The World Championships preview part 6: the singles

single scull race



16 scullers

Cuba, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Latvia, Mexico, Netherlands, Paraguay, Poland, South Africa, Switzerland, Sweden, Tunisia, USA.

This has all the makings of a fascinating contest with no clear favourite and as many as 7 scullers in with a good chance of a medal. In the 4 European-based regattas so far this season there have been 4 different winners

Patricia Merz of Switzerland was the first to grab gold this season when she won at the 1st World Cup in Belgrade, the first medal of any colour in her senior career. Last season she placed 7th in the world but like many of the Swiss sculling squad, she’s made a significant step change in performance under new head coach Robin Dowell. Last season she placed 7th in the world, but this season, along with her gold from Belgrade, she has bronze medals from the Europeans and 2nd and 3rd World Cups.

Last year’s world Silver medallist, Emma Fredh of Sweden, claimed the title of European Champion in Racice and with it her first ever gold medal. The Swede followed this up with strong performances in Poznan and Lucerne making the A-Final on both occasions. In Poznan she just missed out on a medal in a blanket finish which saw just 0.5sec separate 2nd and 4th.

South Africa’s Kirsten McCann took the honours in Lucerne, her first World Cup of the season, with a relatively comfortable 3 second victory. McCann has spent the last 3 seasons racing in the LW2x with Ursula Grobler with a best performance of 3rd in 205 and then ending up 5th at the Rio Olympics. Now in the LW1X she will probably start as marginal favourite.


Kirsten McCann of south Africa. Photo: World Rowing

One of her main challengers will be Poland’s Martyna Mikolajczak. She raced at the Rio Olympics in the LW2X with Weronika Deresz winning the B-Final. This partnership continued into 2017 with wins in Belgrade and the European Championships and silver medals in Poznan and Lucerne. But, for Sarasota her seat in the LW2X has been taken by Joanna Dorociak. Mikolajczak will be looking to end the season on a high with a World Championship gold and look to return to the Olympic class boat for 2018.

Denise Walsh from Skibbereen in Ireland is another who will be a serious contender for a medal. After a disappointing 2016 which saw her finish 19th at the final World Cup she’s made a great start to the 2017 season taking silver in Belgrade and again at the European Championships.

Another exciting young sculler to watch is Marieke Keijser of the Netherlands. She’s already got a superb winning record under her belt with a Junior world title in 2015 and back to back U23 titles in 2016 and 2017. She made her senior debut in 2016 and came away with World Cup gold and silver medals. So far in 2017 as well as the U23 world title she has silver medals from both the European Championships and the Lucerne World Cup. She is undoubtedly a prodigious talent and could well end the season as U23 and senior World Champion.


Marieke Keijser of the Netherlands. Phot: talentboek

Runner-up to Keijser at the U23’s was Italian Clara Guerra. Still only 18 she’s another very talented young sculler and one to watch for the future. Junior World Champion in 2016 she made the A-Final of the European Championships. An A-Final finish would be an outstanding result for his young sculler.

Mary Jones of Cambridge Boat Club in Boston USA finished just outside of the medal at last year’s World Championships in Rotterdam. So far this season she’s made the A-Final at both the 2nd and 3rd World Cups missing the bronze medal in Lucerne by just 4/100ths of a second. An A-Final finish would be the minimum expected.

The final two scullers to mention are Germany’s Leonie Pieper and Mexico’s Kenia Lechuga Alanis. Pieper was a World Champion in the LW4X in 2014 and 2015 and she reached the A-Final in the LW1x at the European Championships. A similar result in Sarasota would be a great result. Lechuga Alanis won bronze at the U23 world Championships last year and has a best result of 9th so far this season.

My picks…it’s going to be really tight between McCann, Mikolajczak and Keijser. I think the Pole will just snatch it from the South African with the young Dutch woman in bronze.



30 scullers

Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Slovenia, Serbia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, USA, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, St Vincent.

A big field and great to see some of the smaller rowing nations like Uganda, St Vincent and Uzbekistan represented.

