Supremacy - the unbeaten AS single scullers
Both Tom Aggar of Great Britain and Alla Lysenko of Ukraine have won every race they have contested in the AS single sculls. They are unbeaten.
Aggar, who started rowing in 2007, is the four-time World Champion, defending Paralympic Champion and until yesterday, holder of the World Best Time in the AS men’s single sculls. Lysenko is a two-time World Champion and holder of the World Best Time in the AS women’s single sculls. She started rowing in 2009.
How does it feel to be unbeaten and favourite for Paralympic gold?
Lysenko doesn’t like to think about it: “I don’t like it when people call me a leader, or a favourite,” she admitted.
Tom Aggar has a similar attitude. “I’m confident in my preparations but everyone steps up their game at the Paralympics so all I can do is my personal best and hope that is good enough.”
Yesterday, during the heats, their unbeaten streak was maintained, although fresh challenges to their supremacy reared their heads. Aggar had a fast start in his heat, before taking his foot off the gas in the second half of the race to cruise to a five second victory over Korea’s Jun Ha Park, much to the home crowd’s delight.
“The race went to plan. On Sunday, I just want to go out there and produce my personal best,” said Aggar.
Will his personal best be good enough? Capacity crowds at Eton-Dorney were surprised to see emergence of Cheng Huang of China who won his heat and in the process smashed Aggar’s World Best Time. Russia’s Aleksey Chuvashev, one of Aggar’s rivals over the past few years, was also inside Aggar’s previous best time in the heats finishing just behind Huang.
“Rowing means a lot in my life,” commented Huang, “and I have trained very hard for this. I am happy to compete in my first Paralympic Games.”
Aggar and Huang progressed directly to the final and were able to watch the repechages on Saturday from in comfort. Meanwhile, following Saturday’s repechages, Chuvashev, Park, Erik Horrie of Australia and Luciano Luna de Oliveira of Brazil will join Huang and Aggar in the final.
When asked about the rowing the repechages, Horrie was relaxed: "It didn't concern me. That's the joys of rowing. There is no easy option. I had a good row, I enjoyed it. I would have been out on the water today anyway. I will approach the final the same as today. I am confident, but I'll take nothing for granted. Everyone is in there fighting for a medal."
Luna de Oliveira qualified for the men’s single at the Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta in May this year and he appears to be getting stronger with each row.
“I am very happy because in the heat I was passed at the end by the Ukraine and New Zealand rowers and this time I passed them,” said Luna de Oliveira. “I am very confident for the final. I'll have to row another strong race but I'm willing to do what it takes."
In the AS women’s single sculls, Lysenko’s strength still looks formidable following Friday’s heats, but in her own words: “Nobody knows about the final on Sunday. It could be hard today and easy on Sunday, or easy today and hard in the final. It’s unpredictable.”
Liudmila Vauchok of Belarus is likely to be a strong challenger. Vauchok, a Winter Paralympic gold medallist in skiing and silver medallist in the single from the Beijing Paralympic Games, won her heat in the single and is yet to race Lysenko at this regatta.
“It’s better to be able to give my all in the final. My plan was to get straight to the final. For the final, I will ask that God helps me,” said Vauchok.
Nathalie Benoit of France, who raced Lysenko in the heats, finishing second, will also be in the quest for the medals after winning her repechage on Saturday over Joan Reid of Canada.
Benoit remained realistic about her chances: "Tomorrow will be difficult because we all know who is going to win. Even if she is ill, I think Lysenko will still have enough. The rest of us are fighting for two places on the podium."
Moran Samuel of Israel and Claudia Santos of Brazil will also challenge after progressing from the repechage.
Moran Samuel’s enthusiasm is contagious: “I'm so excited. I can't explain how I feel. The crowd is amazing, they gave me enormous strength. It was important to win today to get a good lane. My first race is always my worst, so I always have to race the repechages."
She also agreed with Benoit - Lysenko is the sculler to beat: "We all want to win gold but realistically Lysenko is unbeatable. There are four other strong competitors fighting for two medals."
The AS women’s single sculls final will be raced at 10:50 (GMT) on Sunday 2 September, 2012 and the AS men’s single sculls final will get under way at 11:10 (GMT).