Speedy start for rowers at European Champs
Belgrade's Sava Lake made sure the rowers got to the finish line quickly for the heats of the 2014 European Rowing Championships. Tail wind conditions (with a bit of a cross wind to keep it interesting) helped set the crews up for new European Best Times. And some of the crews rose to the challenge...
Lightweight Men's Pair (LM2-) - Heats
Three heats in the lightweight men's pair meant the first three in each heat would get to advance to tomorrow's semifinal. The Dutch (Tim Weerkamp and Ive de Graaf) had the upper hand at the end of Heat One when they pushed past early leaders Turkey to finish first. But it was the Czech Republic that really impressed by storming through in full on last 500m push to get into a qualifying spot. The fastest qualifying time came in Heat Two with a classy race from the head of the field playing out for Sam Scrimgeour and Jonathan Clegg of Great Britain. The Heat Three competitors had the luxury of aiming not to come last if they wanted to qualify. This turned out to be a problem for Denmark who ran out of steam after a big start. Instead current European Champions Switzerland, Hungary and Italy came through.
With the European Best Time sitting at 6:46.25 Scrimgeour and Clegg can now stake claim to the new time with a posting of 6:39.49.
Qualifiers: NED, CZE, TUR, GBR, FRA, GRE, SUI, HUN, ITA
Lightweight Men's Single Sculls (LM1x) - Heats
A full complement of 20 European nations lined up in this popular event. They were divided into four heats with the top two boats in each heat able to miss this afternoon's repechage and go directly to Saturday's semifinal. British single sculler Adam Freeman-Pask did the best job in Heat One by getting out to a swift start and sitting on the rest of the field. Freeman-Pask, however, was not short of challengers. First Denmark's Andrej Bendtsen stepped up and then Slovenia. But the Brit stayed in front.
But Freeman-Pask will have his work cut out for him in the semifinals as heat two, three and four were fast. In Heat Two Switzerland's Michael Schmid also raced from the front and finished four seconds faster than Freeman-Pask. Meanwhile Greece and Hungary had a full 2000m tussle finishing just 0.23 seconds apart with Panagiotis Magdanis of Greece in the qualifying position.
Heat Three had Italy's Marcello Miani rower with a very consistent race that had him move further and further away from the rest of the field as he headed for the finish line. At the end Miani set a new European Best Time of 6:56.91. But not for long ... It was the best of Portugal that really set the field on fire in Heat Four. Olympian Pedro Fraga, despite being under no pressure, clocked an incredible 6:56.41 to knock more than four seconds off the European Best Time.
Qualifiers: GBR, DEN, SUI, GRE, ITA, BUL, POR, GER
Lightweight Women's Single Sculls (LW1x) - Heats
The aim here was to finish in the top three spots to get to advance to the semifinals and with the crews divided into three heats it was the Netherland's Marie-Anne Frenken who set the early standard. And what a standard it was! Finishing in a time of 7:42.24, Frenken went over four seconds faster than the European Best Time. The Dutch sculler became a World Champion last year in the lightweight women's quadruple sculls, but has also done a chunk of racing in the single.
Belgium's Eveline Peleman made a fine effort in Heat Two to finish first and also finish faster than the former European Best Time, but not as fast as Frenken, so had to settle for 'nearly' setting the standard. Peleman had Hungary hot on her heels for the first half of the race, but the second half turned into a procession to the line. Heat Three opened with Germany's Leonie Pless in the lead, but by the middle of the race Aikaterini Nikolaidou of Greece caught up. Nikolaidou then got her nose in front of Pless who was not handling the water conditions quite as well as the Greek. By the final 500m Nikolaidou had a handy lead.
Qualifiers: NED, GBR, DEN, BEL, HUN, ITA, GRE, GER, CYP
Men's Pair (M2-) - Heats
The men's pair was made up of three heats with the top three boats in each heat getting to go directly to the semifinals on Saturday, thus avoiding an extra race through the repechages. Heat One opened with 2012 European Championship silver medallists Alexander Sigurbjonsson Benet and Pau Vela Maggi of Spain clocking a time of 6:27.66. This time turned out to be the standard with no other heat going faster. Surprisingly Great Britain, who are known for having powerful pairs rowers, was back in third.
Leading from start to finish in Heat Two was the German duo of Bastian Bechler and Anton Braun. A fast start gave Bechler and Braun the edge in the opening sprint with France's new pairs combination of Valentin Onfroy and Laurent Cadot following in second. Although the French remained within striking distance of the Germans for the majority of the race, they looked like they chose not to challenge.
With the 2013 World Championship bronze medal to their name, Rogier Blink and Mitchel Steenman of the Netherlands lined up looking like the favourites in this boat class. With that in mind Blink and Steenman took the lead at the start over home favourites Veselin Savic and Dusan Bogicevic of Serbia. Last year at the European Champs, Serbia won the pair but with two different rowers. Blink and Steenman remained in the lead through to the finish, doing just enough to hold off the Serbs.
