Photo finishes feature in the race to make the final at Varese World Rowing Cup
The weather on day two at the World Rowing Cup in Varese, Italy was a change from day one with some waves, cloudy skies and a slight tail-cross wind. This was the picture for today's semifinals that saw athletes racing to make the final. And race they did! A number of races finished in photo finishes and one had a dead heat as the rowers gave it their all to make tomorrow's finals.
Women's Pair (W2-) - Semifinals
Semifinal One featured Germany's Kerstin Hartmann and Kathrin Marchand who recorded a good win in yesterday's heats. They were alongside Italy's Allesandra Patelli and Sara Bertolasi who also won their heat and with a much faster time. And it was Patelli and Bertolasi who were the first to show. The Italian duo has not yet qualified for the Rio Olympics while Hartman and Marchand have already secured a spot. Going through the middle of the race margins were close between Italy, Germany, Spain and Poland. Only one and a half seconds separated them.
The sprint to the line was furious as only three spots were available. Spain's Aina Cidi and Anna Boada Peiro pushed hard and their efforts paid off as they crossed the line just a fraction ahead of Germany. Italy held on to third.
In yesterday's heats South Africa recorded the fastest overall qualifying time. This duo is made up of Kate Christowitz and Lee-Ann Persse with Christowitz new to the boat this year. Christowitz last raced internationally in 2011 at the under-23 level. Persse and Christowitz took off out in front and by the middle of the race they had a handy boat length lead over Italy and Serbia who were in second and third respectively. Persse and Christowitz crossed the line in first with a very fast 7:03 time to earn the fastest overall qualifying time going into tomorrow's final. Italy held on to second and Russia got the better of Serbia to take the third and final qualifying spot.
Qualifiers: ESP, GER, ITA, RSA, ITA, RUS
Men's Pair (M2-) - Semifinals
The fastest qualifier from yesterday's heats was Roel Braas and Mitchel Steenman from the Netherlands. They lined up in Semifinal One in the centre of the field. But it was South Africa that had the slight edge in the opening metres of the race. Braas and Steenman, however, had the lead going through the 1000m mark. The duo finished fourth at last year's World Rowing Championships and they come to Varese as the second highest ranked crew in this boat class. Serbia, who were the 2015 bronze medallists then started to close on the Dutch. Milos Vasic and Nenad Bedik of Serbia are the only Serbian crew that have so far qualified for the Rio Olympics and the expectations of their country must be on them. With the Dutch still in the lead the sprint to the end was intense and intense enough to push Serbia into fourth. The Netherlands, South Africa and Russia qualified for the final.
The Italians took a flyer in Semifinal Two. Niccolo Mornati and Vincenzo Capelli had the home crowd behind them, but they were up against last year's World Champions from the men's coxed pair, Great Britain's Matthew Tarrant and Nathaniel Reilly-O'Donnell. By the half way point the British had pushed into the lead and began to inch away from Italy with Spain in third but not really in striking distance of the two leading boats. This race then turned into a procession as Great Britain led the field over the line and despite their lead they had recorded the fastest overall qualifying time.
Qualifiers: NED, RSA, RUS, GBR, ITA, ESP
Women's Single Sculls (W1x) - Semifinals
Ireland's Sanita Puspure had the fastest qualifying time from the heats and she lined up in Semifinal One to take on Canada's Carling Zeeman. Zeeman has already qualified for the Rio Olympics while Puspure will be hoping to at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in May. It was Puspure that showed early and she had the lead at the half way point over Nataliya Dovgodko of Ukraine. Dovgodko is an Olympic Champion from London where she won the women's quadruple sculls.
Puspure was showing that it pays off to be a single sculling specialist as she moved away from the field. Coming into the final sprint Puspure remained in the lead with a virtual line forming behind her between Dovgodko, Zeeman and Tatsiana Kukhta of Belarus. Puspure had to keep her stroke rate high to keep ahead of the challenging line behind her. The Irish sculler managed it. At the line Puspure, Kukhat and Zeeman qualified for the final.
The London Olympic silver medallist, Fie Udby Erichsen of Denmark got away the quickest in Semifinal Two. Erichsen still needs to qualify for the Rio Olympics after a sub-par 2015 season and she will be using this regatta to prepare for the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta. But by the middle of the race both Switzerland's Gmelin and China's Duan had overtaken Erichsen. Jingli Duan was now in the lead and the 2015 World medallist was showing that last year was not a one-off. Then the 43-year-old Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus did a second half push which got her into the lead. Gmelin tried to hold on to the splendid Karsten and the two scullers went to the finish line together. Karsten got there first, Gmelin second and Duan held on to third.
Qualifiers: IRL, BLR2, CAN, BLR1, SUI, CHN
Men's Single Sculls (M1x) - Semifinals
Sitting in the middle lane of Semifinal One was Damir Martin of Croatia. One of the favourites on the rowing scene, Martin came to the single two years ago when the World Champion Croatian men's quadruple sculls could no longer stay as a crew due to injury. Out in front at the start was Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk of Poland. Wegrzycki-Szymczyk rows at an American university when he's not at an international regatta and so must be able to make an easy transition from sweep rowing to sculling. Martin then closed on Wegrzycki-Szymczyk and in the second half of the race overtook the Pole. Wegrzycki-Szymczyk did his best to hold on to the Croatian with Israel's Dani Fridman now sprinting for his life. At the line Martin had pulled away from Wegrzycki-Szymczyk with Fridman grabbing third. Martin had recorded the fastest qualifying time overall finishing in 6:48.
