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The World Championships preview part 7: The Para-Rowing events

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Now for the final part of the preview…the para-rowing events.

The classifications have changed since Rio so perhaps need a little explaining.

PR3  (Formerly LTA)
Physical Impairment, Visual Impairment and Intellectual Disability (ID). This sport class is for rowers who have the use of their legs, trunk and arms, who can utilize the sliding seat. Note that ID is not an eligible impairment for FISA events.

Examples of PR3 impairments include (but are not limited to):

Limb loss, at least full loss of three fingers on one hand, or at least a tarsal metatarsal amputation of the foot

  • Loss of muscle strength e.g. equivalent to incomplete spinal cord injury at S1
  • Minimal ataxia, athetosis, hypertonia. E.g. Cerebral Palsy, brain injury, stroke or MS, usually affecting only one limb

PR2 (Formerly TA)
Physical Impairment. This sport class is for rowers who have trunk and arm movement, who are unable to use their legs to propel the sliding seat.

Examples of PR2 impairments include (but are not limited to):

  • Limb loss equivalent to a double around the knee amputation
  • Significant muscle strength loss in both legs equivalent to complete spinal cord injury at L3 level or incomplete lesion at L1
  • Ataxia, athetosis or hypertonia from CP, brain injury or stroke which affects both legs or one side of the body
  • Significant permanently decreased range of motion in one or both knees

PR1 (Formerly AS)
Physical Impairment. This sport class is for athletes who row predominately with their arms and shoulders. Athletes use strapping around their mid section to provide support and stability in the boat.

Examples of PR1 impairments include (but are not limited to):

  • Ataxia, athetosis or hypertonia from CP, brain injury or stroke who use a wheelchair, with both legs and the trunk involved
  • Loss of muscle strength equivalent to complete spinal cord injury at T12 level”

 

 

It’s also worth commenting that this year all the Para-Rowing classes are racing over the full 2000m. It’s a massive feat of strength and endurance, especially for the PR1 events, for the athletes racing the full 2K with just their upper bodies.

Right..so now that’s understood onto the events.

 

PR1 W1X

9 scullers

China, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, USA

China’s Lili Wang won silver at the Rio Paralympic Games. She’s not raced so far this season but comes into Sarasota as the athlete with one of the strongest pedigrees.

The favourite for the event may well be Israel’s Moran Samuel. She was 5th at the London Olympics and was World Champion in 2015 and bronze medallist at the Rio Games. She didn’t race at the Poznan World Cup (the only World Cup which fielded para-rowing events) but did race at the Gavirate Adaptive Rowing Regatta where she won gold.

Runner-up to Moran in Gavirate was Norway’s Birgit Skarstein. She was World Champion in 2015 and just missed out on the medals in Rio. She dominated a small 3 boat field in Poznan winning by 45 seconds.

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Norway’s Birgit Skarstein

48 year old Sylvia Pille-Steppart from Germany won bronze in Gavirate and followed this up with silver at the Poznan World Cup was runner-her first international medal.

Italy’s Anita Hoxha finished in the bronze medal position in the three boat final at the Poznan Regatta and was 5th in Gavirate.

Also keep an eye out for the USA’s Hallie Smith from Washington D.C. She’s making her international debut after securing her spot on the team with victory at the US Trials. The US always produce strong para-rowing athletes and Smith could well be the dark horse of the event.

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Lili Wang of China. Photo: World Rowing

My picks…China in gold with Norway in silver and Israel just holding off the US for the bronze.

 

PR1 M1X

17 scullers

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, USA

This looks set to be a showdown between two fierce rivals, Erik Horrie of Australia and Roman Polianskyi of Ukraine.

Horrie is one of the most experienced athletes in the field. The 37 year old won silver at the London Paralympics and then became World Champion in 2013, a title he successfully defended in both 2014 and 2015. In Rio he won his 2nd Paralympic silver medal. The man who beat him in Rio was Polianskyi. Horrie has yet to race internationally over the new 2K distance whereas the Ukrainian competed both at Gavirate and in Poznan, winning gold on both occasions. The first meeting of these two athletes for the 2017 season should be really interesting to watch.

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Erik Horrie of Australia. Photo: World Rowing

Behind these two the next favourite for a medal is Great Britain’s Andrew Houghton. Filling the mighty shoes of the legendary Tom Aggar, Houghton has made an impressive start to his 2017 campaign with a silver medal in Gavirate.

Another athlete chasing a medal is the USA’s Blake Hoxton. He finished just outside of the medals at the 2014 and 2015 World Championships and took 4th at the Rio Paralympics. A graduate of the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University he will be looking to go at least one better than his result in Rio.

Also keep an eye out for Brazil’s Rene Pereira, 7th in the world in 2015 and an A-Fnalist in Rio and was 6th at the Poznan World Cup.

The final athlete to mention is Russia’s Alexey Chuvashev. A bronze medallist at the Lodon Paralympics he won World bronze medals in 2013 and 2014. The suspension of the entire Russian team from the Rio Paralympics probably robbed him of another medal. So far in 2017 he’s raced at the Poznan World Cup finishing 9 seconds behind Polianskyi in the silver medal position.

My picks…Horrie for the gold just ahead of the Ukrainian with Houghton of GB in bronze.

 

PR2 Mix2X

5 crews

China, Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine, USA

China, Shuang Liu and Tianming Fei are the silver medallists from the Rio Paralympics. Fei also raced in London (with Xiaoxian Lou) winning the gold. These are the only 2 races Fei has done and he’s won medals in both. The Chinese pair will surely start as favourites in Sarasota.

The Dutch, Annika Van Der Meer and Corne De Koning, are acing both the PR2 and PR3 events. The PR2 in Gavirate and also took the gold at the Poznan World Cup. De Koning raced in the TAMix2X category in Rio (with Ester Van Der Loos) finishing 4th just 2 seconds off a medal.

Ukraine have a crew which contains the oldest competitor at the championships, 57 year old Iryna Kyrchenko. She, and partner Iaroslav Koiuda, finished 5th in Rio and so far this season have a bronze medal from the Poznan World Cup.

As well as the oldest competitor at the championships, this event also sees the youngest – 17 year old Isaac French of the USA. He’s partnered by 37 year old Laura Goodkind. She raced at the Rio Games with Roman Helman, finishing 10th overall.

Poland have the long-established pairing of Michal Gadowski and Jolanta Majka. This double were 10th in London and reached the A-final in Rio. So far this season they have a bronze medal from Gavirate and 4th in Poznan.

My picks..China in gold ahead of the Netherlands and Ukraine.

 

PR3 Mix 2X

9 crews

Austria, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Latvia, Mexico, Netherlands, USA

Only 3 crews competed in the PR3 event at the Poznan World Cup, with Germany emerging as the winners, however Germany have selected a different pairing to compete in Florida with Valentin Luz and Jessica Dietz. They raced at Gavirate finishing 3rd of 3 1.5 minutes behind the winners.

The gold in Gavirate went to the French, Antoine Jesel and Guylaine Marchand. Marchand was world champion in the LTAMix2X event in 2016 with Fabien Saint-Lannes. She and Jesel were members of the French LTAMix 4+ that finished 8th in Rio. They continued in that boat class for the Poznan World Cup taking the silver medal. They won in Gavirate in a small field by over 5o seconds ahead of Israel.

Austria will be strong contenders for a medal with Johanna Beyer and Rainer Putz. This duo won silver at the 2016 World Championships and so far this season have a silver medal from the Poznan World Cup.

As mentioned earlier, the Netherlands are racing in both the PR2 and PR3 categories it’ll be interesting to see how they get on against athletes with less impairment.

China will be strong contenders for the medals, their crew of Qian Wang and Yunlong Wu raced as part of the LTAMix 4+ at both the London and Rio Paralympics – finishing 4th and 6th respectively. It remains to be seen how quick they are in the double, but they certainly have a wealth of experience under their belts.

My picks…France for the win, with Austria in 2nd and the Chinese in bronze.

 

The final event is the PR3 Mix 4+

5 crews

Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Ukraine, USA

Great Britain will start as clear favourites in this event. They’ve not been beaten at a World Championships or Paralympics since 2010. There are two changes to the crew that won in Rio with James Fox and Grace Clough being joined by newcomers Oliver Stanhope from Molesey Boat Club and Lithuanian-born Giedre Rakauskaite of Worcester Rowing Club. New into the coxes seat is Anna Corderoy (also of Molesey Boat Club). They didn’t race at the world Cup but did compete at Gavirate (with Emma Todd racing in place of Rakauskaite) and recorded a 14 second win over Ukraine. It’ll be a major upset if the British don’t come away with another World title.

