Synek or Drysdale - the singles duel continues
For the past ten years, the world of rowing has been captivated by the men’s single sculls and the battle between New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale and the Czech Republic’s Ondrej Synek.
World Rowing continues its series of reviews highlighting the best performances in each Olympic boat class over the past year.
Nine Olympic qualification spots were up for grabs in the single at this year’s World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette, France.
The first two Olympic qualifications spots went to Synek and Drysdale. Both men appeared on the international single sculling scene in 2005. Drysdale won gold while Synek took bronze. They have been racing each other ever since. To date, Drysdale has won five World Championship titles and Synek has four. Drysdale won Olympic bronze in 2008 and Olympic gold in 2012. Synek has two Olympic silver medals to his name. The World Best Time set by Drysdale in 2009 is still standing today.
Through this current Olympic cycle, Synek has retained the upper hand. The Czech sculler won all of the last three World Championship titles, pushing Drysdale into second. This has often come after a low ranking World Cup season. What could have been considered out of shape actually was, in the end, a carefully planned strategy by Synek to gradually build up his form during the season to peak in time for the World Championships.
Chasing the leaders with consistency has been 2015 bronze medallist Mindaugas Griskonis of Lithuania. Last year Griskonis finished fourth at the World Rowing Championships and he seems to be steadily moving up the ranks.
Norway’s two-time Olympic Champion in the men’s single sculls, Olaf Tufte, came back into the picture this year. Since his second Olympic title in Beijing, he has not medalled at World Championship or Olympic level and often finished regattas racing in the lesser finals. At this year’s European Rowing Championships, however, Tufte earned his first international medal since 2010 – a bronze. He later went on to finish fourth in Aiguebelette, qualifying for what will be his fifth Olympic Games.
A new name in single sculling came to the fore at the European Rowing Championships, with Croatia’s Damir Martin taking the title. Martin is a multi-world medallist from the men’s quadruple sculls and also an Olympic silver medallist in the quad from London 2012. When a back injury kept him away from competition in 2014, two of his former teammates, the Sinkovic brothers, formed a winning double combination. So this year Martin turned to the single. By finishing fifth at the World Rowing Championships, he qualified Croatia for the Olympic Games.
Belarus' Stanislau Shcharbachenia is another new face in the single. He first appeared on the World Rowing scene in 2001 as a junior when he won silver at the World Rowing Junior Championships in the men’s four. Shcharbachenia has competed at three Olympic Games in various boat classes and since 2014 he has been competing internationally in the single. At World Rowing Cup II in Varese this year he won bronze behind Cuba’s Angel Fournier Rodriguez and Drysdale.
The Cuban single sculler Rodriguez, last year’s World Championship bronze medallist, finished sixth this year at the worlds and can thereby look forward to his third Olympic participation.
Another comeback this year included Great Britain’s Alan Campbell. After a disappointing year in 2014, he demonstrated his ongoing medal potential by winning bronze at World Rowing Cup III in Lucerne. By finishing eighth in Aiguebelette, the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist in the single qualified his boat for what should be his fourth Olympic Games.
Poland was the last qualifier in Aiguebelette for Rio 2016 in the single. At age 20, Natan Wegrzcki-Szymczk began competing internationally in the single as a junior just a few years ago. He is the World Junior Champion from 2013 and went on to win under-23 World Champion silver in 2014 and bronze in 2015.
The final qualification spots will be earned at the three Olympic Continental Qualification Regattas – nine spots for Asia and Oceania, four spots for Africa and six spots for the Americas and then the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta which will have three spots.