Cuba's Angel Fournier Rodriguez was the fastest qualifier from the heats and he lined up in Semifinal Two. Fournier rowed away to the lead at the start with Belgium's Hannes Obreno the closest challenger. Fournier has two World Championship medals, but last year did not manage to get on the podium at the World Rowing Championships. Fournier then managed to push away from the field with Finland's Robert Ven now moving well. This field was full of good sprinters and with 500m to go it was still all on for the three finalists. Obreno took his stroke rate to 38 to try and get ahead of Ven, but Ven was also rating high. At the line Fournier remained in front with a very happy Ven taking second and Obreno holding on to qualify from third.
Qualifiers: CRO, POL, ISR, CUB, FIN, BEL
Lightweight Women's Double Sculls (LW2x) - Semifinals
Semifinal One had the fastest qualifier from yesterday's heats, China's Wenyi Huang and Feihong Pan. Huang is the silver medallist in this boat class from the London Olympics and she is here with a new partner in Pan. The Chinese duo got away quickly with a virtual line forming behind them between the rest of the field. This scenario continued through the middle of the race with China securely in first place and the rest of the field all within contention of a second or third place finish. Then the pace of the race began to take its toll. Switzerland dropped back as the Netherland's Ilse Paulis and Elisabeth Woerner came up to challenge China. At the line Huang and Pan had held on to first, Paulis and Woerner took second and Poland were in third.
South Africa's Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler got away the quickest in Semifinal Two. McCann and Grobler finished with a bronze medal from last year's World Rowing Championships and they were being chased by last year's fourth-place finishers, Canada's Patricia Obee and Lindsay Jennerich. At the half way point McCann and Grobler still had the lead with China's Dandan Pan and Miao Wang in second. Pan and Wang then pushed ahead of the South African duo with Obee and Jennerich moving now on the leaders. At the line Canada had got the better of South Africans. They will meet again in tomorrow's final.
Qualifiers: CHN, NED, POL, CHN, CAN, RSA
Lightweight Men's Double Sculls (LM2x) - Semifinals
The first Semifinal saw two Olympic Champion boats line up against each other. Denmark's Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist are the reigning Olympic Champions in this boat class while James Thompson and John Smith of South Africa won the lightweight men's four at the London Olympics. Today Thompson and Smith led the race with Quist and Rasmussen in second. By the half way point the South African duo had built up a small lead. Denmark, meanwhile, had to deal with Spain and Turkey. Quist and Rasmussen upped their stroke rate, but so did Turkey's Huseyin Kandemir and Enes Kusku with Spain's Adria Mitjavila and Rodrigo Conde Romero moving with them. As Thompson and Smith crossed the line they watched three boats fly through to try and claim two qualifying spots. Spain had taken second and Denmark and Turkey were given identical finishing times. As Denmark had beaten Turkey in the previous round of racing, they were given the spot in the final.
Fastest out at the start in Semifinal Two was Switzerland. Then Ireland's O'Donovan brothers pushed into the lead with the Muda twins from the Netherlands now in second. The Muda's had to do an extra race yesterday when they rowed the repechage to make it to today's semifinal. Coming into the final sprint, Ireland remained in the lead. The O'Donovan brothers finished 11th at last year's World Rowing Championships which earned them an Olympic qualification spot for Rio. At the line Ireland remained in first, the Muda twins took second and Belgium were third.
Qualifiers: RSA, ESP, TUR, DEN, IRL, NED, BEL
Lightweight Men's Four (LM4-) - Semifinals
In Semifinal One the Italian crew that recorded the fastest qualifying time from yesterday's heats lined up. Italy left the starting blocks in the pack but with China in the lead. By the middle of the race China remained out in front with Poland in second and the Czech Republic in third. Then, to the crowd's delight, Italy did a big push. The other crews reacted with China managing to secure an open water lead coming into the final sprint. It is not often that you see open water being secured in the lightweight men's four, but China's Jin, Zhao, Yu and Wang had managed it. China took out first place. Germany came through to take second and the Czech Republic just squeezed out Poland to take third.
The reigning World Champions, Switzerland lined up in Semifinal Two. The Swiss had won their heat yesterday indicating that their off season training had gone well. A good chunk of their time had been spent in New Zealand and it looked to have worked for them. Spain got away the fastest at the start in an early and fast race tactic. How long could they hold it? Going through the middle of the race Switzerland had found the lead, but there was very little in it as just three seconds separated the top five boats. The Swiss then managed to break away with Italy, the Netherlands, the United States all sprinting to get into the two remaining qualifying spots. The Dutch had done it with the United States grabbing the final spot. The Swiss winning time of 5:52 was very quick and put them just seven seconds outside of the World Cup Best Time.
Qualifiers: CHN, GER, CZE, SUI, NED, USA