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The GBR PR3 Mix4+ Winners at the Gavirate Regatta. Photo: British Rowing

Looking to spoil the British party are the Americans. They were runners-up to the British in Rio and have made just one change to that crew, with Michael Varro joining Jaclyn Smith, Zachary Burns, Danielle Hansen and cox Jennifer Sichel. The Americans will be getting fed up with playing 2nd fiddle to the British having done so in 2014, 2015 and 2016. They will be hoping that finally this year they can get to hear the Stars and stripes rather than God Save The Queen!

The last crew to beat the British at a Paralympics were the Italians in 2008 and for 2017 they have two of that crew on-board – Paola Protopapa and 55 year old Luca Agoletto (making his first return to international competition since 2011). They are joined by 2 fellow crew members from the boat that raced at the 2013,14 & 15 World Championships; Lucilla Aglioti and Tommaso Schettino. They had a best finish of 2nd in 2013. Only Schettino raced in Rio where the crew finished a disappointing 10th. Now, with much more experience in the boat they pose a serious threat to the British and Americans.

Ukraine are always strong in Para-rowing and their PR3 Mix4+ stand a very good chance of getting among the medals, the crew of Olexandra Yankova, Iryna Yarynka, Olexandr Bilonozhko, Maksym Zhuk and Volodymyr Kozlov finished 6th in 2015 and 9th in Rio. They’ve made a good start to the 2017 campaign with silver at the Gavirate Regatta and then gold in the 3 boat final in Poznan.

The final crew racing are the Israelis with Simona Goren, Achiya Klein, Barak Hazor, Shay-lee Mizrachi and Leah Marissa Sass. They raced in Poznan finishing 3rd in a tight three boat final.

My picks…hard to see anyone beating the British, but the battle for the silver and bronze will be quite a contest between the Americans and Italians, with the Americans coming out on top.

 

So that’s it. All events previewed. Hopefully the weather gods will be kind and we’ll have a fabulous week of racing.

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The World Championships preview part 6: the singles

single scull race

 

LW1X

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.

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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.

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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.

 

LM1X

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.

O'donovan

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.

 

W1X

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.

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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.

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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.

 

M1X

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

The world Championships preview part 5: The pairs

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photo: Shutterstock

time now to look at the pairs events.

LM2-

8 crews

Brazil, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Russia, USA

The Irish have been pretty much untouchable so far this season, Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll from Skibbereen are unbeaten so far winning all three world Cups and the European Championships. They will be odds on favourites to make it a clean sweep for the season.  2017 has certainly seen a step up in performance from this Irish pairing, the gold in Belgrade was the first medal either man had won in their senior international careers and to follow that up with three more shows they are now the class crew of the field.

If the Irish have made a step up in performance then it can be argued that the British have taken a step backward. Sam Scrimgeour and Joel Cassells were world Champions in 2015 and European Champions in 2016. However they “only” managed a bronze medal at the 2016 world Championships and so far this season have a bronze from Belgrade and a silver in Poznan. Despite a strong first 1000m in Lucerne (where they led by over 1 second) they faded in the 2nd half and were rowed out of the medal altogether. But, they are a class outfit, and if they can get their pacing right they could well challenge for a medal and possibly even overturn the Irish.

The strongest challenge to the Irish however is likely to come from the Russians, Nikita Bolozin and Aleksei Kiiashko. After a fairly unspectacular 2016, where Kiiashko finished 10th in the LM2- and Bolozin 16th in the U23 BLM2X, they’ve stepped up a gear in 2017 and have created a fast pair. They’ve been runners-up to the Irish at Belgrade, the Europeans and in Lucerne and will be pushing to close the 1.5-2 second gap the Irish have been able to maintain over them so far this season.

Brazil are another combination who have made a step change in performance so far this season. Xavier Vela Maggi (who switched nationality from Spain to Brazil in 2016) and Willian Giaretton raced in the LM2X at their home Olympics placing 14th. They then returned to the LM2- to race at the World Championships finishing 9th. But, so far this season they’ve shown good medal-contending speed taking bronze at both the 2nd and 3rd World Cups (albeit in what was only a 3 boat final in Poznan).

The Italians are always strong in lightweight rowing and this year they have an exciting young combination of Guieseppe Di Mare and Alfonso Scalzone. 20 year old Di Mare and 21 year old Scalzone raced together for the first time at the European Championships where they picked up a bronze medal and ended the season as U23 World Champions.

The USA have selected Jack Devlin from Potomac Boat Club and Alex Twist from Seattle. Both were members of the LM8 that won bronze in 2015. For Devlin it’s a case of “joining the family business” after with both parents having rowed or trialled for the US.

The final two crews to mention are the Hungarians, Roland Szigeti and David Forrai, who have a best performance so far this season of 4th in Belgrade, and a crew from Mexico (Edmundo Reynoso and Angy Canul) who both make their international debuts in Sarasota.

My picks….logic dictates that the Irish will finish the season unbeaten but I reckon the Brits will finally get it right and take the silver with the battle for bronze being won by the Russians.

 

M2+

8 crews

Australia, Spain, France, Great Britain, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania

As with the LM4- this could well be the last year that the M2+ is part of the World Championship programme. But what that does mean is that whoever wins in Sarasota will remain the reigning World Champions. Given its dwindling status the event is often used as a means of giving the reserves a chance to race.

The favourites for this year are the Italians. But, if they do win it won’t be a particularly popular victory. Vincenzo Abbagnale has been named in the crew and has just completed a 16 month suspension for doping violations (there was some confusion over his ban, a number of press reports said he was suspended until 19th October whereas the Italian federation said it was 19th July). Rowing is lucky in that there aren’t many cases of doping so those that do happen reflect badly on the sport as a whole.  Abbagnale was World Champion in this event in 2013 and was part of the M8 that finished 6th in 2015. He’s joined by Jacapo Mancini and cox Riccardo Zoppini. Mancini raced in the M8 at the European Championships and then at the U23 World Championships.

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Vincenzo Abbagnale, returning to competition following a 16 month suspension for anti-doping violations

The French are an interesting crew, Thibault Colard and Thomas Baroukh are unusual in that they are lightweights racing in what is considered the most brutal of heavyweight events. But they are a talented pair having been members of the LM4- that won a bronze medal in 2015 and again at the Rio Olympics. They raced as a M2- in Lucerne finishing 10th.

Great Britain also have a strong chance of a good medal in Sarasota. Newcastle University graduates and Leander Club members Tom Ford and Tim Clarke (coxed by Harry Brightmore from Oxford Brookes) both made their senior debuts this season and won silver in the M8 in their first race in Belgrade. For Lucerne they moved into the M2- and finished 8th.

Germany won the M2+ at the final World Cup in Lucerne but have made a change to their line up for Sarasota. Malte Grossmann is now joined by University of Washington graduate Finn Schroeder. Schroeder raced with Anton Braun in the M2- at Lucerne but struggled back in 14th.

Hungary are another country with a strong chance of taking the win, they are possibly the most experienced crew in the field. Adrian Juhasz and Bela Simin Jr have been racing together for a number of years. They finished 9th in the M2- at the Rio Olympics and so far this season have a 10th place from Belgrade and 9th from the European Championships, both in the M2-) For Sarasota they gain Andrea Vanda Kollath in the coxes seat.

Romania have a strong chance for a medal as well, Adrian Damii and Mihaita-Vasile Tiganescu have raced in a variety of different boat classes this season. Both were members of the M8 that finished 6th at the Europeans. Damii raced the M8 in Lucerne taking 4th and Tiganescu partnered Cosmin Pascari in the M2- that also finished 4th.

The final crews to mention are the Australians and Spanish. The Aussies, Darcy Wruck and Angus Widdicombe (and cox James Rook) are the spares for the men’s team and raced in the M8 in Poznan finishing 4th and then the M4- in Lucerne. Spain (Jamie Lara Pacheco, Marco Sardelli Gil and Jurado Diaz) have a bronze medal from Lucerne (albeit from a 3 boat final). Both were members of the M8 that missed qualification for the Olympics when they came 5th at the Final Qualifying Regatta.

