Who to watch at 2016 season opener, World Rowing Cup I
The first World Rowing Cup of the 2016 season, World Rowing Cup I is in Varese, Italy starting 15 April. This hails the beginning of the all-important Olympic build-up and 47 countries are heading to Varese to see how their rowers are positioned.
Italy is sending a large team to make the most of the home-course advantage with their World Champion men's four likely to be the stand-out crew. South America has a strong showing and they arrive in Europe hot on the heels of their Americas Olympic Qualification Regatta. This will be a chance to spot Chile and Argentina in action among others.
Women’s pair (W2-)
The women's pair has attracted a number of new combinations that have come to test the waters of the 2016 international rowing scene. Among them are some top names. Lee-Ann Persse of South Africa finished fifth at last year's World Rowing Championships and thus qualified her boat for the Olympic Games. In Varese, Persse has a new partner to test with; Kate Christowitz. Canadian Jennifer Martins, who finished sixth in Aiguebelette will also race with a new partner, Caileigh Filmer.
Other Olympic qualifiers lining up at World Rowing Cup I are Germany with Kerstin Hartmann and Kathrin Marchand as well as the Netherlands, albeit with a new line-up compared to last year’s, this time consisting of Aletta Jorritsma and Heleen Boers.
Men’s pair (M2-)
New Zealand’s World Champions will be absent at World Rowing Cup I, but there is still plenty of depth in Varese in the men's pair. The Netherlands finished fourth and Italy fifth at last year’s World Champs. Both nations will be sending two combinations to Varese including the 2015 combinations of Roel Braas and Mitchel Steenman for the Netherlands and Niccolo Mornati and Vincenzo Capelli for Italy.
The 2015 world silver medallists Great Britain will be sending two new line-ups with the top boat featuring Matthew Tarrant and Nathaniel Reilly-O'Donnell who took gold in the men's coxed pair at last year's World Rowing Championships. Serbia’s 2015 world bronze medallists will be racing with the same line-up as in Aiguebelette, consisting of Milos Vasic and Nenad Bedik and they come to Varese as the favourites.
Eleven boats have qualified so far for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in this boat class. In Varese, six of the 13 nations represented in the men’s pair field have already qualified.
Women’s double sculls (W2x)
Frontrunners in the women's double sculls is likely to be Poland. Magdalena Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj of Poland finished fourth at last year's World Rowing Championships and they will be racing in Varese. Fularczyk and Madaj have a very solid rowing history together which includes being the reigning European Champions.
The Poles will need to keep an eye out for China's Jie Wang and Xiaoxing Shen. Even though this is a new combination, past regattas have shown never to underestimate a Chinese entry.
Familiar name in Italian rowing, Laura Schiavone is back for another season. She has teamed up with Giada Colombo and earlier this month they finished second in the double at the Memorial Paolo d'Aloja in Italy. They will be a combination to keep an eye on.
Men’s double sculls (M2x)
Of the 16 entries represented in the men’s double sculls in Varese, five have already qualified for Rio. And there is no doubt who the favourites are. Two-time World Champions in this boat class - Martin and Valent Sinkovic from Croatia. The Sinkovic's have a proven ability to win by impressive margin, but they will face Italian Olympic qualifiers, Francesco Fossi and Romano Battisti. In front of a home crowd, Fossi and Battisti may pull out a special race.
Great Britain has entered a new combination compared to last year’s, with Nicholas Middleton and Jack Beaumont lining up. Middleton and Beaumont finished seventh and eighth respectively in the men’s single sculls at the recent British trials.
But the highlight entry must be Norway. Two-time Olympic Champion in the single sculls, Olaf Tufte is joining with 2013 World Champion in the double, Kjetil Borch. Borch just missed out on Olympic qualification at last year's World Rowing Championships in the double while Tufte qualified the single.
Men’s four (M4-)
Four of the nations entered in Varese have already qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. This includes World Champions, Italy who are the undeniable favourites for this regatta. Matteo Castaldo, Marco Di Costanzo, Matteo Lodo and Giuseppe Vicino will be the crew that the Italian spectators have come to see. A second Italian boat will also be lining up as well.
Canada, who finished fourth at the 2015 World Rowing Championships, will be sending the same line-up to Varese and are likely to be the crew that press the Italians the hardest. Earlier this month, however, Italy raced Canada at the Memorial Paolo d'Aloja and proved to be the top boat still.
Keep an eye out too for the Netherlands and the United States. The Dutch have entered the crew that finished sixth at the 2015 World Champs and the US who finished seventh at last year's World Rowing Championships.
Women’s single sculls (W1x)
Of the 17 nations lining up in Varese in the women’s single sculls, six have already qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games, including 2012 Olympic Champion Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic, who won silver at the World Champs last year. Knapkova is likely to be the one to beat in Varese.
