Who to Watch at the London 2012 Olympic Games
The Eton Dorney Olympic regatta course has transformed from a quiet school rowing venue to an Olympic event centre. The London 2012 Olympic Games is about to begin.
Huge grandstands, that will seat 30,000 people when racing begins, line the finishing 300 metres and the London Olympic blue colour is splashed everywhere. The boat park is alive with activity and serious looking athletes follow even more serious looking coaches. There is no doubt that this is going to be Olympic racing at its best. There is no doubt that everyone is debating ‘who will win?’
Women’s Pair (W2-)
Over the last couple of years this event has turned into a New Zealand – Great Britain tussle. On the New Zealand side are Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown. They have two back-to-back World Championship titles to give them confidence. On the British side Helen Glover and Heather Stanning have finished second to the New Zealanders at the last two World Rowing Championships. Glover and Stanning, however, are unbeaten this season giving them the 2012 upper hand.
But the British and New Zealander’s also need to focus on the other crews. Two crews that could shake up the medals order are Romania and Australia. The Romanian women’s squad is a tight-knit group and out of this group the selectors have picked a new, never-been-raced-internationally combination that may take the field by surprise. Nicoleta Albu will race with five-time Olympic Champion and defending champion in the pair, Georgeta Andrunache. Will the gamble of putting youth and experience together pay off for Romania?
Australia’s Sarah Tait and Kate Hornsey have finished third and fourth at the two World Rowing Cups that they raced in this season. Both are veterans of the women’s eight from the Beijing Olympics, with Tait starting at her third Olympic Games in London.
Women’s Quadruple Sculls (W4x)
Ukraine is throwing everything at this race. Ever since the country first competed as an independent nation at the 1996 Olympic Games they have focused on the quad and this year they are hoping it will all come together with the perfect outcome. If Ukraine take gold Yana Dementieva, Anastasiia Kizhenkova, Kateryna Tarasenko and Nataliya Dovgodko will score the first ever Olympic gold in rowing for their country.
The competition, however, for the top spot will be strong. Germany are the reigning World Champions and they have an incredible Olympic track record in this event. It took all season for them to decide on their final line up and they have settled on a crew that includes top single sculler and Olympic medalist Annkatrin Thiele and the very experienced Britta Oppelt.
There is also the United States. Despite a number of crew changes since taking silver in 2011, the USA know how to stage a gutsy, fight-to-the-end, race.
Men’s Eight (M8+)
If you ask any rowing authority who to watch out for in the men’s eight there are three countries that will frequently be mentioned – Canada, the United States and Great Britain. But moving towards the London 2012 Olympic Games it is Germany that has completely dominated.
Germany has not lost a race since 2009 and it will be a huge upset in rowing, and for the Germans, if they do not take gold in London. Under the guidance of coach Ralf Holtmeyer and coxswain Martin Sauer the Germans have proved that they have the ability to use different race tactics to win. This has left Great Britain, featuring the remarkable comeback of Greg Searle, regularly in second.
The reigning Olympic Champions, Canada saw a lot of retirements after their 2008 Olympic gold medal and they have been rebuilding methodically ever since. Olympic coxswain Brian Price has returned to be part of the crew along with Andrew Byrnes and Malcolm Howard, who are the only returners from the 2008 crew. Canada raced once this season and finished third.
The United States has had a hard road to London. Last year they shocked USRowing when they missed out on qualifying for the Olympics by one spot. Everything was put right at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta when they took the only qualification place in Lucerne. It will continue to be a hard road to the medals for this crew. Also long shots for the medals are Poland and Australia but still noteworthy especially following their one-two finish at last month’s final stage of the Samsung World Rowing Cup series.
Men’s Double Sculls (M2x)
This event packed full of crews that have all the credentials to take gold. In the last couple of years, finals have been tight and the Olympics will be no exception. New Zealand’s Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan come into London with back-to-back World Championship titles but earlier this season Cohen and Sullivan fueled speculation when they finished outside of the A-final at the Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne. They came back to finish second at the final World Rowing Cup in Munich last month. This reduced the chatter.