My picks….I think it’ll be between the Italians and Romanians for the gold with the British taking the bronze.

 

 

W2-

12 crews

China, Denmark, Spain, Great Britain, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Romania, Serbia, USA

With the departure of the dominant British pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning from this event, the battle to take over their mantle looks to have been won by New Zealand. Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler have been rowing together for a number of years, placing 7th in the W8 in 2013 and then becoming World Champions in the W4- in 2014. They formed their pairs partnership in 2015 where they finished runners-up to the British (and doubled up in the W8 to take another silver).  In Rio they stayed in the W8 but just missed out on the medals. For 2017 they are concentrating on the W2- and have, so far, completely dominated the event winning in both Poznan and Lucerne by over 5 seconds. They also won the inaugural W2- event at Henley. It’ll take something very special to deny the Kiwis their first W2- title since 2011.

The main threat to the kiwis will come from the highly experienced Americans, Megan Kalmoe and Tracy Eisser. They were runners-up to the New Zealanders at both the 2nd and 3rd World Cups. Both have been mostly racing in the quad over the past few years and finished 5th in Rio. They were both in the crew that won an historic gold at the world Championships in 2015 and Kalmoe has a bronze medal in the quad from the 2012 Games.  Now back in their preferred pair’s boat they aill be among the favourites for a medal.

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The USA’s Kalmoe and Eisser. Photo: FTA Sport

Romania have a long tradition in this boat class and this year’s pairing look set to continue that strong history. Madalina Beres and Laura Oprea are doubling up in the W8 (a common occurrence for the Romanians). They were bronze medallists in the W8 and so far this season have golds in both W8 and W2- from the Europeans and were part of the W8 that won in Lucerne.

It looks highly likely that the medals will be decided between these three crews. However the Danes may look to break into the medal party. Hedvig Rasmussen and Christina Johansen were silver medallists at the Europeans and took bronze in Lucerne. Rasmussen is no stranger to this event having finished 4th in 2015 and then taking the bronze in Rio with partner Anne Andersen. Her new partner for 2017, Johansen is less experienced, having raced in the W4X during the 2014 season, but they look to be developing nicely as a pair and will be pushing for a medal.

Taking over from a pair that was as successful as Glover and Stanning is never going to be easy and the pair tasked with that challenge is Holly Hill and Melissa Wilson. This is very much a crew for the future and both have won medals at U23 level. The worlds will be their first race in the pair having been in the W4- in Lucerne that finished 6th. An A-final placing would be a great start to their pair’s project.

Another crew looking to reach the A-Final as a minimum in Sarasota are the Spanish. Anna Boada Peiro and Aina Cid I having been racing together as a pair since the U23 world Championships in 2014. They won a bronze medal at the Varese World Cup in 2016 and then qualified for the Rio Olympics by winning the Final Qualifying Regatta. They had a great regatta in Rio reaching the A-Final. They’ve not raced since the Olympic final so it remains to be seen whether they have the pace to make the final again.

Also watch out for the Chinese, with Rio Olympian Tian Miao joined by U23 international Mingwei Zhao and also the young Italian crew of Ilaria Broggini and Veronica Calabrese (4th at the Europeans).

My picks…yet another win for the dominant Kiwis with the Romanians pipping the Americans for the silver.

M2-

19 crews

Argentina, Belarus, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, South Africa, Serbia, Turkey, USA.

Now that the “World’s Best Crew” have hung-up their oars (and in the case of Hamish Bond, got on his bike) there was a scramble at the start of the new season to see who would emerge as their successors. All eyes were on the Sinkovic brothers from Croatia, dominant in the M2X and now trying their hands at single oared racing. But, injury ruled them out until the Lucerne World Cup. Lucerne also saw the first appearance of the season of the new Kiwi Pair of Thomas Murray and former lightweight James Hunter. Word was the Kiwi pair were very, very quick and so it turned out. The results show that the New Zealanders led at every marker but the reality was that it was a real scrap for the line. The Sinkovic’s mounted a huge final sprint and looked set to overhaul the New Zealanders before a slight wash out in the final 50 metres cost robbed spectators of a potential photo-finish. Now, with 2 more months of training under their belts the next showdown between the Kiwis and Croatians could well be the most eagerly anticipated races of the whole championships.

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Martin and Valent Sinkovic now swapping two oars for one

But, this isn’t just about the Croatians and Kiwis. The Italians have a very strong boat for Sarasota. Matteo Lodo and Giuseppe Vicino were both members of the World Championship winning M4- in 2015 and Olympic bronze medallists at the Rio Olympics. They’ve only raced once so far this season but that was a gold medal at the European Championships. They may not be able to match the Croatians and New Zealanders, but they will be strong favourites for the bronze.

Also challenging for the medals are the French Onfroy brothers, Theophile and Valentin. Like the Italians they raced in the M4- at the Rio Olympics finishing 11th. For 2017 they’ve moved into the pair and have, so far, had a very successful season. Silver medallists at the European Championships, they took gold in Poznan and then bronze in Lucerne.

Serbia’s Nenad Bedik and Milos Vasic are one of the most experienced pairings in the event. 10th in the M2- at the Rio Olympics, they have medalled every time they’ve raced so far this season with silver in Belgrade, bronze at the Europeans and silver behind the French in Poznan.

Another Olympic crew continuing into 2017 are the Czechs, Jakub Podrazil and Lukas Helsic. They won the B-Final in Rio and so far this season have medals at the European Championships and both the 1st and 2nd World Cups. Lucerne was a little disappointing when they only managed a 9th place. They will be looking for a solid A-Final finish in Florida.

Spain will be looking for a solid A-Final finish, Alexander Sigurbjonsson and Pau Vela Maggi finished 10th in 2015 and also raced at the Olympics. Their best performance so far this season was a 6th place at the Lucerne World Cup.

Also keep an eye out for the Dutch crew, Lex Van den Herik and Bo Wullings from Nereus. They raced in the M8 that won a spectacular gold medal in Belgrade. Herik finished the season as U23 World Champion as a member of the BM8.

My picks…I’m going to go for a win for the Croatians over the Kiwis with the Italians in bronze.

The World Championships preview part 4: the Doubles

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Next up are the double sculls…

 

LW2X

10 crews

Canada, China, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, USA, Venezuela.

This has the makings of a three-way battle for the gold between China, New Zealand and Poland. The Chinese, Fang Chen and Dandan pan are doubling up in the lW4x which may not play to their advantage, but they are an outstanding combination (if not too pleasant to watch technically!)

As a double this duo raced in Poznan finishing nearly 2 seconds up on Poland. Pan was 5th in the LW4X in 2015 and was bronze medallist in the LW2X with Wenyi Huang in 2014. Despite only being 21 she has a wealth of international experience having won her first senior medal back in 2011 when she won bronze in the LW4X at the Bled World Championships aged just 15! Her partner in Florida, Fang Chen has a far shorter international history having made her debut in Poznan this season, but it’s always great to start your senior international career with a win!

New Zealand will probably start as the favourites in Sarasota. Zoe McBride and Jackie Kiddle were winners in comfortable winners in Lucerne, taking the gold by over 4 seconds ahead of Poland. Mcbride is the reigning LW1X World Champion (after successfully defending her title in Rotterdam) and is also the current holder of the World’s Best Time in the LW1X. Since moving into the Olympic class boat she’s formed an extremely fast combination with Jackie Kiddle. Kiddle won gold in the U23 BLW2X in 2015 and followed that up with a silver in 2016. She also has a gold medal in the LW1X from this year’s Poznan World Cup. With the pedigree and potential that this crew has they could well dominate the event all the way to Tokyo and beyond.

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NZL LW2X Zoe McBride and Jackie Kiddle (photo: Stuff.co.nz)

Poland started the season well, winning in Belgrade and then taking the European title in Racice. However they had to play 2nd fiddle at the 2nd and 3rD World Cups, first to the Chinese and then to the Kiwis. In response to this they’ve made a change to the line-up, out goes Martyna Mikolajczak and in comes Joanna Dorociak to join Weronika Deresz. Deresz finished last season with a win in the B-Final at the Olympic Games. Dorociak has spent this season racing in the LW1X taking bronze in Belgrade and silver in Poznan. She and Deresz have raced together in the LW2X a number of times over the past few years finishing 7th in both 2014 and 2015.

