The European Championships – part 1

 

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The first big Championships of the Tokyo Olympiad take place this weekend in Racice in the Czech Republic – The European Championships. Just 30 minutes from Prague, the Racice course is a purpose built rowing venue built on the site of an old quarry. The European’s are the first senior FISA championships to be held at the course since the World Championships of 1993.

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Racice in the Czech Republic, venue for the 2017 European Championships

These Championships see the first appearance of a number of the European “Big Guns” with the likes of Germany, France and Italy making their FISA debuts having given the first World Cup a miss.

So, as always, here is my run down of the main “runners-and-riders” in each boat class.

 

M1X

24 scullers

At the first World Cup in Belgrade a couple of weeks ago the Olympic silver medallist, Damir Martin of Croatia, was the hot favourite. But, by his own admission he was very under prepared and despite a frantic final sprint he couldn’t catch a very impressive Nico Stahlberg of Switzerland. Both men are in action in Racice and the question will be how much race pace has Martin gained since Belgrade?

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Switzerland’s Nico Stahlberg Photo: @NicoStahlberg

Racice also sees the first appearance of the legendary Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic. The 34 year old is starting his 16th year of senior competition, a four-time World Champion and triple Olympic medallist, he won this title in 2010, 2014 and was runner-up in 2015. He’s the most experienced and decorated competitor in the event. At last year’s championships he was overshadowed by Martin and also Mindaugas Griskonis and “only” took bronze. After bronze in Rio he will be looking to make a strong start to his 2017 campaign – especially on home water.

Another sculler making his 2017 debut is Germany’s Tim Ole Naske. The 21 year old has an incredible record, He’s won every championship he’s entered taking gold as a junior in 2013 and 2014, winning the Youth Olympics in 2014 and then U23 gold in 2015 and 2016. In fact he’s only ever lost one FISA regatta, which was on his senior debut in 2016 when he and Lars Hartig finished 8th in the M2X at the Lucerne World Cup. In December last year he shocked the Olympic gold and silver medallists by winning the Billy Webb Challenge in New Zealand. Last month he won the German Small Boats Championships and could well be a force to reckon with over the next few years.

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Tim Ole Naske of Germany. Photo SportsCrunch

3rd in Belgrade was Serbia’s Marko Marjanovich. He had a great race in Belgrade leading the final to the 1K mark before being overhauled by Stahlberg and Martin. But, he’s shown great early season form and will be looking to capitalise on this in Racice.

Less than a second behind Marjanovich in Belgrade was the Netherland’s Stefan Broenink. The 26 year old finished a disappointing 14th at last year’s Europeans but followed that up with an excellent 4th in Lucerne. If he can build on the form shown in Belgrade then an A-final finish is a definite possibility.

Stanislau Shcharbachenia of Belarus had a slightly disappointing race in Belgrade finishing off the pace in 5th in the final. At last year’s Championships he also placed 5th and a similar result this year will be a solid performance.

 

Other scullers to watch out for include Hugo Boucheron of France. The 24 year old finished 6th in the M2X in Rio and makes his first international appearance in the M1X since finishing 17th at the U23 Championships in 2014. Also watch for Norway’s Erik Solbakken, the 2016 U23 BM2X silver medallist is once to watch for the future and comes from a very strong sculling tradition in Norway.

My picks…can Stahlberg repeat his performance from Belgrade or will a more “race-fit” Martin have the edge? Or, of course, will the highly experienced Synek put them all in their place or perhaps even the young upstart German might get the better of them all? It promises to be a fascinating race. I’m going to plump for Martin over Synek over Stahlberg.

 

M2-

15 crews

One of the highlights of the first World Cup (from a GB perspective at any rate) was the performance of the new M2- of Jacob Dawson and Matt Rossiter. They won all three of their races in Belgrade and took the final by two and a half seconds. Who knows, only another 66 races to go to equal the Kiwi’s record!

