I love the first World Championships of a new Olympiad – it’s a chance to see new combinations come the fore, experienced athletes back for more and sometimes the chance to see emerging talent that will go on to become the start of the Tokyo Olympiad. This year the Championships are being held in the USA for only the 2nd time in their history (the first being in Indianapolis in 1994). The venue this year is Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida. What is amazing is that the event is going ahead at all, some forecasts predicted it would receive a direct hot from hurricane Irma which could’ve caused extensive damage. As it was Sarasota received a “glancing blow” and thanks to the preparedness of the organising committee the impact to the venue was limited. Mind you, with rumours (albeit potentially apocryphal) of alligators residing in the waters of the lake the racing could well be more “interesting” than usual! Trust the Americans to go for one-upmanship over the Brazilians….Rio merely had the leaping fish….Sarasota could have ‘gators 😉
Anyway….onto the racing…..
First up…the Eights.
Canada, China, Great Britain, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Russia, The USA.
The USA have dominated this event for the last 11 years winning the last 3 Olympics and 8 World Championships. Writing a preview of the women’s 8’s has always been fairly straightforward – “The USA will win and the battle will be for 2nd and 3rd”. But, this year I’m not so sure. Despite the advantages of home water the Americans are, for the first time in a decade, looking vulnerable. They raced at the 2ndd World Cup in Poznan and “only” came 3rd, their worst performance since a 5th place at the World Championships in 2005. Supporters will say they in both 2009 and 2013 they lost their first race of the season and went on to win, but the manner of the defeat in Poznan would’ve given coach Tom Tehar some sleepless nights, they finished 3 seconds down on the Kiwi’s in first and 2 seconds behind the British (recording their first ever victory over a USA W8). But, only 4 members of that crew remain in the boat in Sarasota, Meghan Wheeler, Emily Regan, Grace Latz and coxswain Katelin Guregian. Joining the crew are Olympic champion Lauren Schmetterling and three of the W4- that finished 2nd in Poznan (Kelly Pierce, Corinne Schoeller and Sarah Dougherty) along with Sophia Vitas who raced in the W2- in Poznan finishing 7th. So, with four Olympic champions on-board the Americans will be looking to continue their World Championship winning streak. But it’s not going to be easy.
Canada have long played the bridesmaid to the USA’s bride, finishing 2nd to the Americans at 4 of the last 6 World Championships. This year they will be confident that they can finally get one over their neighbours for the first time since 2003. The crew contains four Rio Olympians, Lisa Roman, Christine Roper and Susanne Grainger from the 5th place W8 and Jennifer Martins who finished 14th in the W2-. Joining the Olympians are the 2016 U23 BW2- World Champions, Nicole Hare and Hillary Janssens along with Kristin Bauder, who raced in the W4- at last year’s World Championships, and international debutant Rebecca Zimmerman from the University of Victoria. Sitting in the coxswain’s seat is Rio Paralympic bronze medallist Kristen Kit. It’s interesting to note that this is the first time since 2004 that a Canadian W8 hasn’t been steered by the legendary Leslie Thompson-Willie (who coxed Canadian crews for over 35 years). The Canadians haven’t raced internationally as an 8 so far this season although half the crew took bronze in the W4- at Lucerne. This year could well bring their first World title since 1991.
Perhaps the strongest threat to the Americans winning streak are the Romanians. They have 6 of the Olympic bronze medal crew returning (the most of any crew in the field) with Mihela Petrila, Madalina Beres, Iuliana Popa, Adelina Bogus, Laura Oprea and Daniela Druncea. New to the crew this season are Ioana Vrinceanu (4th at the 2016 Europeans), Viviana-Iuliana Bejinariu (U23 bronze medallist from 2016) and Denisa Tilvescu (a bronze medallist from the 2015 European Championships). This combination raced at the European Championships and the Lucerne World Cup winning on both occasions, and in some style. They will be looking to end the season unbeaten and win their first World title this century (having won 5/9 world titles in the 1990’s).
Winners of the first World Cup, and runners-up to the Romanians in Lucerne, were New Zealand. They won silver behind the Americans in 2015 – their first ever medal in the event (and only the 2nd time a Kiwi W8 had made a World Championship final). They have a very impressive unit with 4 of the crew that finished 4th in Rio (Ruby Tew, Kelsey Bevan, Emma Dyke and Rebecca Scown – who also won silver in the W2-). They are joined by 2014 U23 medallist Ashlee Rowe, Georgia Perry and Lucy Spoors– who raced in the W4X in 2015, and 2016 U23 international Kelsi Waters. The Kiwis will also make history in Sarasota as they become the first women’s crew to be coxed by a man – Sam Bosworth – at a World Championships. I’m not sure the Kiwis have the beating of the Romanians, but they will be strong contenders for a podium finish.