Great Britain will be hoping to make this a four-horse race for the medals rather than just a three-horse one. Since winning the Olympic title in 2012 they have had a fairly torrid time trying to find a combination that can consistently deliver medal winning performances. Olympic champion Kat Copeland has been the one consistent member of the crew but the GB coaches have tried a number of different partners including Imogen Walsh and Charlotte Booth before settling on Emily Craig. This new combination came together in the middle of the season taking bronze at the European Championships and then 4th in Poznan (although disappointingly they were beaten by 2 Chinese boats). In a tougher field in Lucerne they reached the A-Final but finished 3 seconds off a medal. The Brits undoubtedly have the potential, and this new combination definitely seems to be a better “fit” than previously. It’s going to be very much a case of if they can get it right on the day they can be in the mix for a medal.

Other contenders for the A-Final (if not the medals) include the Russians, Anastasiia Ianina and Anastasia Lebedeva. They are a new combination and took the bronze medal in their first race together in Lucerne. Ianina finished 6th in the LW1X last year following a 10th place in the LW2X in 2015. Lebedeva has been racing in the LW1X this season with a best performance of 4th at the European Championships. It remains to be seen if their performance in Lucerne was a true indicator of their speed or just a “one hit wonder”.

The Romanians, Ionela-Livia Lehaci and Gianina-Elena Beleaga are also one’s to watch, they are a young crew and won the U23 BLW2X world title last month. They were just outside of the medals at the Europeans at raced at the Rio Olympics finishing 9th. They may not be among the medals in Sarasota but are undoubtedly ones to watch in the coming years.

Also keep an eye on the crew from Switzerland, Pauline Delacroix and Freerique Rol. They were 4th in Lucerne and 9th at the Europeans, an A-Final placing in Sarasota would be the minimum they are after.

A number of nations have young, development crews racing including the Greeks and Italians. Thomais Emmanouilidou and Maria Pergouli of Greece were 8th at the Europeans and also in Lucerne. They raced at the U23 World Championships last month taking the bronze medal behind the Romanians. The Italians also have a crew of 2017 U23 medallists racing with Allegra Francalacci who took silver in the BLw2X and Valentina Rodini who won gold in the BLW4X.

The final two crews to mention are the Germans and Americans. Germany have Fini Sturm who finished 11th in Rio and Leonie Pless. This season they have a best finish of 5th at the Poznan World Cup. The USA, Michelle Sechser and Emily Schmeig are racing the LW2X for the first time, Schmeig finished 5th in the LW4X at last year’s world Championships and Sechser was 11th in the LW2X in 2015.

It’s also great to see so many entries from smaller rowing nations like Guatemala, Peru, Nigeria, and Venezuela.

My picks…hard to see anyone beating the Kiwis with the Chinese in silver and bronze going to Poland.

 

LM2X

24 crews

Argentina, Belgium, Canada, China, The Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Spain, France, Great Britain, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Japan, Peru, Poland, South Africa, Russia, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay,  The USA, Uzbekistan,  Venezuela.

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Olympic champions from France, Jeremie Azou and Pierre Houin (photo; Archy World News)

There have been a number of events over the years where the question hasn’t been “who will win gold” but “who will win silver” such is the dominance of one crew. In the M2- it was Murray and Bond of New Zealand, in the W8 it was (although may no longer be) the Americans and in the M2X it was martin and Valent Sinkovic of Croatia. Another crew to add to that list are Pierre Houin and Jeremie Azou of France in the LM2X.  They are unbeaten in the LM2X since forming their partnership in the middle of 2016. Indeed Azou has only been beaten once in the LM2X since finishing 4th at the London Olympics when he and previous partner Stany Delayre were defeated by 1/10th second by the South Africans at the 2014 world Championships. For his part Houin has an equally impressive record, he’s not lost a race since finishing 3rd in the U23 BLW2X in 2014. Their task of retaining their World Title was made slightly less challenging by the withdrawal of one of their main rivals from Ireland.

So, to answer my own question…who will win the silver? The Italians will be the favourites for this, runners-up (by 3 seconds) to the French at Lucerne and bronze medallists at the Europeans. Both Stefano Oppo and Pietro Ruta have made the switch from the LM4- to the LM2X this season. They were part of the LM4- that just missed the medals in Rio. Ruta is no stranger to the LM2X having raced the event at the London Olympics and been an A-Finalist in 2013, 2014 and 2015. They are probably the stand-out crew after the French.

Belgium will also be in with a shout of a medal, Tim Brys and Niels Van Zandweghe were 4th in their sole outing this season in Lucerne. They were desperately unlucky not to race at the Olympics having won the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta but foregoing their place due to the Olympic quota system (BEL had to choose between sending the M1X or LM2X and they chose the former).

The Czech Republic, Jiri Simanek and Miroslav Vrastil made the A-Final in Lucerne and will be looking to repeat that in Sarasota. They were silver medallists in Belgrade and just missed the A Final at the Europeans.

Strong contenders for the minor medals will be the Germans, Jason Osborne and Lucas Schaeffer. Both have Olympic experience with Osborne having raced in the LM2X and schaeffer the LM4-. So far this season they have a 5th place at the Europeans and another from Poznan.

Also looking for a solid A-final performance are the new British pairing of Sam Mottram and Jamie Copus.  This duo were part of the U23 LM4X that won silver at the World Championships in 2015. So far this season they were part of the LM4X that raced in the open-weight division in Poznan and then as a LM2X they won the B-Final in Lucerne.

Poland had a disappointing race in Lucerne finishing at the back of the B-final, Jerzy Kowalski and Milosz Jankowski had performed strongly throughout the World Cup season taking bronze at both Belgrade and Poznan and just missing the medals at the Europeans in Racice. They will be looking to return to that medal-winning form in Florida and if they can they will be in the mix for the minor medals.

Another crew that could be in the mix are the Chinese, Man Sun and Junjie Fan. 4th in Poznan, Man raced in this boat class in Rio finishing 11th and Fan was a member of the heavyweight M8 that came 12th at the 2015 World Championships.

Denmark have a great record in this event with Rasmussen and Quist winning the gold at the London Olympics. This year’s crew of Emil Espensen and Mathias Larsen have a best finish of 9th this season from the European Championships. Both were members of the LM4X that won bronze in 2015.

Of the rest it’s just worth giving a mention to the Spanish, with Jesus Gonzalez Alvarez and Patricio Rojas Aznar. 6th in Belgrade, Gonzalez Alvarez is, at 43, the oldest man in the field (and is the oldest man racing at the championships) with a senior career that stretches back to 1991.

My picks….if anyone gets within a length of the French it’ll be a surprise. The Italians look good for the silver with the Poles to regain their mojo and grab bronze.

 

W2X

15 crews

Australia, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, USA.

This is another event where the Kiwis will start as strong favourites.  The defending World Champions have a completely new line-up for 2017 with Brooke Donoghue and Olivia Loe, but that hasn’t changed the result – they’ve won gold at both the 2nd and 3rd World Cups and won the inaugural Women’s Double Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta – not bad in your first full season together as seniors.

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Olivia Loe and Brooke Donoghue at Henley Royal Regatta (Photo: Hear The Boat Sing)

Behind the Kiwis it’s shaping up to be a tight battle between the French, Australians and Lithuanians.

France finished runners-up to the New Zealanders in Lucerne, Helene Lefebvre and Elodie Ravera-Scaramozzino raced as at the Rio Olympics finishing 5th and so far this season they raced in the W4X at the Europeans finishing 5th before moving back to the double for Lucerne.. Ravera-Scaramozzino then went to the U23 World Championships where she finished 4th in the BW1X.

Australia will be keen to spoil their neighbour’s party, Olympia Aldersey and Maddy Edmunds both raced at the Olympics (Aldersey in the W8 and Edmunds in the W4X).  They had a successful European campaign taking bronze in Poznan and then 4th in Lucerne.

Lithuania were World Champions in this event in 2013 with a crew that included a 19 year old Milda Valciukaite. She went on to win bronze in Rio with partner Donata Vistartaite. For 2017 she’s partnered by two-time U23 BW1X World Champion Ieva Adomaviciute. Their one and only race together this season ended with a 5th place in Lucerne. It may take this combination a little time to gel but they will be strong contenders as the Olympiad progresses.

