Women’s Pair (W2-)

New Zealand’s Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown head to Bled as reigning World Champions but Haigh and Scown know the British will challenge strongly. Great Britain’s Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, who won world silver in 2010, have already beaten the New Zealand duo earlier this season, at the 2011 Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne.

Now six weeks of intensive training lie between these two crews. The prediction here is British-Kiwi showdown. But New Zealand and Great Britain cannot afford to become too involved with each other. Close on their heels, and with definite medal prospects, is the United States. Caryn Davies and Katherine Glessner are part of the very strong American women’s sweep rowing stable with 2008 Olympic Champion in the eight, Davies, returning to the sport after a post-Beijing break. Together they have raced just once this season internationally – as part of the women’s eight in Lucerne where they won gold – but the strength of the US programme is well-known.

Romania’s Camelia Lupascu and Nicoleta Albu have been medalling since 2009 and at the final stage of the 2011 Samsung World Rowing Cup they finished fifth overall. Lupascu and Albu’s coach has put faith in this duo’s medal-winning prospects and it is obvious they can produce more.

Men’s Pair (M2-)

This season saw the continued unbroken winning streak of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray of New Zealand. Perennial silver medallists Peter Reed and Andrew Triggs Hodge of Great Britain have been unable to break the run, despite increasing pressure from Coach Juergen Grobler to be possibly moved into the four. Bled could be Reed and Hodge’s last chance to prove themselves before next year’s Olympic Games to a coach who will not settle for anything less than gold.

The on-going battle between Great Britain and the New Zealanders has formed a huge rift in this event.

The closest any other countries have been able to get to Bond, Murray, Reed and Hodge is a distant third. The battle for third, however, is immensely exciting. The return of Beijing Olympic medallists, Canada’s Dave Calder and Scott Frandsen, has spiced things up. In their first international race together since Beijing, the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Calder and Frandsen finished third stating that this was a very nice start for them on their London Olympic comeback trail. Also up there are the Gkountoulas brothers from Greece with Italy’s experienced Lorenzo Carboncini and Niccolo Mornati also edging in on the medals.

Women’s Double Sculls (W2x)

It is almost impossible to look past the dominating British duo of Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins. Grainger and Watkins are on a winning run that began as soon as they paired up in 2010. Despite Watkins taking time off earlier this season to heal a back problem, the duo won again when they reunited to race at the Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland.

The Australians, however, gave Grainger and Watkins a good run for their money in Lucerne. Also world silver medallists in 2010, Kerry Hore and Kim Crow of Australia could shake up the status quo if they take the British by surprise, especially if they take Grainger and Watkins out at the start.

Keep an eye out too for Ukraine. Anastasiia Kozhenkova and Yana Dementieva have been moved from the medal winning quad into the double as the country strives for a gold medal boat. Kozhenkova and Dementieva proved themselves last month at the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne where they finished third. Two crews that could push into the medals if they produce a top performance are the Czech Republic’s Antosova sisters and Poland’s former World Championship crew (2009), Magdalena Fularczyk and Julia Michalska.

Men’s Double Sculls (M2x)

For host nation, Slovenia, their best medal changes lay firmly on the men’s double. Olympic Champions from Sydney 2000, Iztok Cop and Luka Spik are back together. Cop calls Bled his backyard because of years of training there and as the most successful Olympic athlete ever in Slovenia he has considerable influence locally. The duo raced at the Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne and finished a respectable fifth. There is no doubt they will step up for Bled.

Cop and Spik, however, have their work cut out for them as a battle at the head of the field between New Zealand’s Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan and Great Britain’s Matthew Wells and Marcus Bateman has upped the standard in this event. Cohen and Sullivan are the reigning World Champions with Wells and Bateman right on their tails.

Also on the New Zealander’s tails are 2009 World Champions, Germany. Hans Gruhne joined Stephan Krueger at the Lucerne World Cup when Erik Knittel withdrew due to injury. The Gruhne-Krueger combination scored silver and confirmed to selectors that they were a combination worth keeping together. Keep an eye out too for last year’s world bronze medallists, Cedric Berest and Julien Bahain of France, and the return to the double of 2008 Olympic Champions, Australia’s David Crawshay and Scott Brennan.

Men’s Four (M4-)

There is no denying that Great Britain’s James, Egington, Gregory and Langridge are having a great season. They won gold in both World Cups they entered this season and showed true dominance at the final stage of the 2011 Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne. They are also one of the most stable crews of the event with only one change (the addition of Tom James) to the 2010 crew.

