By the narrowest of margins: the lightweight men’s double
It’s been an Olympic event since 1996 and since then the lightweight men’s double sculls has been known for incredible finishing sprints and tight, tight margins across the finish line. We look back at the last Olympiad and then look forward to the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021.
Recap of last four years:
• 2019 World Championships: IRL, ITA, GER, NOR, ESP, POL
• 2018 World Championships: IRL, ITA, BEL, NZL, NOR, ESP
• 2017 World Championships: FRA, ITA, CHN, POL, BEL, GER
Must watch: The 2020 European Rowing Championships was one of the few major events this past year and the lightweight men’s double sculls was a final to remember. Italy, Germany and Belgium crossed the line all within a second of each other in a race that shows how fierce this boat class will be at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021. Relive the excitement of this race here.
Closest medal race: The final at the 2019 World Rowing Cup III is the closest medal race of the quadrennial. Slowly extending their lead over the pack through the first 1500m of the race, Ireland’s Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan looked poised for victory with Norway and Germany almost two seconds back vying for silver. Then as the race neared its end, Germany surged forward bow-to-bow with Ireland, crossing the line a mere 0.03 seconds apart with Germany’s Jonathan Rommelmann and Jason Osborne taking gold. Norway’s Kristoffer Brun and Are Strandli were only 0.67 seconds off the leaders for bronze. Watch the race here.
World best time: 6:05.36 (RSA). South African duo John Smith and James Thompson raced the current World best time during the final at the 2014 World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam. Watch that race here. The previous World best time was 6:10.02 set in 2007. Great Britain’s Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase hold the current Olympic best time of 6:10.99 with their gold medal performance at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Performance of the Olympiad: Even with their absence at the 2017 World Rowing Championships and again at the 2020 European Rowing Championships, Ireland have consistently been the crew to beat through this quadrennial.
Classic quote: “For me, it’s magic.” Stafano Oppo, Italy, gold, 2020 European Rowing Championships, Poznan, POL
Olympic qualifiers to date: IRL, ITA, GER, NOR, ESP, POL, BEL, ALG (8 of 18 spots)
The ramification of an ‘extra year’: The hair-splitting finish at this year’s European Rowing Championship final is an example – at least in part – of what could have been in 2020. Not all qualified crews took part, but the top performers were in Olympic form. Clearly the margins for improvement are tight. Yet there are some big unknowns with the likes of Ireland and Norway absent from that race. The extra time to make even more marginal gains is probably being counted as both a blessing and a curse.
Olympic prediction: Following their surprise silver medal at the Rio 2016 Games, Ireland’s Paul and Gary O’Donovan became media sensations as their nation’s first Olympic rowing medalists. Far from being a flash in the pan, the small island nation has since shown its dominance in the event and are serious contenders for Olympic gold in Tokyo. Phenomenal and consistent performances throughout the quadrennial especially from Italy and Germany make this a race to watch. With such close finishes and so much on the line, which nation takes home Olympic gold is anyone’s guess.
Fun fact: During the lightweight men’s double’s six appearances to date since the boat class’s first inclusion on the Olympic progamme at the Atlanta 1996 Games, only twice has the previous year’s World Champion gone on to win Olympic gold. Switzerland did it at Atlanta 1996 and France at Rio 2016.