The Czech Republic, Kristyna Fleissnerova and Lenka Antosova, are a well-established partnership having raced together for the last couple of seasons. They have a bronze medal from the 2016 Europeans and followed that with 10th in Rio. So far this season they’ve had some strong performances, winning gold at the European Championships and a bronze at the 1st World Cup. Lucerne was a bit of a disappointment when they finished 9th, but will be looking for an improvement in Sarasota and an A-Final at the very least.

The USA have the highly experienced duo of Meghan O’Leary and Ellen Tomek. They have raced as a W2X at the last 3 World Championships with a best performance of 6th in 2014. They finished last season with another A-Final finish at the Rio Olympics. They may not quite match the Kiwis but will be in the mix for the medals.

Other crews to mention include the Chinese, Fei Wang and Yang Lyu. They’ve not raced together in the W2X on the international stage, but they were both in the W4X that finished 3rd in Poznan (Wang’s only other international appearance was the Sydney World Cup in 2013). Lyu has far more international experience than her partner with a World Championship silver medal in the W4X in 2014 and an 11th place in the W2X at the Rio Olympics. Time will tell how quick this new combination will be.

The Dutch, Roos De Jong and Marloes Oldenburg were silver medallists in Belgrade but struggled in Lucerne only managing 11th place.

Also worth a mention are the Germans, Carlotta Nwajde and Julia Leiding, 4th at the Euroeans and Poznan World Cup, and the Italians, Kiri Tontodonati and Stefania Gobbi, 3rd at the Europeans (and Gobbi won silver at the U23 Worlds).

My picks….New Zealand for the win with the Czechs in silver and the Australians in bronze.

 

M2X

21 crews

Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Cuba, Estonia, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, The Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, USA

This is shaping up to be one of the most competitive events at the whole championships. With the Croatian Sinkovic brothers swapping two oars for one with their switch to the coxless pair, this event has been blown wide open.

The leading crew of the season so far are the Kiwis, John Storey and Chris Harris. Both raced at the Rio Olympics with Storey finishing 9th in the M4X and Harris 11th in the M2X. Since forming their new partnership at the start of the season they’ve made an impressive start, winners in Poznan by 4 seconds they followed this up with a tighter victory in Lucerne. They were also winners at Henley Royal Regatta (handing Azou and Hoiun a rare defeat).  The New Zealander’s just seem to have this amazing ability to develop outstanding small boats and to take athletes who have been “there or thereabouts” in bigger boats or combinations and put them together in combinations that just seem to gel and take their performances to another level. We’ve seen this with the LW2X and also the M2- (more on them later), and now the M2X.  They will be very, very difficult to beat in Sarasota.

One crew who could upset the Kiwi party are the Norwegians with the legendary Olaf Tufte joined by 2013 World Champion Kjetil Borch. This duo have a wealth of Olympic experience, they have 8 Olympic appearances between them. Bronze medallists from Rio they took silver in Poznan before suffering illness in Lucerne which meant they missed out on the A-Final and didn’t race the B-Final giving them an official placing of 12th. With the racing experience these two have they will be serious challengers to yet another New Zealand victory.

Also threatening the medals will be the Poles, Miroslaw Zietarski and Mateusz Biksup. They just missed out on the medals in the M4X at the Rio Olympics finishing 4th.  So far this season they’ve been switching between the M4X and M2X. In the M4X they placed 2nd in Belgrade and 5th in Poznan. As a double they won silver medal at the European Championships and followed that up with silver in Lucerne.

Silver medallists in Rio were the Lithuanians, Mindaugus Griskonis and Saulius Ritter. They started this season back in the M2x and took gold in Belgrade. Their performance at the European Championships was a little disappointing when they missed the A-Final ending up 7th.  For Lucerne Griskonis raced in the M1X finishing 8th with Ritter subbing in to the M4X and taking the gold. If they show the sort of speed they had in Rio it could be a titanic battle at the front of the field.

Italy will be another very strong young crew, Filippo Mondelli and Luca Rambaldi were both medallists at the 2016 U23 World Championships. Since forming their doubles partnership they’ve shown really good speed, especially at the European Championships where they ended the week as champions. They didn’t race in Poznan but put in a great performance in Lucerne taking the bronze behind the Kiwis and Poles.

Another A-Final contender are the young Swiss crew, Barnabe Delarze and Roman Roeoesli. 7th in the M4X at the Rio Olympics they’ve won medals at both the 1st World Cup and the European Championships and then finished 4th in Lucerne (albeit 5 seconds off bronze).

A crew I’m really looking forward to seeing are the new British combination of Angus Groom and Graeme Thomas. Both of these guys have been out of action all season through injury but have recovered just in time to get selection as a double. Groom raced in the M4X in Rio (replacing Thomas who was injured). Thomas had been an integral part of the success of the GB M4X during the Rio Olympiad that included a World Championship silver medal in 2014.  Coached by Hamish Burrell they are a crew with a massive amount of potential and could well develop into the best British M2X since Baillieu and Hart. It’s probably too much to expect a medal-winning performance this year but the Kiwis, Poles, Norwegians et al better watch out in 2018!

Other crews to mention include the French – Matthieu Androdias and Hugo Boucheron – 6th in Rio, Australia – with Olympian David Watts and U23 World Champion Luke Letcher and Belarus with Dzianis Mihal and Pilip Pavukou – finalists at both the 1st and 3rd World Cups and the European Championships.

My picks….could be really, really close but you have to go with a Kiwi victory with Lithuania in silver and Poland in 3rd.

2017 World Championships preview part 3: The Fours

World Rowing

 

Next up are the coxless fours…

 

LM4-

6 crews

China, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Russia, USA

Oh how the mighty have fallen….with FISA and the IOC agreeing to drop this event from the Olympic programme it’s rapidly gone from one of the most eagerly contested events to one in its death-throws, indeed FISA have recently proposed that the LM4- is removed from the World Championship programme as well. At least it means it has a quick death rather than a lingering one of dwindling entries and quality.

What this does mean is that whoever wins in Sarasota has the chance of becoming the reigning World Champions in perpetuity!

The medals look to be a clear three-way battle between the Chinese, Italians and Russians.

The light four has been raced twice so far this season, first at the European Championships and then at Lucerne. Russia took the honours at the Europeans with their crew of Maksim Telitcyn, Aleksander Bogdashin, Alexander Chaukin and Aleksey Vikulin pushing the Italians into 2nd. But in Lucerne Italy made three changes to their line-up with just Piero Sfiligoi remaining from the Europeans, in came Federico Duchich, Leone Barbaro and Lorenzo Tedesco and they overturned the defeat in Racice.

China have three of the crew that raced in Rio last season finishing 8th – Jingbin Zhoa, Chenggang Yu and Tiexin Wang. They are joined by Xiaoxiong Li who raced in the heavyweight M8 in 2015. They’ve not raced so far this season, but with their Olympic experience so will be serious contenders for the win.

Behind these three crews the German’s will most likely be the strongest, the crew of Patrik Stoecker, Sven Kessler, Jonathan Koch and Julius Peschel finished third in Lucerne. Koch raced in the LM4- at the Olympics and Kessler and Peschel finished 8th in the LM2- at last year’s World championships. Stoecker was world champion in the LM4X last year.

The Hungarians, Balazs Fiala, Bence Tamas, Peter Csiszar and Peter Krpesics raced as a LM4X in Lucerne finishing 10th.

The USA have two of the crew that won bronze in the LM8 in 2015 Nicholas Dawe and David Smith, they are joined by Andrew Neils from Virginia who raced in the LM4X in 2014 and former Yale oarsman Tom Foster.

My picks…Italy for gold with China in silver and the Russians bronze.

 

 

W4-

12 crews

Australia, Canada, China, France, Great Britain, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Russia, USA.

The LM4- loss is the W4- gain, with the event now being added to the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020 it suddenly takes on a much more intriguing aspect. Some countries are doubling up their senior athletes in the W8 and others are using it as a means of bringing on new talent or raising the profile of those existing senior athletes who hadn’t previously been part of an Olympic class boat.

