Testing the limits at the European Championships
A chilly, tail wind day helped more European Best Times fall on day two at the 2014 European Rowing Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.
In the semifinal races athletes must have known that going into the record book was on the cards. Rather than trying to just finish in the top three and qualify for the final, race after race saw crews go for that top spot.
For the crowds along the edge of Sava Lake this meant a top rate display of racing while media from around the world ran to check the record books.
Lightweight Men's Pair (LM2-) - Semifinals
Semifinal One featured the new European Best Time holders from yesterday's heats, Sam Scrimgeour and Jonathan Clegg of Great Britain. Scrimgeour and Clegg took off quickly followed closely by fellow heat winners, Tim Weerkamp and Ive de Graar of the Netherlands. This battle between the British and the Dutch drew them completely away from the rest of the field and in these tail wind conditions there must have been high expectations for a fast finishing time.
At the finish Weerkamp and Graar had the upper hand. They not only had crossed ahead of Scrimgeour and Clegg but also annihilated the Best Time from yesterday. Weerkamp and Graar had recorded 6:35.00. The British had to settle for second, but they still qualify for the final.
This new European Best Time, however, did not last long. Switzerland's Simon Niepmann and Lucas Tramer made the most of the tail wind and stormed down the course to a time of 6:33.05 in Semifinal Two. Niepmann and Tramer are the reigning European Champions and they are looking good going into tomorrow's final with this steaming fast time. France came through in second with third, fourth and fifth crossing the line within centimetres of each other. A photo finish gave Italy the third and final qualifying spot.
Qualifiers: NED, GBR, GER, SUI, FRA, ITA
Lightweight Men's Single Sculls (LM1x) - Semifinals
Germany's Daniel Lawitzke got out fast in Semifinal A. This lead by Lawitzke lasted through to the middle of the race when Marcello Miani of Italy pushed into the lead. Miani, an accomplished Olympian is much more experienced than Lawitzke who has had mixed results in the past. Lawitzke, however, was not giving up and a big final sprint brought the German back into the lead.
Yesterday in the heats Portugal's best Pedro Fraga set a new European Best Time. Today Fraga did it again in Semifinal Two. Fraga finished second at last year's European Championships and has been recording great results in the single since his 2012 Olympic lightweight double racing. Fraga went through the middle of the race with a slight lead over Michael Schmid of Switzerland. Fraga then chipped away at his lead before gearing up for a huge sprint which saw him cross the line in a time of 6:54.79. This time was nearly two seconds faster than the Best Time that Fraga set yesterday. Schmid took second and Andrej Bendtsen of Denmark qualified from third. Fraga now goes into the final with high expectations of turning silver into gold.
Qualifiers: GER, ITA, GBR, POR, SUI, DEN
Lightweight Women's Single Sculls (LW1x) - Semifinals
The first of two semifinals, Semifinal One, featured the reigning under-23 World Champion and reigning European Champion, Aikaterini Nikolaidou of Greece. Hungary's Dorottya Bene got off the line the quickest, but Nikolaidou had moved into the lead by the middle of the race followed closely by Bene and Marie-Anne Frenken of the Netherlands. Frenken set a new European Best Time in yesterday's heats and there was much interest over how she would fare against the talented Nikolaidou.
Nikolaidou then managed to push away and at the line she had snatched the European Best Time from Frenken with a time of 7:38.77. And just to make sure no one had any question who was the best Nikolaidou's time was nearly four seconds faster than Frenken's time.
It may have been Charlotte Taylor's first international event representing Great Britain but that didn't faze the Brit as she took out in the lead of Semifinal Two. Taylor, 28, is a late bloomer on the international scene and she looked to be debuting in style as she tussled with the experienced Leonie Pless of Germany at the head of the field. Coming into the final sprint Pless had got her bow ball in front. But Taylor wasn't giving up. In a huge sprint to the line Taylor gave it her all to regain the lead, Pless tried to hold on as Denmark and Belgium charged for the line. Taylor got there first. Eveline Peleman of Belgium was second and Pless only just held on to third over Denmark and Italy.
Qualifiers: GRE, NED, HUN, GBR, BEL, GER
Men's Pair (M2-) - Semifinals
The first half of Semifinal One saw an incredibly tight battle go on between Serbia, Spain and Germany. By that important half-way point Serbia's Veselin Savic and Dusan Bogicevic had a slight edge. But that edge was soon lost as Bastian Bechler and Anton Braun of Germany got their bow ball just in front. In the sprint to the line Spain let Germany and Serbia make the decisions, with Germany deciding for first.
