Delayre and Azou had to settled for silver at the 2014 World Rowing Championships when they were trounced by a flying sprint from South Africa's John Smith and James Thompson.  Now, with their first World Champion crown, they have certainly proven they have what it takes to climb the Olympic podium in Rio 2016. This, however, is an event filled with surprises - remember the final at the London Olympics? No one will be backing down from that greatest of all challenges.

Great Britain’s William Fletcher and Richard Chambers were powerful starters all season and demonstrated early on their ability to match the French, drawing them bow to bow at the first 500m checkpoint at the 2015 European Rowing Championships before falling into second position. Then, in September at the World Championships, Fletcher and Chambers pulled out all the stops and inched their bow ahead of the French across the 1000m mark, but couldn’t keep their lead and again dropped back as the French moved away.

If Great Britain can bring that same force into the second half of the race, Fletcher and Chambers can’t be counted out for a gold in Rio. But they’ll have more than just the French to worry about. The Norwegians and South Africans have a claim to the podium with World Championship titles of their own in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Stany Delayre (b), Jeremie Azou (s), Fran_ © FISA Igor Meijer

Are Strandli and Kristoffer Brun of Norway made it onto every podium through the World Cup circuit and European Championships and finished with bronze at this year’s World Rowing Championships. They have had two Olympic B-final showings (Beijing 2008 and London 2012) in this duo’s eight-year partnership and appear on a continual path of improvement.

South Africa’s Smith and Thompson may have finished just outside the medals at this year’s World Rowing Championships (fourth), but they are unquestionably a crew to watch for 2016. Smith and Thompson set the current World Best Time of 6:05.36 with their win at the 2014 World Rowing Championships. The incentive is great - they are also the first South African crew to qualify for an Olympics in the lightweight men’s double and a podium finish would be a first for any African nation in this event.

Italians Pietro Ruta and Andrea Micheletti stepped onto one World Rowing podium this year, taking silver at World Rowing Cup II, but missed out on the medals at the World Rowing Championships, finishing in fifth. This crew came together in 2013 following Italy’s seventh-place finish at London 2012. Although Italy has won more World Championships in the lightweight men’s double than any other nation, they have stood on the Olympic podium only once (Sydney 2000 - Silver). Ruta’s Olympic experience will be essential if Italy hopes to medal for a second time.

Relative youngsters,  Jason Osborne and Moritz Moos of Germany were in their first senior international season (despite still being under-23 eligible) and finished the year in sixth place at the World Rowing Championships. Two-time World Rowing Under 23 Champions, this crew has already made an impressive transition to this higher level of competition and ensured that Germany will once again race in the Olympics in this event.

Twenty crews will line up to race in under a year at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Eleven of these berths were determined at the World Rowing Championships and one more at the FISA African Olympic Qualification Regatta in October.

Conspicuously absent from qualifying so far are Australia, Cuba, Greece and Japan, who have fielded a lightweight men’s double in every Olympics since the event was added in 1996. Germany and Italy are the only other two nations to have raced in this event at every Olympics since then and so far are the only ones guaranteed to maintain that honour.

All eyes will be on the three remaining continental qualification regattas (Americas 22-24 Mar 2016 in  Valparaiso, Chile; Asian & Oceana 22-25 Apr 2016 in Chungju, Korea; and the final Olympic Qualification Regatta, 22-25 May 2016, Lucerne, Switzerland) to see who will round out the field at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Crews that have qualified for Rio 2016 so far:
Through the 2015 World Rowing Championships (11):
1. France
2. Great Britain
3. Norway
4. South Africa
5. Italy
6. Germany
7. Poland
8. United States
9. Austria
10. Switzerland
11. Ireland

Through the African Continental Qualification Regatta (1):
1. Angola (determined following Egypt choosing to accept M1x Olympic spot and thus the LM2x spot going to Angola)