Australia will start as favourites in Sarasota, the crew of Lucy Stephan, Katrina Werry, Sarah Hawe and Molly Goodman are unbeaten so far this season with wins at both the 2nd and 3rd World Cups. Stephan and Goodman were both members of the W8 that raced at the Rio Olympics. Hawe and Goodman doubled up in the W2- at Poznan taking the bronze medal.

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The Australian W4-

Canada are one of the nation’s doubling up in the W8. Three of the crew (Susanne Grainiger, Christine Roper and Nicole Hare) raced at Lucerne finishing 3rd. For the World Championships the 4th member of the Lucerne crew, Hillary Janssens, is replaced by Lisa Roman. This change measn there are now three of the W8 that finished 5th at the Rio Olympics. Hare is an outstanding young talent with a gold medal from the U23 World Championships last year. So long as they’re not too fatigued from racing in the W8 they could be serious contenders for the gold medal.

Great Britain have made wholesale changes to the crew that finished 6th in Lucerne with only U23 silver medallist Rowan McKellar remaining in the boat. She’s joined by Caragh McMurtry, who raced in the W8 at Poznan, and fellow U23 medallist Samantha Courty and 2017 debutant Becca Girling. This is a boat with a lot of potential, but will probably need another season together to be challenging for the medals.

Romania are the reigning European champions and last month won silver at the U23 World Championships. With an average age of just 21, the crew of Cristina-Georgina Popescu, Alina Ligia Pop, Beatrice-Madalina Parfenie and Roxana Parascanu are a very exciting proposition and could be serious contenders throughout the Olympiad. They have a good chance of getting close to the medals this year.

Russia finished runners-up to the Australians in Lucerne, Elena Oriabinskaia, Anastasia Tikhanova, Ekatarina Potapova and Alevtina Savkina all raced in the W8 at the European Championships winning a bronze medal. Potapova was 4th in the W2- in 2016 and Tikhanova was European Champion in the W8 in 2015. They will be another crew that are serious contenders for a medal in Florida.

Poland will be in the mix as well, European silver medallists, they took silver in Belgrade and bronze in Poznan ending with 5th in Lucerne. However their preparations for Sarasota were dealt a serious blow when Anna Wierzbowska suffered a serious leg injury after being hit by a truck whilst training on her bike. Her place in the crew is taken by 2016 U23 World Champion Olga Michaliewicz. She joins Anna’s sister Maria, and Rio bronze medallist Monika Ciaciuch with the final seat filled by Joanna Dittmann. It remains to be seen how well the crew (especially Maria) cope following the loss of Anna.

The USA raced two crews at the Poznan World Cup finishing 2nd and 5th. In the end one each from those two boats were selected for the Worlds, Erin Reelick and Molly Bruggeman. They join Chase Kendall and Kristine O’brien who raced in the W8 in Poznan. Bruggeman and O’Brien were silver medallists last year and Kendall was U23 World Champion in the W8 in 2016 (a title that Reelick won in 2015). This is another strong boat and will be in the mix in what will be an incredibly competitive event.

Keep an eye-out for two young crews from Italy (average age 20) and New Zealand (with three athletes under 21 on-board). The final crew to mention are the Chinese, with Rio Olympian Min Zhang on-board.

My picks…this promises to be a really tight event. Australia have the form so far this season, but the Dutch, Canadians, Romanians, Russians, Americans & possibly the Brits and Poles all being in with a shout of a medal. In the end I’m going for a 1,2,3 of Australia, Canada, USA.

 

M4-

16 crews

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Spain, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, South Africa, USA

If the German men consider the M8 to be “their” boat then for the British it’s the M4-. Coached by the legendary Jurgen Grobler the Union Jack has been raised above the top step of the podium at 9 of the last 15 World Championships (and the last 5 Olympic Games). It’s the no.1 mem’s boat in Britain and this year’s iteration is no different. They didn’t have the best start to the season, with original crewman Stewart Innes ruled out for the entire season through injury. In his place came 2016 M2+ World Champion Callum McBrierty.  Their campaign opened with a win in Belgrade but then suffered the humiliation of 5th at the European Championships.  For Poznan McBrierty was replaced by Matt Rossiter. In their first race together they took silver behind the Australians in Poznan and then ended the World Cup season with gold in Lucerne. With Rio gold medallists Will Satch and Mo Sbihi (possibly the best sweep oarsman in the world at the moment) and 2015 M2+ World Champion Matt Tarrant they are worthy successors to their illustrious predecessors.

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Mo Sbihi (right) possibly the best men’s sweep rower in the world

Australia used to consider the M4- as their domain, back in the 90’s with the “Oarsome Foursome”. Since the rise of the British Four’s they and the Aussies have been slugging it out like a pair of heavyweight prize fighters. They’ve finished runners-up to the British at the last 3 Olympics. The “Green and Gold” haven’t won the world title for 26 years and they will be desperate to get the title, especially if it means getting one over on the top GB boat. This year’s crew includes Spencer Turrin who finished 2nd in the M4- in Rio along with fellow Olympian Alexander Hill along with Josh Hicks and Jack Hargreaves. In their first race of the season they beat the Brits in Poznan and then moved into the M8 for Lucerne taking the silver behind Germany. It struck me as an odd decision to move into the M8 for what would, in effect, be a one-off race, but perhaps they were looking for a test against the Germans, or playing mind-games with the British and not giving them a chance to get revenge for the defeat in Poznan?

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Australia’s “Oarsome Foursome” Mike McKay, Nick Green, James Tomkins and Andrew Cooper

But, this event is not just a two-horse race. There are plenty of other crews that will pounce if the Brits and Aussies spend too long focussing on each other. Principal among these crews are the Italians and South Africans. The Italians are the reigning World Champions in this boat class and have half of that crew back to defend their title – Marco Di Costanzo and Matteo Castaldo. They are joined by Giovanni Abagnale and Domineco Montrone. All four of these guys raced at the Rio Olympics and came home with medals; Di Costanzo and Abagnale in the M2- and Castaldo and Montrone in the 4-.  They opened their account this season with victory at the European Championships and then finished runners-up to the British in Lucerne.

South Africa could well be the dark horses for this event. The crew all have Olympic experience, Jake Green and David Hunt finished 4th in the M4- in Rio and Lawrence Brittain won silver behind the Kiwis in the M2-. The 4th member of the crew is former lightweight John Smith. Smith finished just out of the medals in the LM2X having won gold in the LM4- four years earlier. The original plan for the South Africans was to find a fast pair, but word is that the 4 was going so well that they decided to stick to the bigger boat. In their first outing of the year they came 4th in Lucerne just 3/10th of a second behind the Italians in silver.

Another crew that will be looking to get amongst the medals are the Dutch. Men’s sweep rowing in the Netherlands is on a real high at the moment, the Nereus 8 winning in Belgrade and the top M8 being the main threat to German dominance. The four have also tasted success so far this season. The crew of Harold Langen, Jasper Tissen, Vincent Van der Want and Govert Viergever took silver in Belgrade and bronze in Lucerne. Like the British they had a bit of a blip at the European Championships finishing 6th. 3 of the boat raced at the Rio Olympics with Tissen replacing Peter Van Schie. The medals in Sarasota will come from these 5 crews.

Amongst the other crews, the Spanish are having an excellent season, 3rd at the 1st World Cup (their first medal in the M4- since the 2009 European Championships) they made the A-Final in a very competitive field in Lucerne. Argentina also have a strong boat with three of the crew making the A-Final in Poznan (the 4th member of the crew, Ariel Suarez, is racing internationally in a sweep boat for the first time in a career that stretches back to 2001).

Austria have a young crew, including the Querfeld brothers. As a unit they raced at the U23 World Championships this year winning a bronze medal. They may find the competition a bit too hot this year, but are a talented outfit and could well be contenders for the A-final in the coming years.

Romania are doubling-up in the M8 which may give be a race too far for them given the strength of the field in the M4-.

Also racing are the Canadians (including Rio Olympian Kai Langerfeld), Denmark (not often we see a heavyweight M4- at the World Championships), France (6th in Lucerne and 4th at the Europeans), Germany (bronze medallists in Poznan), Lithuania (11th at the Europeans), New Zealand (with Alex Kennedy from the Rio Olympic M8) and the USA with Cambridge Blue Ben Ruble.

