The Rowing Has Begun! Olympic Heats
Perfect millpond conditions greeted the rowers and spectators at the Schinias Rowing/Canoeing Centre north of Athens for the opening day of one of the very first events at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Just when athletes expected strong tail wind conditions, an unexpected head wind picked up as the morning progressed making the flags of 55 nations fly in the breeze.
Moussa, a first for Egypt
The potential unpredictability of the weather meant that rowers in today's heats would be aiming for a direct path to the final or semi-final (depending on the number of initial entries).
This led to some fast racing and intense competition.
WOMEN'S SINGLE SCULL
What better way to open the 2004 Olympic Regatta than with one of the very best single scullers in the world from one of the world's top rowing nations and a first for Egypt - relatively new to the world of international rowing. Kathrin Rutschow-Stomporowski of Germany finished third at Sydney and is one of the gold medal contenders this year and Egypt's Doaa Moussa is the first ever woman to compete for Egypt at the Olympics in rowing. This is how the race unfolded.
Carolina Luethi of Switzerland
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With first place only going directly to the semi-final no other boats challenged the 2001 World Champion and three-time Olympian. Rutschow-Stomporowski had already brought her rating down to a comfortable 30 strokes per minute by the 400 metre mark and her superiority over nearest rival Carolina Luethi of Switzerland was patently clear.
The race turned into a procession as Luethi accepted her path to the repechage and the field remained spread out with Moussa bringing up the rear. Rutschow-Stomporowski moves on to the semi-final and all other racers will return for the repechage.
New Zealand's Sonia Waddell has only raced once in Europe ever since earning her Olympic spot at last year's World Championships. At the Dutch Holland Beker regatta Waddell finished second to Olympic Champion Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus and ahead of overall World Cup winner Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic. Today Waddell faced Knapkova again and took out of the starting blocks at a healthy clip to be in the lead.
Mirka Knapkova, Czech Republic
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Getting almost a length over Knapkova, Waddell was looking comfortable when Knapkova decided to attack. Waddell did not react and Knapkova, underrating Waddell, was able to push past the New Zealander and move out to a large lead.
Waddell will return for the repechage along with the rest of the field while Knapkova moves on to the semi-final with the fastest qualifying time.
She's the current Olympic Champion. She also won in Atlanta in 1996 and she's been rowing for over two decades. Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus put the rest of the field in their place by getting out to a clear lead over nearest rival Jen Devine of the United States. Lately Karsten has shown uneven form and style, but today, under no pressure, Karsten demonstrated the technique that has put her at the top of the world so frequently. By the end of the race Karsten looked like she was taking a stroll with her young daughter. Behind her Devine, who qualified for Athens in June, chose not to challenge. She will return, along with the rest of the field, to race the repechage.
Current World Champion Rumyana Neykova of Bulgaria has not won a medal all season. But after losing to Karsten by 1/100 of a second at the Sydney Olympics, she will want to be in her best form at these Olympics. Today she comfortably led the race and, wearing a large-brimmed hat, she is obviously ready for the Athens heat and not prepared to risk the heat exhaustion that struck her last year at the World Cup in Milan.
Neykova chose to test her final sprint as she came into the closing stretch of the race. In front of the early morning crowds in the grandstands Neykova increased her stroke rate and raced the clock. Behind her Russia's Irina Fedotova, although keeping the power on and her rating up, was outclassed by Neykova and will return to race the repechage.
Men's single scullers heat start
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MEN'S SINGLE SCULL
The biggest event of the Olympics has 29 countries competing for the coveted top spots. This is one less than originally qualified for the Olympics as Tunisia chose not to send their entry. One from each of the six heats would move on to the semi-final and so the race was on for the lead.
Belgium's Tim Maeyens has been coming along this season in leaps and bounds. Only just qualifying for the Olympics in the eleventh hour, at the final qualification regatta in June, Maeyens then went back to finish university exams. Today Maeyens led Andre Vonarburg of Switzerland by getting out to a solid start and lengthening the lead over the Swiss. No one challenged Maeyens' lead in a race that turned into a procession.
This morning in perfect Schinias conditions Vaclav Chalupa of the Czech Republic lined up for his fourth Olympics. Chalupa is one of the senior members of this event with his winning heyday occurring in the early 1990s. But this year he put himself back in leading contention by taking gold at the second World Cup. Chalupa has been working to make his starts faster and today he was in the lead over Davor Mizerit of Slovenia within the first 500 metres.
Chalupa left Mizerit to tussle with Craig Jones of Australia looking back on them from his leading position. Behind them Egypt's opening ceremony flag bearer, Aly Aly Ibrahim slipped further back.
