Historic success for Italy’s women rowers
22/08/2012 - 11:16:00
History was made for Italy at the 2012 World Rowing Senior & Junior Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
At the end of the regatta, rather than the Italian lightweight men receiving all of the accolades, it was a small but dedicated group of women led by Italian women’s head coach Josy Verdonkschot.
A bronze medal in the junior women’s eight was the first medal for a female Italian eight ever – across all age groups. It was also the first time Italy had entered a women’s eight since the 2004 World Rowing Junior Championships.
In addition to the medal in the women’s eight, the Italian women also won the first medal ever in the lightweight women’s quadruple sculls and the junior women’s pair successfully defended their World Championship title.
An ecstatic Verdonkschot said after the eights race: “What a great regatta. Before I arrived Italian women’s rowing had only won two medals at the World Championships: a bronze in 1987 in the lightweight women’s single sculls and in 2002 in the women’s double sculls.”
Verdonkschot started the project to build up to a junior women’s eight following the junior regatta, the Coupe de la Jeunesse, in 2010. “Most of them were 15 and 16 years old,” says Verdonkschot. “I believed strongly that it was good to bring them up slowly and not to push for results too early, build the confidence and only race something like an eight when you know it can work.”
Progress in women’s rowing in Italy was reflected in the results at this year’s World Rowing Junior Championships. Crews were entered in four events and all four qualified for the final, with a gold won in the junior women’s pair. The pair of Serena and Giorgia Lo Bue was also part of the bronze medal eight – they were the only rowers at this regatta to win more than one medal.
The number of females that row in Italy is low compared to the men and the athletes are spread across the country. This meant that the junior eight included rowers from four different regions across Italy. Because of this spread the training approach has been decentralised. There were invitational training camps in the winter and boat speed was tested at two national regattas.
Building up from 2010, Verdonkschot took the eight to their first international race earlier this year when they competed at the European Rowing Junior Championships in Bled. The crew finished ten seconds behind the winners, Romania. They then spent a month in a training camp together where crews were selected. Verdonkschot estimated that if they could finish within six seconds of the Romanians they could win a medal.
From the beginning it was clear to everybody in the team that an eight would only be entered if it was deemed competitive.
“We knew we would only ever row here if we had a realistic chance to make it close to 10 seconds off the favourites Romania and we were confident that we could get there,” says member of the eight and four, Beatrice Arcangiolini.
In Verdonkschot’s view rowing an eight is important in the development of junior rowers and also includes a social element: “For me junior rowing is what you need to go through to learn to make boats fast. First you learn to excel in the small boats and then you learn how to row together in the big boats.”
“The fact that we rowed an eight shows that there are opportunities for female rowing in Italy and it shows the girls that there are competitive opportunities,” says Verdonkschot. “The big boat represents the system and signals to the clubs that it is possible to do well at this level. This result is a beautiful statement.”