The dynamic of this event changed significantly when the Irish O’Donovan brothers withdrew from the LM2X due to illness to Gary. This left younger brother Paul potentially high and dry. But he’s been entered into the LM1x, the event in which he is the reigning world champion. One of the most charismatic figure in World Rowing he and brother Gary had progressed steadily throughout the season following up a lacklustre performance in Belgrade with a silver medal at the Europeans and further medals in Poznan and Lucerne. Everything was set for a mouth-watering showdown with the French LM2X….but it wasn’t to be. But, O’Donovan Jr will be the one to beat in the single in Florida.


2016 LM1X World Champion Paul O’Donovan of Ireland

Leading the chase of the Irishman will be Poland’s Artur Mikolajczewski. He also raced in the LM2X at the Rio Olympics making the A-Final. He’s spent all season in the LM1X and has been getting better and better all season. 4th in Belgrade and 5th at the European Championships he then stepped up in Poznan and Lucerne taking the gold medal both times. He’s definitely the form athlete of the season and will be a stern test for the defending champion.

Peter Galambos of Hungary had also had a great season so far. The 2016 silver medallist has won medals at every regatta so far this season with a gold in Belgrade followed by silvers at the Europeans and Poznan and ending with bronze in Lucerne. He will definitely be in the mix for the medals.

Galambos and Slovakia’s Lukas Babac have been rivals for the last few years. They’ve been finishing within 1 place or so of each other since 2010. The Slovakian hasn’t had as good a season so far as the Hungarian with a best performance of 3rd at the Poznan World Cup.

Another serious challenger for a medal is Switzerland’s Michael Schmid. He raced at the Rio Olympics with Daniel Wiederkehr that finished 13th. For 2017 he’s moved to the LM1X and has had a great season becoming European Champion in Belgrade. He also has 2 silver medals from the 1st and 3rd World Cups. Part of an incredibly strong Swiss sculling squad anything less than a medal will be a disappointment.

Another seasoned campaigner in the LM1X is Slovenia’s Rajko Hrvat. He’s been racing in the LM1X since 2010 and was a World silver medallist in 2015. He just missed out on a medal in 2016 and has a best performance so far this season of 4th in Poznan. He’ll be looking for an A-Final finish in Sarasota.

Kristoffer Brun from Norway is a firmer LM2X World Champion and won bronze at the Rio Olympics behind the French and Irish. He’s moved to the LM1X for 2017 and has A-Final appearances at the Europeans and in Poznan and Lucerne. He’ll be expecting to make it a 3rd A-Final at the very least at the World Championships.

Greece’s Georgias Konsolas is making his season’s debut in Florida. He was a part of the LM4X that won the World Championships in 2013 and 2014. It remains to be seen what sort of speed he has in the single and could be the dark horse of the event.

Other scullers to mention include the gold and silver medallists from the U23 World Championships Uncas Batista of Brazil and Alexis Lopez Garcia of Mexico.

My picks…O’Donovan in gold with Mikolajczewski in silver and Schmid in bronze.



21 scullers

Austria, Bahamas, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, Korea, Latvia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Paraguay, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, Ukraine, USA

Another sculling event where Switzerland will be one of the favourites to take gold. Jeannine Gmelin has stepped up to be the season’s leading sculler. After 5th places in 2014, 2015 and the Rio Olympics she won Switzerland’s first ever W1X gold medal at the Poznan World Cup this season and followed that up with her 2nd in Lucerne. She’s definitely heading into the World Championship as the form sculler and will be the one everyone is watching.


Switzerland’s Jeannine Gmelin

One of the main challengers to Gmelin will be Austria’s Magdalena Lobnig. She’s been one of the most consistent scullers over the past few years only failing to make the A-final twice since 2013. She made a step up in 2016 by winning the European Championships and ending the season with a 6th place at the Rio Olympics. This season she has raced at all three World Cups and has won medals at all three (including gold in Poznan). One thing you can always expect from Lobnig is that she will be in the mix for the medals.