My picks…Gotta go for the Brits for the win and I think the South Africans may well get the jump on the Aussies for silver with the Italians, Dutch in 4th and 5th.

union Jack

2017 World Championships preview part 2: the Quads

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LW4X

9 crews

Australia, Canada, China, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Thailand, USA, Vietnam

There’s only been one LW4X race this season and that was at the final World Cup in Lucerne but only consisted of three boats, Australia, GB and Japan. It was Australia, with their crew of Amy James, Alice Arch, Georgia Miansarrow and Georgia Nesbitt that took the gold ahead of GB.  At the Poznan World Cup they split into doubles finishing 6th and 8th.  Miansarrow has experience of racing this event at the World Championships finishing just outside of the medals in 2015.

Great Britain will be one of the favourites for gold in Sarasota, despite finishing runners-up to the Aussies in Lucerne they are, on paper, a stronger and more experienced crew. Ellie Piggott won this event in 2016 and was silver medallist in 2015. She and Gemma Hall also raced in the LW2X in Poznan finishing 7th.Maddie Arlett made her senior debut this season having raced the light quad at U23 level last year. At the 2nd World Cup she raced in the LW2X with Emily Craig picking up a bronze medal.  Robyn Hart-Winks of the University of London is the least experienced member of the crew having made her debut in Lucerne. This is a combination with a huge amount of potential and will be battling for the win.

China have picked a mix of youth and experience. Dandan Pan (who has a frankly horrible bent-arm technique!) and Fang Chen raced in the LW2X in Lucerne taking the gold. Pan was 5th in the LW4X in 2015 and won bronze in the LW2X in 2014. They are joined by teenager Xulian Xuan who finished 3rd in this event last year and international debutant Ling Shen. You never quite know what you’ll get with Chinese crews, but this looks like it will be quick and could be pushing for a medal.

 

Italy have selected a young crew with 3 of the boat that won gold at the U23 World Championships (Asja Maregotto, Paola Piazzolla and Giovanna Cersarini). The 4th member of the crew is another U23 medallist, Federica Cesarini who took silver in the U23 light double. It remains to be seen how well this crew can make the step-up from U23 to senior racing. It’ll be exciting to watch.

Canada finished 4th in this event last season but only have one of that crew, Jill Moffatt, returning. Moffatt raced with Ellen Gleadow in the LW2X in Lucerne finishing 7th. They are joined in the quad by U23 international Jennifer Casson and international newcomer Patricia Mara. I’m not sure they have the speed to challenge for the medals but a solid A-Final finish will be a good result.

The USA have a very inexperienced crew with only one crew member, Jennifer Sager, having any international experience (racing at the U23 World Championship in 2015). She’s joined by Cara Stawicki, Kathryn Schiro and Jilian Zieff. Although this crew has little international experience, they all have a wealth of experience racing domestically in North America. It’ll be interesting to see them make the step up to the International stage.

Vietnam are an interesting crew, Huyen Ta Thanh and Ly Ho Thi raced in the LW2X at the Rio Olympics finishing 18th. In Sarasota they are joined by two teenagers both making their international debuts, 19 year old Thi Hao Dinh and 17 year old Thi Giang Nguyen. If they could make the A-final that would be a major achievement for Vietnamese Rowing.

The other boats racing are the Japanese – 3rd of 3 in Lucerne and a crew from Thailand (who’ll be having a great battle with the Vietnamese to be the best of South East Asia).

My picks: I reckon the British will take the win ahead of the Australians with the Chinese in bronze.

 

LM4X

17 crews

Australia, Austria, Brazil, China, The Czech Republic, France, Great Britain, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Nigeria, Norway, Switzerland, The USA.

A huge field (2 more than in the heavyweight division) with the gradual demise of lightweight sweep rowing the future, it would appear, is the quad.

 

Greece are the holders of the World Best Time (5:42.75) set at the World Championships in 2014. 3 years on they have 3 of that crew racing in Florida, Panagiotis Magdanis, Spyridion Giannaros and Eleftherios Konsolas. The 4th member of the crew is 2016 JM2- world champion Ninos Nikoladis. They haven’t raced as a quad so far this season but Giannaros and Magdanis raced in the LM2X at the Europeans finishing 8th with Konsolas finishing 13th in the LM1X. It remains to be seen if they can recapture the gold medal winning form in the bigger boat. But, with a pedigree like theirs they will start as one of the favourites for a medal.

 

Winners in Lucerne were the Italians, Matteo Mulas, Catello Amarante, Martino Goretti and andrea Micheletti. Goretti and Micheletti both have Olympic experience with the former racing in the LM4- and the latter in the LM2X. Mulas has experience of racing in this event having won bronze in 2013,  4th in 2014 and 6th in 2015 and also won gold at U23 level in 2012 and 2013. Amarante was member of the LM8 that won gold in 2015. The will probably start as marginal favourites in Sarasota.

The French finished runners-up to the Italians in Lucerne and have three of the crew that won silver at the Worlds last year – Francois Teroin, Damien Piqueros and Maxime Demontfaucon. Piqueras and Demontfaucon also raced in this event in 2015 winning the gold. Teroin raced in the U23 version in 2015 also winning the gold. The 4th member of the crew is Stany Delayre, world champion in the LM2X in 2015. So with a full crew of World Champions it’s an impressive line-up and it’s going to be really interesting to see them go head to head with the Italians and Greeks.

Bronze medallists in Lucerne were the Czechs, Jiri Kopac, Milan Viktora, Jan Vestenik, Jan Hajek. They raced in the light 4 at the Europeans winning the bronze and taking 10th in the open-weight 4- in Belgrade. Kopac and Vetesnik were members of the LM4- that finished 12th in Rio. They may struggle to get among the medals but will be strong contenders for the A-Final.

Switzerland have a young crew, all of whom are U23 World Champions. Matthias Fernandez, Andri Struzina and Pascal Ryser won the BLM4X earlier this season with Fiorin Rueedi winning the gold in the U23 BLM2- last year. This is a really exciting line up and part of an outstanding Swiss sculling squad. They may not challenge for the top honours this year but will be keen to test themselves against more senior opposition.

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The Swiss U23 World Champions (right)

Others crews of note are the Germans, with one returner from the 2016 World Champion crew (Johannes Ursprung). They were 4th in Lucerne. Also watch out for the British with Rio Olympian Pete Chambers and U23 medallists Gavin Horsburgh and Ed Fisher along with Zak Lee-Green who raced in this boat class in 2015 and 2016.  Also watch out for Austria, with Olympians Paul and Bernhard Seiber and U23 silver medallists Julian Schoebrl and Rainer Kepplinger.

My picks…it’s going to be really tight between the Italians, French and Greeks. I’m going to go for that to be a 1,2,3.

 

W4X

9 crews

Australia, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine, The USA

Poland are the form crew of the season so far, Agnieszka Kobus, Marta Wielczko, Maria Springwald and Katarzyna Zillmann won all three World Cups but suffered a blip when finishing 4th at the Europeans. Kobus and Springwald were members of the W4X that won bronze in Rio and Zillmann and Wielczko have made the step up to the senior ranks this season following gold in the U23 BW4x last year. They will start as clear favourites in Sarasota.

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Poland’s W4X – winners in Belgrade

The Dutch and Poles have been battling each other for the past few years. In Rio the Dutch got the edge and took silver. They have a crew full of Olympic talent, with Inge Janssen and Nicole Beukers from the quad and Olivia Van Rooijen and Sophie Souwer from the Olympic W8. So far this season they have 3 silver medals at the 2nd and 3rd World Cups finishing behind the Poles and at the European’s where they finished 2nd to the Germans. The question is, who will come out on top when it really matters?

Germany have had a mixed season. For the German men the M8 is the be all and end all, for the women it’s the quad. Since 1990 a German W4X has finished on top of the podium at the World Championships no fewer than 12 times (if you include the GDR in 1990) and they also have won 5 of the last 7 Olympic titles and have never failed to make the podium. That’s an impressive record in anyone’s book and in fact is unmatched by any other nation in any other Olympic boat class. The question is, can they deliver in Sarasota? As mentioned above, they’ve had a tricky season, and have been mixing their line-ups at the World Cups. The highlight of their season so far was victory at the European Championships, the same line-up (Daniela Schultze, Charlotte Reinhardt, Frauke Hundeling and Frieda Haemmerling) then raced in Lucerne but were comprehensively beaten, missing the medals entirely and finishing 8 seconds behind the winners from Poland. So there is a huge amount of expectation and pressure on this German boat to deliver a big medal. The Europeans showed they have the capability to win gold, the question is, can they deliver?