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Matt Rossiter and Jacob Dawson of Great Britain. Photo @rossiboy2 

The main competition to the British in Belgrade were the Serbians, Milos Vasic and Nenad Bedik. But in Racice the competition looks a lot stronger. We still have to wait to see the Sinkovic brothers swap two blades for one, but even without them there are some very strong crews. Germany have Anton Braun and Felix Drahotta. These two raced in the pair together at the London Olympics finishing 7th. For the Rio Olympiad Drahotta was in the silver medal M8 and Braun finished 12th in the M4-. The pair is not a long term solution for them, their University studies meant they were unavailable for the M8 but with those now out of the way they will be looking for seats in the top boat.

Another strong boat are the Italians, Matteo Lodo and Giuseppe Vicino. This duo were the stern pair of the 2015 M4- crew that won the world championships and followed that up with bronze in Rio.

The Netherlands have changed their crew from Belgrade, with Nereus students Bo Wullings and Lex Van Den Herik stepping out of the gold medal winning M8 into the pair. It’ll be interesting to see how these two get on in the small boat against some seasoned competition.

Other crews to watch are the 3rd and 4th place finishers from Belgrade The Czech Republic and Belarussia along with a new line-up from France with Valentin and Theophile Onfroy (11th in the M4- at Rio).

My picks…. I reckon the British will carry on their winning run with the Italians in silver and the Germans in bronze.

 

M2X

13 doubles

Lithuania were winners in Belgrade, but for Racice they have made a change with Martynas Dziaugys swapping seats with Mindaugus Griskonis. Dziaugys raced in the M4X in Belgrade that won gold and was in that boat at Rio finishing in the B-Final. With both the double and the quad winning in Belgrade it’s clear that Lithuania have some exceptional talent.

2nd in Belgrade were the Swiss, Barnade Delarze and Roman Roeoesli. They have switched from the quad that finished 7th in Rio. Another nation to make a change from Belgrade are the Poles, with Miroslaw Zietarski and Mateusz Biskup swapping out of the quad which won gold in Belgrade.

Germany have a new, young combination with 2016 U23 BM2X World Champion Max Appel joined by former U23 international Timo Piontek. This looks an exciting young combination that definitely has potential.

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Max Appel & Timo Piontek of Germany. Photo Dorstener Zeitung

Another nation with a new young combination are the British, Tom Barras and Frazier Christie. Barras raced in the quad in Belgrade and Christie, who raced for the University of Bath before moving to Leander, is making his senior debut.

Other crews to watch are Belarus and Bulgaria, 5th and 6th in Belgrade respectively and a new Italian crew of U23 medallists Luca Rambaldi and Filippo Mondelli.

My picks….Lithuania look to be the pick of the field with the Poles in 2nd and the Swiss taking bronze.

 

M4-

14 crews

The M4- is the flagship boat for the British and they started their Tokyo campaign with a win in Belgrade. But it was slightly less convincing a victory than they probably would’ve liked. Stewart Innes is still recovering from injury so once again his place in the boat is taken by Callum McBrierty. The British have made a change to the seating order of the crew with Mo Sbihi moving to stroke. An interesting move given how experienced Will Satch is at stroke (he filled that seat in the gold medal Olympic M8 in Rio). They will be looking for another commanding performance to take their first Championship title of the Olympiad.

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GB M4- at the first World Cup. Photo World Rowing

2nd to the British in Belgrade were the Dutch. They keep the same line up that raced as NED2 at the 1st World Cup (Harold Langen, Jasper Tissen, Vincent Van Der Want, Govert Viergever). They gave the British a run for their money finishing just over a second behind them.

The Italians have a new, but very experienced line up making their season’s debut in Racice. Matteo Castaldo and Dominico Montrone were in the crew that won bronze in Rio and they are joined by fellow Olympic bronze medallists Giovanni Abagnale and Marco Di Costanzo. Castaldo and Di Costanzo were also part of the crew that won the M4- World Championships in 2015. It’s clear that the Italian’s aren’t intimidated by the British and have made this one of their top priority boats.

The German’s have put together a young boat all of whom are making their senior international debuts. The boat includes University of Washington Alumni Finn Schroeder. He’s joined by Wolf-Niclas Schroeder and Paul Gebauer who were in the 5th placed U23 BM4- last year and also Christopher Reinhardt who took U23 bronze in the BM8 in 2016. They probably won’t have the firepower to match the likes of GB, the Netherlands or Italy but it’ll be great experience for them as they build towards Tokyo.

