The Swiss crew will now enter the Olympic year with a target on their back as the reigning World Champions. The Danes, however, will be difficult to deter in 2016 as they strive to capture a record fourth Olympic gold in this event. Denmark has enjoyed unparalleled success in the lightweight men’s four since its initial inclusion at the international level in 1993. Danish crews have claimed eight of 18 world championship titles and stood on all five Olympic podiums since its boat class inclusion in 1996.

The Swiss crew with Simon Niepmann in the stroke seat backed up by Lucas Tramer, Mario Gyr and Simon Schuerch entered the 2015 season with a win in early May at the first World Rowing Cup in Bled (SLO), but it was their next victory, ahead of France, Denmark and Great Britain at the European Rowing Championships in Poznan (POL), a few weeks later that signaled their presence as a threat for gold in Rio.

The arrival of New Zealand, the 2013 and 2014 World Rowing Championship silver medalists, at the second World Rowing Cup in Varese (ITA) cast doubt on the Swiss crew’s ability to hold on to their winning ways throughout the long racing season. The Kiwi crew moved into first place in the second quarter of the race and kept moving, with the Swiss left chasing them in second after moving through France in the third 500 metre stretch.

New Zealand’s Curtis Rapley, James Lassche, Alistair Bond and James Hunter repeated their winning performance at the third World Rowing Cup in Lucerne (SUI). Again the Swiss came up shy of first place, but the gap had been narrowed from 1.53 seconds behind the Kiwis in Varese to 0.77 seconds. Denmark’s Jacob Larsen, Jacob Barsoe, Jens Vilhelmsen and Kasper Winther rounded out the podium in their one and only World Cup appearance of 2015, knocking the French into fourth with Italy and the Netherlands in fifth and sixth respectively.

Lightweight Men's Four, A Final, Finish, _ © FISA Igor Meijer

It was these six nations that met once again in the final of the 2015 World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette (FRA). Determined to perform on home water, the French crew of Guillaume Raineau, Thibault Colard, Thomas Baroukh and Frank Solforosi raced with fire and a battle for the podium raged between the French, Danish and Kiwi crews through the second half of the race. This, however, was never a fight for gold as a re-jigged Swiss crew with Mario Gyr in stroke seat, left no question as to who would stand atop the podium.

The Swiss raced beautifully from start to finish, seemingly effortlessly positioning themselves a length ahead of the field to watch the fight for second unfold as Denmark and a resurgent France edged past New Zealand in the final sprint to the line. The Netherlands and Italy rounded out the field.

The big question going into 2016 will be whether the Swiss can maintain their position and history may not be on their side. The reigning World Champions have only once successfully defended their position and taken gold at the following year’s Olympic Games (Denmark won Gold in 2002 Seville, 2003 Milan and successfully took gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics).

The Olympic victory in the lightweight men’s four has, in fact, gone twice to a crew that didn’t even stand on the podium at the previous World Championships. Denmark accomplished this feat at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, having finished sixth at the 2007 World Rowing Championships in Munich (GER). The most incredible example though was South Africa’s rise from the depths of the B -final (11th place) at the previous two World Rowing Championships and then to capture gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The list of possibilities for medals in Rio is as long as the qualifying places allocated so far.  From Switzerland in first to Canada in eleventh at this year’s World Championships, a handful of months can make all the difference in the world.

Eleven of the 13 Olympic berths qualified through the World Rowing Championships while the remaining two will be determined at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta 22-25 May, 2016 in Lucerne (SUI).

Qualified Nations at the 2015 World Rowing Championships, Aiguebelette (FRA):

1                     Switzerland
2                     Denmark
3                     France
4                     New Zealand
5                     The Netherlands
6                     Italy
7                     United States
8                     China
9                     Great Britain
10                 Czech Republic
11                 Canada