The year that was … lightweight men’s double sculls
Through the 2016 season, France established itself as the undisputed team to beat. Leading up to this, however, for most of the last Olympic cycle, no one crew had clearly dominated the field, with a different nation winning each World Rowing Championships since London 2012. Consistent performers Norway and World Best Time holders South Africa had regularly featured on World Rowing Cup podiums, while Ireland, Poland and Great Britain were also strong.
France began to stake its claim as the team to beat a year prior when they won the 2015 World Rowing Championships. And their depth of talent showed when one member of that winning crew, Stany Delayre, was replaced by Pierre Houin in 2016. The new pairing of Houin and Jeremie Azou took gold in two World Cup regattas before claiming the ultimate prize at the Rio Olympic Games.
But the limelight after the Olympic final did not stay with the Olympic Champions long. Instead it was silver medal winners, and reigning European Champions, Ireland’s Gary and Paul O’Donovan. They stole the show when they won Ireland’s first ever Olympic medal in rowing and their post-race interview for a local Irish television station went viral (see video link below). They also affected a huge surge of interest in rowing in their country.
In Rio the final medal went to consistent performers Ari Strandli and Kristoffer Brun of Norway. The duo has been together since their 2007 ninth-place finish at the European Rowing Championships. Further down the rankings, fourth place went to South Africa’s James Thompson and John Smith. Fifth went to American’s Andrew Campbell and Josh Konieczny, which made them the first United States crew to qualify in an Olympic final in this boat class.
Highlight: The Olympic final. With 500 metres to go there were still five boats in with a real chance at gold. Every rower in the field would have been aware of the South African’s famous sprint but the day was not to be for Thompson and Smith. The reigning World Champions, France, won in 6:30.7. An exhausted Azou lay down in the boat – pushed to the limit to win by half a second over the O’Donovan brothers. The Irish twins pipped good friends and old rivals Strandli and Brun, for bronze by just 0.16 of a second.
Best debutante: France’s Pierre Houin became a gold medalist at his first Olympics. Still eligible to compete as an under-23 rower, Houin showed he was no longer a rising star. He had earned his spot the Olympic boat by coming second in the lightweight men’s single sculls at the French Rowing Championships behind his team mate, Azou. Houin’s performance meant pushed Azou’s World Champion teammate, Stany Delayre (who finished third), out of the national crew. But Delayre continued to provide strong support throughout the double’s Rio campaign.
Quote: “It’s a special relationship, a little bit like big brother, little brother. I will pass the baton to Pierre for rowing in France. The friendship that we have outside of the boat is great, as well as what we have inside the boat. The idea is to give everything I have so that he continues to be the best, to be in the lightweight double and that the lightweight double continues to be the best in the world.” - Jeremie Azou (FRA) – gold
“Close your eyes and pull like a dog.” – Paul O’Donovan (IRL) revealing their race strategy for the Olympic final.
“We got to put on the podium pants as well so that was quite nice.” – Paul O’Donovan on winning the Olympic silver medal.
Video Pick: The O’Donovan brothers interview here.