But this event has shown to be unpredictable and Great Britain know they cannot be complacent. Greece is fast with a finishing sprint to scare any competition. The United States finished third in Lucerne and on a good day have what it takes.

Germany has spent the season trying a variety of combinations between the eight and four and this current line-up is top class. Don’t forget the French. After taking last year’s World Rowing Championships by storm, France have performed below expectations this season. But when World Championship titles are up for grabs, it is likely that France will do what they must to get one. Keep an eye out too for the Australians. They may not have made the A-final in Lucerne, but with three-time Olympic Champion Drew Ginn sitting in the boat, this crew will thrive when the pressure is on.

Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls (LW2x)

This is the only Olympic event for lightweight women and as these championships will also serve as the Olympic Qualification Regatta, this spells intensive racing.

Canada comes to Bled as reigning World Champions and winners in Lucerne, but there is a question mark hanging over Tracy Cameron as she needs to recover from a stressed rib before she can compete in Bled. If at full fitness, Cameron will be a definite force along with partner Lindsay Jennerich. But winners of the World Cup season, Hester Goodsell and Sophie Hosking of Great Britain, inched up on the Canadians in Lucerne and will be ready to attack in Bled.

Keep an eye out too for the Greek double of Triantafyllia Kalampoka and Christina Giazitzidou. Kalampoka and Giazitzidou are three-time under-23 champions and at last month’s World Rowing Cup they finished fourth. This was enough to give Coach Gianni Postiglione faith that the duo could fit right in at the senior level.

Also in the running are the Americans. Kristin Hedstrom and Julie Nichols of the United States have already collected gold and bronze from this year’s World Rowing Cup season.

Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls (LM2x)

Reigning World and Olympic Champions Great Britain had a setback earlier this season when bow man Zac Purchase took time off due to illness. But Purchase and stroke man Mark Hunter are back together and ready to take on 2009 World Champions Storm Uru and Peter Taylor of New Zealand. These two boats have been carrying out an intense rivalry over the last two years but they need to be wary of other speedy crews.

Italy’s Lorenzo Bertini and the steadfast Elia Luini were second behind Uru and Taylor at the Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne. Bertini and Luini also finished second at the 2010 World Rowing Championships and it is only a matter of time until a race goes their way.

The Brits and Kiwis also need to be wary of the return of the Danes. Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist of Denmark medalled at the Beijing Olympics and have joined together again this year to go after gold in London – the duo took bronze in Lucerne. There is also Beijing Olympians Douglas Vandor and Cameron Sylvester of Canada who are only inches away from making it onto the medals podium.

Lightweight Men’s Four (LM4-)

Invariably this race ends in a photo finish as crews of almost identical weight race each other. In recent years Denmark set the standard by rating high, racing aggressively and winning. After gold at the 2008 Olympics the crew rebuilt but struggled to find gold medal success. Then three-time Olympic Champion Eskild Ebbesen made a comeback at age 39 and brought the Danish four back to the forefront.

In the meantime, however, Great Britain has been working hard. They won the 2010 World Rowing Championships and went on to pip Denmark at the Lucerne World Rowing Cup last month. But, as is common, finish time margins have been awesomely tight. Denmark, Italy and Australia crossed the line practically together in Lucerne and all of these crews will be back to fight it out again in Bled.

Watch out too for China and Germany. Both of these crews are medal prospects and should never be overlooked. It is very likely medals will come down to what the photo finish camera tells the finish line judges.

Women’s Quadruple Sculls (W4x)

Has Germany struck a winning line-up? The Germans ruled this event for much of the past decade before dropping to third at the Beijing Olympics. It looked as if Great Britain had taken over at the top. But in Lucerne, Germany was up to strength and looking powerful and confident with Britta Oppelt back in the boat.

The German win last month pushed Great Britain into second and in Bled there is every chance that we will see these two countries fighting it out at the head of the field.
Behind the Germans and the British will be another battle. Both the United States and New Zealand could be medal prospects with Ukraine very much in the picture. Ukraine, however, has chosen to double up with Anastasiia Kozhenkova and Yana Dementieva who are also racing in the women’s double - this could work against them if the pressure really comes on.

Men’s Quadruple Sculls (M4x)

The Olympic and World Champion Poles have changed their line-up. Adam Korol is out due to injury and Piotr Licznerski is in stroke seat. Poland, who has dominated this event since 2005, have appeared to struggle this season which has left the door open for some new quad blood to take over.