Germany’s Erik Knittel and Stephan Krueger were the World Champions in 2009 and they continue to be up in the medals. The Olympic Champions from 2000, Iztok Cop and Luka Spik of Slovenia have been showing improved speed. This will be Cop’s sixth Olympic Games and, at the age of 40, potentially his swansong. Then there’s the reigning Olympic Champions, Scott Brennan and David Crawshay who have spent the season building up for the big one and, as in 2008, they could pull it off again.
Together in the double for this entire Olympic cycle, Cederic Berest and Julien Bahain of France set their sights on gold in this event after taking bronze at Beijing in the men’s quadruple sculls. Since then they have rarely been out of the medals. Watch out too for Italy. Romano Battisti is partnered with Olympic Champion, Alessio Sartori and the partnership has proved to be solid.
But perhaps the big upset could be Norway. Under the guidance of the great single sculler, Olaf Tufte, Nils Jakob Hoff and Kjetil Borch have been on the rapid rise finishing with gold at last month’s World Rowing Cup III.
Lightweight Men’s Four (LM4-)
Australia (Edwards, Skipworth, Cureton and Beltz) hold the current World Championship title. Denmark (Ebbesen, Jorgenson, Barsoe and Winther) has the reigning Olympic Champion title. Great Britain (Williams, Bartley and the Chambers brothers) won last month’s World Rowing Cup. Who has what it takes to take the London Olympic Games?
Arguably these are the top three countries going for gold, but added to this mix has to be China. The Chinese finished fourth in 2011 and then this season they have scored gold and bronze out of the two Samsung World Rowing Cups that they entered. South Africa also look to have the goods. Last year they started to show impressive speed and a World Rowing Cup medal this season cemented their rising talent.
The final will come down to who holds it together on the day, who rates high and who puts together the most tactical race. With Denmark being stroked by the world’s most medalled lightweight, three-time Olympic Champion Eskild Ebbesen the Danes may have the edge.
Women’s Eight (W8+)
It would be hard to find a boat with a longer gold medal-winning streak than the United States’ women’s eight. This boat has not lost a race since 2005, regardless of what line-up coach Tom Terhaar puts on the water. Thus the crew must go to London with the confidence of being the reigning World and Olympic Champions. The consistency for this entire run has been coxswain Mary Whipple and the 2012 Olympic boat has returned with five out of eight of the same 2008 Olympic Champion crew.
The biggest competition for the Americans used to be Romania, but this time it looks like it may be Canada. The Canadians got within inches of beating the United States at the second stage of the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup in May and Canada’s confidence must surely be boosted.
Never, however, discount Romania. This is their prized boat and into it has returned four-time Olympic Champion Viorica Susanu. Romania raced twice this season and took silver both times. But the mix lining up for London has never been seen internationally before, so this crew may have an element of surprise.
Keep an eye out too for the Netherlands. The Dutch have an uncanny habit of pulling it off at the Olympics. Despite often coming from behind, they have managed to medal at the last three Olympic Games.
Men’s Quadruple Sculls (M4x)
After a winning run by Poland that saw them collect all World Championship titles and the Olympic title from 2005 until 2009, this event has opened up to a number of new countries. Croatia rose to the challenge and gave their nation the first ever World Championship title two years ago.
Then last year’s World Rowing Championships saw both Australia and Germany come into their own. They finished in an extremely close first-second order. Croatia were third.
This season, however, it has been Croatia all the way. David Sain, Damir Martin and brothers Martin and Valent Sinkovic won the Samsung World Rowing Cup series and despite the crew’s relative youth (this will be the first Olympic Games for the entire crew), the team has shown that they can race from the front or come back from behind.
While Australia look to be slightly off the pace so far this season, three crews - Italy, Russia and Estonia - may be stepping up into Olympic medal contention. Russia took the gold at the 2004 Olympics and ever since they have tried to recreate that scenario. Setting a World Best Time earlier this season has definitely helped their cause. The Estonians are last minute Olympic qualifiers with the speed to be near the front. Italy also look to be coming together nicely and have medalled once this season.
Men’s Pair (M2-)
The Olympic Games sometimes bring about epic upsets and it will be epic if Hamish Bond and Eric Murray of New Zealand don’t win gold. Bond and Murray go to London with a phenomenal unbroken winning streak that goes back to 2009. Bond and Murray raced together at the Beijing Olympics finishing a disappointing seventh in the men’s four. In the pair they complement each other with their blend of power and technique.
