Who to Watch at the 2008 Olympic Rowing Regatta
Who will be the Olympic rowing competitors in Beijing? Which crews have a chance of medalling? Based on recent performance and past experience, World Rowing presents rowing fans with an overview of who to look out for in Beijing.
Women’s Single Sculls (W1x)
Arriving in Beijing as the three-time consecutive World Champion must feel good. Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus has not been beaten since winning silver at the 2004 Olympic Games. Karsten is a career rower and is already a two-time Olympic Champion in the single. The single is her forte and Beijing is her fifth Olympic Games. Is she beatable? The Czech Republic’s Mirka Knapkova thinks so. Knapkova consistently finishes second to Karsten but is gutsy enough to try different race strategies to outwit her opponent.
Rumyana Neykova of Bulgaria has been racing Karsten ever since their junior days in the early 1990s. After finishing third behind Karsten at Athens, Neykova took time off, had a baby and came back in 2007, ready to go after the Olympic gold that has eluded her in the four Olympics that she has raced at. The will is there, but Neykova’s form has been inconsistent since she came back. Don’t overlook Michelle Guerette of the United States or China’s Xiuyun Zhang, racing on her home turf. On a good day either of these rowers can push into the medals.
Men’s Single Sculls (M1x)
New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale made a unilateral decision to change to the single after finishing fifth in the men’s four at the Athens Olympics. Making his destiny his own, Drysdale wasted no time and was World Champion the following year. Drysdale followed that up with two additional World Championship titles and goes to Beijing as the most wanted man in the single. But the path to Beijing has not been smooth for Drysdale. He has been beaten at various times and the group of top single scullers know each other’s strengths and weaknesses intimately.
In this group, Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic is showing growing confidence and greater consistency. Then there is Olaf Tufte, the reigning Olympic Champion. Despite being in and out of the medals over the past three rowing seasons, the tough Norwegian always knows how to step up in an Olympic year. Alan Campbell, the feisty British sculler, is always willing to put his body on the line to reach the finish first. And not to forget Marcel Hacker of Germany who, if he gets his mind right, is a definite medal prospect.
Women’s Pair (W2-)
Yulia Bichyk and Natallia Helakh of Belarus took bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics then rowed in other boats before returning to the pair. They come to Beijing as reigning World Champions. Their win last year was quite remarkable as they went up against reigning Olympic Champions Georgeta Damian-Andrunache and Viorica Susanu of Romania. Damian-Andrunache and Susanu “retired” after the 2004 Olympics but returned to row internationally in 2007. They finished third at the 2007 World Rowing Championships and will likely be faster in Beijing. But at Beijing Susanu will be rowing with Camelia Lupascu while Damian-Andrunache joins the eight.
Germany has changed their pair combination from the one that qualified the boat in 2007 – Lenka Wech and Maren Derlien will be the ones competing in Beijing. The duo took gold at the 2007 European Championships and impressed their coaches ever since. Beijing will be Wech’s third Olympic Games and Derlien’s second.
Keep an eye out also for the United States, Australia and New Zealand. These countries are regularly in the final at international events. New Zealand has retained their duo that finished sixth at the Athens Olympics and first at the 2005 World Rowing Championships (Nicky Coles and Juliette Haigh) while the United States and Australia change their line-up almost annually.
Men’s Pair (M2-)
At the Athens Olympics Australia’s Drew Ginn won gold with then-partner James Tomkins. Ginn then paired up with sculler Duncan Free and together they became back-to-back World Champions in this event. Known for their long strokes, Ginn and Free received a wake-up call at this year’s Lucerne Rowing World Cup when the new Canadian combination of Dave Calder and Scott Frandsen won by a comfortable margin.
Calder and Frandsen freely admit they were peaking as the duo still had to qualify at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta a couple of weeks later. In Athens, Calder raced in the pair and Frandsen in the eight. Both were extremely disappointed with their results and see Beijing as a chance to put things right. The Canadians also beat New Zealand’s George Bridgewater and Nathan Twaddle, who finished fourth at the 2004 Olympics and went on to become World Champions the following year and silver medallists the next two years.
Improving with every race this season has been South Africa’s medal hopefuls. Athens bronze medallist Ramon Di Clemente, 33, has a new partner this year: twenty-one year old Shaun Keeling. At the Poznan Rowing World Cup the duo finished third.
Watch out too for France and Croatia. France has been consistently making the finals while Croatia’s Skelin brothers have a wealth of international experience to call on.
Women’s Double Sculls (W2x)
The recent tidal wave of Chinese talent includes Qin Li and Liang Tian who could well lead the way for Chinese rowing medals. Unlike many of the Chinese crews that have been cut and changed, Li and Tian have been together since 2006 and their World Championship title in 2007 was earned with such finesse and style that the rest of the field was left in their wake. Since then they have remained unbeaten.
