Rowing's Under 23 Championships are underway
The flags are flying. The supporters have settled in. The 2014 World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Varese, Italy had started. A very slight cross-head wind that turned to a light cross-tail wind with temperatures reaching into the high 20s Celsius, meant athletes were well warmed up before they came out of the starting blocks.
Today's racing opened with the women's four and closed 26 heats later with the large field for the men's single sculls.
Women’s Four (BW4-) – Heats
Two heats lined up with the top two boats from each heat getting to go directly to the final on Saturday. Russia stamped their authority on Heat One, so much so that by the middle of the race they had a handy three second lead. This left the Netherlands and Canada to fight it out for the remaining qualifying spot. Coming into the finish Russia remained comfortably in the lead and onto the final. Last year Russia finished second and they look to be changing the colour of their medal this season. The Dutch, rating 35 at the finish, grabbed second over a high rating Canada.
Following the race, Canada objected to the conduct of the race due to the interference by the Netherlands. CAN raised their hand in the prescribed time after crossing the line, complained about the interference, and the umpire accepted their objection and ruled that the Netherlands are excluded from the event.
They may not have had the prettiest of rows, but they had the power. This was the way of the United States in Heat Two. The US, who raced in the B-final at last year's World Rowing Under 23 Championships, remained in front to the end to qualify for the final. Coming through in second, a very smooth looking France may not have had the power of the Americans, but they had the technique to grab the remaining qualifying spot.
Qualifiers: RUS, CAN, USA, FRA
Men’s Coxed Four (BM4+) – Heats
With two heats taking to the Lake Varese waters, the idea here was to finish first in each heat for a direct path to the final on Saturday. In Heat One Canada wanted it the most. The Canadians, who were fifth at last year's World Rowing Under 23 Championships, got out to an aggressive start and into the lead. Following was last year's silver medallists, New Zealand. New Zealand remained in striking distance through the body of the race. But in the final sprint, the New Zealanders could not catch the higher rating Canadians. Canada, rating 40 over the Kiwis 36, finished first to qualify. Canada scoring the fastest time of the two heats.
The second heat really got the crowd going as Great Britain and Italy fought it out until the finish. A large number of supporters from Great Britain and an even larger number of Italians were chanting to urge their athletes on. With Italy rating 43 and Great Britain on 37, the British managed to just get there first.
Qualifiers: CAN, GBR
Lightweight Women’s Quadruple Sculls (LW4x) - Heats
This boat class attracted two heats and the top two boats only from each heat went directly to Saturday's final. In Heat One the Italians were not the fastest starters, but by the middle of the race they had moved into second behind early leaders, Switzerland. Then Italy did a push. Switzerland had no reply. Much to the crowd's pleasure, Italy took the lead. Last year Italy finished sixth in this boat class and it looks like they will be stepping up for 2014 as they crossed the line in first to earn a direct path to the final. The Swiss held on to second to also qualify.
Reigning under-23 champions, Germany made this race look easy in Heat Two as they powered through to record the fastest qualifying time. With Germany way out in the lead, Hungary managed to overtake France and help turn this race into a procession. France did not have the same push as Hungary with the Hungarians joining Germany in the final.
Qualifiers: ITA, SUI, GER, HUN
Lightweight Men’s Pair (BLM2-) – Heats
The 14 countries lining up in this boat class were divided into three heats with the top three boats advancing directly to the semifinals on Friday. In Heat One, Germany made the best of it by jumping out into the lead. The Germans were sixth in 2013 and it looks like they want more this year. Behind Felix Brummel and Sven Ditzel of Germany, Australia chased hard. With the final sprint coming into view, Australia still had the second place spot. But then the Australians came under pressure from the United States and France.
At the line France stormed through at a 39 stroke rate to take second, with the US in third. Germany qualified from first. But it was Heat Two that recorded the fastest qualifying time. Canada's Grayson Gray and James Myers powered through in a time of 6:54 to win this race. Great Britain can take some credit from this fast time as they led for the majority of the race, only getting overtaken at the finish. The British also qualify along with Italy.
A beautifully timed race by the Jan Hajek and Michael Humpolec of the Czech Republic saw them lead from start to finish with a huge six second advantage going through the middle of the race. Japan, rating 36, came through in second and Portugal, despite some early steering issues, were third.
Qualifiers: GER, FRA, USA, CAN, GBR, ITA, CZE, JPN, POR
Women’s Pair (BW2-) – Heats
This boat class had two heats with only the number one crew qualifying directly to the final. Heat one was all about Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler of New Zealand. Prendergast and Gowler's dominance was so thorough that they already had an open water lead with only 500m rowed. This lead was really not surprising as the New Zealand duo raced earlier this month at the senior World Rowing Cup in Lucerne and finished second, challenging the senior World Champions, Great Britain in the process.
At the line Gowler and Predergast recorded a time of 7:13, easily giving them the fastest qualifying time.
In Heat Two, last year's fourth-placed finishers, Australia's Jessie Allan and Genevieve Horton jumped out to take the lead. They remained in front through the body of the race with Agatha Nowinski and Jessica Eiffert of the United States hot on their tails. A huge finishing sprint with a stroke rate of 38 gave the Americans the qualifying spot. Allan and Horton, at 34, did not have enough of a sprint left in them to keep Nowinski and Eiffert at bay. Australia will have to return for the repechage.
Qualifiers: NZL, USA
Women’s Quadruple Sculls (BW4x) – Heats
The scullers in the two heats were aiming to be in a top two position. This would earn them a direct path to the finals on Saturday. In Heat One, Great Britain got out quickly with New Zealand racing hard. The British did not race this boat class last year, while New Zealand finished fifth overall. Great Britain remained in the lead, but only just, through the middle of the race. It was going to be decided in the final sprint. Rating 36, Great Britain managed to hold off the New Zealanders. But this was merely semantics as both boats qualified for the final.
