The World Championships preview part 6: The eights

For most of the Olympic-class events if you make the A-Final, then that’s job done, your boat will be on the start line in Tokyo. But, in the eights just making the A-Final isn’t going to be enough. You have to be in the top 5. This means that the battle at the back of the A-Final will be just as fierce, if not more so, than that for the medals. No-one wants to finish 6th, the worst possible place. So, who will make it, and will miss out?

 

M8

Entries: 10

Olympic qualifying places: 5

 

2018 Champions: Germany

 

 

Germany set out to win every World Championship title of the Olympiad, they did it in the London Olympiad and the British did it for Rio. In fact, since 2009 Britain and Germany have won every World and Olympic title. Germany are on track to achieve their aim of winning the three world titles of the Olympiad, having won in both 2017 and 2018. But, Great Britain have been getting closer and closer. The Olympic champions had a disaster in 2017, missing out on the A-Final completely. But chief coach, Jurgen Grobler, has been slowly rebuilding his squad and is targeting peak performance in 2020. The British returned to medal-winning ways in 2018 with a bronze. In 2019 they’ve been chasing the Germans throughout the season with silver medals at both the European Championships and the Poznan World Cup. But, in Rotterdam for the 3rdWorld Cup the British finally got back on top of the podium, beating the Germans by a length. But (and it’s a big but), the weather played a big part in GB’s win, GB’s Mo Sbihi admitted that conditions were “laney” and the result should be taken with a pinch of salt. But, this could also be all part of the mind games going on between the British and Germans. Germany will know they have beaten Britain on countless occasions in the last few years, Britain will want to lull them into thinking that Rotterdam was a “blip” whereas GB know they have the speed to take down the German machine. Whatever else goes on in the 8’s race, the battle between the Germans and the British will be fascinating.

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There Great Britain Men’s 8. Photo: Nick Middleton/British Rowing

 

But, there are 8 other crews in the race, all of them looking to get among the medals and get on the plane to Tokyo. New Zealand’s 8 has been garnering a lot of the limelight this season, with 2 of the biggest names in the sport finding seats in the boat. Mahe Drysdale moved into the 8 after losing the selection battle for the M1X spot to Robbie Manson, Hamish Bond joined the crew after deciding that he wasn’t going to make the New Zealand Olympic cycling squad.. The addition of these two legends has galvanised the crew from one that finished last in 2018 to a boat of genuine medal-contenders in 2019. The Kiwis last won a World Championship M8 medal in 1983 when they won gold, this year’s crew could well change that. The longer this crew stays together, the faster they get. If they put together a decent regatta, and if the Germans and British become preoccupied with what each other are doing then the Kiwis could sneak it.

 

The biggest unknown of this event will be the USA. They’ve not raced as a crew all season (there was a US crew racing in Rotterdam, but that was the U23 crew – who went on to win a silver medal at the U23 Worlds). But, the US have a great history in this event and they’ve put together a very strong outfit. They have 6 of the crew that finished 4thin 2018, but only 5 of the athletes have raced this season, with the no.1 M4- of Alex Karwoski, Connor Harrity, Mike Di Santo and Austin Hack (who finished 5that the Poznan World Cup) along with Alex Richards (who raced in a 2ndUS M4- in Poznan that came 11th). They will be looking to spring a surprise on the more established crews and should have the pace to take a qualifying spot.

 

Australia are another serious challenger for the medals. They finished runners-up to the Germans at last year’s World Championships. They’ve been fiddling around with their line-up all season. Only 6 of the crew remain from the 2018 line-up. Their results so far this season have been a little disappointing, with a 5thplace at the 2ndWorld Cup and 6thin Rotterdam. However, for Linz they have brought in Tim Masters, who won gold in the M4- in Rotterdam, Spencer Turrin (gold in the M4- in 2018 and gold in the M2- in Rotterdam), along with Alex Purnell (silver in the M4X last year) and Karsten Fosterling, who last rowed for Australia at the Rio Olympics. Fosterling wasn’t on the original entry list (that was James Medway), so the Australians are playing musical chairs with their squad at the moment. But, this looks a very powerful 8 and should produce a better result than their 6thplace in Rotterdam.

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Karsten Fosterling, representing Australia for the first time since the Rio Olympics. Photo: Rowing Australia

 

 

Canada’s last world title was in 2007 with the crew that went on to win Olympic gold in Beijing. Since then, the biggest men’s boat has somewhat lost its way with the Canucks. The focus switched to the smaller boats but the medals became elusive. A Canadian M8 hasn’t made the A-Final at the World Championships since 2011, in fact Canada didn’t even have a M8 between 2013 and 2017. When they returned to the boat class in 2018 they ended 8thof the 9 crews at the World Championships. But, the 2019 crew look a much better proposition. Their one appearance at the World Cup this year in Poznan netted them a bronze medal behind the Germans and British. The crew are coxed by the legendary Lesley Thompson-Willie who returns to international competition after retiring after coxing the Canadian W8 at the Rio Olympics. She turns 60 next month and make her debut in 1981. If Canada qualify for Tokyo (and if Thompson-Willie stay in the coxes seat) it will be her 8thOlympics! The crew are stroked by London Olympic silver medallist Will Crothers.

 

The crews likely to be battling it out for the crucial 5thqualifying spot are liekely to be the Netherlands, Italy and Romania. The Dutch were bronze medallists at the European Championships and then took 4that the Rotterdam World Cup. Romania finished one place behind the Dutch at both the Euro’s and in Rotterdam. They also raced at the 1stWorld Cup winning a silver medal…..albeit in a two crew race. Italy have struggled so far this season finishing 6that both the Europeans and Poznan. They will need more speed if they hope to qualify for Tokyo. The final crew in the event are Russia, 5that the Europeans, and last of the 8 crews at Rotterdam (beaten by the US U23 M8).