The Chinese crew has been a challenge for 2004 Olympic Champions Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell of New Zealand who race better from the lead. The duo finished second behind Li and Tian in 2007, and in 2008 they have struggled to find form. There is, however, no doubting the power of the New Zealand twins, and if they get in front they may be unstoppable. Great Britain’s Elise Laverick (bronze at Athens) and new partner Anna Bebington are credible medal contenders, while the United States and Germany, judging by recent form, may also have a chance.
Men’s Double Sculls (M2x)
In 2007, as countries were racing at the World Rowing Championships and vying for Olympic qualification spots, New Zealand’s 2000 Olympic gold medallist in the single, Rob Waddell, had not set foot in a boat in seven years. One month later Waddell began his comeback, earning a spot in the double with Nathan Cohen. The duo have won every time they’ve raced in 2008. The rest of this very competitive field has had to go back to the drawing board to reconsider their race plan.
Keeping a low profile this season have been Jueri Jaanson and Tonu Endrekson of Estonia. The duo finished third last year. Beijing will be Jaanson’s fifth Olympics and there’s every indication that the 42–year-old is getting better with age. It took Jaanson until his fourth Olympics to win a medal – silver in the single.
Watch out for Slovenia’s Iztok Cop and Luka Spik (Olympic gold and silver medallists). They have been racing together for nine years and they know what it takes at the Olympics. France is also a medal prospect. Adrien Hardy (2004 Olympic Champion) teamed up with new partner Jean Baptiste Macquet in 2006 – the crew became World Champions that same year. Then there is the British duo of Matthew Wells and Stephen Rowbotham, regular medallists on the international stage. With these accomplished rowers in the field, just making it into the final will be difficult.
Men’s Four (M4-)
British Head Coach Juergen Grobler puts his best into the four and at the last two Olympics, his crew has ruled. As the 2005 and 2006 World Champions, the British looked to be unstoppable. But last year they lost the title and in 2008 the crew has struggled with injury.
Continuously knocking on Great Britain’s door have been the Netherlands. Their crew has remained the same since 2005 and they are consistently in the medals. Germany and New Zealand hover in this area too, along with New Zealand the current World Champions. And now Australia has stepped on to the scene. The Australians did not qualify in 2007 and came into 2008 with a new line-up and a World Cup win, going on to qualify at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta where they finished first.
Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls (LW2x)
No one crew has dominated this event in the lead up to Beijing. It may be possible to predict who will make the final, but picking who will win medals is uncertain business.
At this level and when all the athletes weigh the same, it’s the small details that make the difference. Kirsten van der Kolk and Marit van Eupen of the Netherlands have gone for detail by adding gold shoes in their boat. The duo finished third at the Athens Olympics and got back together at the start of 2008 to go for gold. So far, their comeback has been promising: they medalled at the Rowing World Cup in Lucerne then won the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Poznan.
Amber Halliday and Marguerite Houston of Australia have the advantage of being the reigning World Champions. Pre-selected by their country for the Olympics late last year, they have been able to focus solely on training together. Sanna Sten and Minna Nieminen of Finland have the memory of missing out on qualifying for Athens by just one spot - they have waited four years for this chance. China’s Dongxiang Xu and Shimin Yan hold the current World Best Time, while Marie-Louise Draeger and Berit Carow will want to uphold Germany’s strong tradition of medalling in this event.
Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls (LM2x)
Reigning and two-time consecutive World Champions Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist of Denmark had a fabulous 2007 season that saw them setting a new World Best Time. So far 2008 has not been as stellar. Although remaining in the medals, their domination has slipped, while Great Britain’s Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter have stepped up their game. The British duo head for Beijing undefeated so far in 2008 and, in their second year together, Purchase and Hunter continue to improve.
Italy waited until June to pick their boat. Marcello Miani and Elia Luini finally received the Olympic nod after finishing third at the Rowing World Cup in Poznan, Poland. Beijing will be the first Olympic Games for Miani, 24, while Luini, who already has an Olympic silver medal, will be at his third. Also getting a late Olympic go-ahead was New Zealand’s Storm Uru and Peter Taylor. The duo had to qualify through the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in June and could be the surprise new powerhouse in this event. Uru is a two-time under-23 World Champion in the lightweight single while Taylor is an under-23 World Champion in the lightweight double.
Keep an eye out for Greece's Vasileios Polymeros and Dimitrios Mougios. In 2004 Polymeros became the first Greek rower to win an Olympic medal. This will be Polymeros’s fourth Games and with new partner Mougios, he goes to Beijing with a silver medal from last year’s World Rowing Championships.