The British are another nation with a strong history in this boat class, dominating the event in the 2nd half of the 00’s with 4 World titles in 5 years. But since that victory at Karapiro in 2010 they’ve failed to make the A-Final at the World Championships. The British have struggled to find a combination that “clicked”, it’s certainly not for the want of talent but no matter what they tried it hasn’t paid off. But, this season there are encouraging signs that finally they have a combination that is beginning to look competitive. The crew of Beth Bryan, Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, Jess Leyden and Holly Nixon won bronze at the first World Cup (albeit in a field of only 3 boats) which was their first medal since the Munich World Cup of 2012. They followed this up with perhaps their best performance for 5 years when they won bronze at the Europeans which included the scalp of the Polish Olympic bronze medallists. Their final race at Lucerne was a little disappointing where they finished 5th of 6 boats (only managing to beat the Australian LW4X). If they can bring the sort of performance they showed in Racice then they stand a good chance of reaching their first World Championship A-Final since 2010.

Australia have had a good season racing in Europe. They took 2nd in Poznan and followed that up with a bronze in Lucerne. Three of the crew (Genevieve Horton, Rowena Meredith, Caitlin Cronin) went on to race at the U23 World Championships winning a silver medal in the BW4X (as an aside, they were beaten in Plovdiv by Great Britain – a crew containing Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne’s younger sister Charlotte  – so it shows that there is a strong pipeline for the British and if the senior boat is unconvincing in Florida we could see more changes for 2018….). The 4th member of the Aussie crew is Leah Saunders who is herself an U23 medallist having won silver in 2015.

Ukraine are another crew that can blow hot and cold. They have three of the crew that finished 4th in Rio (Daryna Verkhogliad, Ievgeniia Nimchenko and Anastasiia Kozhenkova). They have only raced once as a quad this season finishing a disappointing 9th at the European Championships (although that crew only contained 2 of the boat that will race in Florida). The fourth member of the crew is Diana Dymchenko who spent the season racing in the W1X finishing 6th at both the first and second World Cup and then 7th in Lucerne. We’ll have to wait and see what sort of speed they have as a unit.

China finished 6th at the Rio Olympics and have three of that crew back for 2017 (Yan Jiang, Ling Zhang and Xinyue Zhang). The fourth member of the crew is Jingjing Li. This quartet raced as two W2X in Poznan with the Zhang’s finishing 2nd and Li and Jiang 7th. As with the Ukrainians it’s going to be a case of wait and see how they race when they come together as a quad. But with Olympic A-Final experience under their belts they must be considered a threat.

The final two crews to mention are the French and Americans. The French have the highly experienced pairing of Noemie Kober and Marie Le Nepvou in the stern. They finished 12th in the W2- at the Rio Olympics and this season took bronze in the W2X in Lucerne. It’s a bit of surprise therefore to see them move back into the quad in which they finished 5th at the Europeans. They are joined by two talented youngsters, Junior world medallist Margaux Bailleul and U23 international Julie Voirin. An A final finish would be a good performance for this boat. The Americans are the reigning World Champions in this boat class but none of that crew remain in the quad for 2017. This year’s crew includes 2013 W4- World Champion Emily Huelskamp, and 2012 Olympic W4X bronze medallist Kara Kohler. They are joined by Elizabeth Sonshine and Maureen McAuliffe, both of whom are making their senior international debuts.

My picks…this has the makings of a classic contest between the Polish, Dutch and Germans for the medals with the Chinese and Ukrainians as outside bets to get among the medals. I’m going to pick the Poles to just pip the Germans with the Netherlands in bronze.

 

M4X

15 crews

China, Cuba, Estonia, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, The USA.

This looks to be a showdown between the Lithuanians and the British for the gold medal. Lithuania have 3 of the crew that finished 9th in Rio, Dovydas Nemeravicius, Martynas Dziaugys and Aurimas Adomavicius. The 4th member of the crew is the highly talented Rolandas Mascinskas, world silver medallist in the M2X in 2015 (who missed the Olympics through injury). So far this season they are unbeaten with wins at both the Belgrade and Lucerne World Cups and at the European Championships (although the crew in Lucerne had Saulius Ritter in for Nemeravicius). They are an outstanding unit and would’ve been favourites for a medal in Rio had they not had to make a last minute change of crew.

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the M4X medal winners from the Lucerne World Cup (LTU right, GB left, POL front)

The same could also be said for Great Britain. Injury to Greame Thomas meant that Jack Beaumont came into the crew and produced a strong performance to take 5th. Beaumont has now moved from “Super-sub” to a key member of the crew. He is joined by 3 fellow Rio Olympians, Pete Lambert from the M4X and John Collins and Jonno Walton who spent the Rio Olympiad in the M2X ending up 5th. As a quad they have shown great potential, 3rd at the first World Cup and 4th at the Europeans (when Toma Barras subbed in for an injured Pete Lambert). When Lambert returned to the boat for Poznan they won gold and then followed that up with a silver medal behind the Lithuanians at Lucerne. So far this season the Lithuanians are the only crew to have beaten a full strength British crew. But, the British beat them in Rio and according to John Collins “The Lithuanian quad is going be a very, very difficult boat to overturn. But not impossible. They are just four blokes and I’ve seen videos of them rowing and I’ve picked a lot of holes in it. I know they could very easily do the same to us, but I do think that we can compete. We had a lot to work on prior to the training camps that’s for absolutely certain but training has gone really well so now it’s down to mindset.”

Behind these two boats the battle for bronze is likely to be between Poland, Russia and The Netherlands.

Poland have two returners from the 4th place Olympic quad, Dariusz Radosz and Wiktor Chabel.  They are joined by Dominik Czaja and Adam Wicenciak. They took silver behind the Lithuanians at the Europeans and bronze behind the British in Lucerne. Poland have a strong record in this event winning all 3 World Championships and the Olympics of the Beijing Olympiad. But, since 2009 Poland have only made the World Championship final once – finishing 4th in 2011. But this year’s line-up should repeat that A-Final appearance and will be serious contenders for a medal.

Russia won the silver medal at this year’s U23 World Championships and the same line-up is stepping up to the senior worlds. Andrey Potapkin and Pavel Sorin raced in the M4X at the Europeans finishing 10th having raced in the M2X to a 4th place at the Belgrade World Cup. It remains to be seen how competitive this young crew will be against senior opposition but they will be looking to lay down a marker for the start of the Olympiad.

The Netherlands are also a young outfit, Abe Wiersma and Amos Keijser won bronze in the U23 BM2X last season. They are joined by Freek Robbers and Koen Metsemakers. As a quad they finished 2nd to the British in Poznan and 6th in Lucerne (with Nikki Van Sprang replacing Wiersma).

Other crews to mention are the Estonians, with 3 Rio bronze medallists on board (Allar Rajar, Tonu Endrekson and Kaspar Taimsoo) with Kaspar Kuslap filling the 4th seat. So far this season they’ve not really shone with a 7th place at the Europeans and 10th in Lucerne but they are seasoned campaigners and cannot be discounted. Germany include Philipp Syring and Max Appel who won gold at the U23 World Championships in 2016. They join Timo Piontek and Tim Grohmann finishing 6th in Poznan and 9th in Lucerne. Norway finished 5th at the Europeans and took bronze in Poznan before slipping to 8th place in Lucerne. Also racing are the USA who finished 11th in Lucerne, New Zealand (7th in Poznan and 4th in Lucerne) China (9th in Poznan) France (with U23 silver medallists Bastian Quiqueret and Maxime Ducret) and a crew from Cuba.

My picks…it should be a fantastic contest between the British and the Lithuanians and I think the Brits may just edge it. Bronze to go to the Poles.

The 2017 World Championship part 1: The eights

 

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Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota – venue for the 2017 World Championships

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 😉

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The Nathan Bederson Alligator!

 

Anyway….onto the racing…..

First up…the Eights.

 

W8

8 crews

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.

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The Olympic gold medal USA W8

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.

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GB’s sole returning Olympian- Karen Bennett

 

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.

 

M8

12 crews

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.

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the dominant German M8

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.

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Olympic champion Tom Ransley, back in a boat after an appendicitis.

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