One of the surprises of the first World Cup was the strong performance of the Spanish. They led to the 500m mark and then hung onto the coat-tails of the Dutch and British to take an excellent 3rd place. The crew for Racice is unchanged from Belgrade, and another strong A-Final performance will be a great result for Spanish rowing.

The Greeks are another nation with a strong tradition in this boat class, their crew for Racice is very young, with junior world champion Ninos Nikolaidis making his senior debut along with fellow junior international Apostolos Giannatzis. Stefanos Ntouskos is an U23 bronze medallists and the fourth member of the crew is Giannatzis’ older brother Angelos who makes his international debut.

Other crews to watch are the Russians, unchanged from the line-up that finished 6th in Belgrade and the Romanians, with a crew that contains half the boat that raced in Rio.

My picks…The British will be expecting to win but will be chased hard by the Italians with the Dutch in bronze. I expect these three crews to be well ahead of the rest of the field.

 

M4X

12 crews

The Lithuanians looked superb in Belgrade, taking the win by a length from Poland. As mentioned above, they’ve made one change to their line-up with Mindaugus Griskonis swapping with Martynas Dziaugys. The line-up for Racice looks even stronger than that from Belgrade and look to be a formidable outfit.

A crew I’m really looking forward to seeing are the Norwegians. They have three of the boat which missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics after finishing 5th at the Final Olympic Qualifying regatta. But, what makes this boat exciting is the appearance in the boat of the legendary Olaf Tufte. The 41 year old is starting his 21st senior international season and has said he feels “just the same” as he did when he first raced the M4X back in 1997. Who knows whether he can carry on all the way to Tokyo and race at his 7th Olympic Games, but the world of rowing is always more enjoyable when Tufte is involved.

 

Poland were silver medallists in Belgrade, but they’ve swapped half their crew with the M2X from the World Cup. The bronze medal M2X of Dominik Czaja and Adam Wicenciak step into the quad and it’ll be interesting to see if this combination is faster than in Belgrade.

Another nation tweaking their line-up are the British. Pete Lambert, who was in the quad in Rio but raced the M1X in Belgrade, returns to the boat with Tom Barras moving to the M2X. This looks a strong combination, and may not be able to match the Lithuanians, but will be looking to be in contention for a medal.

The Germans are the reigning Olympic champions, but for Racice they have a completely new line-up. U23 BM2X World Champion Philipp Syring is joined by 2012 gold medallist Tim Grohmann along with Max Fraenkel who raced the M2+ last year and international debutant Samuel Tieben.

Italy have formed a crew led by the experienced Romano Battisti, 4th in the M2X in Rio. He’s joined by three talented young athletes all making their senior debuts. 18 year old Andrea Panizza won gold at the Junior World Championships last year and Giacomo Gentili and Emanuele Fiume were part of the bronze medal winning U23 BM4X last year.

The Dutch have also changed half the crew that finished 5th in Belgrade, with Abe Wiersma and Freek Robbers moving out of the M8 that won gold in Belgrade and into the M4X. They raced the BM2X at last year’s U23 World Championships taking bronze.

Other crews to watch are the Russians who have also moved their M2X from Belgrade into the quad and also the Ukrainians with half the crew that finished 6th in Rio.

My picks….The Lithuanians look the strongest and I think the 1,2,3 will be the same as in Belgrade with Poland and GB taking silver and bronze.

 

M8

9 crews

There was a lot written after the first World Cup about the Dutch victory over the British, the story was the Dutch were a “College” crew beating the Olympic champions. The reality is a little less dramatic, yes, the Dutch were all from one club – Nereus, but they were a well-established crew containing half of the U23 gold medal crew from 2016. The British only had one member of the Rio crew. But, nevertheless, the British will have been very disappointed to have been rowed through by the Dutch in the closing stages. For Rio the British have made one change with Tom Jeffrey making his international debut.