Lightweight Men’s Four (LM4-)
Over the last year international medals have been spread generously in the lightweight men’s four. It would appear that no crew is unbeatable. Great Britain hold World Champion status, but have only medalled once this season. France became World Champions in 2005 and later grabbed two consecutive world silvers. Apart from one change in the boat their line-up has been stable, but star athlete Jean-Christophe Bette (2000 Olympic gold medallist) suffered an injury after winning the final Rowing World Cup in Poznan, Poland. There is every indication, however, that Bette will be back in the boat.
Coming into Olympic year 2008, Denmark managed to almost entirely reconstruct its “Guldfireren” two-time Olympic Champion crew. Eskild Ebbesen sits at stroke and Thomas Ebert at bow. The crew medalled in Lucerne (silver) but have yet to find the high stroke rate that characterised their 2004 style and will be drawing on all of their Olympic experience to step it up.
Perhaps China will be the crew to fear most. The Chinese burst onto the scene in 2006, grabbing the World Championship title. After a rocky year in 2007, they have won every race they entered in 2008. The crew has remained stable and their expectations must be high. Watch out also for the Italians - retaining the majority of the crew that took bronze at the Athens Olympics, they raced to a credible second at the final stage of the Rowing World Cup in June.
Women’s Quadruple Sculls (W4x)
On paper it would seem Great Britain has this race wrapped up. They come to Beijing as the British flagship female boat, with the enviable record of three consecutive World Championship titles. A win in Beijing would make history as they would be Great Britain’s first female crew to win Olympic gold in rowing. But the British have been beaten this year and readily admit they are nervous about China’s crew.
China confirmed their line-up after combining the best of two crews earlier this season and racing them to a gold-medal finish at this year’s Rowing World Cup in Lucerne. Finishing second at this regatta was a brand new line-up from the United States. If this was more than beginners’ luck, the USA crew is a definite medal prospect.
Despite their erratic performance lately, Germany should not be discounted. Sitting in the boat will be the most successful woman in rowing: Kathrin Boron, 38, is a four-time Olympic champion and Beijing will be her fifth Games. There is no doubt that when the time comes for Germany to line up in Beijing, they will know exactly what needs to be done, under the guidance of Coach Jutta Lau.
Men’s Quadruple Sculls (M4x)
In a matter of months Poland went from being the crew to beat to an Olympic medal question mark. Poland’s winning spree began in 2005 and continued through to this year’s first Rowing World Cup. Then stroke Adam Korol suffered the first major injury of his long rowing career and at the Lucerne Rowing World Cup a new United States line-up finished ahead of Poland. At the final Rowing World Cup both Italy and France beat the Poles.
Italy won gold at the 2000 Olympics and they have managed to put part of this crew back together. Simone Raineri and four-time Olympian Rossano Galtarossa will bring their Olympic champion know-how to their crew and to Beijing. France is a relatively new crew by comparison, but they will use their Rowing World Cup silver medal to boost their confidence.
At the end of the day a good deal will come down to how these crews prepare themselves in the vital final weeks before the start of Beijing.
Women’s Eight (W8+)
Romania has owned this event for the last three Olympic Games. The United States use this knowledge as motivation to work harder and it must have worked for them at last year’s World Rowing Championships where they finished in first place ahead of Romania. In their only international appearance of 2008, the Americans again finished first, albeit in the absence of Romania. It is very likely that the Beijing Olympics will come down to a close battle between these two crews.
But hoping to push into the picture will be Australia. The Australians have a ghost that they very much want to bury – their disappointing last-place finish in the Final at the Athens Olympics after one of their crew members stopped rowing. Australia scored gold and silver at the two Rowing World Cups they entered this season and they are pumped with the knowledge that gold is within their grasp.
If there is going to be a surprise medal it could come from late qualifiers Canada and the Netherlands. There is no doubt that in this Final, the finish will be close.
Men’s Eight (M8+)
A lot is at stake in this event. Germany pin their rowing hopes on the men’s eight and have already undergone some last-minute team changes - including the coach - to make sure they deliver their best. The United States put its top sweep rowers into this boat as does Canada. Australia’s rowing hero James Tomkins describes this boat as rowing itself, the V8 of the sport.
Coming into the Olympic Games, Athens champions the United States are a bit of a mystery. Coach Mike Teti has chosen not to race them internationally this year and they finished a disappointing fourth last year. But Teti plays a clever game and there is no doubt that he will be doing what’s right. Canada is less of a mystery. They are the reigning World Champions and have convincingly won the only race they had this season. These two crews must surely be leading the way.
The big question mark hangs over China and Great Britain. China qualified for the Olympics by finishing seventh last year and have improved to pick up two very welcome Rowing World Cup medals this season. The Chinese nation has backed and hyped this boat to the hilt. They have the weight of 1.3 billion Chinese on their shoulders. Great Britain is also improving and has medalled at all three Rowing World Cups this season, despite regular crew changes. Keep an eye out also for the Australian boat - featuring the mighty Tomkins at his fifth Olympic Games, they won gold at the Rowing World Cup in Munich in May.