The reigning World Champions, Rogier Blink and Mitchel Steenman of the Netherlands, may not have been the fastest crew out of the blocks in Semifinal Two, but they were the fastest at the other end of the 2000m course. With a rather strong tail wind confronting the athletes, the water at the start line was quite challenging and maybe that made Blink and Steenman a bit more cautious. But by the middle of the race Blink and Steenman had the lead, just a fraction ahead of Italy's Marco Di Costanzo and Matteo Castaldo.
The Dutch duo then managed to get a slight margin and hold it to the end. Italy took second and Great Britain were third. These crews will meet again in tomorrow's final.
Qualifiers: GER, SRB, ESP, NED, ITA, GBR
Lightweight Men's Double Sculls (LM2x) - Semifinals
It must feel good to break out into top-flight racing after spending a long off-season in training, and World Champions Kristoffer Brun and Are Strandli of Norway seem to have found their stride in Semifinal One. Brun and Strandli had a very easy time of it in their heat yesterday, but today Germany's Konstantin Steinhuebel and Lars Hartig (fifth-place finishers from the 2013 World Rowing Championships) did not let Norway relax even for one stroke. Still neck-and-neck coming into the final sprint both crews were set to qualify, but neither was willing to give up. At the line a slightly better sprint by Brun and Strandli gave them first place.
The top two boats in each of the four heats would earn a direct path to the semifinals. For these lightweight rowers, conserving energy is important, so avoiding a repechage must have been on the top of 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.
But the World Champions better watch out. In Semifinal Two the fastest qualifying time was set by Stany Delayre and Jeremie Azou of France. After this duo finished fourth at the London Olympics they vowed to come back and go for gold in Rio 2016. They continued this mission on the water of Sava Lake. Delayre and Azou rowed a very controlled race at the head of the field first being challenged by Hungary, then by Switzerland, and finally by Italy. Delayre and Azou handled them with aplomb and go to the final as the favourites. Italy's Andrea Micheletti and Pietro Ruta came through in second with last year's World Championship medallists, Simon Schuerch and Marion Gyr of Switzerland taking third.
Qualifiers: NOR, GER, NED, FRA, ITA, SUI
Lightweight Women's Double Sculls (LW2x) - Semifinals
From the heats Lena Mueller and Anja Noske of Germany had the fastest time and they again proved their boat speed in Semifinal One. Mueller and Noske qualified for the London Olympics at the last minute and went on to race in the final at the Olympics. They have remained together since then to record a bronze medal at last year's World Rowing Championships. By the middle of the race Mueller and Noske had a boat length lead over the field with Poland in second. The British, featuring Imogen Walsh and Olympic Champion Katherine Copeland then attacked, moving their boat into second and closing on the Germans.
At the line Germany had remained just in front with Great Britain qualifying from second and Poland's Joanna Dorociak and Weronika Deresz taking third.
The World and European Champions, Laura Miliani and Elisabetta Sancassani of Italy must have the eyes of the Italian nation on them as the most successful crew for Italy in 2013. Today, again, Miliani and Sancassani did not disappoint. Not known as fast starters the duo came out at the back of the field with Cecilia Lilja and Emma Fredh of Sweden in the lead. The Swedes have been rowing together for a couple of years and at the 2013 European Championships they finished fifth.
Two seconds separated the top four boats as they came into the final sprint with Italy now having moved up to second. One of these four would miss out on qualifying at the end. Miliani and Sancassani made sure it wasn't them by taking first. Sweden took second and the Netherlands squeezed out Romania to take third.
Qualifiers: GER, GBR, POL, ITA, SWE, NED
Men's Four (M4-) - Semifinals
What do you do when you're out in front and have built up a sizeable open water lead? If you are the British men's four you keep on pushing. Triggs Hodge, Nash, Sbihi and Gregory had a huge six second lead with just 500m left to row in Semifinal One. But Italy, in second, had not given up. Upping the tempo, the Italians of Gabbia, Perino, Abagnale and Vicino drove their legs down to get closer to the British. At the line the Italians had closed the gap, but remained in second. Germany came through to qualify from third.
The British set a new European Best Time yesterday. Today they had to settle with making the fastest qualifying time. In Semifinal Two Greece's Tsilis, Angelopoulos, Tziallas and Christou got out the quickest while World Champions, the Netherlands came out in fourth position. But by the middle of the race the Dutch, who have had to change their World Champion crew due to injury, were in second and pressing the Greeks.