Chalupa remained in the lead and moves directly on to Thursday's semi-finals. After the race Chalupa said, "this was my standard performance. I expected more wind. If there is wind it is no problem, I like rough conditions."
Santiago Fernandez of Argentina qualified by finishing eighth at last year's World Championships and today he put himself directly into the semi-final by winning heat three. Behind him Uzbekistan's Vladimir Tchernenko was putting up a good fight from second position. But as Tchernenko began to feel the heat, Raphael Hartl of Austria took advantage of the situation and pushed into second.
But this race was all about Fernandez and from his leading position he was not going to allow Hartl get within striking distance of his direct trip to the semi-final. Hartl didn't and will return for the repechage.
Olaf Tufte of Norway during first day of heats at Schinias
© Dominik Keller
Despite being current World Champion, Olaf Tufte of Norway has been beaten twice this season but then showed his winning form by taking gold at the final World Cup regatta in June. Today he qualified directly for the semi-final with the fastest time by leading from start to finish. But Tufte did not have it all his own way. Great Britain's Ian Lawson qualified for the Olympics only just in June and has come down from altitude to show the Olympic world what he can do. Lawson pushed Tufte hard through the first half of the race but that was all that he was willing to give.
As the second half of the race got under way Tufte moved further and further ahead of the rest of the field leaving Lawson to return for the repechage.
Marcel Hacker of Germany is always willing to give the audience their money's worth and spice up the action and today was no exception in what was one of the biggest upsets of the day - nearly. The 2002 World Champion and 2000 Olympic bronze medalist, Hacker got out to his accustomed position of the lead sitting just up on Hui Su of China. Su was putting on a fine display at his first Olympic Games and although Hacker was starting to move away from the field Su tried to hold on sitting firmly in second.
But the race was far from over. Behind Su a lot of action was happening. Cuba's Yuleidys Cascaret Iznaga in his first international race for 2004 was going head to head with Dirk Lippits of the Netherlands. Lippits, despite his new heat reducing helmet, described for its Sydney Opera House shape, was still outside qualifying range.
As the race continued into the final 500 metre sprint the Cascaret Iznaga - Lippits battle was putting the heat on Su and the pressure on field leader Hacker. The sprint was well and truly on. Su tried to join in but started to slip back. Lippits was hanging with Cascaret Iznaga. And Cascaret Iznaga seemed to have his sights set on dethroning Hacker.
In the final metres Cascaret Iznaga moved closer and closer to Hacker. But the leader hung on. Hacker goes directly to the semi-final and Cascaret Iznaga will return for Monday's repechage.
Ivo Yanakiev of Bulgaria saw his greatest success at the 2000 Olympics when he finished fifth in the world. Since then his results have been sporadic and at last year's qualification regatta Yanakiev missed out on an Olympic spot by just one position. The Bulgarian then had to come back and do it the hard way through the final qualification chance in June. He did it. Today Yanakiev took on single sculling stalwart Jueri Jaanson of Estonia keeping ahead of him for the first half of the race.
Jaanson, despite his lengthy experience, has been out of the Olympic medals and has decided this is his year. A piece through the third 500 by Jaanson put him ahead of Yanakiev who did not react. Jaanson remained in the lead which places him one step closer to the final.
After the race Jaanson said, "I expected a tail wind, but it was a head wind which I don't like much. It was very hard."
They have been hanging on the edge of gold medaldom for the last couple of years finishing with silver in 2003 but today Yuliya Bichyk and Natallia Helakh of Belarus unveiled their Olympic form by leading current World Champions Cath Bishop and Katherine Grainger of Great Britain. Bichyk and Helakh had the lead from the beginning and kept the power on through the middle of the race to move further and further away from Great Britain.
Bishop and Grainger, however, did not give up and despite an open water deficit on Belarus both boats chose to sprint. Belarus remained comfortably in front and move directly to the final for their effort.
Georgeta Andrunache and Viorica Susanu of Romania hold the status of current Olympic Champions and spent 2001 and 2002 on the top level of the podium before being toppled by Great Britain last year. Today from their middle lane they took off with Canada's Darcey Marquardt and Buffy Williams hanging on.
Marquardt and Williams never got a chance to race this season after injury kept Williams on the sidelines so today was their unveiling. And unveil they did - for half of the race. Feeling the Andrunache - Susanu power, the Canadians decided to back off in the second half of the race leaving the direct path to the final an absolute walk in the park for the Romanians.
Meanwhile, a third place finish slipped back to last when a crab not only stopped the boat but also tossed New Zealand's Juliette Haigh into the drink. After umpire help the New Zealanders rowed to the finish and on to the repechage.
