Top juniors test the waters at 2012 Olympic venue
As chants of ‘Italia!’ and ‘Espana!’ rang out, the World Rowing Junior Championships were opened in exuberant style on Tuesday evening.
With a backdrop of the picturesque and quintessentially British quadrangle of Royal Holloway university, which will be the athlete acommodation for the Olympic Games next year, Ben Hunt-Davis, Chairmen of the organising committee, and Mike Williams, treasurer of FISA, welcomed athletes to the Championships. Hunt-Davis emphasised the importance of the event, not only for the development of junior rowing, but also as the test event for the 2012 Olympic regatta.
An ‘incognito’ singing group entertained the crowds of junior athletes, supporters and coaching staff with classic Queen medleys and Italian opera, whilst a representative from each country paraded their nation’s flag to symbolise their participation in this event.
The following day, under clear skies and warm temperatures, the first heats of the Championship stormed down the course. Accompanied with a racey tail-wind, and plenty of support from the crowded grandstands, athletes made their mark on Dorney water.
Junior Men’s Coxless Four (JM4-)
Defending World Champions Romania took the honours in the first heat of the men’s coxless four, beating a sprightly Spanish crew to second and recording the fastest time of the day of 6.15. The top two crews in each heat will qualify for the semifinal. Romania led from the start, holding off challenges from a fast starting and well supported Canadian crew, and a fast-finishing Spanish crew, who were in dead last place after the first 500m. Canada, Poland, Australia and United States of America will race the repechage.
In the second heat, Serbia had a fast start, shooting off ahead of the other five boats. Yet at 1250m gone, Germany clawed their way back diminishing Serbia’s lead and squeezing out to a three quarters of a lead advantage. Germany were fourth last year, and the new crew in this boat will be looking to avenge that position this year. Indeed in the final 500m, the commentators noted smiles creeping on to the faces of the relaxed and controlled German crew as they romped home, maintaining their three quarter of a length lead over Serbia, who took the second and final qualifying spot. France, South Africa, Italy and Greece will have to fight it out in the repechage.
Huge home support cheered Great Britain home in heat three. Silver medallists from last year, the British had a great start, rating 45 strokes a minute and narrowly squeezing into a lead over Denmark, which they held to the 1000m marker. Denmark put in a spirited push through the halfway marker but could not get into contention. However, Great Britain were not going to have it all their own way on home water. Croatia and Belarus made their move in the third 500m of the race, and pulled back the lead, closing fast. As the finish line of Dorney Lake fast approached in the final 500m, the British could do nothing to contest and slipped back into third place. Belarus took a narrow win over Croatia as both crews qualified. The rest will face the repechage.
Junior Women’s Quadruple Sculls (JW4x)
Once again the first two boats from each heat would progress directly to the semifinals, whilst the remaining boats would have to race again in the repechage.
After the disappointment of the men’s coxless four, the Great British women’s quad made amends to the home crowd, sculling home to take a tight win over a spirited Italian crew, who pushed them all the way to the line in heat one. Despite a relatively slow start, in which Italy had an early advantage, the British girls pushed hard in the middle 1000m of the race to take the lead. Other crews could do little to challenge once Britain and Italy had taken hold of the race; a feisty challenge from Romania halted by a boat-stopping crab. As the finish line approached, the crews seemed resigned to the fact that they would be racing the repechage.
From the start of the race, the Netherlands had the advantage in heat two, their lead over the rest of the field increasing at each timing point. The real race was for the second qualifying position. As Argentina and Korea slipped off the pace, Australia had secured the second qualifying spot by halfway. However, Japan had a strong finish up their sleeves. As Australia really began to tire in the final 500m, Japan began to move away, stroke by stroke. At the finish line, Japan had a five second advantage over Australia to qualify. Despite loud ‘Aussie’ shouts in the grandstand, Australia will face the repechage.
The defending champions Germany made their mark in the third heat. The girls led from the start, three quarters of a length up after just 500m and recorded the fastest time of the day in 6.48. Belarus slotted into second place, dragged along by the blistering German pace and the order did not change as they crossed the line. Switzerland, United States of America and Denmark will face the repechage tomorrow.
578 athletes from 48 rowing nations will compete at this year’s World Rowing Junior Championships over the course of the next five days, culminating with the junior men’s eight final on Sunday 7 August. For a second consecutive year, finals will be held over the final two days of the Championships.
The weather for the week ahead looks promising, with warm temperatures, light winds and sun. Despite the chance of rain on Thursday, this will do little to dampen the spirits of the enthusiastic juniors racing for world champion status at the future 2012 Olympic Regatta venue.