Greece, however, kept their cool and the lead ... right through to the end. Greece has seen the return to international rowing three members of their fourth-placed Olympic four and it looks like there was no getting slower during their time out of the international scene. Greece was first with the Netherlands, taking second and Russia, coached by former Canadian coach Mike Spracklen, was in third.
Qualifiers: GBR, ITA, GER, GRE, NED, RUS
Men's Double Sculls (M2x) - Semifinals
In the heats yesterday Germany's Hans Gruhne and Stephan Krueger not only recorded the fastest qualifying time but also set a new European Best Time. Today they showed that it was no fluke when they got into the lead in Semifinal One. Azerbaijan had the lead at the start, but Gruhne and Krueger soon took over with the Netherlands pushing hard. This was an impressive move by the Dutch who come from last year's men's quadruple sculls boat that raced in the B Final at the World Rowing Championships.
The Netherlands not only held their pace but also continued to challenge the Germans. At the line Gruhne and Krueger had only just been able to hold off Thijs van Luijk and Dirk Uittenbogaard of the Netherlands. Both these crews will race again in tomorrow's final along with Azerbaijan.
The World Champions, Norway (Nils Jakob Hoff and Kjetil Borch) got out just a bit faster than Lithuania (Rolandas Mascinskas and Saulius Ritter) in Semifinal Two. By the middle of the race it had turned into two battles - Norway and Lithuania in one battle and Serbia and Great Britain in another. This remained the picture right to the end as the crowds cheered on their Serbian boat to the line. At the end Norway had managed to just get the better of Lithuania to win and also clock the fastest qualifying time while Great Britain inched out Serbia to knock the Serbians out of the final.
Qualifiers: GER, NED, AZE, NOR, LTU, GBR
Men's Single Sculls (M1x) - Semifinals
After a slight delay due to a false start, Semifinal One got under way featuring the 2013 World Champion, Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic and the 2013 bronze medallist, Marcel Hacker of Germany. Both of these scullers have been regulars on the single sculling scene for years with Hacker, 37, medalling back at the 2000 Olympics. The younger Synek, 31, then pushed the nose of his boat to a bit of a lead just before the 1000m mark and looked to be doing just enough to hold off Hacker. Meanwhile, behind the two leaders Bulgaria was being challenged by Belarus's Stanislau Shcharbachenia. As Bulgaria ran out of steam, the big finishing sprint by Shcharbachenia brought him into a qualifying spot.
At the head of the field Synek remained just ahead in first with Hacker settling for second.
An easy heat for Mindaugas Griskonis of Lithuania yesterday must have played well for him in today's Semifinal Two. Griskonis got out into the lead and never looked back. Griskonis is a former European Champion and he started off his 2014 season by finishing second at the World Rowing Cup in Sydney. Following Griskonis was Belgium's Hannes Obreno and Alan Campbell of Great Britain. Campbell used to be the one who was always in front at the start but recently he looks like he's trying a more steady pace through the race. Today Campbell let Obreno play around in second for a while before overtaking him. Griskonis remained in first and moves on to the final along with Campbell and Obreno.
Qualifiers: CZE, GER, BLR, LTU, GBR, BEL
Women's Single Sculls (W1x) - Semifinals
Up and coming star and last year's World Championship fourth-place finisher, Magdalena Lobnig of Austria led the way in Semifinal One. Was her youthful exuberance coming too early in the race? By the half way point Lobnig still had the lead with Olympic Champion Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic closing on her. By the third 500 Knapkova had got her boat in front.
Meanwhile Switzerland's Jeannine Gmelin and Julia Levina of Russia were going stroke for stroke in lanes one and two respectively. Gmelin then upped her rating and not only moved away from Levina, she also overtook Lobnig. In the final sprint, Knapkova crossed the line first, with Lobnig, Levina and Gmelin crossing almost at the same time. Gmelin had missed out. Lobnig and Levina join Knapkova in the final.
Coming out of the World Champion quadruple sculls and into the single in Semifinal Two was Annekatrin Thiele of Germany. Thiele led the pack out of the start and through the middle of the race. But Thiele's leading margin was slim, with only two seconds separating the top four crews. This race was now nothing short of a nose-to-nose battle. Then, Nataliya Dovgodko of Ukraine started to fall off the pace with Ireland's Olympian Sanita Puspure right on top of Thiele.
In the final sprint former Olympic eights rower, Chantal Achterberg of the Netherlands pulled out a massive piece and jumped into the lead. At the line Achterberg qualified for the final from first, Puspure took second and Thiele hung on to third. These crews will meet again in tomorrow's final.
Qualifiers: CZE, AUT, RUS, NED, IRL, GER