Battle of the lightweights a Chungju highlight
Henrik Stephansen of Denmark topped the 27 other competitors in the most contested event at the 2013 World Rowing Championships in Chungju, Korea and he did it with ruthless finesse.
This is the final of our series, 2013 in review, and today World Rowing takes a look at the lightweight men’s single sculls.
The lightweight single, not featured at the Olympic Games, came alive in the post-Olympic year. Many rowers, for a variety of reasons, came out of their Olympic boat class to row in the single.
Finishing fifth at the 2012 Olympic Games with his partner Nuno Mendes, Pedro Fraga of Portugal took to the single after the first Samsung World Rowing Cup in Sydney. While Mendes spent the season helping to develop a young generation of rowers in the men’s quad, Fraga travelled to the second and third World Cups and walked away with two World Cup gold medals.
Before the World Championships, Fraga admitted that the single can be, “a bit solitary.” He also confirmed his plans to re-join Mendes for the 2014 season as they begin to look toward the 2016 Olympics in Rio. But his presence in the single in 2013 added talent to the field of 28 competitors that took to the water at the 2013 World Rowing Championships in Chungju, Korea.
Also added to the World Championship field were two surprise entries that shook up the status quo from the first three World Cups. The first, Jeremie Azou of France, was forced to compete in the single following an on-water crash that put his double partner Stany Delayre into hospital. Fourth place finishers at the 2012 Olympics, this French double was one of the favourites to win in Chungju and the accident came as a shock to the rowing community as a whole. Azou courageously assumed his position in the single and prepared to compete on his own.
The second surprise was the presence of two-time World Champion in the lightweight single, Henrik Stephansen of Denmark. Stephansen, who had tested a double with Steffen Jensen at the third World Cup in Lucerne, went back into the single for the World Championships.
The incredibly talented field resulted in many close races as the 28 competitors in Chungju was whittled down to six. Going into the final the race could have been anyone’s. Azou had beaten Stephansen in the semifinal, but Fraga had the two World Cup golds in his pocket and had beaten Germany’s Jonathan Koch and Switzerland’s Michael Schmid.
On the day of the final, Azou came off the starting blocks first and held the lead through the 1,000 metre mark. But the experienced single sculler Stephansen, known for his ability to sprint, pulled out all the stops in the third 500 and took half a boat length over Azou.
Saying after the race that he barely knew what was happening in the last 100 metres, Stephansen managed to cross the finish line ahead of the field. Azou finished second and Hungary’s Peter Galambos took third, pushing Fraga off the podium.
The 2014 season may see a shift of focus on to the Olympic boat classes, but this talented field from 2013 will not be soon forgotten.