Heartbreak or happiness: semifinals on Rio's Rodrigo de Freitas
Under sunny skies and in changing water conditions the best rowers in the world went through semifinal rounds with the aim of making the Rio Olympics A-final. It turned into heartbreak for some and happiness for others in the four boat classes contested. The World Champion New Zealand women's double sculls found themselves out of the final while the late-call-up Greek lightweight men's four are in the Olympic final.
Men's Pair (M2-)- Semifinals
In Semifinal One it was Italy's Giovanni Abagnale and Marco Di Costanzo that set the opening pace with Australia's Spencer Turrin and Alexander Lloyd following closely. Then the Australians did a push that got their boat in front and they were able to hold it there through the middle of the race. But Italy was unrelenting and paced the Australians. Meanwhile France's Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette had moved into third with the Dutch very much on the pace. In a huge sprint to the line, Italy, rating 41 got ahead of Australia. France, at 43, gave it their all and managed to qualify ahead of the Netherlands.
The first to show in Semifinal Two was Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling of South Africa. But sitting in the lane next to them was the unbeaten World and Olympic Champions, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray of New Zealand. The New Zealanders then made a move and rating 40 they got their boat in front to take the lead at the 500m mark. Once in the lead Bond and Murray held their high stroke rate to move smoothly away from the field. By now the tail wind had died down and the water flattened out to perfect racing conditions. The large New Zealand contingent in the crowd was loving this display of dominance as the crew watched a huge battle go on between South Africa, Great Britain and a flying Hungary. The Hungarians had left it too late. Alan Sinclair and Stewart Innes of Great Britain had come through to second and Brittain and Keeling had held on to third. The New Zealand finishing time of 6:23 was the fastest qualifying time.
Qualifiers: ITA, AUS, FRA, NZL, GBR, RSA
Women's Double Sculls (W2x) - Semifinals
The 2013 World Champions Donata Vistartaite and Milda Valciukaite of Lithuania led the way in Semifinal One. Vistartaite and Valciukaite did not medal at last year's World Championships, but in the heats at this regatta they showed great speed. There was very little between the next four boats with a spread at the 500m mark of just over a second. By the middle of the race the Lithuanias remained in first with Greece's Aikaterini Nikolaidou and Sofia Asoumanaki slotting into second. Nikolaidou was one of the Olympic flame lighters for Greece and she was teamed up with 19-year-old Asoumanaki. Coming into the final sprint the current World Champions, New Zealand had pushed into third with Lithuania still leading. The margins now were very tight with only a couple of seconds separating the top five boats.
It was a flurry of oars and action with New Zealand at 41, the United States (Ellen Tomek and Meghan O'Leary) at 40, Lithuania at 37 and Greece at 37. The smooth looking Greece had done it. Lithuania had held on to second and the United States had made third. The World Champions, New Zealand had failed to make the Olympic final.
First to the 500m mark in Semifinal Two was Great Britain's Victoria Thornley and Katherine Grainger. Grainger is the reigning Olympic Champion in this boat class and she took time off after the London Olympics before deciding to come back to defend her Olympic title. With new partner Thornley the duo has had a rocky road to these Olympics. By the middle of the race Poland's Madgalena Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj had taken over in the lead. Once there Poland gave it their all to mive away from the field. Australia followed in third with Belarus, France and the Czech Republic all within striking distance. This would be a full 2000m sprint.
Madaj and Fularczyk looked comfortable out in front and watching the huge sprint going on behind them. Great Britain had held on to second with Helene Lefebvre and Elodie Ravera-Scaramozzino of France flying down the outside to grab the third and final qualifying spot. The World Best Time holders, Australia had missed out on the final. The Poles had recorded the fastest qualifying time.
Qualifiers: GRE, LTU, USA, POL, GBR, FRA
Men's Double Sculls (M2x) - Semifinals
Belting out at the start in Semifinal One was the brother combination of Martin and Valent Sinkovic. The Croatian duo are the reigning World Champions and World Best Time holders and they have not lost a race since they came together as a double in 2014. The Sinkovic's got to the first 500m mark in the lead and were followed by Kjetil Borch and Olaf Tuft of Norway. Tufte is a two-time Olympic Champion in the men's single and his move to the double has seen another top combination in this very competitive boat class. Great Britain's Jonathan Walton and John Collins were in third. The order remained the same through the middle of the race with 2015 World medallists, New Zealand sitting in fourth and being paced by Australia.
Croatia now had a bit of a lead but with the intense pressure for the remaining two qualifying spots, Martin and Valent Sinkovic could not take anything for granted. Usually Croatia wins by a comfortable margin. Not today. In the dash to the line, Norway and Great Britain nearly caught Croatia. This pushed the Sinkovic's to a time of 6:12.27, just a second outside of the Olympic Best Time.
Last year's world medallists Lithuania got away the quickest in Semifinal Two. The crew of Saulius Ritter and Mindaugas Griskonis is a new line up as Ritter's usual team mate had to be replaced. Lithuania got to the first 500m mark in first with France and Germany following very closely. Then Ritter and Griskonis managed to get a bit of a margin with Hugo Boucheron and Matthieu Androdias of France holding tightly to the leaders. Then Italy's Francesco Fossi and Romano Battisti pushed into second with Olympic medallist from the single, Marcel Hacker and team mate Stephan Krueger of Germany now in third. The margins closed in the final sprint as Italy caught up to Lithuania. Meanwhile France managed to come back into third leaving Germany out in the cold and out of the Olympic A-final.
Qualifiers: CRO, NOR, GBR, LTU, ITA, FRA
Lightweight Men's Four (LM4-) - Semifinals
New Zealand shot off the line at 53 in Semifinal One, but it was France that had the early fast pace. This honour then switched to Italy who now held the highest stroke rate to stay in the lead. Italy got to the first 500m mark in the lead with France following. But there was nothing in it. Italy's Oppo, Goretti, La Padula and Ruta held first through the middle of the race with Great Britain now slotting into second. Great Britain was the only crew of this bunch to medal at the London Olympic Games. Coming into the final sprint Italy had the lead with three boats fighting neck and neck for the remaining two qualifying spots. Just to make sure Italy went to 44 as France came flying to the finish. At the line Great Britain had been denied of a spot in the A-final. New Zealand, with their 40 stroke rate sprint had pulled into third to go through to the final. The Italian time of 6:06 was the fastest qualifying time.
The first to show in Semifinal Two was the 2015 World Champions, Switzerland. Stroked by Mario Gyr with crew of Simon Niepmann, Simon Schuerch and Lucas Tramer the Swiss had high expectations for this Olympic Games. Denmark followed in second with Greece a little bit back in third. Switzerland kept the pace on as the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Champions, Denmark moved into second. It a situation quite uncommon in lightweight fours rowing, Switzerland and Denmark managed to break away from the rest of the field. But then Greece began to close on the leaders. This is a phenomenal performance for Greece who only got the call up to come to the Olympics a couple of weeks ago following the ineligibility of the qualified Russian crew. The Greeks had pulled it off. They are in the A-final along with Switzerland and Denmark.
Qualifiers: ITA, FRA, NZL, SUI, DEN, GRE