Qualifiers: ESP, ITA, GBR, GER, FRA, GRE, NED, SRB, RUS
Lightweight Men's Double Sculls (LM2x) - Heats
The top two boats in each of the four heats to earn a direct path to the semifinals. For these lightweight rowers, conserving energy is important, so avoiding a repechage must have been high on their minds as they lined up to race. Heat One saw a tight tussle to the 1000m mark between Italy and Germany. The German crew of Konstantin Steinhuebel and Lars Hartig held the edge and managed to hold off the Italians to finish first. Both boats qualified.
The reigning World Champions, Kristoffer Brun and Are Strandli of Norway lined up in Heat Two. The duo got off to a very quick start and into the lead. By the third 500m any initial excitement waned as the race turned into a procession to the line. Brun and Strandli crossed in first, seven seconds ahead of Poland in second.
Heat Three, however, created a real buzz of interest. Lining up in lane 2 were the reigning European Champions, Stany Delayre and Jeremie Azou of France. An on-the-water accident during the 2013 season had kept Delayre out of the boat and this was his first international race since July last year. The duo raced a mature race from the front of the field to record the fastest qualifying time of 6:15.24 - just two seconds outside of the European Best Time. Delayre and Azou are back.
In Heat Four, Greece, the Czech Republic and Switzerland went head-to-head for 1500m. The Czech's, however, did not have a big final sprint leaving Switzerland's Simon Schuerch and Marion Gyr and Greece's Eleftherios Konsolas and Spyridon Giannaros to qualify.
Qualifiers: GER, ITA, NOR, POL, FRA, NED, SUI, GRE
Lightweight Women's Double Sculls (LW2x) - Heats
The goal for these rowers was to finish in a top three position in each of the three heats. This would earn the crews a direct path to Saturday's semifinal. The return of lightweight double Olympic Champion Katherine Copeland of Great Britain was witnessed in Heat One. This is Copeland's first international race since the 2012 Olympic Games. Copeland partnered up with Imogen Walsh for a race that saw them get off to a very slow start. It didn't, however, seem to faze them. By the middle of the race Copeland and Walsh were in second and challenging for first. The Netherland's in the lead, fought back as both boats sprinted to the line. The British got there just a fraction sooner.
But since Copeland rowed in 2012 there are two new kids on the block. Laura Milani and Elisabetta Sancassani of Italy are the reigning World Champions and finished 2013 unbeaten. They raced in Heat Two which opened with Poland in the lead. The Italians found themselves playing catch up and by the final 500m sprint Poland still had a bit of a lead. Italy finished fast and both boats crossed the finish line recording identical times.
Despite the big sprint in Heat Two, it was Heat Three that recorded the fastest time overall. Germany's Lena Mueller and Anja Noske led from start to finish, keeping just enough margin on Sweden in second to feel safe. At the line Mueller and Noske's time was just two seconds outside of the European Best Time. It looks like Mueller and Noske will be the ones with the targets on their backs in Saturday's semifinals.
Qualifiers: GBR, NED, ITA, POL, GER, SWE
Men's Four (M4-) - Heats
A field of 16 European nations gathered to race in this boat class with the crews divided into three heats. Their aim was to be in the top two to get to go directly to the semifinals on Saturday. The heats went off with a bang as Great Britain fired up the competition in Heat One. Last year Great Britain put their best men sweep rowers into the eight. This year they are in the four. Get used to these names - Alex Gregory, Mohamed Sbihi, George Nash and Andrew Triggs Hodge - as they are likely to be leading the way in their country's rowing and in the world. The British love to lead from the start and that is exactly what this crew did. They then raced their own race at the head of the field. The Greeks, however, were not willing to let the British off lightly. In the final sprint Greece closed on Great Britain and nearly caught them. Both Great Britain and Greece went under the European Best Time with Great Britain's time of 5:49.08 being the new standard.
The current World Champions, the Netherlands found themselves being chased hard by Croatia in Heat Two. Croatia had added a secret element to their line-up in the form of David Sain from the World Champion men's quadruple sculls boat. The Dutch, however, managed to keep their nose ahead of Croatia and finish first. Their times were much slower than Great Britain, though, and they may have to pick up some boat speed for the semifinals.
Heat Three had Russia and Italy going neck-and-neck for the full 2000m. The Russian's had the edge at the start but then Italy pushed into the lead and although Russia fought back, Italy managed to remain just in front.
