Highs of triumph, depths of despair at Final Olympic Qualification Regatta
The 2016 FISA European Continental and Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland was tense and intense. These athletes were racing to keep their Olympic dreams alive. At the Rotsee regatta course in Lucerne, the weather supplied cool temperatures and slight tail wind conditions.
Women's Single Sculls (W1x) - Final
Four Olympic qualifying spots were available. This included one tripartite spot and with 500m rowed the top four were Denmark, Ukraine, New Zealand and Belarus. Surprisingly Emma Twigg of New Zealand was back in third with Nataliya Dovgodko of Ukraine the fastest starter. Then Twigg did a push and moved into the lead with Olympic silver medallist Fie Udby Erichsen of Denmark now in second. It looked like Ireland and Latvia may miss out.
Twigg then went to a 33 stroke rate coming through the 1500m mark. The NZ supporters on the finish line let their voices be heard. Erichsen was sticking with Twigg with Sanita Puspure of Ireland in third. The great six-time Olympian Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus was now going for it and going for her seventh Olympics. Twigg had finished first in a very swift time of 7:21, Puspure had rated 35 to get second. Erichsen had slowed a bit before the line and was overtaken by Karsten, but still qualified.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: NZL, IRL, BLR, DEN
Emma Twigg - New Zealand – first
“I really felt the pressure to perform today after my year off. This has definitely put me on a track for gold in Rio. This means I can go back to training a lot more miles, more distance stuff.”
Sanita Puspure - Ireland – second
“The tail wind suited me really well, even though it was a really tough race. My schedule was through today, so I have no plans before Rio yet.”
Ekaterina Karsten - Belarus – third
“It was a good race. I thought I want to qualify, but in sports anything can happen. Today was good for me.”
Fie Udby Erichsen - Denmark – fourth
“I expected a headwind and it came as a tailwind, which is not the best for me. I tried to keep my race plan, then I hit two buoys and was literally stopped. It doesn’t change anything to race for first place or to race to be within the first four.”
Men's Single Sculls (M1x) - Final
Sverri Nielsen of Denmark made his intentions clear at the start. He jumped out into the lead with the goal of being in a top three position at the finish line to qualify for the Rio Olympics. But then Australia's Rhys Grant did a burst and grabbed the lead with Belguim's Hannes Obreno on the pace. Germany was also there. Then Obreno gave it his all to grind his way into the lead with Grant sticking with him.
Hungary's Bendeguz Petervari-Molnar was now racing with full force and there was 500m left to row. Nielsen was holding on for his life. Obreno, at a 35 stroke rate, remained in front. Nielsen went to 40. Petervari-Molnar was having his best race of his career. Tragedy for Nielsen, he had missed out on Rio by just 0.26 of a second.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: BEL, AUS, HUN
Hannes Obreno, Belgium - first
“During the race I though only about the Olympics. There was a lot of pressure because our light men’s double is also racing. The first thousand was bumpy, but second was better and I could push away.”
Rhys Grant, Australia - second
“I can’t believe I qualified. The guys were coming really hard for me. But my parents are here to cheer me on and words cannot express how I feel right now.”
Bendeguz Petervari-Molnar, Hungary - third
“I expected it would be a really hard race and at the 1000m I wasn’t sure I was going to make it because it was so tough. But I heard the crowd cheering me on and that gave me a boost.”
Lightweight Women's Double Sculls (LW2x) - Final
The Dutch flew out at the start with Ilse Paulis and Maaike Head giving it their all. Just two Olympic qualifying spots were available and Paulis and Head wanted one of them. Home heroes, Frederique Rol and Patricia Merz of Switzerland got into second with Sweden following very closely in third. Through the middle of the race the Netherlands and Switzerland still had the two positions. What could the rest of the field do? Then Romania began to move. Ionela-Livia Lehaci and Gianina-Elena Beleaga of Romania were giving it their all. In the final sprint the Dutch had a very nice margin of a lead, the Romanians had a 37 stroke rate and were overtaking Switzerland. Italy came storming through at 42. But they'd left it just a fraction too late. The Dutch and Romanians are off to the Olympics.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: NED, ROU
Paulis Ilse, the Netherlands - first
“Check! We were the first out of the start. It took us a little longer to dominate the race than in the heat. But once we had it, we went full force.”