 

My picks….I reckon GB will get the better of the Germans with the USA taking the bronze.

 

Predicted Olympic qualifiers: GBR, GER, USA, AUS, NZL

 

 

W8

11 entries

Olympic qualifying places: 5

 

2018 Champions: The USA

 

 

When a USA W8 fails to win a gold medal it’s a fairly major event. They’ve dominated this event for the last dozen years, winning the Olympic titles in Beijing, London and Rio. They’ve also won 8 of the last 9 world championships. The only country to have beaten them at a World Championships since 2006 were the Romanians who won in 2017 (the shock for that year wasn’t just that the US were beaten, they were out of the medals altogether!) But, “normal service” was resumed in 2018 when the US returned to the top of the podium. The crew for 2019 however, haven’t had the best of starts, their one appearance so far was at the 2ndWorld Cup in Poznan and they were beaten into 2ndby Australia. But, they are a powerful line-up with multiple Olympic and World champions on board and will still be favourites to take gold.

The USA W8 – World Champions in 2018. Photo: USRowing

 

Canada have often played bridesmaid to the US’s Bride, six times in the last ten World Championships years they finished 2ndto the US, and on the rare occasion the US didn’t win the gold the Canadians still finished as runners-up (when Romania won in 2017). Not since Vienna in 1991 has a Canadian W8 come out on top at a World Championships. They have 5 of the crew that won silver last year along with the world championship gold medal pair of Hillary Janssens and Caileigh Filmer (who are doubling-up in the W2-). There’s also 2018 U23 world Champion Avalon Wasteneys. The core of this crew raced at the 2ndand 3rdWorld Cups finishing a disappointing 6thin Poznan but then taking the bronze in Rotterdam. The crew for Linz is definitely stronger than in Rotterdam, so I fully expect Canada to be up challenging the US.

 

One of the favourites to overthrow the USA are New Zealand. The Kiwis have never won this event, but came closest in 2015 when they finished runners-up to the USA. This year’s crew stands a real chance of repeating that feat or even going one better. The crew includes the outstanding pairing of Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler, who are doubling-up and favourites for the W2-. 2018 was a disappointing season for this crew, after medals at the 2017 World championships and silver and gold in the World Cups they ended up 7thout of 8 at the World Championships. This season has also seen them among the medals with a gold at the final World Cup in Rotterdam. If they get everything right then they are capable of beating everyone.

 

After taking silver at the Rio Olympics, Great Britain have been in the long process of rebuilding their women’s squad following a wave of retirements. The crew for this year contains just two of the Rio crew, Zoe Lee and Karen Bennett. Since Rio the British have been regularly in the A-finals at the world championships, but not threatening the medals. This year has seen them step on, taking silver at the European Championships and an excellent bronze in Poznan. Rotterdam was less successful for GB when they slipped back to 5thin the tough conditions, but they will be heading into Linz confident that they can achieve a top 5 finish and with an outside chance of a medal.

 

Australia are another nation with their sights firmly set on Tokyo. As with the Kiwis and Canadians, they have a couple of athletes who are doubling-up in the W2- (Annabelle McIntyre and Jessica Morrison. They also have 7 of the crew that finished in the bronze medal position last year. Also in the crew is Molly Goodman, who won silver in the W4- last year and U23 international Bronwyn Cox. So far this season the Aussies have had a great season, taking gold in Poznan and silver in Rotterdam. They will be desperate to secure Olympic qualification by right this year. In 2015 they missed out, and also missed out at the Final Olympic Qualification regatta, only to receive a last minute call up following the exclusion of the Russian team. This time round they want to make no mistake. (as an interesting aside, it’s fun to note that the Aussie men’s 8 is being coxed by a women, and the women’s 8 by a man…..there was an interesting discussion on the Rowperfect Facebook page recently about whether men respond better to a female cox and vice versa).

 

Russia will also be desperate to make an appearance at the Olympics having been forced to sit it out in Rio. They have had a reasonable year so far, with a bronze medal at the European Championships and a 4thplace at the Rotterdam World Cup. At the heart of the crew are the quartet that won gold in the W4- at the 2017 European Championships. This is a young crew (average age of 23 compared to the likes of the USA at 28 and the Kiwis at 25) so they will only improve as they have more time together. But they will be in the mix for an Olympic place if not a medal.

 

Romania are another very young crew, with an average age of just 21 (excluding the 29 –year-old Daniela Druncea in the coxswain’s seat). But, despite their youth they are an extremely rapid unit. Winners of the European Championships this season they slipped back slightly in Rotterdam where they came 6th. But, they will definitely be contenders for an Olympic spot.

 

It’s quite rare to see a Women’s 8’s event with as many as 11 entries (and with more entries than the men’s event) and it’s particularly pleasing to see crews from countries who do not normally race the eights. One such crew is Denmark. This is the first time they’ve raced a women’s 8 at a World Championships since Tampere in 1995. The crew is mainly made up of former U23 and junior athletes and they will have little expectation of qualifying for the Olympics, but it will be a great learning experience for the athletes and will pave the way for their development throughout the Paris Olympiad.

The other countries racing are China (silver medallists – in a race of 3 – at the first World Cup, and 9thin Rotterdam), the Netherlands (winners in Plovdiv at the start of the season but only 8that the 2ndand 3rdWorld Cups) and Germany (7thin Poznan and 10thin Rotterdam).

 

My picks….despite the loss to Australia in Poznan I still think this will be another World title for the USA with the Kiwis in silver and the Australians in bronze

 

Predicted Olympic qualifiers: USA, NZL, AUS, CAN, GBR

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