A day of calm waters, clear skies and just a fraction of a head wind on the Malta Regatta Course greeted the athletes.

Some say the tension at this final qualification event is at a higher level than at the Olympic Games. Each athlete had around seven minutes to prove themselves. At the end of racing Australia had qualified in every single event for Beijing. Germany and the United States made it up to 13 out of the possible 14 events.

Women’s Single Sculls (W1x)

Three places available. Three athletes would soon have their 2008 Olympic dream answered. After finishing sixth at the Lucerne Rowing World Cup in her first ever international race Pippa Savage of Australia was looking like the favourite coming into this regatta. Savage, 27, has been the top Australian single sculler for the last couple of years and has insisted that a team boat is not her thing. Remaining in the single paid off today as the Australian earned an Olympic spot. This is how it happened.

Savage took off in the lead aiming to dominate, but a piece by Serbia’s Iva Obradovic going through the 900, gave Obradovic the lead. Continuing to maintain the pace Obradovic held the lead over Savage with Gabriella Bascelli of Italy staying in third. These three scullers moved away from the rest of the field stamping their dominance on the Olympic qualifying spots. Coming into the last 300m Savage began to wind it up. Obradovic held on. Bascelli dug deep into her psyche.

Bascelli started rowing in South Africa. Her story sees her survive a shooting, then a move to Italy, a 2004 Olympic Games eighth place then a serious car accident last year. An Olympic spot for Bascelli would certainly feel good.

At the line Savage had earned a ticket to her first Olympic Games, Bascelli had come in second and Obradovic, in third, heads for the Olympics.

Results: AUS, ITA, SRB

1st: Phillipa SAVAGE (AUS)
“I am really happy to be going to the Olympics. It was a good race. The girls pushed out hard in the middle. It was a three horse race!”

2nd: Gabriella BASCELLI (ITA)
“I am very happy. Really impressed with the Australian performance again as in Lucerne. Really happy that my good friend Iva (Obradovic) got in and we will see what happens in Beijing.”

“I didn’t care about the race as long as I was one, two or three. It was good we were all together and it was fun. I didn’t know which place I was until the last 200m and I try not to look around when I row, so I was happy to just stay. I can’t wait to race in Beijing.”

Men’s Single Sculls (M1x)

The top three boats would be going to the Olympics. Coming through the heats and semis Mindaugas Griskonis of Lithuania was looking good. He had won both races and today he set off in the lead aiming to dominate. Griskonis was second last year at the European Championships highlighting an international career that began in 2002 as a junior. Slipping in behind Griskonis was Andrei Jaemsae of Estonia. Jaemsae is coached by the wife of Estonia’s greatest rower, Jueri Jaanson. Jaemsae has rowed with Jaanson at various times and has won a couple of World Championship bronze medals in the quad. Now in the single, Jaemsae held on to second.

But then, from the slower qualifying lane, lane one, Ken Jurkowski of the United States was charging up on the outside to challenge Jaemsae. Jurkowski spends his off season training in the single in Austin, Texas and has already been a member of the US team racing in the eight and the quad. As the final 500m fight began, the powerful Jurkowski maintained a long 34 stroke rate. Griskonis went to 36, Jaemsae shortened to 39. Greece and Croatia also charged. Jurkowski had kept his head and done it. Jurkowski takes first, Griskonis is off to the Olympics by taking second and Jaemsae becomes Estonia’s new single sculler by earning the third and final Olympic qualifying position.

Results: USA, LTU, EST

1st: Kenneth Jurkowski (USA)
"No comment."

2nd: Mindaugas GRINKONIS (LTU)
“It was a good race. I could have done better but we will see what happens at the Olympics.”

3rd: Andrei JAEMSAE (EST)
“It was very hard. The first 1000 was easy but at the end my muscles were very tired. It was very good for me to finish third. It was very amazing for me to overcome my stomach operation from last year.”