The British only have one member of their Olympic silver medal crew back for more – Karen Bennett. But coaches James Harris and Paul Thompson have built a good strong unit. The crew includes two of the W4- that won the World Championships last year – Holly Norton, and Fi Gammond. Bennett and Norton started the season in the W2- taking gold at the 1st World Cup. Also in the crew are Rebecca Chin (silver medallist in the W4- in 2015), and former U23 internationals Katherine Douglas, Jo Wratten, Anastasia Chitty and Imperial College’s Rebecca Shorten. So far this season the British have raced at the European Championships and the 2nd and 3rd World Cups. They took 4th at the Europeans, silver in Poznan and bronze in Lucerne.
Another medal-contender boat are the Dutch. They have the same line-up that finished runners-up to the Romanians at the European Championships and the crew includes 5 Rio Olympians with Monica Lanz, Aletta Jorritsma, Lies Rustenburg, Jose Van Veen and cox Ae-Ri Noort. Also in the crew are three of the gold medal U23 BW4- from this year; Karolien Florijn, Ymke Clevering and Veronique Meester. The final member of the crew Kirsten Wielaard (7th in the W4- in 2014). The Dutch finished last in Lucerne but only 4 of that crew remain and they are back to the line-up that finished 2 seconds behind the Romanians at the European Championships.
Russia have a very young crew with an average age of 21 (which drops to just 19 if you exclude 34 year old Julia Kalinovskaya). 7 of the crew (Ekaterina Sevostianova, Maria Kubyshkina, Olga Zaruba, Anna’s Karpova and Aksenova, Valentina Plaskina and Elizaveta Krylova) raced at the U23 World Championships winning a bronze medal in the BW8 and all will be eligible to race U23 next year as well. Half of the crew raced at the Europeans taking an excellent bronze medal. For a young crew they have enormous potential but may find the competition a little too tough in Sarasota. But if this boat continues to develop they could become serious contenders as we get closer to Tokyo.
The final boat in the event are the Chinese. As is often the case with Chinese crews they are a bit of an enigma. All of them made their international debuts at the Poznan World Cup where they finished a distant 4th, 7 seconds behind the Americans and 10 seconds ahead of a 2nd Chinese W8. I can’t envisage them having made up 7-10 seconds in the intervening months to challenge for top crews so I would expect them to take 8th.
So who will win….it’s actually a really tricky event to call. Ass mentioned above, the USA’s air of invincibility has definitely slipped and the Romanians could well start as favourites just ahead of the Canadians. It promises to be a really tight contest between the Kiwis, British and Dutch for the minor placings. I reckon the Chinese and Russians will be the ones to miss out on the A Final.
Romania for the gold with the Canadians in 2nd and the Americans in bronze.
Australia, China, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, USA
Germany will start as the overwhelming favourites. They became the first nation to win all three World Championships and the Olympics in a single Olympiad when they won Gold in London. The British matched them at the Rio Olympiad and now the Germans want to re-exert their authority over the boat they consider their own. They’ve certainly made an impressive start to the new Olympiad going into Sarasota unbeaten with golds at the European Championships and both the 2nd and 3rd World Cups. The crew contains 6 Rio Olympians with Malte Jakschik, Richard Schmidt, Hannes Ocik and cox Martin Sauer from the silver medal 8 and Felix Wimberger and Max Planer from the 12th place M4-. They are joined by Johannes Weissenfeld who raced in the M4- in 2015, 2015 U23 World Champion Torben Johannsen and M2+ silver medallist Jakob Schneider.
Australia took silver behind the Germans in Lucerne, however they “stacked” their boat at that event with their top 4 guys moving out of the M4- and into the 8. For Sarasota the line-up is different with only Hamish Playfair, Tim Masters, Angus Moore, Alex Purnell and James Rook remaining from the Lucerne crew. Coming back into the boat are Nathan Bowden, Ben Coombs, Simon Keenan and Campbell Watts. Bowden and Coombs raced in the both the coxed and coxless pairs in Lucerne finishing 2nd and 13th respectively. Keenan and Watts were in the M4- that finished 11th in Lucerne. The majority of this crew raced in Poznan where they finished 4th. It’ll be interesting to see how much speed they’ve gained in the run-up to Sarasota. The boat will definitely be slower than the Lucerne line-up but the Aussies will be looking to be in the mix for the medals.
Great Britain are the Olympic (and defending World) Champions. But, they only have one member of that crew remaining, Tom Ransley. He returns to the boat having missed both the 2nd and 3rd World Cups due to an appendicitis. He’s joined by fellow Olympian Alan Sinclair who just missed out on the medal in the M2- in Rio. Sinclair has been beset by injury throughout 2017 and it’s great to see him back in a boat. These two experienced oarsman will add significantly to what is quite a young and inexperienced British boat. The British have had a mixed season, they took silver behind the Dutch Nereus crew in Belgrade (a race they would’ve expected to win). 5th at the Europeans was followed by bronze in Poznan and then a very disappointing 6th in Lucerne (beaten by 2 Dutch boats). However they are a strong and talented line up, Ollie Cook and Callum McBrierty are the reigning M2+ World Champions, Jacob Dawson subbed into the M4- in Belgrade winning gold and James Rudkin won silver at the U23 World Championships last year. With a stronger line-up than they’ve had all season they’ll be looking to produce their best performance of the year. If they get it right they could be in the mix for a medal.
