Pressure cooker semifinals at World Champs
The water was mainly flat calm and the grandstands alive with spectators at the 2013 World Rowing Championships in Chungju, Korea. Today was the first round of semifinals and there was a definite feel of anticipation at the Tangeum International Rowing Regatta course.
All of these crews had to finish in a top three spot to make it through to the finals and many of these races had to be treated like finals. Cloudy skies and threatening rain indicated the approaching storm with some races taking advantage of light tail winds and lively water.
Lightweight Men’s Single Sculls (LM1x) – Semifinals
It has been a big week so far in the lightweight men’s single sculls. They have already gone through heats and quarterfinals and today the semifinals will decide the six A-finallists. Yesterday’s quarterfinals saw Germany’s Jonathan Koch record the fastest time when he had a stiff battle with Peter Galambos of Hungary.
Galambos raced in Semifinal One today. But everyone knew this was going to be a tough battle with World Champion Henrik Stephansen lining up alongside World Best Time holder Jeremie Azou of France and Under-23 World Champion, Andrew Campbell of the United States making this race one tough match. Stephansen was clocked at 55 strokes per minute coming out at the start. Galambos, however, was faster and it took Stephansen until the middle of the race to find the lead.
Once in the lead Stephansen kept his rating high with Azou in hot pursuit. Stephansen and Azou, just like in their heats on Sunday, moved away from the rest of the field together. In the final sprint Stephansen, rating 33, looked content that Azou take first with the Dane pulling through in second. Meanwhile Galambos, who was down eight seconds on the leaders in the final sprint, was rating 38 and absolutely flying. Where did Galambos get that sprint from? An incredible 1:41 split for the final 500m had given Galambos the third qualifying spot.
Great Britain’s Jamie Kirkwood took off at a cracking pace in Semifinal Two which gave him the early lead. No one was prepared to let Kirkwood get away and at the half-way point five boats were all overlapping with Koch getting his bow ball into the lead. Meanwhile winner of the World Cup series Pedro Fraga of Portugal had come through to challenge for the lead. Rowing a very consistent and steady pace, Fraga was picking off his competition one by one.
In the final sprint Fraga had moved out in front with Koch, rating 36, crossing in second. This left Kirkwood and Michael Schmid of Switzerland to fight for the final qualifying spot. Schmid, rating 40 strokes per minute to Kirkwood’s 43, squeezed his boat into the cherished third place.
Qualifiers: FRA, DEN, HUN, POR, GER, SUI
Lightweight Women’s Single Sculls (LW1x) – Semifinals
Will this be the year that Michaela Taupe-Traer of Austria becomes a World Champion? In her two decades of international rowing, Taupe-Traer is yet to get that elusive gold medal. But so far this season the Austrian has taken two silvers and a gold. This could be her year. In Semifinal One Taupe-Traer led from start to finish in a race that saw her never really under any pressure.
Behind the Austrian Greece’s Aikaterini Nikolaidou slotted into second with Alena Kryvasheyenka of Belarus working her way through the field to find third. These two scullers were first and second respectively at this year’s World Rowing Under 23 Championships. With Taupe-Traer out in front the order stayed the same through to the line, Taupe-Traer able to rate 28 in the final metres.
Semifinal Two opened with a very fast start by Ruth Walczak of Great Britain. Walczak qualified behind Michaela Taupe-Traer of Austria in the heats to show her sculling prowess. But had Walczak gone out too fast today? By the middle of the race 2011 World Champion Fabiana Belgrame of Brazil had pushed into the lead with Walczak still able to maintain her pace. Meanwhile both Michelle Sechser of the United States and Ursula Grobler of South Africa were pushing in on the leaders. This was going to be a race to the end.
In the final 500m Walczak proved that she had the energy and found another gear. Rating 33 Walczak got back in the lead with Beltrame, at 31, looking rather content to be in second. The battle between Sechser and Grobler ended with the more experienced Grobler earning the third and final qualifying spot. Walczak had taken first with the fastest qualifying time.