Maaike Head, the Netherlands – first
“After my injury it was sometimes hard to believe I would make it. But Ilse supported me throughout the whole process and convinced me we could do it. Especially with our spare we form a really good team.”
Andreea Asoltanei, Romania - second
“I thought I just should row at my maximum, but I also thought about Rio, my family, my boyfriend and my teammate. I looked once out of the boat at the thousand and we were with the others. I can’t believe it.”
Lightweight Men's Double Sculls (LM2x) - Final
Belgium's Tim Brys and Niels van Zandweghe shot out at the start ahead of Spain. There are two qualifying spots for the Rio Olympics and with six very good boats this race would be open until the end. At the half way point Belgium still had the lead with Olympic Champions, Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist now moving into second.
There was no denying the tension. Just two seconds was separating the top four boats. This was going to be a full 2000m sprint with no letting up. Then Turkey's Huseyin Kandemir and Enis Kusku took their stroke rate up and gave it their all. Denmark was showing their pedigree and had found the lead. But it was not over. Belgium at 39 was back in the lead. Denmark was at 44. It was just 0.03 of a second. Denmark had missed out. Belgium, in first, will have to wait to see if they are selected for Rio as qualification rules means that there is one spot for each country and Hannes Obreno in the men's single has also finished first. Congratulations to Turkey. They are off to Rio.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: BEL, TUR
Brys Tim, Niels Van Zandweghe, Belgium – first
“We could really count on our last 500m and we won the race. But then we crossed the finish line with a really mixed feeling because the men’s single sculls qualified also and we can only send one boat to Rio. This is one of the few scenarios we hadn’t planned for.”
Kandemir Huseyin, Enes Kusku, Turkey – second
“We thought only about Rio. At the first world cup in Varese, we had the photo finish with the Danes and we had the exact same time. Today we beat them and it is way more important. It is the first Turkish boat going to the Olympics after the qualification system has been put into place.”
Women's Pair (W2-) - Final
The women's pair had four positions open for Rio and so the game was not to finish fifth or sixth. Spain's Anna Boada Peiro and Aina Cid I were the first to make it to the 500m mark. Then through the second 500, Italy's Alessandra Patelli and Sara Bertolasi did a huge piece that brought them into the lead. Spain held on to second with China and Poland following very closely. Only Argentina was off the pace with Russia still in with a chance.
Then China's Min Zhang and Tian Miao really put the pressure on and got their boat in front. Italy held on the second to form a line with Spain and Poland. What could Russia do? It was a virtual line coming into the finish. It is not often you see fourth place celebrating wildly. It happened today. Spain, rating 41, pushed through into first. China, looking exhausted and rating 33, just held on to second. Italy threw their hands in the air in triumph from finishing third. Poland, in fourth was ecstatic.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: ESP, CHN, ITA, POL
Aina Cid I, Spain - first
“The race was different than expected. We just had to give our best. We train in Banyoles with the men’s pair. They have taught us a couple of things to go fast.”
Tian Miao, China - second
“I am really happy and not tired.”
Sara Bertolasi, Italy - third
“After the first part, we were in fifth position and we stayed calm as we are not really fast at the start. 10 metres before the line we knew we were qualified.”
Wierzbowska Ann, Poland - fourth
“We didn’t know what to expect from this race because every race has been different for us. We didn’t have the experience last year where we started to fast. Our strategy was to keep with the field for the first half. At the thousand, we saw we were with the pack. So from them on we decided to control the outside lanes and guarantee our position.