Qualifiers: GBR, GRE, NED, CRO, ITA, RUS
Men's Double Sculls (M2x) - Heats
A full field of 21 nations lined up for this boat class. They were divided into four heats with the first crew only from each of the four heats getting to go directly to the semifinals. Heat One showed a superb display of rowing by leaders Aleksandar Aleksandrov and Boris Yotov of Azerbaijan. These two are usually found in singles but they may be trying something new for 2014. Aleksandrov and Yotov led for the full 2000m and were never really pushed.
Heat Two featured the current World Champions, Nils Jakob Hoff and Kjetil Borch of Norway and the duo showed their World Champion form by absolutely dominating the field. No one could touch them. Hoff and Borch easily advanced to the semifinals.
It will be Heat Three that everyone will be talking about. At the head of the field Germany's Hans Gruhne and Stephan Krueger and Great Britain's John Collins and Jonathan Walton battled it out, side-by-side for the full 2000m. This tussle paid dividends as both crews went under the European Best Time. Finishing just in front earned Gruhne and Krueger the new Best Time of 6:11.56, just under one second faster than the former time. Gruhne and Krueger have been together for a number of year but Collins and Walton are a new combination. Keep an eye out for them.
Last year's silver medallists at the European Champs, Rolandas Mascinskas and Saulius Ritter of Lithuania got their nose in front at the start and kept it there. Mascinskas and Ritter began their 2014 season at the World Rowing Cup in Sydney where they came first and every men's double crew knows that they are strong contenders. They will go to the semifinals with great confidence.
Qualifiers: AZE, NOR, GBR, LTU
Women's Single Sculls (W1x) - Heats
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The women of the single were represented by 17 European nations. They were divided into three heats with the top two boats in each heat earning a direct path to Saturday's semifinals. The heats opened with the young Magdalena Lobnig of Austria strutting her stuff. Lobnig, 23, finished fourth at last year's World Rowing Championships and instantly became a name to look out for. Today in Heat One, Lobnig showed that she continues to improve but finishing first.
The very experienced Annekatrin Thiele of Germany has left the World Champion quadruple sculls behind at this regatta to race in the single. Thiele has regularly been Germany's fastest women's single sculler at trials but never really shown much internationally in the single. Today, Thiele got off to a great start by winning Heat Two over Lithuania's Lina Saltyte. Thiele's time of 7:27 proved to be the fastest of all the heats giving her a leg up as she moves to Saturday's semifinals.
Heat Three featured Olympic Champion Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic. Since her great London Olympic race, Knapkova has been fighting injury issues and at last year's World Rowing Championships she finished third. Today Knapkova came out quickly at the start. She was then reeled in by Dutch sculler Chantal Achterberg. Knapkova then did the better sprint at the end to take back the lead. Both Knapkova and Achterberg had qualified for the semifinals.
Qualifiers: AUT, UKR, GER, LTU, CZE, NED
Women's Pair (W2-) - Heats
Two heats in this boat class meant that the first crew in each event go directly to the final on Sunday. All other crews have to return for repechages on Saturday. Heat One got under way with the World Champion crew of Helen Glover and Polly Swann from Great Britain in the lead. The British women's pair crew was originally named as Glover and her Olympic Champion partner Heather Stanning, but Stanning was advised to sit out this regatta for medical reasons. The duo must have wanted to make the most of this race as they drove their boat to a finish time of 7:09.44. This time set a new European Best Time by just under a second.
Perhaps Great Britain's biggest rivals in this boat class, Romania, raced in Heat Two. Romania has owned the European Championship gold medal for the past six years in this event and it is certain that Cristina Grigoras and Laura Oprea will not be keen to give it up. Grigoras and Oprea's finish time was five seconds slower than the British time, but there is no doubt that they will be stepping it up in the final.
Qualifiers: GBR, ROU
Women's Quadruple Sculls (W4x) - Heats
A top two finish was necessary for a direct path to Sunday's final in this boat class. The two heats meant that just four boats would get a day off from racing while all others would return for repechages tomorrow.
Poland raced a crew in Heat One built around their 2012 under-23 crew and it is likely that they have caused quite a stir in the British camp when they raced to first over the British. Poland finished in a time of 6:18.90 which meant they set a new European Best Time by just over a second. But the Polish 'Best Time' status did not last long. In fact, it only lasted about six minutes.
In Heat Two the European Best Time fell again when Belarus and Germany went head to head. The new-look Belarusian line up included a careful blend of youth and experience. Coming in at the experience end was Olympic and World Champion Ekaterina Karsten. In her 42nd year, Karsten had already become a World Champion when her team mates Tatsiana Kukhta and Katsiaryna Shliupskaya were just months old. Such is the beauty of this sport. Making up the final spot was Olympic medallist Yuliya Bichyk who medalled in the double sculls with Karsten last year.
Belarus won the battle with Germany to finish first and set a new European Best Time of 6:17.59. Germany, who are the reigning World Champions, have put together a brand new crew for this regatta as the coaches continue to trial their athletes throughout the season.