Worryingly for the British, the Dutch have a completely different line-up from Belgrade. They’ve now got five of the crew that won bronze in Rio along with Roel Braas, Ruben Knab and lightweight Olympian Bjorn Van Den Ende. This looks to be a very powerful boat and one I expect to be too strong for the British.

The German’s only care about the M8 and didn’t like playing 2nd fiddle to the British throughout the Rio Olympiad. For their first appearance of 2017 they have half of the crew returning from Rio. Joining them are Felix Wimberger and Max Planer from the Olympic M4- and Johannes Weissenfeld who rowed in the M4- at the 2015 World Championships and 2015 M2+ silver medallist Jakob Schneider. Another very strong line-up from the Germans. They will be eager to reassert their authority over their favourite boat class and win their 5th consecutive European title.

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The German M8 in training for the European championships

If most of the talk after Belgrade was the fact the British lost to the Dutch, what was perhaps more noteworthy was the apparent poor performance of the Poles. They have 7 of the crew that finished 5th in Rio, but in Belgrade they missed out on the medals entirely finishing last of the 4 boats. But, it has to be said the Polish M8 has over the past couple of years been very erratic. In 2013 they lost to the University of Washington at Henley before going onto take 4th at the World Championships. On their day they can be medal contenders.

The Russians have an unchanged line-up from that which finished 3rd in Belgrade. But no crew that is coached by Mike Spracklen can be ignored (as an aside, it’s rumoured that Spracklen is in the running for the job of Chief Men’s Coach at US Rowing).

Also watch out for the new Italian crew, including two of the crew that raced in Rio along with a number of U23 medallists, and the young Romanian boat with a couple of Rio Olympians and junior World Champions on-board.

My picks…this has all the makings of a classic showdown between the Germans and the Dutch. My money is on the Germans to win their 5th European title in 5 years with the Dutch in silver. The British will want to be in the mix with the Germans and Dutch and well clear of the Italians, Poles and Russians. Germany in gold, the Netherlands in silver and GB in bronze.

 

LM1X

19 scullers

Hungary’s Peter Galambos took the honours in the first World Cup, following his silver medal at the World Championships last year. He faces a very strong line up in Racice. 2016 World Champion Paul O’Donovan of Ireland is entered in the event, but it remains to be seen if he actually races (he was also entered at Belgrade but didn’t race in the end). He may well be focusing on the LM2X so I’ll be surprised if he does compete in this event.

If O’Donovan doesn’t race then the next big challenger will be France’s Stany Delayre. He won gold in the LM2X in 2015 but then lost his seat to Pierre Houin. He switched to the LM1X and took bronze in Rotterdam. A strong performance in Racice will be important for him to keep the pressure on Houin for the seat in the Olympic class boat.

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Stany Delayre of France

2nd in Belgrade was Switzerland’s Michael Schmid. Swiss scullers had a great World Cup with wins in the M1X, W1X and LW1X and medals in the M2X and LM1X. There is a stronger field in Racice than in Belgrade, but Schmid will be looking to repeat the medal-winning performance.

Belgium’s Niels Van Zandweghe is the reigning U23 BLM1X world champion and took bronze in Belgrade. The 21 year old is an exciting young prospect and the Belgian Federation will be looking to find an effective LM2X combination over the next three years.

Lars Wichart of Germany last raced the LM1X at the 3rd World Cup in 2010. He’s spent the last 6 years as part of the LM4- culminating in a 9th place finish in Rio.

Norway’s Kristoffer Brun won the World Championships in the LM2X in 2013 and ended up taking bronze in Rio. For his first appearance of the Tokyo Olympiad he’s in the single, a boat class he last raced at the Lucerne World Cup in 2012 finishing 6th.

Other scullers to watch out for are Italy’s Andrea Micheletti (8th in the LM2X in Rio), Artur Mikolajczewski of Poland (4th in Belgrade and 6th in the LM2X in Rio) and Lukas Babac of Slovakia (5th at the 1ST World Cup and bronze medallist in 2016).

My picks…If O’Donovan races he’ll probably start as favourite but I’m going to assume he’s just going to race the LM2X. So, in his place I think Stany Delayre will take the win ahead of Galambos with Schmid in 3rd.