Heat Two had Poland in the lead at the start. The Poles were second at last year's World Rowing Under 23 Championships, but this year they were challenged hard by Russia. Coming into the finals sprint, Russia had the lead. The Russians were tenth last year, but after this race, as they crossed the line in first, they already made the top six of the A-final. Poland held on to qualify from second.
Qualifiers: GBR, NZL, RUS, POL
Men’s Four (BM4-) – Heats
Enough countries to make up three heats meant that the top three from each heat earned a direct path to the semifinals on Friday. In Heat One, Italy was in front. The Italians were fourth in this boat class last year and they must have been cherishing this home course for the under-23 championships. With the Italians out in front, Croatia and the United States were locked together in a huge battle. This battle remained right into the final sprint. At the finish, Italy remained in front with Croatia getting the better of the United States. All three of these crews qualified.
Great Britain is very strong in this event at the senior level and this under-23 British crew look to be continuing the legacy. In Heat Two, James Cook, George Rossiter, James Rudkin and Lewis McCue of Great Britain got a smidgen of a lead at the start and held it, albeit only just, through the middle of the race. But then a big push by Spain earned them first place. Great Britain had no reply and a huge, smooth, 41-stroke-rate sprint kept the Spanish out in front and on to the fastest qualifying time. Great Britain qualified from second with France taking third.
Under-23 World Champions, Romania raced in the lead of Heat Three. But it didn't last long as Germany pushed ahead. Romania held on tightly and these two boats went neck-and-neck, for the rest of the race. Coming into the finish, these two crews were matching each other with an amazing 43 stroke rate pace. Germany remained just in front. Romania qualified from second and China took third.
Qualifiers: ITA, CRO, USA, ESP, GBR, FRA, GER, ROU, CHN
Lightweight Men’s Single Sculls (BLM1x) – Heats
This boat class had attracted a huge 25 boat field. The field was divided into five heats with the top four boats moving directly to the quarterfinals on Friday. The first heat began with Great Britain in the lead before Paul O'Donovan of Ireland took over. A well-timed race by O'Donovan had last year's bronze medallist set up well for the quarterfinal. Turkey's Enes Kusku (fifth last year) had the lead at the start of Heat Two, but a big push by the Netherlands' Daan Klomp coming into the final sprint gave him the lead. These two boats had a huge lead over the rest of the field when they crossed the line.
Hungary had a fast start in Heat Three, but it didn't take long for the reigning World Champion, Andrew Campbell of the United States to take over. Once in front, Campbell made easy work of the race as he pushed away from the rest of the field. Coached by long-time coach Linda Muri, Campbell finished at a relaxed 28 stroke rate pace and the fastest qualifying time of 7:00.36.
Heat Four opened with Italy's Francesco Pegoraro out in front. Pegoraro is a 2013 Under-23 World Champion from the lightweight quad and he has made a fine transition to single sculling. But coming into the final sprint something happened to Pegoraro. His rating dropped and he looked like he'd run completely out of steam. This handed Greece's Spyridon Giannaros the lead. Pegoraro held on to take third behind Croatia. Apart from Greece, all boats stopped just before the finish line.
The final heat, Heat Five, had Germany's Jonathan Rommelmann holding the lead. Rommelmann raced to third at last year's under-23 championships in the lightweight quad and he was making easy work of this race. Meanwhile behind Rommelmann, Uganda's Gerald Ssemambo had slotted into second as this race turned into a procession. Rommelmann crossed the line, then Ssemambo stopped just before the line, but had enough momentum to qualify from third.
Qualifiers: IRL, GBR, BRA, JPN, NED, TUR, DEN, NOR, USA, BEL, HUN, RUS, GRE, CRO, ITA, SVK, GER, BUL, UGA, CZE
Men’s Single Sculls (BM1x) – Heats
This boat class had five heats with the top four boats going directly to the quarterfinals on Friday. Germany's Hubert Trzybinski won this race last year and a whole new bunch of rowers have come through for this 2014 regatta. In Heat One, Serbia's Aleksandar Filipovic overtook a fast starting New Zealand to take the lead. Once there, the statuesque Filipovic remained in front.
The Lithuanian's are really impressing internationally at the senior level and they have another sculler coming through. That sculler is Zygimantas Galisanskis and he kept his stroke rate high and powered through in the lead. With Galisanskis out in front the real race was for second and this remained the case right through to the finish. Galisanskis crossed the line, then half a second separated four boats. Austria missed out on qualifying by just 0.13 of a second.
Former junior champion in the single, Michal Plocek of the Czech Republic grabbed the lead in Heat Three with Germany's Ruben Steinhardt making chase. These two scullers did not push it at the end for an easy qualification. Plocek, at a time of 6:59.7, recorded the fastest qualifying time.
Sweden had a fast start in Heat Four, but it wasn't long until 2013 junior World Champion in the single, Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk of Poland took over and absolutely dominated the field. Emil Freundenthal of Sweden was overtaken by France, but held on to qualify through third, as Wegrzycki-Szymczyk took off the power in the last 200m of the race, but did just enough to stay in front.
Heat Five began with Markus Kessler of Switzerland out in front. Kessler raced at the 2011 under-23 championships and then took a break from international racing until this year. Kessler held the lead through the middle of the race before Jan Helvig of Norway took over. Margins, however, were very tight and this last race of the day was a sprint to the line. Greece's Dionysios Angelopoulos, rating 35, got there first.
Qualifiers: SRB, BLR, AUS, NZL, LTU, HUN, RUS, UKR, CZE, GER, BUL, MON, POL, FRA, SWE, EST, GRE, NOR, SUI, SVK