The crew that may be able to create an upset are Canada’s David Calder and Scott Frandsen. Calder and Frandsen were silver medallists in the pair at the Beijing Games and came back together last year to try for London. At the Samsung World Rowing Cup earlier this season in Lucerne they finished second to Bond and Murray.
They may not be the biggest competitors but the Gkountoulas twins, Apostolos and Nikolaos, from Greece have performed beyond expectations and are rarely outside of the medals. They are likely to be challenged strongly by Germany (Anton Braun and Felix Drahotta) and Italy (Lorenzo Carboncini and Niccolo Mornati) who both have proved to be medal prospects in recent racing. Watch out too for France, who come to the Games after taking one of final qualification spots in Lucerne earlier this season. After an impressive performance in Munich they look on form to be challenging for medals.
The domination of Bond and Murray forced Great Britain to rethink their pair as the priority men’s boat. Instead the four became the priority and a new combination of under-23 representatives, George Nash and William Satch became the pair. Nash and Satch, though despite their youth, have showed that on a good day they may be able to reach the medals.
Women’s Double Sculls (W2x)
There is a lot at stake for the British duo. The nation has never won Olympic gold in women’s rowing and their most medalled female athlete, Katherine Grainger, has three Olympic silvers. She desperately wants to win gold. Anna Watkins was partnered with Grainger in 2010 and they haven’t lost a race since which has clearly put them on the right track.
If anyone can break the strong British combination it is likely to be the Australians. Kim Crow and Brooke Pratley have had a mixed season. Pratley had to get over an injury before being finalised in this boat. Crow, thus, spent time in the single and proved her strength in that discipline. Crow has now become quite the sensation and will compete in both the single and the double in London. When the duo did finally race earlier this season, they finished second to Grainger and Watkins.
Watch out too for Poland’s Magdalena Fularczyk and Julia Michalska. They became the first Polish women rowers to take World Championship gold when they won this event in 2009 and now they are aiming for a similar result at the Olympics.
In the mix should also be the Antosova sisters from the Czech Republic and New Zealand’s Fiona Paterson and Anna Reymer.
Men’s Single Sculls (M1x)
Lining up at London is arguably the fastest field ever. Usually the men’s single contain two or three top medal candidates. This year it will be a huge feat just to get into the A-final. Odds to win are slightly better for Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand. Last year Drysdale equaled the great Peter-Michael Kolbe (GER) to be the only single sculler to win five World Champion titles. Drysdale also holds the World Best Time in the single. However a bike injury sustained in June may have set Drysdale back a fraction.
Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic is also a hot favourite to take gold. Synek was second in Beijing (to Drysdale’s third). He then won gold ahead of Drysdale at the 2010 World Rowing Championships. This season Synek and Drysdale have raced each other twice (once in a World Cup and once at Amsterdam’s Holland Beker regatta) and the score is one-all.
Then there is a bunch of rowers that have the talent to break into the top spot. Alan Campbell of Great Britain is possibly the best sprinter in the field and with a home-crowd urging him on anything is possible. Marcel Hacker, 35, of Germany is coming back from early season injury and at last month’s Samsung World Rowing Cup in Munich, Hacker won. This will be Hacker’s fourth Olympic Games.
Keep an eye out too for the two Scandinavians. Olaf Tufte of Norway is the defending Olympic Champion but has not shown real Olympic form over the last couple of seasons. Lassi Karonen of Sweden often hovers on the edge of the medals and London appears to be coming at the right time for him.
Men’s Four (M4-)
When Great Britain decided to make this event their priority boat and keep up the tradition that has seen them win gold for the last three Olympic Games, everything looked to be going their way. They brought their two top sweep rowers into the boat, Andrew Triggs Hodge and Pete Reed and retained Tom James and Alex Gregory from last year’s World Champion crew.
But then Australia beat the British in the third Samsung World Rowing Cup in Munich. Australia claimed the gold medal in the four at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics and in the 1996 boat was Drew Ginn. Now a three-time Olympic Champion, Ginn is back to reclaim the four for their country along with William Lockwood, James Chapman and Joshua Dunkley-Smith.