Women’s Pair (W2-)

Four crews had entered. Two Olympic spots were available. All crews were close in the race for lanes earlier in the week. Russia took off at a cracking pace in the lead followed by the best from the race for lanes, Inene Pascal-Pretre and Stephanie Dechand of France. Dechand, 23, like Pascal-Pretre, 22, have come up through the junior and under 23 ranks. They came together in the pair this year and finished an encouraging sixth at the Lucerne Rowing World Cup.

Going through the third 500, Russia began to fade and France moved into the lead with Olivia Whitlam and Louisa Reeve of Great Britain digging deep to pull out a huge sprint. Russia faded some more. Denmark tried to seize the opportunity. At the line Pascal-Pretre and Dechand had done it. They are off to the Olympics. Whitlam and Reeve’s massive sprint paid off. They had an Olympic spot.

Results: FRA, GBR

1st: Stephanie Dechand (FRA)
“The race was very difficult. Russia had a very fast start. We went for a big finish.”

2nd: Olivia Whitlam (GBR)
“We were behind at the 1500, but we were confident with our pace. It was great rowing through Russia but we had the Danes on our tail so it wasn’t like there was a single light stroke.”

2nd: Louisa Reeve (GBR)
“I’m speechless. That was definitely our best race to date.”

Men’s Pair (M2-)

These six remaining boats were aiming to be in the top two positions to get the Olympic Qualification spots. After winning at the Lucerne Rowing World Cup, Canada’s new pair combination of Dave Calder and Scott Frandsen not only looked to be a shoe-in for Olympic qualification, they also look to be Olympic medal hopefuls. As they had done in the heats and semifinals, Calder and Frandsen got out in front at the start. But Italy’s Giuseppe De Vita and Raffaello Leonardo were holding on. De Vita went to the Athens Olympics in this event while Leonardo has an Olympic bronze medal from the four (2004) and four other Olympic Games to his pedigree.

By the half way point Canada, in the lead, and Italy, in second, had moved away from the rest of the field. These two boats looked to be firmly in the two qualifying Olympic positions with Calder and Frandsen opening up to over a boat length lead. Coming into the last 500m, stroke rates across the field began to rise. Italy went to 38, Canada stayed at 35, China hit 41 and the Czech Republic was at 43. Canada had done it. Italy and the Czech Republic waited anxiously for the results of the photo finish. The Czech Republic’s Vaclav Chalupa will not be going to his sixth Olympic Games. Leonardo will be going to Olympics number five.

Results: CAN, ITA

1st: Scott FRANDSEN (CAN)
“We are relieved to have won. It’s been hard being in Europe for the last five weeks away from family and our training centre. There were so many great crews in that race and it is a shame that only two get to go through.”

1st: Dave CALDER (CAN)
“The job’s done!”

2nd: Raffaello LEONARDO (ITA)
“At the middle of the race we were in front of Czech Republic. It was a big satisfaction to make my 5th Olympic Games. It is a little record for Italy (for number of Games for a rower). There is another guy in the quad who might be going for his fifth Olympics like me, but I’ve qualified myself in this boat for certain, so it’s a double satisfaction.”

Women’s Double Sculls (W2x)

Two Olympic spots were available in this event. The final six crews were all here with the one goal of being in those final top two positions. France took off in the lead but they could not sustain their opening pace and soon the experience of Australia’s Catriona Sens and Sonia Mills took over in the lead. Sens has Olympic experience. She went to Athens in her country’s ill-fated eight while Mills, 28, is aiming for her first Olympic Games. The Australians remained in the lead through the third 500 just ahead of Kateryna Tarasenko and Yana Dementieva of Ukraine.

As the last 400m approached the top two boats looked sorted. The order of finishing, however, remained unclear. Tarasenko and Dementieva were giving it all they had. Tarasenko, 20, has been working her way up from starting in her country’s junior team in 2003. Dementieva, 29, raced at the 2004 Olympics in the quad but lost her medal due to a positive drug test of her team mate. At the line Tarasenko and Dementieva had done it. They take first and one qualifying spot. Sens and Mills go to Beijing from coming second.

Results: UKR, AUS

“It was a great race, we are very filled with emotion that it is hard to speak about it.”

