Repetition in the lightweight men’s four
While Denmark won this event at the 2013 World Rowing Championships for the seventh time overall, it had actually been ten years since the Danes claimed their previous World Championship title. It had also been four years since they made it to a World Championship podium.
During this time, other nations made their mark in the field of the lightweight four. Not least Great Britain who more recently won world gold in 2007 and 2010 and a first ever Olympic medal in this boat class, silver, at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Australia also came to the forefront, claiming world silver in 2010 and gold the year after. New Zealand, a newcomer in this arena, won their first World Championship medal in 2013 and continued to show strength in 2014. And there is of course South Africa who stunned the rowing world with a magnificent Olympic gold in London – the nation’s first ever Olympic gold in the sport of rowing.
In 2014, the season opened for the lightweight men’s four at the European Rowing Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. Denmark, as the reigning World and European Champions, were assigned to lane four, while 2013 world silver medallists Great Britain lined up in lane three. The French, who won bronze at the Europeans in 2013, were seeded to lane five. These three boats formed a pack ahead of the rest of the field with Denmark leading throughout the final race. At the line it was Denmark in first, retaining their European Championship title, Great Britain in second and France in third, winning another European bronze.
The World Rowing Cup in Aiguebelette, France, saw the arrival of 2013 world silver medallists New Zealand. In 2013 they were the overall World Rowing Cup winners in the lightweight men’s four, having taken gold at each of the three legs of the World Rowing Cup series. The Kiwis were all set to repeat their World Cup performance in 2014. In the Aiguebelette final, Great Britain took an early lead, but New Zealand and Denmark promptly moved up to secure the first and second positions, respectively. New Zealand then progressively increased its lead over Denmark to take gold one boat length ahead of the Danes and the British.
In Lucerne, New Zealand repeated their winning ways. It was Denmark leading, however, for the first half of the race, with New Zealand basically sitting on their heels. The Kiwis then upped their stroke rate to overtake the Danes and by the 1500m mark had managed to secure a boat length’s advantage over the reigning World Champions. New Zealand maintained their clear lead until the line, winning the overall World Cup in this boat class two years running, with Denmark finishing in silver and Great Britain in bronze.
“It felt pretty good for the first 1000m, but then we missed something and New Zealand took us,” said Denmark’s Jacob Barsoe after the race. “They are a good crew. We are ready for the challenge in Amsterdam.”
Would Denmark manage to close the gap with New Zealand a few weeks later at the World Rowing Championships in the Netherlands? No doubt Denmark’s 2013 experience gave them the needed confidence to believe they had that capability. As in 2014, New Zealand had won each leg of the 2013 World Rowing Cup series, but Denmark went on to win the top prize at the 2013 World Rowing Championships in Korea. If the Danes could do so in 2013, why not also in 2014?
No doubt the Kiwis also remembered what had happened the year before and took nothing for granted. “It is always stressful lining up against the Danish and the British for that matter, but we are just ecstatic with the win,” said New Zealand’s James Hunter after the race.
Come Amsterdam, the top three boats of the World Cup season lined up in semifinal one. This would be good practice for Denmark, Great Britain and New Zealand ahead of the grand finale. All three boats would qualify, but the race unfolded differently from what had been observed earlier in the season.
Great Britain started out in front, with Denmark soon taking over in the lead. The two nations raced nearly level throughout most of the semifinal, while New Zealand stayed back in third. They were forced to call up Alistair Bond to replace an injured James Lassche in the semifinal. In the last 500m Denmark increased its lead over Great Britain and, despite their new line-up, New Zealand pushed away from the Chinese to safeguard the third qualifying spot. The Danes crossed the line in classy World Best Time style, half a boat length ahead of the British. The former World Best Time of 05:45.60 had been set 15 years earlier, also by Denmark. The new time now stands at 05:43.16.
Would the semifinal be a sign of what to expect in the final, or had New Zealand simply been preserving its strength and testing its newcomer for the most important race of the World Rowing Championships?
In the final, the top three boats remained Denmark, New Zealand and Great Britain. This time around, New Zealand did not lose contact with its main contenders. At the 1000m mark the crews were nearly level, with the rest of the field tightly packed just behind them. New Zealand had a minute advantage of 0.26 seconds.
With one quarter of the race to go, Denmark’s aggressive style had taken them into a slight lead over New Zealand and Great Britain. Denmark then began to increase the gap separating it from its rivals, while New Zealand pushed hard to stay in silver medal position ahead of the British. In the final strokes the French crew, who had won their semifinal and finished fourth at the worlds in 2013, charged against the British to try and grab bronze.
At the line it was Denmark in gold, nearly one boat length ahead of New Zealand in silver and Great Britain in bronze. The French just missed out, finishing again in fourth only three tenths of a second behind Great Britain. The top four positions were an exact repeat of those scored at the World Rowing Championships the year before.
With Rio 2016 coming up, will these crews remain in the top contending positions? If so, will they again finish in the same order? After racing in Amsterdam, Denmark’s stroke Morten Joergensen gave a hint of what to expect: “We plan to peak in 2016. This year we had to work 30hrs a week, but from next year we will train more.” Denmark is back on top.
2014 World Rowing Championships lightweight men's four final
2014 World Rowing Cup, Aiguebelette, FRA, lightweight men's four final