Meet seven rowers making their Olympic debut in Rio
In the lead-up to Rio 2016, much of the focus has been on the age-defying performances of a small but growing number of elite athletes with several Olympics under their belts. Yet, for a significant number of Olympians, this will be their first time at the Games.
World Rowing takes a look at just a few of these athletes worth watching out for in their Olympic debut.
Dattu Bhokanal (IND)
Dattu Bhokanal has appeared almost out of the ether as a shining light of Indian sculling. As his nation’s sole representative in Rowing at the Rio Games as well as only the 9th Indian rower to race in the Olympics, Bhokanal has become a reluctant media star.
Born in 1991 in the drought-stricken village of Talegaon in the Indian state of Maharasta, the struggle with severe water shortages was a fact of life and rowing was not a likely path for Bhokanal. Following his father’s death from bone cancer in 2011, Bhokanal gave up his studies so that he could support his family. In 2012 joined the Indian Army.
Bhokanal was persuaded to try rowing with his fellow soldiers. In a short time he was relocated to the Army Rowing Node and then to the national camp. In 2014 he earned two golds at the Indian National Rowing Championships and placed 5th at the Asian Games. He went on to take silver at the 2015 Asian Rowing Championships.
Tragedy struck Bhokanal’s family once again when his mother sustained a serious brain injury just weeks before the FISA Asia-Oceania Olympic Qualification Regatta. Despite this, Bhokanal managed to earn his Olympic berth. Bhokanal will race in the men's single sculls.
Lawrence Brittain (RSA)
Lawrence Brittain has far more to celebrate than simply making it to his first Olympics. The 25-year-old will be racing in Rio less than a year and a half from his comeback following a battle with cancer. Remarkably, he didn’t miss a World Rowing Championships, racing the men's coxed pair in 2014. His boat finished 5th even through Brittain's training and performance had been suffering. Two months later he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer. After four months of intensive treatment Brittain was back at training, albeit taking things one session at a time.
Brittain will race the men's pair in Rio with partner Shaun Keeling, with whom he has partnered in the past, racing to a 9th place finish at the 2013 World Rowing Championships and before that at the 2012 Final Olympic Qualification Regatta, where they placed fourth, missing out on the chance to race in the London Games.
Coming from a rowing family, Brittain has three brothers who have all competed internationally including older brother Matthew who won gold at the London Olympics in the lightweight men's four. Brittain will be aiming to make his own Olympic mark.
Caileigh Filmer (CAN)
Aged just 19 years, Caileigh Filmer will be the youngest Canadian rower competing in the Rio Olympics this summer. She had her first taste of international racing at the 2013 Junior World Rowing Championships, where she finished 8th as part of the Junior Women’s Four.
The next year Filmer raced in the Junior Women’s Pair, winning silver at the 2014 Junior World Rowing Championships followed by bronze at the Youth Olympic Games. In 2015 she won silver at the World Rowing Under-23 Championships in the U23 Women’s Four.
A dominant performance at Canada’s National Rowing Championships with pair partner Hillary Janssens brought not only gold medals but also a golden opportunity to try for a place on the Olympic team. Filmer decided to take the following semester away from her studies as a second year student at the University of California (Berkley), USA, to train full-time towards her Olympic goal.
Filmer raced her first two events at the senior level in 2016 at the first World Rowing Cup, where she and partner Jennifer Martins placed seventh. The decision was announced at the end of June that Filmer would be racing as part the women’s eight in Rio.
Pierre Houin (FRA)
Although still eligible to compete as an Under-23 rower, Pierre Houin will be racing in Rio instead. Such is Houin’s proven ability as a lightweight sculler. In 2015, Houin secured a berth in both the World Rowing Under-23 Championships as well as the World Rowing Championships. He won gold in both - the under-23 lightweight single and the senior lightweight men's quadruple sculls.
Houin successfully opened up a place for himself on the Olympic team in early 2016 at the French National Championships by finishing second in the lightweight single. This helped wedge him into the coveted lightweight men’s double; behind Jeremie Azou and ahead of Stany Delayre, the reigning World Champions in that event.
Houin was featured as World Rowing’s “Rising Star” for April 2016 following that result and has since raced at the second and third stages of the World Rowing Cup with Azou, earning gold in both for an undefeated run leading into Rio.
Roman Roeoesli (SUI)
Roman Roeoesli made his first appearance at a World Rowing event as a junior. This was 2011 when he raced to fourth in the men's double at the World Rowing Junior Championships. Roeoesli will be racing in Rio as a member of the Swiss men’s quadruple sculls. In the crew of Nico Stahlberg, Augustin Maillefer, Barnabe Delarze and Roeoesli, the line-up has remained substantially intact since taking gold at the 2013 World Rowing Under-23 Championships.
Following that victory, Roeoesli, then aged 19, went on to place 11th in the men's single at the 2013 World Rowing Championships. In 2014 Roeoesli, Stahlberg and Maillefer stepped into the senior quad and placed 6th at the 2014 World Rowing Championships.
In 2015 the crew moved to 5th. Their results so far in 2016 (bronze and 4th at World Cups I, II and III respectively) indicate that the Swiss will likely be a factor in the A-final at Rio.
Maria Springwald (POL)
Maria Springwald has featured consistently in the Polish women’s quadruple sculls during recent seasons. She and teammates Monika Ciaciuh, Joanna Leszczynska and Agnieszka Kobus qualified for the Rio Olympics with a fourth place finish at the 2015 World Rowing Championships. This will be her first time competing at the Olympics.
Having taken up the sport in 2004, Spingwald’s experience in elite quad racing took off in 2012 when she attended her first World Rowing Under-23 Championships, placing fourth. The following year she was on the podium with a silver at the 2013 World Rowing Under-23 Championships. By the 2014 season, Springwald had advanced to Poland's senior team, finishing eighth at the World Rowing Championships.
In 2015, the crew moved up to fourth showing a continued improvement in speed and an ability to take on the might of the dominating Germans.
Chierika Ukogu (NGR)
A dual citizen of the Nigeria and the United States, Chierika Ukogu – known as “Coco” to her friends – will become Nigeria’s first ever rower to race at the Olympics. She will be 23 years old when she lines up in Rio in the women's single sculls.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, Ukogu attended and rowed throughout her undergraduate degree in Human Biology at Stanford University. Strong personal links to her family’s homeland were kept alive through her own social responsibility activities, which included founding a non-profit in 2007 called “Flip Flops for Africa” that donated 10,000 pairs of sandals to Nigerians in need.
Inspired by the challenge to become the first Nigerian Olympic rower, she put her medical school ambitions on hold to take up the single and train full time after graduating from Stanford in 2014.
Entering onto the international sculling scene, Ukogu attended her first World Rowing Championships in 2015, finishing 24th. Undeterred by this early result, she went on to secure a berth for the Rio Games by placing third at the FISA African Olympic Qualification Regatta the following month.