2nd: Catriona SENS (AUS)
“We are happy with the result. We did what we had to do which was qualify. Now our dream is to be in the medals [at the Olympics].”

2nd: Sonia MILLS (AUS)
“It was a solid race, everyone was working really hard. We had a strong 3rd 500m, got a good lead then it was a race for the end.”

Men’s Double Sculls (M2x)

The top two boats in this race will be on their way to Beijing and right from leaving the starters hands China looked to be the crew to beat. China has strengthened their double by adding Liang Zhang. Zhang won the men’s single at the Asian Olympic Qualification regatta in April and thus earned an Olympic spot in that event. Racing here in the double means that, if he qualifies, Zhang will forfeit his single position. Partnered with Hui Su, the Chinese were looking good.

Holding tightly to China’s lead was 2004 Olympic gold medallist in the quad, Alexey Svirin of Russia with partner Nikita Morgachev. Going through the middle of the race Russia continued to stick closely to China. These two crews looked firmly entrenched in the qualifying spots. But Russian crews have been known to fade towards the end at this regatta. Anything can happen in the last 500 metre sprint.

Something was happening. Bulgaria’s Ivo and Martin Yanakiev were picking up the pace. Taking the rate to 38 through the last 200m, Bulgaria had closed on Russia. Svirin and Morgachev held on. At the line China was in first. A photo finish for second gave Russia the Olympic spot.

Results: CHN, RUS

Men’s Four (M4-)

Two boats from this event will be going to the Olympics and after the Australians took gold ahead of the reigning World Champions at the Lucerne Rowing World Cup, it seemed that they would definitely be one of those boats. But food poisoning striking bow man Matthew Ryan yesterday put a big question mark over this race. Spare Terrence Alfred was brought in.

Hoping to dispel any doubts about their health, Australia jumped out to an early lead ahead of China. This Chinese crew has not raced together internationally yet, so when they showed their speed during the heats, other boats took notice. By the half way point Alfred was holding out well for Australia and his boat remained in the lead. China followed with Canada half a boat length back in third. Could Canada come back and attack the Chinese? Canada finished second in this event at the Athens Olympics in an incredibly close race with Great Britain but their boat here sits second in priority to their country’s eight.

Coming into the final sprint Australia remained in the lead holding their solid 38 stroke rate that they had maintained throughout the race. Canada went to 44. China reacted with 42. At the line China had held off Canada. Australia and China are on their way to Beijing.

Results: AUS, CHN

“Matthew Ryan had food poisoning from last night so it was a bit nervous to wake up to a squad change at the last minute. We train together as a squad all the time so we were confident with Terrence we would still produce the same result. It was a bit difficult on the nerves but at this kind of regatta the nerves are elevated anyway.”

1st: James MARBURG (AUS)
“I think after this we’re going to be ready for anything.”

1st: Terrance ALFRED (AUS)
“I was pretty excited to race. I only knew at 7a.m. this morning when I got the call. We did a four kilometre paddle and it was ok. We train as a squad in the off season so it wasn’t anything new.”

Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls (LW2x)

These six remaining boats all wanted the two Olympic spots. Perhaps the Netherlands wanted it the most. Kirsten van der Kolk of the Netherlands finished with bronze at Athens. Van der Kolk then semi-retired from rowing, had a baby, named the baby Nike and came back to join her Athens partner Marit van Eupen late last year. They put gold shoes in their boat and started their comeback.

Jumping out at the start, however, wasn’t the Dutch. It was Poland with Renee Hykel and Jennifer Goldsack of the United States following closely. This didn’t last long as the Dutch worked their way into the lead with a steady 35 stroke rate pace. In the last 500m it looked like only Goldsack and Hykel had enough to hold on to the Dutch leading pace. What could Poland do? At the line the Netherlands add another boat to their Olympic team and the United States add boat number 13 to their Olympic team.

Results: NED, USA

1st: Kirsten Van der KOLK (NED)
“It’s got a familiar feeling qualifying again. We couldn’t stay away from each other – we have too much fun together and we’re getting older so we said ‘let’s do it’ so we can say we’ve done everything. It was a high quality regatta with the American crew.”