"This is a very democratic sport," official race side commentator, Paul Castle noted afterwards. "This can happen to anybody, even at the top level."
After the race Williams said, "We are really happy with our first 1000 metres. It was good to have the Romanians in the first heat because it was a test for us. We like pressure and even if we didn't get through to the semi-final, even with one day of rest less we don't mind."
Multiple medal winner from Canada Marnie McBean commented that the Canadian duo did well especially as it is a new combinations. "The expectations are very high on the Canadians," said McBean.
Despite staying in Australia for the 2004 season World Champions Drew Ginn and James Tomkins have already got themselves a northern hemisphere tan and an attitude. The duo shot out at the start of heat one and soon had half a boat length over Nikola Stojic and Mladen Stegic of Serbia & Montenegro. Keeping long at the catch the perfectly synchronised Ginn and Tomkins made the job look easy as they moved to a boat length lead over Stojic and Stegic. Behind them Toby Garbett and Rick Dunn of Great Britain were holding on to Stojic and Stegic.
With the top three spots offering a direct path to the semi-final the pressure was pretty much off these leading crews, but none of them chose to accept that. Despite their lead Ginn and Tomkins kept the power on while Great Britain challenged Serbia & Montenegro for second. The order remained the same and all three boats move to the final.
Cech and di Clemente go straight to the semi-final
South Africa's Don Cech and Ramon di Clemente have been the most consistent crew on the medal dias ever since 2001. This year as the sole rowing representatives for their country Cech and di Clemente are after gold. But Croatia's Niksa and Sinisa Skelin, who come from winning bronze in the eight at Sydney, also want the coveted gold and today they stuck to the South Africans like glue. The two boats were still neck and neck coming into the final sprint with the United States sitting in third.
The Skelins chose to let Cech and di Clemete take the line in the final sprint and both boats along with the United States move on to the semi-final.
It took until the 15th race of the day for the audience at Schinias to witness one of the closest battles and the first real upset of the day. As the first 500 metres got under way all four boats were in the hunt for the three qualifying spots. Barely one second separated them. Going through the 700 metre mark the field began to open up slightly with Canada's Dave Calder and new partner, Chris Jarvis in the lead, if only just, over New Zealand's George Bridgewater and Nathan Twaddle.
Calder and Jarvis kept the lead through the half way point, but a powerful piece at the 1200 propelled Bridgewater and Twaddle into the lead over the strong Canadians. Jarvis and Calder, sitting much more upright than the Canadian men have shown in recent years, were faltering with Jarvis resorting to yanking at the finish in hopes of regaining the lead. It didn't work. Olympic newcomers New Zealand remained in the lead with Canada finishing second and, to add to the upset, Italy's Giuseppe De Vita and Dario Lari, winners of the final World Cup this season sat back in third but still qualify for the semi-final.
Women's Double Sculls
The power of the two-time World Champions was obvious. New Zealand twins Georgina and Caroline Evers-Swindell soon had the lead and with one boat only going directly to the final this is where they wanted to stay. Nearest rivals, Great Britain's Sarah Winckless and Elise Laverick did not have a chance with the Evers-Swindells making Winckless and Laverick look totally underpowered.
Nothing changed in the order as the New Zealanders continued to pull ahead with Great Britain comfortably in front of Ukraine. New Zealand moves on to the final.
The strength of German women scullers has been put into disarray because of the domination in this event by the Evers-Swindells. This caused coach Jutta Lau to leave her final double and quad selection until July. In July she decided to put her power and Olympic gold hope into the quad with number five and six, Peggy Waleska and Britta Oppelt now make up the double.
Today Waleska and Oppelt battled with Bulgaria's Anet-Jacgueline Buschmann and Miglena Markova for the lead position. But the battle stopped somewhere after the middle of the race. Buschmann and Markova were struggling with a third 500 piece by Waleska and Oppelt and soon the Bulgarians had lost their lead and a qualifying spot. The Germans, for their effort, move directly to the final. Oppelt said after the race, "we didn't expect to be so much out in front but we just concentrated on the rhythm."
Men's Double Sculls
They are not the biggest rowers in this event and they are looking leaner all of the time, but France's Sebastien Vieilledent and Adrien Hardy are confident in the knowledge of being current World Champions. They opened up the doubles proceedings by leading Australia's Brendan Long and Peter Hardcastle at the start. Milan Dolecek and Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic then decided to step up the pressure and, despite three boats able to qualify, Dolecek and Synek decided they wanted to qualify in style.
The Czech Republic had soon found second but seemed content to remain there and let the French take first. The direct path to the semi-final remained with France, the Czech Republic and Australia qualifing from third.