Men's Pair (M2-) - Final
Two boats would get to go to the Rio Olympics. Six boats were in the running - Belarus, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Russia. Jakub Podrazil and Lukas Helesic of the Czech Republic showed great form in the heats and they took off in the lead at the start. Argentina's Rodrigo Murillo and Martin Lasserre were right on their tails in second.
The Czechs and Argentina continued to lead through the middle of the race with the European Champions, Hungary still at the back of the field. Coming into the final sprint, Belarus had done a huge piece and moved into second. with Argentina and now Hungary coming through. The Czechs went to 42 and stayed in front. Hungary's Adrian Juhasz and Bela Simon were on 44 and had overtaken Belarus and Argentina. They had done it. At the line Podrazil and Helesic let out whoops of joy. Hungary joined them.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: CZE, HUN
Podrazil Jakub, Czech Republic - first
Our first 1000m was really easy and really good. Then we started to be pushed a little bit. The Hungarians were coming for us. The last 250m was really, really hard.”
Bela Simon Jr, Hungary - second
“Since we are the European Champions we felt the need to qualify for the Olympic Games. However, throughout the first 1000m we didn’t feel in control and rowed nervously. In the last 400m we just went all in and finally made it.”
Women's Double Sculls (W2x) - Final
There were two qualifying spots available in the women's double and the Czech Republic was doing their best at the head of the field. Denmark's Lisbet Jakobsen and Nina Hollensen followed in second. But it was tight between all crews and there was 1500m of water in front of them. Going through the middle of the race Kristyna Fleissnerova and Lenka Antosova of the Czech Republic still had the lead with Denmark and Italy the closest challengers. Where was the Netherlands? They had done so well in the heats and there was high expectations for them.
Denmark and the Czechs remained in the two qualifying spots and it looked now as if they would be untouchable. Then in the final sprint Finland took their stroke rate to 39 and closed on Denmark in second. In the Finnish boat was Eeva Karppinen, daughter of one of the all time Olympic rowing greats. The Fins had left it too late. The Czech Republic and Denmark had done it.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: CZE, DEN
Lenka Antosova, Czech Republic - first
“It was a fantastic race. We were first from start to finish. I don’t have words for it.”
Nina Hollensen, Denmark - second
“We were very excited for this race. In finals like this, every team can be a surprise. The strategy was to keep the focus within our own boat and see what we can do. With 500m to go, we could see all the others except the Czechs. We just had to stay calm and finish.”
Men's Double Sculls (M2x) - Final
The top two boats in this race would be on their way to the Rio Olympics. Serbia and Norway had done the best through the heats and semifinals and they took over the middle lanes on the Rotsee in these slight tail wind conditions. Serbia's Marko Marjanovic and Andrija Sljukic and Norway's Kjetil Borch and Olaf Tufte took off neck-and-neck. This is interesting for the Norwegians who have been seen to start off slowly. Obviously this was going to be a new tactic today. The rest of the field was incredibly close. Only one and a half seconds separated the field.
Serbia and Norway continued to go head-to-head at the front of the field. But these two boats had only a slight margin and all other crews remained within striking distance. Norway then grabbed the lead by a nose at the 1500m mark. Borch and the two-time Olympic Champion, Tufte had done it. Coming through to the finish Tufte and Borch rated a comfortable 33 to finish first. Serbia held on to second only just over a flying Czech crew who were rating 44. The Czechs had missed out by half a second.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: NOR, SRB
Olaf Tufte, Norway – first
“To warm up I need 25 minutes on the erg and then 45 minutes on the water, I’m old you know.”
Marko Marjanovic, Serbia - second
“We planned to have a very quick start since we got a rest day yesterday and almost all the others had to go through the repechage. That worked out really well for us. We are very pleased to qualify. After today we will go back to Serbia to have a national team training camp and go back to our basics.”
