Last-minute qualifiers become Olympic medallists - the women’s single sculls
Becoming an Olympic Champion in the women’s single sculls gives you the right to call yourself the fastest female rower in the world. The boat class is well-respected for the sheer guts required to power a boat single-handedly down a 2,000m rowing course – the same distance as every other boat class, including eights and quads.
In the years between Beijing and London there was an exciting mix of youth and experience amongst those at the top of the field in the women’s single sculls, with no one rower holding the title as reigning World Champion for more than one year. Beijing’s gold and silver medallists were no longer lining up in single scull races, leaving the path open for Belarus’s star, Ekaterina Karsten, to re-assert her dominance. She did just that at the 2009 World Rowing Championships, taking her sixth World Championship title. In 2010 it was the turn of the Swede Frida Svensson to claim her first world title at the 2010 World Rowing Championships on Lake Karapiro in New Zealand.
2011 saw another first-timer claim gold at the World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia. The Czech Republic’s Mirka Knapkova became the world’s fastest female sculler after a decade of attempting to reach the top spot. After an Olympiad with such a range of faces featuring on the podium, the door was wide open for anyone to claim the most valued reward in any rower’s eyes - gold, silver or bronze - at the Olympic Games.
The majority of boats that compete at the Olympic Games qualify through the World Rowing Championships in the year prior to the Games. In the Olympic year, the Final Olympic Qualification is held, offering the final qualification spots available in each boat class. In 2012 four spots were still available in the women’s single. The entry was stacked with talent. Denmark’s Fie Udby Erichsen recalls her feelings at the regatta, saying: “I sat on the start line looking at the other girls thinking ‘What are you doing here?’. They were all such talented rowers!” Amongst those in contention for a qualification spot was Australia’s Kim Crow. Crow had already qualified the double for the Olympic Games but injury had hit her partner Brooke Pratley, putting Australia’s top hope of a women’s medal at the Games at risk. Crow decided to attempt to qualify the single as a contingency plan in the event that Pratley should not recover. Securing the final four places at the 2012 Olympic Games were Crow, Denmark’s Erichsen, USA’s top sculler Genevra Stone and Sanita Puspure of Ireland. The question now was how these final four qualifiers would fair against those who had already qualified.
In the final run up to the London Games the women’s single sculls became one of the most talked about boat classes. Speculation over whether or not Australia would give up their place in the single now that Brooke Pratley had recovered ended when it was announced that Crow would race in both boat classes – the only rower who would do so in London. This opened up a new debate: would Crow focus more on one boat class over the other? Karsten had spent the majority of the 2012 season out of competition due to injury but returned to race at the final Samsung World Rowing Cup in Munich, where she took gold. Was she on course for her third Olympic gold?
The standard was high during each round of racing in the women’s single at Eton Dorney, the venue for rowing at the 2012 Olympic Games. On 4 August, the final day of rowing at the Games, six rowers were still in contention to claim one of three Olympic medals. Australia’s Kim Crow was one of them. Just two days before she had earned a silver medal in the double and she would now challenge for her second medal. “It’s a different challenge,” Crow explained. “I think rowing in the bow seat of the double my job is to be the communicator in the boat and the one who is making the calls, the one who needs to know what is going on. And then out there in the single it’s quiet! It’s a different sense of responsibility – a different role to what you might have in different boats.”
As the winner of her semifinal (as well as her heat and quarterfinal) , Mirka Knapkova was tipped as favourite for gold. She lived up to expectation and made winning an Olympic final look easy. The reality for Knapkova was that her Olympic Regatta had been far from easy. She had been suffering from a shoulder injury throughout but it was not made public knowledge. On her days between competition Knapkova received medical treatment. Her doctor, Pavel Kolar said: “we conducted physical therapies, laser procedures, acupuncture, and everything possible to somehow decrease pain.” Knapkova’s Olympic gold was the first ever won by a female in the history of Czech rowing.
London’s silver medallist was a surprise to many. Denmark’s Fie Udby Erichsen, who had only secured her place at the Games a few months earlier, had now added another medal to her nation’s collection. At this, her first Olympics, Erichsen admitted:“All I wanted to do was race my very best – even if that meant finishing fourth I would still be happy.”
Being the only rower to collect two medals in London, Kim Crow became one of the stars of the Olympic Rowing Regatta when she rowed to bronze.
The Rio Olympiad looks set to begin in a similar fashion to how it did four years ago. Knapkova suggested that she may explore her options in a different boat class, saying: “the bigger the boat will be the better.” Erichsen will take a break from international competition to have her first baby, but vows to be back and competing for another Olympic medal in Rio. Crow, however, looks set to see how fast she can go in the single. She will start the new Olympic cycle by competing in the first World Rowing Cup of 2013 on her home waters, in Sydney.