Qualifiers: POL, GBR, BLR, GER
Men's Quadruple Sculls (M4x) - Heats
The two heats in this boat class required crews to finish first if they wanted to go directly to the final. Germany, in the absence of World Champions Croatia, decided that this race was theirs to own. The German crew led the field and at the end had gone fast enough to be the new European Best Time holders. Their time of 5:45.07 was just a smidgen faster than the previous time, set in 2010 by Russia, of 5:45.17. Despite there being only one qualifier from this race, Estonia and Poland still gave it their all both crossing the line side by side. They will, however, have to race again in Saturday's repechage.
A few minutes later, Germany lost their Best Time status when Heat Two crossed the finish line. Leading from start to finish and being pushed by Great Britain and Russia, Ukraine scored the status. Ukraine spent the middle of the race going head to head with Russian. Then coming into the final sprint the slow starting British caught up, overtook Russia and went after Ukraine. The British didn't quite get there in time, but they must have helped push Ukraine to a time of 5:43.17. The new European Best Time.
Qualifiers: GER, UKR
Women's Double Sculls (W2x) - Heats
This race had two heats with the top two boats in each heat getting to go directly to the Finals on Sunday. Who wanted to have Saturday off the most? In Heat One it must have been Lithuania. The Lithuanian crew of Donata Vistartaite and Milda Valciukaite are the reigning World Champions but got pushed into second by Australia at the World Rowing Cup in Sydney earlier this year. It looks like they have bounced back. To learn more about Vistartaite check out the Athlete of the Month interview for May.
By the middle of the race Vistartaite and Valciukaite were in the lead with Germany's Lisa Schmidla and Carina Baer following closely behind. The Lithuanian's however, showed their stamina and pushed away at the end to finish easily in front.
But the hot race turned out to be in Heat Two with Magdalena Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj of Poland burning up the Lake Sava rowing course. Poland finished second to Lithuania at last year's European Champs and they obviously wanted to send out a clear message this year. With Great Britain in second, Fularczyk and Madaj had a comfortable lead for the majority of the race, but this did not seem to stop them from pressing hard. Their time at the line of 6:46.50 had bettered the European Best Time by just over three seconds.
This will be a great finals race between Poland and Lithuania on Sunday.
Qualifiers: LTU, GER, POL, GBR
Lightweight Men's Four (LM4-) - Heats
It was only the top crew from each heat directly to finals on Sunday, and it was no surprise to see World Champions Denmark in the lead of Heat One. The Danes are also the reigning European Champions and they have retained the same crew as last year. Just to show that they were not taking it easy, Denmark's Kasper Winther, Jacob Larsen, Jacob Barsoe and Morten Joergensen set a new European Best Time. The new time now stands at 5:54.61, just a bit faster than the previous time, set by the Germans in 2010 of 5:54.78.
Great Britain took line honours, and a spot in the final, in Heat Two. They did this by leading from start to finish and giving France, in second, no chance of catching up. Instead France found themselves battling with Spain, but then managed to shake them off in the final sprint. Both France and Spain will meet again in the repechage.
Qualifiers: DEN, GBR
Women's Eight (W8+) - Heats
A total of nine nations entered in this boat class represents the biggest number this field has ever seen at a European Championships. Will this spell the end to Romania's record of taking gold at all seven past European Championships? These nine nations were divided into two heats with the top two in each heat getting a direct path to Sunday's final.
Romania proved that they are again the favourites by making easy work of Heat One over Germany. The Germans finished second last year at the European Champs but were quite far back. Perhaps little has changed this year. Heat Two was much more exciting with the Netherlands and Great Britain going head-to-head at the front of the field. Great Britain kept the upper edge, just, throughout the 2000m race leaving the Netherlands in second and giving them an extra race in the form of a repechage.
Qualifiers: ROU, NED
Men's Eight (M8+) - Heats
A sizeable field, and the biggest ever for men's eights at the European Championships, meant two heats with the top boat in each heat getting to go to Sunday's final. The Olympic Champions, Germany were seeded into Heat One while the World Champions, Great Britain raced in Heat Two. Germany went first and was first for the whole 2000m in Heat One. Full credit to Russia who pushed the Germans hard through the middle of the race and still had enough left for a decent sprint at the end. The Russians may have come second, but they had helped Germany set a new European Best Time. The German time of 5:28.89 was nearly two seconds faster than the previous time set by Poland in 2012. Would Great Britain break that time again in Heat Two?
Heat Two turned out to be tight among four crews. Poland got out to an early lead and managed to build up over a boat length advantage through the middle of the race. The Poles still had a handy lead as they went into the final 500m. Then three boats began to close on Poland. At the line Poland had held off all attackers but the time between the top four crews was less than three seconds.
Qualifiers: GER, POL