1st: Marit van EUPEN (NED)
“It’s a hard path to take, but it's not our ultimate goal. It’s important to race well, but a Beijing medal is the focus. It’s sad because there are crews that are here at the regatta that are good but they didn't qualify. We like the pressure.”

“It was a solid race, we got the job done which was our only objective, but the project doesn’t finish here. We have had a month in Europe and we now have another month to use this momentum. We are in there with the rest and now we have to be the best of the rest.”

“Netherlands were awesome and Poland were really gusty, it’s a shame that only 2 get to go through.”

Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls (LM2x)

Originally two boats would qualify for this event. A qualification ruling meant a further one boat would be added making the top three the magic positions. This event started off with the biggest number of entries, 17 countries. Six boats remained. Three spots were available.

After their Lucerne Rowing World Cup second place at the start of this month New Zealand looked to be the crew to beat. The New Zealanders confirmed this by winning their heat three days ago and the semifinal yesterday. Storm Uru and Peter Taylor of New Zealand are both former Under 23 Champions. Uru is 23 years old, Taylor 24.

Following closely behind New Zealand, Douglas Vandor and Cameron Sylvester of Canada appeared to be the closest real challengers to the New Zealanders. The Czech Republic was not far back in third. As the last 500m came into view Uru and Taylor continued to look long in the water with power left in the tank. Vandor and Sylvester looked exhausted and appeared to just be hanging in there. Then seemingly from out of nowhere, from the back of the field, the Portuguese came flying. Pedro Fraga and Nuno Mendes must have been boosted by the football results of their nation and rating 44 they overtook Slovakia, then Spain, then the Czech Republic. Fraga and Mendes were moving on Canada.

At the line New Zealand remained in the lead, Portugal had literally flown through to second and Canada must thank their lucky stars that three boats qualify. New Zealand looked like Olympic qualification had not sunk in. It had for the Portuguese.

Results: NZL, POR, CAN

1st: Uru STORM (NZL)
“It feels good to qualify. That’s been our focus for the last year. We are elated and relieved.”

1st: Peter TAYLOR (NZL)
“We haven’t thought about anything but this race.”

3rd: Cameron SYLVESTER (CAN)
“Overall it was a good race and we qualified. The theme has been not to take any other crews lightly and it paid dividends today and we kept on pushing through and it was close at the end.”

Lightweight Men’s Four (LM4-)

With two boats qualifying for the Olympics from this event Germany and Ireland looked to be the favourites. Coming out at the start it was Spain that had established themselves as the closest target to the leading Germans. By the half way point Ireland had put this right and moved into the vital second spot, half a boat length behind Germany. Last year at the Munich Olympic Qualification Regatta, unlucky Ireland finished just one spot out of qualifying. Since then Gearoid Towey has returned to the boat. Towey raced at Athens in the lightweight double and then took on the Atlantic Ocean in the Trans Atlantic Rowing Race before returning to this short distance rowing.

Coming into the final sprint, this usually tight event was reasonably spread out. Germany remained in the lead, Ireland looked comfortable in second and it was only Serbia that had come into qualifying striking range.

Germany add boat number 13 to their Olympic team and Ireland find their luck by finishing in second.

Results: GER, IRL

2nd: Paul Griffin (IRL)
“For us, we know we are very capable of this. The hardest part was dealing with the pressure at this regatta. Last year was very disappointing for us because we had a lot of problems with our team and coaching and now we have a clean slate for Beijing.”

Women’s Quadruple Sculls (W4x)

Two boats entered, one would qualify for the Beijing Olympic Games. Russia and Romania each had a fifty-fifty chance. Russia got out to a small margin of a lead and settled into a 34 stroke rate with Romania moving alongside them refusing to let the Russians get away. At this regatta Russia has sometimes not been able to maintain their endurance through the second half of the race. Could the quad do it in this race? Going through the half way point Russia, still at 34, had the edge over Romania at 35. Both boats remained overlapping. In the sprint for the line Russia had held it together. They add a boat to their Olympic team that currently consists of one, the men’s quad.