Another highly experienced sculler is China’s Jingli Duan. She’s made a habit of finishing 3rd taking the bronze in 2014, 2015 and the Rio Olympics. She’s raced once so far this season at the Poznan World Cup and finished……3rd! Another sculler who will be in the mix for the medals.

The winner of the European Championships this year was Great Britain’s Vicky Thornley. That gold was the first senior W1X Championship gold medal by a British woman. The Rio W2X silver medallist was, perhaps, in the shadow of the great dame Katherine Grainger last season but her strength and technical ability cannot be underestimated. This season she has emerged from that shadow and established herself as a world class single sculler. She followed up her European gold with a silver medal in Poznan and 5th in Lucerne. She had a very odd race at Henley where problems with her boat meant she struggled and was off the pace against Annekatrin Thiele. But, she will relish the warm weather in Sarasota and if conditions are calm she will be one of the favourites for a medal.


Vicky Thornley of Great Britain. Photo: Leander Club

The winner in Henley, Thiele of Germany, is one of the most experienced and decorated athletes in the field having made her senior debut back in 2005. She’s got two Olympic medals to her credit, including gold from Rio, and two World Championship golds. But, crucially all of those medals came in the W4X. Her best performance so far to date in the W1X has been a 3rd place at this year’s Europeans. She followed that up with the win at Henley and A-final finishes at the 2nd and 3rd World Cups. She is unlikely to challenge for the medals, given the strength of the field, but will expect to feature in the A-Final.

Another sculler with hopes of making the A-final at the very least is the USA’s Felice Mueller. World champion in the W4- back in 2013 she has World Championship medals in both sculling and sweep events in 2014 and 2015. She raced in the W2- at the Rio Olympics and just missed out on the medals. This season is her first competing internationally in the W1X and she made a strong start in Lucerne taking 4th. But, given the highly competitive field, and the level of single scull experience of the field she may struggle to be in the mix for the medals, but an A-final finish is a strong possibility.

Carling Zeeman of Canada is a former U23 silver medallist in the single scull. After a couple of years racing in the W4X she switched to the W1X in 2015 ending the season in 6th In 2016 she followed that up with a 10th place in Rio. She made a strong start to her 2017 season taking silver in Lucerne 2 seconds behind Gmelin.

The final scullers to mention are Lisa Scheenaard of the Netherlands who moves out of a highly successful W4X to race the W1X in Sarasota, and Denmark’s Fie Udby Erichsen – silver medallist in London and 9th in Rio.

My picks….this may surprise a few people but I’m picking Gmelin for gold with Duan of China in silver and Vicky Thornley in bronze.



39 scullers

Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Benin, Belarus, Brazil, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Great Britain, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Paraguay, Poland, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Russia, Samoa, Serbia, Switzerland, Sweden, Tunisia, Ukraine, USA, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic and Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand have been duelling in the M1X at the World Championships since 2005, and one or other of them has always made the top step of the podium since. Synek has the edge in World Championships having won for the last three years, whereas Drysdale has the edge in Olympic titles. But, with Drysdale retiring (or possibly just taking a break) Synek might have thought that 2017 would be an “easy” year for him to dominate. But, he reckoned without the conveyor belt of talent that is the New Zealand system. Filling Drysdale’s shoes in the MX is Robbie Manson. He’s had a good, if not spectacular career up to 2017, 7th in the M4X at the London Olympics and winning a bronze medal in the M2X in 2015 and then a disappointing 11th in Rio. But his move to the 1X has been inspired. In his first race at the Poznan World Cup he not only won gold by a massive 8 seconds but set a new World’s Best Time of 6:30.74 into the bargain. Suddenly the rest of the men’s sculling world realised the Oar-Blacks weren’t going to give up their dominance of the M1X easily. Manson followed up his spectacular victory in Poznan with another gold in Lucerne.


Robbie Manson of New Zealand.

