Coming to Rotterdam after racing in the single at the Rio Olympics, Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk of Poland claimed seventh in the World from the Olympics. Wegrzycki-Szymczyk has spent most of his international rowing career in the single and is the junior World Champion from 2013. Currently studying and rowing at a United States university (University of California, Berkeley), Wegrzycki-Szymczyk has learnt to swap between collegiate rowing in an eight and then back into the single for his international season.  

 “I wasn’t really that stressed. I didn’t feel that much pressure because I knew it would be hard for me to win a medal, so I was just trying to do my best without this pressure from media, from coaches, from everyone. I was just trying to enjoy the time there,” says Wegrzycki-Szymczyk.

“It was great to be at the village, a great atmosphere with athletes around the world. You would walk to the dining hall and see Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps.”

Wegrzycki-Szymczyk began rowing when he was ten years old and followed in his father’s footsteps. His father was a rower. “The first years were not really serious. I couldn’t compete because there are some rules in Poland that you can’t compete before 13 or 14 years old. So the first few years I was just rowing alone in a single. Year after year I just improved and it got more interesting.”

Despite taking the fastest qualifying time in the semifinals here in Rotterdam, Wegrzycki-Szymczyk is very much aware of his competition, especially Michal Plocek. “I’ve raced Michal for many, many years. He has always beaten me. We know each other pretty well.”

Michal Plocek, under-23 men's single sculls, CZE © FISA

From the Czech Republic, Plocek sits in the shadow of fellow countryman, Olympic medallist Ondrej Synek. But Plocek is making quite a large shadow. Plocek is the 2014 under-23 World Champion in the men’s single. In 2015 he moved into the men’s double and attempted to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Plocek missed out – but only just. He calls it one of his most proudest results.

Like Wegrzycki-Szymczuk, Plocek got into rowing as a ten-year-old and he is now in his last year as an under-23 rower. “This is my last regatta in under-23s and I want to enjoy it. I want to win, but it doesn’t matter if I win or not,” says Plocek. “I am already U23 champion, so that was amazing for me. If I win a medal, it will be great. But if I win gold and the title, it will be the best.”

Plocek is looking beyond under-23s to the day he can be ahead of Synek in the single and become the single sculler for the Czech Republic. “My goal now is to beat Synek. I want to be the best single sculler in our country. Maybe even win a gold medal in the Olympics.” If Synek stays rowing the single Plocek says then he is prepared to row in the double and he has his sights set on both Tokyo 2020 and the 2024 Olympic Games.

Youngest of the three rowers, Tim Ole Naske of Germany is 20 years old. However he already has ten years of rowing behind him. His father was a rower and encouraged Ole Naske to take up the sport.

Ole Naske’s international record is impressive. He is the junior World Champion from both 2013 and 2014. At the Youth Olympic Games in 2014, Ole Naske won the men’s single. He then went on to become the under-23 World Champion in the double in 2015.

Ole Naske raced at the senior level in the men’s double sculls this season and he says the higher level from under-23 racing was very noticeable. “I was surprised how fast the starts were and how fast the rowers kept in. The race pace was a lot higher.”

For Ole Naske future plans include the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games – potentially in the single.

Watch the final on Friday 26 August 2016 at 17:15 CET on www.worldrowing.com