Results: RUS

“We have had a lot of problems with our organisation and with our training so now that we have a new federation we think this federation will be better. This is the first start of new training. We hope this will be good for Beijing.”

Men’s Quadruple Sculls (M4x)

Two spots were available in this event and it was Slovenia that caught everyone off guard at the start with their aggressive opener. Only Belarus appeared to be able to hold on to the Slovenians early pace. Going through the middle of the race Slovenia maintained the leading edge but they were unable to shake Belarus. Belarus finished sixth at the Athens Olympics and two of that team remain the same, Pavel Shurmei and Valery Radzevich.

Coming into the final sprint Slovenia faltered a bit. They were unable to match the Belarussian’s 41 stroke rate charge. Great Britain was also moving up on the leaders. Belarus crossed the line first, Slovenia held on to second and an exhausted looking Great Britain will not have a quad entry at the Olympic Games.

Results: BLR, SLO

1st: Pavel SHURMEI (BEL)
“It is a young crew and we have been very successful so far. We have made a place for ourselves and are looking forward to Beijing to do better.”

2nd: Gasper FISTRAVEC (SLO)
“I think because we were fourth in Munich we had a difficult time without any races for five weeks. Now we’re just glad to be going to Beijing. I think all along we were better than Canada and Britain and we proved that now.”

2nd: Janez ZUPANC (SLO)
“All of us were in hospital last year after an auto accident driving from Amsterdam regatta. We were in hospital for five days, 15 days before the under-23 world championships.”
[side note: Jernej Jurse and Janez Jurse are cousins, not brothers]

Women’s Eight (W8+)

The Dutch supporters at the Malta rowing course in Poznan had swelled to large and vocal numbers. Whenever the big screen at the finish line flashed up the leading boat, the Dutch went wild. Out in front, the Netherlands had taken an aggressive approach and earned the edge over China in second. Canada followed closely in third. The Dutch crowd continued to enjoy what the big screen was telling them as their crew maintained a steady 35 stroke rate and remained in the lead.

The last 300 metres were in sight and Canada’s coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie told her crew what to do. Moving to a 38 stroke rate the Canadians closed the gap on the Netherlands. China, now rating 45, was going for broke. Canada crossed the line in first, the Netherlands qualify from second. China as a nation had put a huge emphasis on the women’s and men’s eight. These two boats had become the symbol of what the Olympics was all about for their nation. Today the results did not go China’s way. They will have a men’s eight at the Beijing Olympics but no women’s eight.

1st: Heather MANDOLI (CAN)
“It was close the whole way down the course. We have total respect for all the other crews. It was a race right from the first stroke to the last. It’s an honour and an exciting time for all of us. It’s my first Olympics and it’s wonderful to be one of the teams there.”

2nd: Femke DEKKER (NED)
“We were very happy to go to the Olympics. We’ve trained really hard for this. Last year was really disappointing in Munich. We were in the B Final. We’re very happy this year especially with the men’s eight qualifying too. I couldn’t be happier actually.”

Results: CAN, NED

Men’s Eight (M8+)

The only spot worth anything in this race was the first spot. Only one boat would qualify for the Olympic Games. Like the previous race, the Netherlands got into the lead. The Dutch in the crowd loved it. They had already sung at two medal ceremonies and they wanted more. Russia, who lost their qualification spot last year at Munich due to doping irregularities, were sitting in second. The Netherlands continued to lead and no other crew seemed to be able to do anything about it. Meanwhile, Switzerland and Croatia were tussling with each other while Italy was right off the pace at the back of the field.

The Netherlands did a reshuffle to their crew and changed coaches just a couple of weeks ago. It looks to have paid off. At the line the Netherlands, who medalled at Athens in this event, take first and earn the only Olympic qualifying spot.

Results: NED

1st: Rogler BLINK (NED)
“It was a good race. In the end we did a sprint for our former cox, Chun Wei Cheung, who passed away in 2006. For him we did stronger strokes.”