Qualifiers: AUT, GRE, BLR, GBR, BRA, RSA
Women’s Pair (W2-) – Semifinals
Semifinal One featured the unbeaten duo for 2013, Helen Glover and Polly Swann of Great Britain. At the end of the race this status had not changed. Olympic Champion Glover and relative newcomer Swann gelled instantly when they came together at the start of the season and they are turning into a version of the unbeaten Bond and Murray in the men’s pair. Through the first half of the race, however, Taylor Goetzinger and Meghan Musnicki of the United States were keeping the pressure on the British duo and in the process these two countries moved clean away from the rest of the field.
Glover and Swann then showed their class by pressing away from the Americans with New Zealand’s Kayla Pratt and Rebecca Scown now moving up on Goetzinger and Musnicki. In the final sprint Great Britain looked at ease in the lead, the United States went to 42 to hold their second spot and New Zealand looked content to sit in third.
In Semifinal Two Romania’s Roxana Cogianu and Nicoleta Albu were in dominating form. The duo finished second to the British during the heats earlier in the week but today they looked like they had really found their rhythm. The Dutch duo of Elisabeth Hogerwerf and Olivia van Rooijen did their best to hang on to the Romanians and through the middle of the race they remained within striking distance.
Coming through to the finish Cogianu and Albu were rating 36 and looking long through the water and in the form of their Olympic Champion predecessors, Andrunache and Susanu. This is a duo to watch out for over the next couple of years. Romania’s finishing time of 6:59 was less than six seconds off the World Best Time. The Dutch came through in second with the South African’s, Naydene Smith and Lee-Ann Persse taking third.
Qualifiers: GBR, USA, NZL, ROU, NED, RSA
NZL, Rebecca Scown, “ We did what we needed to do. The main objective was getting into the final. All the crews are good so they all have a good chance to win a medal in the final.”
ROU, Roxana Cogianu and Nicoleta Albu, “Everything went according to plan. We had a perfect race in perfect weather conditions – like glass. We will see for the final as anything is possible.”
NED, Olivia van Rooijen, “It wasn’t our best race and we hope for a better one in the final, but we made it through and that was our first objective. We beat New Zealand in the heat and we were a little bit surprised by that so everything is possible if we have our best race.”
Men’s Pair (M2-) – Semifinals
South Africa jumped out at the start of a very tightly packed field in Semifinal One. Then Marco Di Costanzo and Matteo Castaldo of Italy got their nose into the lead. The Italian duo came through to this semifinal after winning their heat and they had now had a couple of days to refresh for this race.
Through the middle of the race Italy and Alexander Sigurbjonsson Benet and Pau Vela Maggi of Spain had worked their way to a small lead over the rest of the field. Di Costanzo and Castaldo were second at the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne while Sigurbjonsson and Vela Maggi were third. Then Poland began to move. Wojciech Gutorski and Jaroslaw Godek of Poland had come through to this semifinal through the repechage and the extra race hadn’t taken much out of them. As the Poles powered through to the finish, Italy and Spain had no comeback. At the line Poland had qualified from first, Italy had held on to second and Spain was in third.
Could France pull off a huge upset today? In Semifinal Two France lined up against the unstoppable New Zealand duo of Eric Murray and Hamish Bond. Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette of France have posted mixed results this season after winning the silver medal at last year’s Olympic Games. Today, Chardin and Mortelette got closer to World and Olympic Champions Bond and Murray than they had all season. With Bond and Murray taking the lead at the start and powering away, France looked to be holding on with Rogier Blink and Mitchel Steenman of the Netherlands slotting into third.
In the final sprint the order had been sorted out but France was able to close the gap on Bond and Murray to finish three seconds down. New Zealand moved to the final as the on-going favourites, France looked promising for a medal with their second place finish and the Dutch will have to race their finest in Saturday’s final.
Qualifiers: POL, ITA, ESP, NZL, FRA, NED
POL, Jaroslaw Godek, “This is my first a-final at the World Championships so I’m excited about it. Tactically we went a bit easy for the first 1000 and in the second thousand we upped the tempo and increased the power to win.”
NZL, Hamish Bond, “There was a bit of a tail wind which makes for a closer race. The race went well for us, but we’ve got a spare gear for the final. The French pair has some good speed and the rest of the crews are also very fast so we have to do what we usually do.”