Reigning World Champions Croatia appeared to be the likely candidates, but at the Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Croatia found themselves off the pace and at the back of the final. Germany are the ones who have really stepped up. The German crew of Schulze, Wende, Schoof and Grohmann looked very good in Lucerne when they strode home to take gold. Behind the Germans, Australia and Great Britain took the lesser medals. These crews will meet again in Bled with renewed vigour and knowledge that Poland and Croatia are not the only boats that can be on the top of the pile.

Keep an eye out too for Switzerland. They have moved their top single sculler Andre Vonarburg into stroke seat and finished fourth in Lucerne. Don’t dismiss the very experienced Italy who still have time to find their magic.

Women’s Eight (W8+)

It seems that whichever combination of rowers coach Tom Terhaar puts in the American boat, they still win. The United States is on a winning streak that began in 2006 and shows no sign of abating – even when teammates retire or move on. The only stable feature is coxswain Mary Whipple who has remained in her position for a decade now.

The one boat that seems to be truly able to challenge the Americans is Canada. Like the United States, Canada has an incredibly stable coxswain in Lesley Thompson-Willie. Thompson-Willie is known for her remarkable boat feel and calling the moves when they really count. Canada also has the advantage of inside knowledge as a number of the crew members rowed at American universities.

Behind these two crews it is likely to see the Dutch and Romanians be battling it out. But the
Romanians better beware as the Dutch team has been focusing on getting stronger and they are known to do their best when it really counts.

Women’s Single Sculls (W1x)

Recent predictions in this event did not heap expectations of winning on Belarus’ Ekaterina Karsten. When the six foot tall, five-time Olympian was beaten out of first at last year’s World Rowing Championships by the petite Frida Svensson of Sweden, cracks were revealed in Karsten’s racing armour. Then at the Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne last July, Karsten did not even make the medals podium.

The status quo that has reigned in this event since 2005 has truly been shaken and with that, pure nail biting excitement returns. In Lucerne, New Zealand’s Emma Twigg rowed an aggressive but controlled race to win. China’s top sculler, Xiuyun Zhang, took second and regular medallist Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic came in third.

Now it appears that the sculler with the most audacity will be the one wearing the gold medal at the end. As well as the above-mentioned athletes, Annekatrin Thiele of Germany may have what it takes to medal. Absent in Lucerne, Thiele is an Olympic medallist from the double and in her first season as a single sculler, she has already shown that she is a medal contender, having won silver and bronze.

Watch out too for Svensson who has had a relatively average season but has already proved that she can pull it off in the big races.

Men’s Single Sculls (M1x)

The two-year unbeaten run by Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic has meant that Synek’s competition have been forced back to re-think their training and how to surpass the Czech phenomenon. There is no shortage, however, of willingness on the part of the very strong field that makes up the men’s single.

When entries were received, 34 countries had signed up to race. Closely packed behind Synek are scullers who have formed the backbone of an era of tough competition. These scullers include four-time World Champion and World Best Time holder, Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand. Drysdale has battled injury this season but is known to make the best of any situation.

Then there is two-time Olympic Champion Olaf Tufte of Norway. Tufte is never far from the medals podium and knows how to win when it really counts. Add on to this the return of 2002 World Champion Marcel Hacker of Germany. New father Hacker has come back this season more relaxed, confident, and is a force to be reckoned with. Then there is Olympic finalist Lassi Karonen of Sweden who can get into the medals when the race goes his way. Great Britain’s Alan Campbell also has what it takes to medal. Campbell missed the final stage of the 2011 Samsung Rowing World Cup due to illness and will show up in Bled in full racing form.

Men’s Eight (M8+)

It will be hard to look past current World Champions Germany. The rest of the field have been wracking their brains since 2009 in the hope of breaking Germany’s stronghold. Can the newly strengthened Canadian crew do it? Canada has been rebuilding their squad following a number of post-Beijing retirements where they earned gold. And coming back from that gold medal crew and into the eight is Malcolm Howard. Howard has spent this and last season in a single, but coach Mike Spracklen recognises his talents are of better use in the eight.

The heat now comes on Great Britain and the Netherlands. These two crews regularly make it into the medals but the standards will have stepped up for Bled and with Olympic qualifying spots up for grabs the bar has been raised.

Watch out too for the United States and Poland. The US has a fine tradition in the men’s eight while Poland continue to work on a long-term project to win a medal in this event at the London Olympic Games.