A gladiatorial battle – the men’s single sculls
The men’s single sculls, a blue riband event which ultimately determines the fastest man on water, has been raced at the Olympic Games regatta since rowing was introduced to the modern-day Olympic Programme in 1896.
The weather prevented the rowing regatta to be staged, so 1900 became the first time rowing was raced at the Olympics.
At this Olympic Games in Paris, France won gold and silver in the men’s single – the nation’s first and last medals won in the event. Since 1900, the former Soviet Union who topped the Olympic medals table in the men’s single, winning five golds, one silver and one bronze. They won their first medal in 1912 and their last medal in 1980, before the country was officially dissolved in 1991.
Vyatcheslav Ivanov became an Olympic Champion aged 18 at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. He repeated this great achievement in 1960 at the Olympic Games in Rome, Italy and again in 1964 at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. In 1962, at the first ever World Rowing Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland, Ivanov became the first-ever World Rowing Champion in this boat class.
What was most striking about Ivanov’s achievements in rowing was the manner in which he raced. He was without doubt, a man ahead of his time. Both the speed he could obtain in the final 500m of a race, and in the ‘simple’ technique he used to do so. This robbed then rivals Stuart Mackenzie of Australia and Achim Hill of Germany of the Olympic glory they had presumed to be theirs. He was revolutionary as a single sculler. The technique he used, notably remaining straight-armed for longer during the drive phase, amongst other technicalities deemed incorrect by the thenSoviet Union team coaches, is now the technique employed by nearly all coaches worldwide.
After Ivanov, Finland’s Pertti Karppinen became the next the biggest name in men’s single sculling, also winning a total of three Olympic gold medals in this event – the first in 1976 at the Olympic Games in Montreal, then in Moscow at the 1980 Olympic Games and finally at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.
Another great name soon came to the fore in men’s single sculling: Thomas Lange from Germany. Lange won his first Olympic gold medal in the event when still racing under the East German flag in 1988, at the Seoul Olympic Games. He went on to win gold again four years later in Barcelona and ended his rowing career with a bronze medal at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. Not only was he an extraordinary Olympian, but he also won a total of five World Championship titles, including three in the single.
In recent years, names such as Mahe Drysdale (NZL), Ondrej Synek (CZE), Olaf Tufte (NOR), Rob Waddell (NZL), Vaclav Chalupa (CZE), and Xeno Mueller (SUI) are synonymous with the men’s single sculls podium. Drysdale is the five-time World Rowing Champion in the single, winning his first title in 2005. Synek has won World Rowing Championship medals of every colour since 2005, and Tufte is the two-time Olympic Champion from 2004 and 2008.
Rob Waddell of New Zealand won his first gold medal in the single at the World Rowing Championships in 1998 in Cologne, Germany. He repeated this feat in 1999 in St. Catharines, Canada, and won the Olympic final in Sydney by almost two seconds over rival Xeno Mueller of Switzerland. Marcel Hacker of Germany won bronze.
After the 2000 Olympic Games, new names began to emerge in the men’s single sculls. One man, a Norwegian farmer, is now renowned in the men’s single sculls. Tufte is the 2001 and 2003 World Rowing Champion and two-time Olympic Champion, keeping impressive competitors such as Estonia’s Jueri Jaanson, Drysdale, Synek and Hacker from the top of the medal’s podium.Tufte went on to win in Athens, Greece at the 2004 Olympic Rowing Regatta.
Before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China however, Tufte was off the pace. Drsydale emerged as the man to beat, winning the 2005, 2006 and 2007 World Rowing Championships. He set the World Best Time of 6:33.35, in 2009 in Poznan Poland, and experienced an almighty battle with Hacker at the 2006 World Rowing Championships in Eton, Great Britain, in which Drysdale overhauled Hacker at the finish line. Synekand Hacker were the bridesmaids, collecting silver and bronze medals between them behind the 201cm tall Kiwi.
However, in 2008 Drysdale reportedly suffered from health issues in Beijing and despite leading with 500m to go, Tufte rowed through him to win a second Olympic rowing gold medal, Synek at his heels chased him down to win the silver medal. Drysdale had to be content with bronze.
The current groups of top single scullers are the most competitive bunch ever seen in the sport. The World Best Time has been broken twice in recent years and racing is relentless. There are at least six that have an excellent chance of achieving Olympic gold. On the water they will fight to absolute exhaustion to beat each other. Off the water, despite cultural, demographic and language barriers, they are friends. They will help each other out in training and discuss boundlessly the art of rowing.
Since 2008, three men have shared the podium, never once finishing in the same order at the World Rowing Championships. Drysdale, Synek and Great Britain’s Alan Campbell have dominated the field, Drysdale winning two additional World Championship titles and Synek winning his first World Championship title on Drysdale’s home water in Karapiro, New Zealand, in 2010. Campbell could only collect silver and bronze medals behind them. Drysdale thus gained five World Championship titles, a feat only ever achieved by one other single sculler, Peter-Michael Kolbe of Germany.
So far this year during the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup series, both Drysdale and Synek have again impressed. In Belgrade, in the absence of Drysdale, Synek and Campbell took gold and silver, and a newcomer was introduced to the podium – an emerging talent from Cuba, Angel Fournier Rodriguez.
In Lucerne, the gladiatorial men contesting the men’s single sculls had to race four times, such was the number of entries. In Drysdale’s 2012 international debut, Synek laid down the gauntlet and Drysdale fell short by a quarter of a length at the finish line. Fournier Rodriguez took his second bronze medal. Currently, it looks like it will be an almighty battle between Drysdale and Synek for Olympic gold at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Don’t write off Tufte or Hacker. In an Olympic year, these two could do anything, and Hacker certainly showed some good form in Lucerne, finishing fifth in the final. Could Tufte, who had to withdraw from the B-final for medical reasons, take his third Olympic title?
There is certainly a lot to play for in Eton, Great Britain, come the 2012 Olympic Games.
Olympic Medal Table