FRA, Germain Chardin, “The weather conditions were excellent which enabled us to row technically well. Our plan was just to take a place in the final. In the final we’ll try to stay with New Zealand for a longer period of the race and see what happens.”
NED, Mitchel Steenman, “We wanted to get ahead along with New Zealand and France and we knew that the Serbs are also an excellent crew as they won the European Championships. The final will be a great race. We are five evenly-matched crews. New Zealand will have to make a big mistake not to win and the rest of the pairs will be very close.”
Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls (LM2x) – Semifinals
It has done Simon Schuerch and Mario Gyr of Switzerland no harm in switching from the Olympic lightweight men’s four to the lightweight men’s double sculls. Today, Schuerch and Gyr rowed down Italy’s Andrea Micheletti and Pietro Ruta to not only win Semifinal One, but also record the fastest qualifying time. Schuerch and Gyr’s finishing time of 6:15 was just five seconds outside of the World Best Time.
In this race Micheletti and Ruta started out in the lead with the Swiss and Greek’s challenging hard. Panagiotis Magdanis and Spyridon Giannaros of Greece finished out of the A-final at last month’s World Rowing Cup in Lucerne and in this race they were truly showing their worth.
As the remaining 500m of the race came into view Switzerland and Italy were leading the pack with Greece now being challenged for that third qualifying spot by Poland. Greece was rating at 39 to Poland’s 38, but Poland had the edge with their beautiful catches. Greece got there first.
In a race full of twins and brothers, the Sieber twins of Austria jumped out to the lead. This was Semifinal Two and the line-up meant that it was going to be a fight from the first stroke through to the end. Austria still had the lead at the mid-way point with Germany’s Konstantin Steinhuebel and Lars Hartig nearly overtaking. Great Britain’s Chambers brothers were also on the pace along with Kristoffer Brun and Are Strandli of Norway. These four crew went through the middle of the race in a virtual line with less than a second separating them.
By the season so far, Peter and Richard Chambers had the edge and with 500m left to row the Chambers had moved into second just a fraction behind Norway. Brun and Standli then must have decided to not really sprint, settling to do just enough to stay in second. Steinhuebel and Hartig, who had slipped to fourth behind Austria, then took their stroke rate to 36 to overtake a dying Austria.
Qualifiers: SUI, ITA, GRE, GBR, NOR, GER
Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls (LW2x) – Semifinals
Like fine-tuned Formula 1 racing cars, Laura Milani and Elisabetta Sancassani of Italy led from start to finish in Semifinal One to cross the line just six seconds outside of the World Best Time. Milani and Sancassani came together late last year and they haven’t lost a race since. Behind the Italian duo, the United States (Kristin Hedstrom and Kathleen Bertko) remained within striking distance of the Italians. Following the US was the New Zealanders, Julia Edward and Lucy Strack.
This is how the order remained through to the line with South Africa, in fourth, not having the firepower to challenge for a qualifying spot. At the line Italy and New Zealand looked relatively comfortable while the United States, at 39, had kept the pressure on right to the line.
Semifinal Two was much closer than the first semifinal. Germany’s Lena Mueller and Anja Noske got out into the lead at the start with Sweden and Poland in hot pursuit. The Swede’s and Poles then seemed to be out of their league, slipping down in the rankings. This gave Elisabeth Woerner and Maaike Head of the Netherlands the chance they were looking for with Great Britain and Australia stepping up the pace.
There were now four boats in contention for a qualifying spot. The best sprint award goes to Kathryn Twyman and Imogen Walsh of Great Britain. Rating 36, Twyman and Walsh closed in on the Germans. At the line Germany had remained in first, Great Britain had earned second and the Dutch had qualified just ahead of Australia, in third.
Qualifiers: ITA, USA, NZL, GER, GBR, NED
Men’s Four (M4-) – Semifinals
When you see a crew come out of the start looking relaxed in their faces and effortless through the water, you know you’ve got a special crew – especially when they’re in the lead. This was the case for the United States. The sole medal at the London Olympics for US men’s rowing went to the four when they finished in the bronze medal spot. Henrik Rummel is the sole remaining member of the London four. This new 2013 crew won at the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne and today they remained in the lead for the entire Semifinal One.