2nd to Manson at both the Poznan and Lucerne World Cups was Cuba’s Angel Fournier Rodriguez. Cuba’s most successful rower ever, for years he’s been in the shadow of Synek and Drysdale, picking up bronze medals and the occasional silver (when either Synek or Drysdale weren’t racing). The highlight of his career to date was 2013 in Chungju when he won silver (despite stopping before the line). With 2 silver medals to his credit so far this season he’s one of the strongest challengers for a medal in Sarasota.

Croatia’s Damir Martin was involved in one of the greatest M1X races ever at the Rio Olympics against Mahe Drysdale. He led over the first half of the course before Drysdale overhauled him just before the 1500m marker and went on to open up a ¾ length lead with 250m to go. 99 times out of 100 if a sculler as that much of a lead with only 1 minute to go then they will go on to win. But Martin clearly hadn’t read the script and mounted an astonishing sprint to reel the Kiwi back in. On the line it was a photo-finish which went the way of Drysdale by no more than 1-2cm (both men were credited with identical times). Returning to competition in 2017 Martin admitted he wasn’t back to full fitness, but despite this he picked up silver medals at the 1st World Cup and European Championships. Illness during the Lucerne World Cup meant his performance was below par and he withdrew before the B-Final. It remains to be seen what sort of form he brings to Florida. If he’s anywhere near his best we could see another outstanding race between him, Manson, Synek and Fournier Rodriguez.

Rio M1X PF.jpg

the closest ever finish to a M1X Olympic final. Drysdale (top) pips Martin by 1cm. Photo: World Rowing

Belarus’s Stanislau Shcharbachenia is a sculler who is always “there or thereabouts”. 5th at the Rio Olympics, he’s finished 7th at the last two World Championships and has a best performance so far this season of a bronze medal at Lucerne. At his best he can challenge anyone and will be looking to add his name to the medal contenders.

As mentioned earlier, the Swiss sculling team is quietly establishing itself as a world power. Nico Stahlberg has emerged as a real contender this season. A member of the excellent M4X that finished 7th in Rio he’s switched to the M1X for 2017. He opened his account with a superb gold at the Belgrade World Cup. This was Switzerland’s 1st M1X medal since Xeno Mueller won silver at the 2001 World Cup in Princeton. He followed this up with 1 2nd medal (a bronze) in Poznan and then just missed out on another bronze in Lucerne by 7/100th of a second. The Swiss are clearly doing something right and Stahlberg will expect to be up at the sharp end of the A-Final pushing for a medal (if he manages it it’ll be Switzerland’s 1st since 1999).


Nico Stahlberg of Switzerland

A sub-plot in the M1X story in Sarasota is the battle of the “young guns”. 3 of the top 5 U23 M1X from the 2016 World Championships are racing in Florida. Germany’s Tim Ole Nask took the top honours that day and so far this season he has A-Final finishes at both the European Championships and Poznan World Cups. Illness forced his withdrawal from Lucerne at the quarter-final stage. He’ll be looking to be the best of the “young ‘uns” in Florida and secure a solid A-Final placing. Poland’s Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk is the most experienced of the trio, 7th at the Rio Olympics he won silver behind Ole Nask at the 2016 U23’s and then bronze this year. He spends most of his rowing season in the University of California M8, but will be a major contender come Tokyo.

The third of the U23’s is Great Britain’s Tom Barras. The Welshman was 5th last year and started this season subbing into the M4X winning bronze in Belgrade and 4th in Racice. He moved back to the M1X for Poznan finishing an excellent 5th. Lucerne was a bit disappointing when he ended up 13th. But, at his best he’s more than capable of reaching the A-Final and is another “one to watch” as the Olympiad progresses.

Other scullers to watch are Mexico’s Juan Carlos Cabrera – 8th in Rio, The Netherland’s Stefan Broenink – 4th in Belgrade and Serbia’s Marko Marjanovic who took a surprise bronze in Belgrade.


My picks….should be another classic but it’s hard to see anyone getting the best of Robbie Manson. Synek to take the silver with Damir Martin in bronze.


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