The lightweight single is not featured at the Olympic Games, so many lightweight rowers focus on other boats in the lead-up to the Olympics.  For a variety of training and development reasons these rowers have come out of their Olympic boats. Some have moved into the single, making it one of the largest fields at the World Rowing Championships.

Beginning with 28 competitors, the field was first narrowed to 24 in the quarterfinals, then to 12 competitors who faced off in the semifinals on Thursday.

One of the favourites is Henrik Stephansen of Denmark. Earlier this year, Stephansen broke the World Record on the indoor rowing machine for lightweight men and he is the only lightweight to go under six minutes on the erg. This has given Stephansen, the two-time lightweight single World Champion, even more prominence in the rowing world. Stephansen competed in the lightweight double sculls earlier this season at the third World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland. Following an 8th place finish he switched back to the single with ease for Chungju.

“The competition is tougher than it has ever been,” says Stephansen.  “The boat class is definitely at the highest that I’ve seen it.”

Although Stephansen says that he prefers to not watch his competitors’ race, he knows the results of one of his top challenger’s, Jeremie Azou of France. They have already raced each other twice, and the score is one all.  Stephansen wasn’t sure how Azou would perform, so he decided to stick with his own plan during the first race in the heat. Stephansen came out on top after a battle in the heat but he says, “I need to talk to my coach about my race plan. I think I need to do more.”

Just before the World Rowing Championships Azou was forced out of the lightweight double by an unfortunate rowing accident that put his double partner Stany Delayre in the hospital. Azou and Delayre took home the gold medal earlier this year at the European Championships and the third World Cup. For these world champs, Azou has transitioned flawlessly into the single. Stephansen and Azou raced each other again in the semifinal, with Azou edging out the Dane in the last few metres winning by 0.57 seconds.

Pedro Fraga of Portugal races in the lightweight men's single sculls semifinal A/B at the 2013 World Rowing Championships in Chungju, Korea.
Also moving from the lightweight double to the single is Pedro Fraga of Portugal. “After eight years (in the double), we decided to try something new. Nuno (Mendes) is training with some other guys, helping with development and I am in the single,” says Fraga. The change has gone well for Fraga, who won two World Cups this season, but he admits it is an adjustment.

“It’s a little bit solitary in the single. I like teamwork better and having a partner, but it’s all part of the challenge. I feel comfortable and confident in the single,” he adds. Fraga plans to re-join Mendes in the double this autumn when they will turn their attention to the 2016 Rio Olympics. But for now his focus is on these World Rowing Championships.

Fraga won his heat and also won the semifinal ahead of Germany’s Jonathan Koch and Switzerland’s Michael Schmid. Koch and Schmid will be in the final along with Azou, Stephansen and Peter Galambos (HUN).Stephansen and Fraga know each other well as Stephansen trains for some of the winter at the same facility in Portugal. But for Friday’s final friendships will be put on hold until the finish line.

As Fraga says, “The work is done. When I go to the water I focus on technique, making the boat faster, efficient strokes and giving power. We all train to win, everyone here is the same. In a final, it’s a final.”   
The final of the lightweight men’s single sculls will take place on 30 August at 15:48 (local Korean time) in Chungju, Korea.

To watch it live, please click here.