But the United States did not have it all their way. The entire field was still within striking distance of the leading crew through the middle of the race with only Germany dropping back a bit. In the sprint to the line the field closed on James, Weil, Rummel and Gennaro of the United States. At a 42 stroke rate the US held off a lower rating Netherlands in second. A very happy Czech Republic snuck through in third ahead of a disappointed Belarus.
Semifinal Two had all six crews jump out quickly at the start moving through the first 500m mark with less than two seconds separating the entire field. Then Australia did a strategically planned piece and drew their boat into the lead. Australia had finished second to the United States at the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne and, as London Olympic silver medallists, they had a fine history in this event to call on.
The sprint to the line finally saw crews spread out. Spain and Croatia had dropped back a bit with the real battle going on between Lucerne bronze medallists, Italy against Australia and Lucerne B-finallists, Great Britain. At the line Lodo, Perino, Paonessa and Vicino of Italy had taken first, Australia was in second and Great Britain qualified from third.
It is interesting to note the finishing times of all of the finalists is within just two seconds. This will be one hot final on Saturday with no real obvious favourite.
Qualifiers: USA, NED, CZE, ITA, AUS, GBR
USA, Grant James, “We got ahead as planned and expected the field to come back at us but we knew we could hold them. It will be an exciting final race from start to finish.”
CZE, Jan Pilc, “We had a good start to go with the field and the plan was to push at the half way point. The last 200m we were just satisfied with holding a qualifying spot. The final will be very tough as everybody has a chance to win a medal.”
ITA, Paolo Perino and Mario Paonessa, “We had a very good start with Australia and we fought with them until the 1500 and then we decided to attack in the last 500. Australia tried to push past us, but we responded well. It will be a war in the final from 0 to 2000m.”
GBR, Alan Sinclair, “We needed to make sure we weren’t in a risky position in the last part of the race. Our crew’s goal here was just to make it to the final, but now we’ll try to take a step forward for the final.”
AUS, Joshua Dunkley-Smith, “We expected a tight race with the Italians as we raced them in Lucerne. They are a young crew so you can always expect some kind of a surprise. Our goal is to go faster in the final and we are happy how we have been going through this regatta week.”
Men’s Quadruple Sculls (M4x) – Semifinals
Semifinal One had Switzerland take the lead at the start. The Swiss did not race at the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, instead they were focusing on final preparation for the World Rowing Under 23 Championships. By the middle of the race Olympic Champions, Germany had moved into the lead with Great Britain and the Netherlands in hot pursuit.
At Lucerne, Germany finished second behind Croatia while Great Britain were fourth. In the final sprint Germany, with three members of the Olympic Champion crew, showed their prowess to keep their boat in the lead. Great Britain crossed the line in second and Switzerland, at a rather comfortable-looking 36 stroke rate, finished in third.
In Semifinal Two the winners of the World Cup series, Croatia came out of the starting blocks just a fraction behind Ukraine. The Croatians then really settled into their rhythm and by the middle of the race they were in the lead with Ukraine and Estonia very much within striking distance. Estonia had taken the bronze at the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne while Ukraine last raced internationally at the European Rowing Championships where they finished fourth.
In the final sprint Croatia, using their aggressive finish to the stroke style, remained out in front with Estonia coming through in second just a little ahead of Ukraine in third. These are the crews that will race each other again in the final.
Qualifiers: GER, GBR, SUI, CRO, EST, UKR
GER, Lauritz Schoof, “We knew Switzerland are good at fast starts so we needed to be quick. Our start was better and more aggressive than in our heat and I believe we can go even better in the final. We came to Korea ten days ago and we are completely acclimatised to this weather.”
SUI, Barnabe Delarze, “We knew we would get in the final if we did everything well. We had a really good first thousand but we lacked a bit of power at the finish to hold off the British crew.”
CRO, Martin Sinkovic, “I’m happy with the way we rowed today. We have more in reserve for the middle part of the race as well as for the finish. In our race, probably because of the wind and some motorboats in the last 500, we had some wakes and that disturbed us a bit.”
EST, Alla Raja, “Our aim was to get into the final. The Ukrainians surprised us with their speed in the first half of the race and also at the finish we had to hold them off. The second 1000m there was some wakes that upset the rhythm a little bit.”