Men's Four (M4-) - Final
There were two qualifying spots for Rio in the men's four and coming through this regatta France and South Africa looked to be the top crews. With that South Africa's Hunt, Smith, Breet and Green had the edge with European Rowing Championship medallists, France in second. Then South Africa really pulled away with France holding on to second. Spain and New Zealand now looked to be the only crews that could challenge and get into the two qualifying spots.
As the 1500m mark came into view, South Africa still had the lead as New Zealand overtook Spain to grab third. Could they catch France? The large New Zealand crowd at the finish line was cheering hard. France still had second and Spain was pushing hard. South Africa, at 38 strokes per minute, had qualified for the Olympic Games. France had come in second and qualified. New Zealand, rating 42, had just missed out. Joy and despair is the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: RSA, FRA
Hunt David, South Africa - first
“It was so hard, but we worked so much that we didn’t feel the pain. Next time we will qualify at the World Championships because it is really too stressful to race here in Lucerne.”
Benjamin Lang, France - second
“It’s only been one month since we started rowing together in this combination. With one former lightweight and Mickael who switched from sculling to sweep, it has been a challenge. But now that we are going to Rio, it is really nice to go, but we really want to perform as well.”
Lightweight Men's Four (LM4-) - Final
Two qualification spots for Rio were open for these lightweight men and Germany kept their rating in the 40s at the start. But it was Greece that got to the first 500m mark the quickest. This very young Greek crew includes two 19 year olds. At the half way point the margins remained tight with just a second separating the top four boats. Greece remained in first and Germany chased hard in second. Spain and Russia were still right there. This was going to be a massive sprint to the line. With 500m left to row Japan had moved into an attacking position.
Then Telitcyn, Bogdashin, Chaukin and Vikulin of Russia came storming through. They overtook Germany and then Greece. Germany wasn't going to let them get away and fought back. Russia, rating 39, remained in the lead with win this qualifying race.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: RUS, GER
Aleksey Vikulin, Russia – first
“The last 300 metres we just closed our eyes. All the rest we did what the coach said. The emotions are so high right now, the last time Russia was represented in lightweight rowing was in 2004.”
Lucas Schaefer, Germany – second
“This was one of the hardest races of my life. But we did exactly what we were supposed to do according to our race plan. The challenge from the Greeks at the 1500m mark was what we needed to push us over the finish line in 2nd place.”
Women's Quadruple Sculls (W4x) - Final
New Zealand and China looked to be the crews to beat coming through to this final. There were just two Olympic qualifying spots available and all six crews had a chance. China won this boat class in Beijing 2008 and Ukraine won in London 2012. Both of these boats were trying to qualify today. Ukraine's Verkhogliad, Buryak, Kozhenkova nd Nimchenko got away the quickest with Romania chasing hard. Then China began to move up on Ukraine with New Zealand and Romania going neck-and-neck for third. Great Britain and Russia were slightly off the pace, but there was still half a race to go.
Coming into the last 500m Ukraine was still with China hanging in their in second. New Zealand and Romania remained in a position to strike. The two former Olympic Champion boats had done it. There was no hiding the joy of the Chinese as stroke Xinuyue Zhang stood up in the boat screaming. She will be going to Rio along with teammates, Ling Zhang, Yan Jiang and Yuwei Wang. Ukraine is off to Rio to defend their Olympic title. New Zealand, in third, was the unlucky crew.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: CHN, UKR
Xinyue Zhang, China - first
“We are so happy, it was not easy, but we’re very lucky to qualify. The sunshine gave us power today.”
Olena Buryak, Ukraine – second
“We are very happy, we are glad that the sun came out and that it is warm because we go much faster in these conditions.”
Men's Quadruple Sculls (M4x) - Final
All of these crews got away rating in the high 40s with Russia getting to the first 500m mark the first. And what a storming start they had. Russia won this boat class at the 2004 Olympic Games and they were zooming along. This left the rest of the field to chase after the second spot. Going through the middle of the race Russia's Morgachev, Kosov, Ryabcev and Fedorovtsev remained in front with a three second lead over Canada in second.