 

LM2X

21 crews

Racice sees the first appearance of the 2016 Olympic Champions, Jeremie Azou and Pierre Houin of France. The French won this title from 2013-2015 but didn’t race last year. They will start as favourites to take their 4th title in 5 years. The main challengers to them will be the British, Pete Chambers and Will Fletcher, winners in Belgrade just managing to hold off the sprinting Czechs and Poles.

The Irish O’Donovan’s won silver in Rio but were only 4th in Belgrade. By their own admission they weren’t race-ready for the World Cup so it’ll be interesting to see what a few extra weeks training have done to their speed.

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The O’Donovan brothers from Ireland

As mentioned above, the Czechs (Jiri Simanek and Miroslav Vrastil) took an excellent silver in Belgrade and will be hoping that home advantage will work in their favour.

There has been some controversy about the German LM2X talk of ultimatums and disquiet among the athletes about where they have to be based for training. But, they are lining up in Racice and the crew is strong with Jason Osborne (9th in this boat class in Rio) joined by Lucas Schaeffer (9th in the LM4- in Rio). It remains to be seen how quick this boat is and also whether it stays in the same line-up throughout the season.

Poland were 3rd in Belgrade and have the same line-up racing in Racice (Jerzy Kowalski and Milosz Jankowski).

Making their 2017 season debut are the Italians, Stefano Oppo and Pietro Ruta. They raced in the LM4- in Rio just missing out on the medals. After the Olympics Oppo raced at the U23 World Championships in the BLM4- and took gold. Ruta raced in this boat class in 2015 and finished 5th at the World Championships.

Other crews to watch are the Greeks, Panagiotis Magdanis and Spyridion Giannaros (6th in the LM4- in Rio and bronze medallists in the LM4X at the World Championships).

My picks….it should be a great race between the French, British and Irish. I’m going to pick GB just to sneak ahead of the French with the Irish in bronze.

 

LM2-

6 crews

Joel Cassells and Sam Scrimgeour of Great Britain are the reigning European Champions and world champions from 2015. In Belgrade they were favourites to win the four boat final but faded in the run in to the line and only managed 3rd. They will be anxious to put that right in Racice and defend their title.

Winners in Belgrade were the Irish, Shane O’Driscoll and Mark O’Donovan. This was the first medal either man had won and the first in the LM2- for Ireland. They will be looking to repeat the performance in Racice and win their first Championship title.

The Russians were 2nd in Belgrade, the first medal for either Aleksei Kiiashko or Nikita Bolozin. They may find the competition a little stronger in Racice.

The French have a good history in this boat class, and their 2017 crew includes Olympic bronze medallist Guillaume Raineau along with partner Vincent Faucheux.

I’m uncertain if the Italian line-up as listed is correct as it includes Stefano Oppo who is also racing in the LM2X. Whilst it’s not impossible for him to be racing both sweep and scull in Racice, it is highly unusual. We shall wait ans see if this happens or not. His partner is slated to be Alfonso Scalzone, an U23 bronze medallist in the BLM4X.

The final crew racing are the young Turkish boat of Mert Kaan Kartal and Fatih Unsal. This duo were bronze medallists at the U23 World Championships last year.

My picks…I hope the British have got their act together and will defend their title with the Irish in silver and the French in 3rd.

 

LM4-

5 crews

There were no entries in this event at the first World Cup and with its omission from the Olympic programme it looks like the event will become a pale shadow of its former glory. But, there are 5 boats in Racice racing for the title of European Champions for this year at least. The pick of the bunch are most likely the Russians. They won the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta before being excluded from the Olympics. They raced heavyweight in Belgrade finishing 7th. The Czechs also raced the heavyweight category in Belgrade finishing 3 places behind the Russians.

The Italians have a new crew containing Martino Goretti from the Olympic crew that finished 4th in Rio along with U23 World Champion Piero Sfiligio  and 2012 LM8 silver medallist Matteo Pinca. The 4th member of the crew in Catello Amarante who raced in the LM4X last year. Hungary and Turkey and the remaining two boats.

My picks…..Italy for gold with Russia 2nd and the Czech Republic third.

 

 

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