The year that changed the men's four
World Rowing continues its review of Olympic boat classes in 2015 with the men’s four. In recent history, the four had become relatively predictable at the top end, but in 2015 it all changed.
For more than a decade Great Britain's coach Juergen Grobler held the men's four as the nation's flagship boat and they owned the top spot through the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games with some of the best known names in rowing claiming seats.
The legendary Steve Redgrave, with Matthew Pinsent, James Cracknell and Tim Foster took the gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, with Pinsent and Cracknell pursuing Britain’s Olympic-winning streak four years later in Athens with Steve Williams and Ed Coode. Another Olympic cycle later in Beijing, it was Williams still in the boat, joined by a new line-up of new stars with the likes of Andrew Triggs Hodge, Pete Reed and Tom James. This crew kept the legacy alive and claimed a third consecutive Olympic gold for Great Britain in this boat class. Triggs Hodge continued to stroke the boat on the road to London 2012 with Alex Gregory replacing the retired Williams to secure the fourth consecutive Olympic win.
Great Britain lead the all-time medals table at Olympic and World Championship level, having earned the most medals overall in this boat class since rowing became an Olympic sport.
For the current Olympic cycle, Grobler shifted his priority to the men's eight. The men's four field began to see a variety of different flags honoured on international podiums in 2015.
This year, Australia and Italy both claimed the same number of World Cup points, heading the standings table. Australia finished fourth in Varese but went on to win gold in Lucerne, while Italy claimed silver twice, in Varese and in Lucerne.
Although three of their rowers were aged 23 or younger, Italy demonstrated confidence and aggressive power throughout the season. Their ability to move up the field in the last couple hundred metres was remarkable. This was Italy's winning method in Varese, when they overtook the Canadians to take silver in a photo finish and, most importantly, at the World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette, where they rowed through the Australians near the finish, to take the world title with a lead of more than two seconds.
The Australians survived a tough season. The crew experienced a cycling accident after the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne. Two-seat Alexander Lloyd had to be flown home and selectors moved Joshua Dunkley-Smith, Olympic medallist in the men’s four at London 2012, from the eight and into the four. Despite the upheaval, Australia still took 2015 World Championship silver which moved them one step up from 2014, when they won bronze. Like Great Britain, the Australians also have a legacy when it comes to the four. Through the 1990s the legendary Oarsome Foursome ruled the boat class and thus began the great Aussie - British rivalry.
Great Britain took the European Rowing Championships gold this year, but then at the World Rowing Championships they managed bronze after overtaking Canada in the final 500m. Grobler will now have to decide how to prioritise his powerful men's sweep squad between the four and the World Championship eight.
In Varese the United States took gold ahead of Italy and Canada. At the World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette, however, the Americans surprised the field by missing out on the A-final. They finished the season with a first-place finish in the B-final ahead of Belarus who took gold at World Rowing Cup I in Bled and also won bronze at the European Rowing Championships. Having won world silver in 2014, the United States will be looking to make things right again in time for Rio.
Other crews that made a mark this year are Greece, with a silver medal at the European Rowing Championships, as well as Romania, whose very youthful crew, claimed bronze in Lucerne.
Despite not medalling this season, the Netherlands have consistently made the final at each regatta that they entered. As the 2013 World Champions will no doubt stay very present on the radar in the coming year.
There were 11 Olympic qualification places available in Aiguebelette and an additional two are up for grabs next May at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta. The nations that have qualified so far are:
3. Great Britain
7. United States