The United States and New Zealand remained in an attacking position and coming into the final 500m of the race New Zealand and the United States attacked. Canada was under threat as Russia continued to lead. The gaps began to close. Russia had done it. They cross the line in a very quick 5:42. An incredibly happy Canada had held on to the second qualifying spot and also closed on Russia with a 39 stroke rate sprint. New Zealand, at 40, had missed out.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: RUS, CAN
Nikita Morgachev, Russia – first
“When you win, it is a perfect race, even if it’s hard. We led from the beginning and our middle thousand was the best. We will enjoy the party tonight.”
Pascal Lussier, Canada – second
“We’ve been training a year for this race. We are really happy to go. It is a big stress of our backs. We will now take a couple days rest, then compete here at the World Cup before we head home to Canada to prepare for the Olympics.”
Women's Eight (W8+) - Final
In the race for lanes two days ago, Romania had been the fastest boat with the Netherlands finished second. Today they lined up for the most important race of the regatta, the Olympic qualification race with the top two boats getting to go to Rio. The Dutch left at a pace of 46 strokes per minute and were the fastest out at the start. The Netherlands got to the first 500m mark the first, just ahead of Romania. But the rest of the field all remained very close and there was still 1500m of water to row.
The boats were now going through the middle of the race and the Dutch and Romania were neck-and-neck at the head of the field with Australia very much on the pace of the leaders. Just half a second separated these three boats. Romania won the Olympic eight in 2004, 2000 and 1996. Could they come back this year? Romania's coxswain Daniela Druncea was pushing her crew hard. Ae-Ri Noort sitting in the coxswain seat in the Dutch boat was doing the same.
At the line Romania celebrated. At the line the Dutch looked exhausted. These two crews had done it. They are off to Rio and Romania's time of 6:04 was just ten seconds outside of the World Best Time. Australia had given it their all but their third place finish was not enough.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: ROU, NED
Magdalina Beres, Romania - first
“The race plan was to win the race and to go to Rio. Our cox motivated us and made many calls about the Olympics.”
Claudia Belderbos, the Netherlands – second
“We were completely destroyed at the finish line. We agreed with each other to stay focused and to keep our heads in the boat. It took a while to sink in that we actually qualified. We have a great crew with a great atmosphere. In Rio everyone will start with a clean slate, everyone will have a chance at a medal.”
Men's Eight (M8+) - Final
In 2004 the United States won the Olympic men's eight. In 2012 they finished fourth. Today they raced in the middle lane of this qualifying final. Only two boats would make it to the Rio Olympics and there were five boats in with a chance. At the first marker Poland was in the lead with Australia following in second. But there was really nothing between these two crews with the United States also getting away very quickly as just one and a half seconds covered the whole crew.
Then going through the 800m mark the United States did a piece and they got their nose in front. The United States stroke man Austin Hack was keeping the stroke rate up and following the motivational calls being fed out by coxswain Samuel Ojserkis. Then Poland moved up as the final sprint came into view. There was nothing in it. Less than two seconds separated the top four boats and there was just 500m left to row. Only Spain was off the pace. The United States hit 41 strokes per minute. Poland was also on 41. Italy hit 39. Italy had missed out by just 0.36 of a second to qualify for Rio. The United States and Poland have booked their spot in Rio. The US time was just 10 seconds outside of the World Best Time. Poland's coxswain, Daniel Trojanowski then stood up in the boat applauding his crew.
Rio Olympic Qualifiers: USA, POL
Austin Hack, United States of America – first
"We knew someone would shoot out right from the start, which happened indeed. But we trusted our middle 1000. We have a great base. At the halfway mark I had no clue where we were. Once we crossed the finish line, I still wasn’t sure if we qualified. It is still really surreal.“
Piotr Juszczak, Poland – second
"We had to change a lot of things from the first race because we were just giving too much energy. We stayed economical and calm today. Once we were in front, we were confident."