The Dutch will be one of the main challengers to the Germans. They took bronze at the European Championships and followed that with a 2nd bronze in Lucerne. They have a strong and experienced line up with no fewer than 8 Olympians on-board. Tone Wieten, Kaj Hendriks, Boaz Meylink, Mechiel Versluis and Robert Luecken were in the bronze medal M8 along with Roel Braas from the 8th placed M2- and Bjorn Ven Den Ende who raced in the LM4- in Rio. Ruben Knab didn’t race at the Rio Games, however he was in M4- that finished 5th at the 2012 Games. This has the makings of the best Dutch crew since the awesome Olympic Gold medal crew from 1996.
Another crew stacked with Rio Olympians are the Poles. They have 7 of the crew that finished 5th in Rio. The Polish M8 is an extremely frustrating crew to watch. At their best they are serious medal contenders, a strong performance in Rio was followed in 2017 by an excellent silver medal at the Europeans. But at Lucerne they were well off the pace finishing 10th of the 10 crews. But, the Poles have been like this for a number of years – losing to the University of Washington at Henley in 2013 but then taking a bronze medal at the World Championships the following year (with almost exactly the same line-up). You never really know which Polish crew will turn up – the one that’s capable of winning medals or the one that’s struggling at the back of the field.
Another boat that had a disappointing race at Lucerne are the Kiwis. They have 6 of the crew that finished 6th in Rio along with lightweight Olympian James Lassche and U23 medallist Conrad Dirkus. A silver medal in Poznan was followed by a shocker at Lucerne where they finished a lowly 9th. Not what was expected from a crew touted as potential gold medallists. The question is, which was the blip – the silver in Poznan or the 9th in Lucerne? All-Black supporters will say the latter (and I tend to agree with them), but it’s not a great way to finish your last regatta before the World Championships at the tail end of the B-Final.
Romania have a young, talented crew for Sarasota. It’s based around the U23 M8 that won silver at this year’s U23 World Championship. 6 of that crew (Cristian Ivascu, Constantin Radu, Constantin Adam, Sergiu-Vasile Bejan, Ciprian Tudosa and Adrian Munteanu). They are joined by a couple of Rio Olympians, Marius-Vasile and Cristi-Illie Pirghie. This line-up raced in Lucerne finishing 4th. My gut-feel on this crew is that they will be “there or thereabouts” – the back end of the A-final. But they are a young crew and could well become a major force in the event as we get closer to the Olympics.
Russia have had a torrid time over the last couple of years with all the doping allegations and bans. One hopes that the crew racing in Sarasota are all clean and can gradually rebuild the tarnished reputation of not just Russian rowing, but of Russian sport in general. This year’s crew have three of the M4- from the Rio Olympics (Nikita Morgachev, Artem Kosov and Anton Zarutskiy). The majority of this crew raced at the 1st World Cup finishing 3rd, then at the Europeans they finished 4th. But, in Lucerne they were another crew that struggled ending up 8th. But, under the guidance of legendary coach Mike Spracklen, they will be looking for a much improved performance.
The USA love the M8, as far as they are concerned every other boat class is a 2nd choice. But, in the run-up to the Rio Olympics the USA struggled and had to go through the Final Olympic Qualifying process to secure their spot in Rio. In the end they had a good regatta ending up 4th. But, for 2017 coaches Bryan Volpenhein and Mike Teti only have one member of their Olympic boat – Alex Karowski. The rest of the crew are relatively inexperienced Yohann Rigogne and Tom Peszek (who raced to 5th in the M2+ last year) are the most experienced and they are joined by U23 internationals Nick Mead from Princeton, Jordan Vanderstoep from Cal and senior international Dariush Aghai. The final members of the boat are international debutants Andrew Reed from Harvard and Cambridge alumni Pat Eble. There’s a lot expected from this crew but their relative youth and inexperience may count against them. An A-final finish will be a good performance in their first outing.
The other boats racing are the Chinese, with a young and inexperienced crew (including three of the JM4+ from 2014). The Italians have had a disappointing season so far with 8th at the Europeans and 7th in Lucerne. Given the Italians are prioritising the M4- it’s perhaps not too surprising to see the Italians struggling to keep pace with the top crews. The final boat are Ukraine, They finished 7th at the Europeans and include Rio Olympians Olexandr Nadotka and Dmytro Mikhay.
My picks…Germany for the win (that’s the easy bit), but behind them it’s going to be really interesting. I’m going to plump for the Dutch to take silver with the bronze being a tight battle between the Aussies and British