This race could turn into a two-boat fight to the line, or as Ginn has described it, a “drag race” down the course.
Being the Olympics though, any boat making it to the final has a good shot at the medals and Greece could be one of these crews. The Greeks regularly make it to the medals podium and in 2010 they were World silver medallists. Keep an eye out too for the ever-improving Belarusian crew. At the Samsung World Rowing Cup in Munich they were third and they must be feeling the confidence of rolling in the right direction.
Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls (LW2x)
The poise and precision of Christina Giazitzidou and Alexandra Tsiavou of Greece is hard to overlook in this event. They are the reigning World Champions and 2009 World Champions, but this talented duo will have their work cut out for them after witnessing the results so far this season. Although Giazitzidou and Tsiavou won the first stage of the Samsung World Rowing Cup this season, they finished third at the second stage of the Samsung World Rowing Cup. This opened the door to speculation. Ahead of them was China’s Dongxiang Xu and Wenyi Huang and New Zealand’s Louis Ayling and Julia Edward. Both are new combinations this year.
Xu and Huang are a mixture of youth and experience. Xu is a two-time Olympic finalist in this event while 21-year-old Huang started racing internationally just two years ago. But it is Ayling, 24, and Edward, 21, who are the new sensations. At their first international event together they set a new World Best Time and finished off the World Rowing Cup season with a gold medal. The question will be whether they can keep their cool as the Olympics often becomes a race of nerves.
It is worth noting late qualifiers, Anja Noske and Lena Mueller of Germany. Their form is looking promising this season with a win at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta, followed up by a bronze medal at last month’s World Rowing Cup.
Watch out too for Great Britain and Canada who have both been strong in this event over the last couple of years with Canada taking world silver in 2011 and the gold on 2010. Both crews, however, have experienced crew changes during that time.
Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls (LM2x)
Reigning World and Olympic Champions, Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter have the numbers on paper to succeed. This season, though, has not gone their way. They finished at the back of the A-final in their last two international races and they come to London rather on the back foot.
Instead there is a brand new duo causing quite a sensation. Stany Delayre and Jeremie Azou of France are both accomplished in the single, and in their first international race together, at the Samsung World Rowing Cup II in May, they took top honour in the lightweight double. Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke they backed it up with a silver at the final World Rowing Cup in Munich. In both races their biggest challenge came from New Zealand’s Storm Uru and Peter Taylor. Uru and Taylor raced together at the Beijing Olympics and have remained together with the aim of medalling this time around. On the way they have picked up a World Championship title, a silver and a bronze.
This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to quality of competition. Very much in the mix are Beijing medallists from Denmark, Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist. Both Canada and Italy featured in Beijing, but this time the partnerships are new. Italy’s Elia Luini will race with Pietro Ruta as Lorenzo Bertini recently sustained an injury and Douglas Vandor of Canada will line up with Morgan Jarvis.
Women’s Single Scull (W1x)
This event used to be clear-cut and predictable. Not so now. The great Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus heads to her sixth Olympic Games with five Olympic medals and the ease and experience to race with enviable confidence. But in this most recent Olympic cycle Karsten, 40, has been beaten out of gold by both Frida Svensson of Sweden and Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic at the World Rowing Championships.
Knapkova, 31, has spent all of her rowing career in the single and a lot of it sitting in silver behind Karsten. In 2011 Knapkova won her first ever World Champion title and it looks as though she has been elaborately planning this season for everything to fall into place by the time she reaches London.
Watch out too for New Zealand and China. China’s Xiuyun Zhang, 36, has won both stages of the Samsung World Rowing Cups that she raced this season and she rides on a rowing pedigree that goes back to medaling at the 1996 Olympic Games. New Zealand’s Emma Twigg, 25, may be the more junior member of the group, but she is already an Olympian and owns a World Rowing Cup gold from last season.
Perhaps a long-shot, but definitely worth noting, is Nataliya Mustafayeva of Azerbaijan. Mustafayeva has been hovering on the edge of the medals lately and with one Olympic Games already to her name, Mustafayeva has the necessary experience.