Phuttharaksa Nikree (Thailand), Munich 2002
© Getty Images

After four days of spirited racing of a very high quality on the Shanghai Water Sports Centre regatta course, 17 crews from 10 Asian countries have qualified crews for the 2004 Olympic Regatta in Athens, out of the 42 crews entered.  This will be by far the largest and highest standard contingent from Asia at any Olympic Games rowing competition to date, reflecting the significant increase in depth and quality of Asian rowing as a direct result of FISA's development program and Olympic Qualification system.   FISA representatives at the regatta were greatly impressed at the professionalism, technique, discipline and condition of the crews racing.  They will be quite competitive at the Olympic Games.

The finals were held in favourable conditions on Saturday 24 April with a slight tail wind blowing along the magnificent Shanghai course.  There was real tension in the air with Olympic berths up for grabs and the determination of the crews was palpable.  What was noticeable in the results was that the crews that performed well in the heats, when a cross head wind was blowing, were not always the crews which performed to their best in the finals.  Some clearly rowed their hardest races to reach the finals and were unable to repeat the effort in the final.   This applies most particularly to Pakistan, who after winning heats in  the men's single, and lightweight men's double, sadly failed to qualify a crew for the Olympics, after having been there in Sydney in 2000.  Probably the lesson to be learned is that to double up in a regatta as important as this minimises rather than maximises your chances of success.  Other crews improved steadily through the regatta, notably the experienced Phuttaraksa Nikree from Thailand in the women's single and the Vietnamese women's lightweight double sculls.

Li Qian, Milano 2003
© Getty Images

LW2x

In the first final of the day, the women's lightweight double sculls, firm favourites for the event Li Qian and Xu Dongxiang of China did not disappoint their supporters.  They led from start to finish to record a time of 7.04. 25, some 15 seconds clear of Kahori Uchiyama and Akiko Iwamoto of Japan.  The real race was for third place and the third Olympic qualification place. There was a three way battle between Uzbekistan, Chinese Taipei and Vietnam.  Vietnam led the three through the first 500 metres and thereafter it looked like a contest between Uzbekistan who moved out to a length over Chinese Taipei in the middle of the course.  Chinese Taipei attacked in the last 500 metres, but then, by lifting the rate to 38 strokes a minute, the Vietnamese double of Hien Pham Thi and Thi Nguyen Thi stormed past Chinese Taipei and a devastated Uzbekistan to snatch third place by 0.84 of a second.  Coach Valery Gaiduk (formerly of Belarus) said ? I told them the finish is very important; just do half strokes and very often!  And that's what they did?.  It's Vietnam's first rowing appearance at the Olympics and marks a wonderful progress in that country over the past three years, helped by their national sports council and the hosting of the South East Asian Games in Hanoi in 2003 and the building of an impressive new rowing centre.  Uzbekistan finished 4th, Chinese Taipei 5th and Indonesia 6th. 

LM2x

The men's lightweight double scull final was another strong win for China with Yang Jian and Zhu Zhifu taking the event by 9 seconds from Hong Kong's Lo Ting Wai and So Sao Wah in a time of 6.35.71.  Again the real race was for third place and Pakistan, having won its heat was up with the two leaders for the first 1000 metres.  Then Uzbekistan's Sergey Bogdanov and Rusian Naurzaliev moved just after the 1000 metre mark to establish themselves ahead of Pakistan and to head Hong Kong for a short time.  Hong Kong came back with a strong finish, and Uzbekistan held out India by 4 seconds, and booked their berth in Athens.  Pakistan in fact finished fifth and Vietnam sixth.

W1x

In the women's singles, there were 5 Olympic places on the line, so the final was a contest to see who missed out on qualification.  Not leaving anything to chance was Chiang Chien Ju, the strong and technically impressive Chinese Taipei sculler whose performance was nothing short of dominant.  She had opened up a ten second lead at 1000 metres and went on to win by 14 seconds in 7.53.93.  Behind here there was a great fight for the minor placings between Pere Koroba from the Irian Jaya region of Indonesia, the lanky Yoon Hui Lee from Korea and Thailand's Sydney Olympian Phuttharaksa Nikree.  Koroba held second place and Nikree third through the middle of the course, but Lee finished strongest to take second place from Indonesia and Thailand.  The fifth qualification place went to Elena Usarova picking up Uzbekistan's second Olympic spot, and Singapore's Elsie Lim was the unfortunate sixth place getter.

Hiu Fung Law
© Getty Images

M1x

The semi-finals had really determined the Olympic places for the men's single sculls as all 6 finalists would qualify for Athens provided they started and finished the final.  So it was more pride on the line than anything else.   Hong Kong's coach, Chris Perry had instructed his sculler, the World Under 23 medallist from 2003, Law Hiu Fung, that this was his chance to beat China's Su Hui, 10 kg heavier than the Hong Kong sculler, as a tail wind had been blowing all morning.  However, by the afternoon, the wind had dropped and it was not to be, but not without a great showing by the 20 year old Law, who has moved up from lightweight to now weigh 80 kg, and whose technique is of the first order.  Su was too powerful and too skilful and won by 5 seconds in 7.13.37 in the slight head conditions.  Vladimir Chernenko of Uzbekistan was third, Jung Wook Ham of Korea fourth, Wang Ming Hui of Chinese Taipei fifth and Paulose Thomas of India sixth.  The B final was won impressively by Jose Rodriguez of the Philippines in a good time, with Mikhail Garnik of Kazakstan ranking 8th and first time racer Hayder Nozad Hama of Iraq a creditable 9th..

The Olympic balance sheet then sees the following additions to those crews already qualified for Athens.  China and Japan had won some qualification spots in Milan last year and both these nations will boat big boats in the Final Qualification Regatta in June, further emphasising Asia's strong push into the very top echelons of international rowing.

 

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The Chinese Rowing Association ran an excellent regatta with the assistance of Jun Watanabe (JPN) as President of the Jury and an international band of umpires.  The Shanghai Water Sports Centre showed itself to be an excellent venue for high standard regattas and is highly recommended as a training centre for any nation seeking to get used to Chinese conditions leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.  Watch for Asia's continued development leading up to having the Games in their own continent that year!