Sartori & Galtarossa of Italy in the men's double sculls at Schinias
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Winners of the quad at Sydney, Italy's Alessio Sartori and Rossano Galtarossa came together as a double earlier this year after their coach decided the double was a better medal deal than the quad. That has proved to be true with Sartori and Galtarossa winning every international race they have entered this season.
Sartori and Galtarossa were the fastest out of the starting blocks and in barely any time they had a solid lead over the field. Hungary's new line-up of Gabor Bencsik replacing Tobor Peto in stroke with Akos Haller in bow seemed to work for the first half of the race, but Italy's raw power moved Sartori and Galtarossa further and further ahead. Great Britain's Matthew Wells and Matthew Langridge meanwhile were sitting outside qualifying position and decided to make a change. Overtaking Hungary and then Aquil Abdullah and Henry Nuzum of the United States, who had lodged themselves firmly in third, the Brits tried to close the huge gap on the Italians.
At the finish Italy remained comfortably in first with Great Britain and the United States also qualifying for the semi-final from second and third respectively.
After the race Abdullah said, "We are very happy with our race. We had a great first 1000 metres but we still have things to work on. We are pleased to be going directly to the semi-finals because we don't know what the wind conditions will be like over the next couple of days."
Adamsen & Simonsen of Norway
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Iztok Cop and Luka Spik are the defending Olympic Champions but since Sydney they have spent more time in other boats, Cop preferring to race the single. Late last year they joined together again in the double and today pulled off a win in the third heat by leading from start to finish. Behind them the real battle was going on for second with Norway's Nils-Torolv Simonsen and Morten Adamsen going head to head with Leonid Gulov and Tonu Endrekson of Estonia.
Going through the middle of the race there was nothing in it between Norway and Estonia and it was looking like second would come down to the final sprint. Estonia, however, decided to accept the third and final qualifying spot. Slovenia, Norway and Estonia move on to the semi-final.
After the race the colour-coordinated, blue-haired Cop admitted, "It wasn't easy because the Norwegians and Estonians were fighting for second and we had to keep an eye out. But we got in front sooner than we expected. The conditions were better than we thought but I prefer a tail-wind."
Canadian men's four during the heats on Saturday 14 August
© Dominik Keller
The debate over the wearing of hooded suits was put to rest as the Canadians took to the water in the four - their heads were exposed for the world to see. Hoods or no hoods, Canada did what they like to do best, lead from beginning to end.
This left the rest of the field to fight it out for second and third which would also qualify crews for the semi-final and it was Poland and the Czech Republic that took up the challenge. Poland held about a second advantage over the Czechs through most of the race, but the Czechs were not giving up and as both boats sprinted for the line, the closeness was obvious. Poland remained in front and the Czech Republic qualify from third.
Williams said after the race, "We like to take the lead because then we can punish the other boats with every stroke we take. It's normal that we are in front at the start because we have been practicing it for two years." Williams went on to say, "It's a lot of pressure off our shoulders to have qualified for the semi-final because we don't know what the conditions will be like in the next days. I'm happy to have the high expectations put on me. It makes me feel confident."
Also unhooded, but with a new man in three seat, Great Britain took to the water with Ed Coode joining the line-up. The British have had a few days to acclimatise after coming down from altitude and they looked well in control of heat two even before the race hit the first 500 metre mark. Meanwhile behind them the Slovenians were beating themselves up to stay in second.
The young, aggressive Italians then decided to play with the Slovenians. Doing a piece through the second 500, Italy moved into second and kept the speed on to hold the second spot. This closed the gap on leaders, Great Britain, but the Brits looked smooth and relaxed and comfortable. Great Britain move on to the semi-final with the fastest qualifying time with Italy and Slovenia joining them from finishing second and third respectively.
There's an ongoing sporting rivalry between Australia and New Zealand that can not be underestimated so when these two countries draw the same heat you know the competition is going to be fierce. And it was. Although Australia took a pinhead of an advantage over New Zealand at the start, the Kiwis were not going to be intimidated and one of the closest races of the day was on.
New Zealand then, going through the 1000, snuck ahead of the Aussies rating 36 strokes per minute to the Australians 37. This tussle continued and in the process a gap opened up between them and, much to everyone's surprise, Germany. The Germans have medals from the last three World Championships but today, with replacement bow man Jochen Urban, they were not firing.
Meanwhile the crews from downunder continued to scrap it out and coming into the final sprint both boats continued the stroke for stroke battle. Australia got the advantage at the line. New Zealand and Germany move on to the semi-final from second and third respectively.