restricted their competitions, and when they did race they were disappointing. 8th place at the European Championships was followed by a frankly embarrassing 14th in Rio. But, they are a quality double, former World Best time holders and world champions in 2015. If they can recapture the form they showed in 2015 rather than the dismal 2016 then they will be unstoppable. Belgrade will be a hugely important test for the British, they will be wanting nothing less than gold.
Great Britain – Maddie Arlett and Emily Craig
If Copeland and Booth had a disappointing 2016, the same can’t be said for Emily Craig. She was a member of the excellent LW4X that won gold at the World Championships (following silver the previous year). She’s joined by Maddie Arlett who makes her senior debut following 2 years in the U23 team where she had a best result of 4th in the BLW4X in 2015.
Poland – Weronika Deresz Martyna Mikolajczak
The main challengers to the British no.1 boat will come from the Polish. They raced in this combination at the Rio Olympics ending up 7th after a tough semi-final. The showdown with the British is going to very intriguing.
My picks….On paper you would expect the British to take the win, but it all depends if this 2017 version is like the 2015 or 2016 one,, if it’s the former they should win comfortably – if the latter…..who knows. But, I think they’ll take it ahead of the Poles with GB2 in 3rd.
So that’s it…phew…it’s been a bit of a marathon but at the start of a new Olympiad there’s always so much to talk about! A lot of the crews racing in Belgrade will look quite different later in the season but there should be some great racing nonetheless. The entry for the women’s events is quite disappointing, nothing in the W8 and only a handful in the W2-, LW2X and W4-. For a European World Cup at the start of a new Olympiad it is a pity there aren’t more competitors, especially with a new women’s Olympic event in the programme.
Still, bring on the racing…the 2017 has started and the road to Tokyo begins now!