Knapkova will have challenges coming from various directions as the third, fifth and sixth-place finishers from last year's World Rowing Championships have entered. The 2015 world bronze medallist, Jingli Duan from China is there as well as Jeannine Gmelin of Switzerland and Carling Zeeman of Canada. Both Gmelin and Zeeman spent part of their off-season preparation in New Zealand and it will be interesting to see their 2016 boat speed.
Keep an eye out for Sweden’s Anna Malvina Svennung who won the B-final at the World Championships last year and will be racing alongside a second Swedish single sculler, Lovisa Claesson. Belarus have yet to qualify in the women's single and they will be sending three athletes to Varese, including multi World and Olympic Champion in the single Ekaterina Karsten.
Men’s single sculls (M1x)
Of the highest placed nations at last year’s World Rowing Championships, Norway will be represented at Varese. But this time with Jan Helvig who has replaced Olaf Tufte who will be racing in the men's double sculls. This means that all eyes will be on Croatia’s Damir Martin (fifth at the 2015 World Rowing Championships) as well as two-time world medallist Angel Fournier Rodriguez from Cuba (sixth at the 2015 World Champs).
Watch out too for Stanislau Shcharbachenia of Belarus. Although not yet consistent, Shcharbachenia produced medal-winning results in the last couple of years. There is also former junior champion Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk of Poland. Wegrzycki-Szymczyk finished ninth at last year's World Rowing Championships which earned Poland an Olympic qualification spot in the single.
Lightweight women’s double sculls (LW2x)
The calibre of the crews in this boat class signals that this will be one of the most competitive races at Varese. Positioned as frontrunners are likely to be the 2015 world bronze medallists from South Africa, Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler, as well as the fourth-placed Canadian duo of Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee. Both of these crews have qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and Varese will give them a chance to see how their off-season training has positioned them.
Also qualified for Rio is the Irish combination of Sinead Jennings and Claire Lambe. Jennnings and Lambe were ninth at last year's World Rowing Championships in their first year rowing together. More time in the boat together will surely act in their favour.
China finished seventh at the 2015 World Rowing Championships and they have two boats entered at Varese with the aim of finding the perfect Olympic combination. Italy is still hoping to qualify for Rio in this boat class and have entered four crews in Varese. Chile recently qualified their boat for Rio at the Americas Olympic Continental Qualification Regatta in March and their duo of Josefa Vial Betancurt and Melita Abraham will be part of the field.
Lightweight men’s double sculls (LM2x)
This boat class has attracted 19 entries and there will be a lot of interest to see how Olympic Champions Mads Rasmussen and Rasums Quist of Denmark stack up. The duo took time off from rowing after the London Olympics and last year they failed to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Rasmussen and Quist will be hoping to qualify through the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in May and Varese will act as a warm-up for the duo.
Likely to shine will be 2014 World Champions, James Thompson and John Smith. Thompson and Smith finished fourth in 2015 which means they are likely to have a tough battle with fifth-placed crew from the 2015 World Rowing Championships, Andrea Micheletti and Pietro Ruta of Italy.
Watch out too for the Dutch twins, Tycho and Vincent Muda as well as 2012 Olympic finalists, Pedro Fraga and Nuno Mendes of Portugal.
Lightweight men’s four (LM4-)
The 2015 World Champions from Switzerland will be racing at this World Cup and all eyes will be on how their off-season training has stacked up at the start of this season. Switzerland may have an easy time of at as last year’s world silver and bronze medallists, Denmark and France, will be absent from Varese.
Expect the Netherlands to step up. They have made one change to the line-up that finished fifth at the 2015 World Rowing Championships. Italy has entered two boats, including the crew that finished sixth at the 2015 World Champs.
Women’s quadruple sculls (W4x)
The Netherlands took bronze at the 2015 World Rowing Championships, while Poland finished fourth. Both of these crews are lining up in Varese with their crews identical to the 2015 version. This regatta will give the Dutch and Poles a good indication as to how their off-season training has gone.
But perhaps the most interesting element is the return to competition of 2012 Olympic Champions, Ukraine. The Ukrainian quad split into other boats after racing at the London Olympics. They are back with a new line-up that includes Olena Buryak who will also be racing in the women's double
Men’s Quadruple Sculls (M4x)
Estonia, the 2015 world bronze medallists in the men’s quadruple sculls, will race with their same 2015 line-up in Varese. Poland will send the same crew that finished seventh at last year’s World Rowing Championships. These are the only boats in Varese that have already qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The other four nations represented in this field have yet to qualify for Rio, including Canada, Italy (with three boats entered), Norway and Russia.
Women’s eight (W8+)
Of the five crews that have so far qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Canada and Russia will line up in Varese. Canada took bronze at the 2015 World Rowing Championships, while Russia finished fifth. Expect a tough battle between these two crews with Germany and the Netherlands having an extra incentive to do well as they are still aiming next month for Olympic qualification.
Men’s eight (M8+)
Two of the five boats qualified so far for Rio will race at World Rowing Cup I in Varese: the Netherlands and Russia. The Dutch are the frontrunners having scored the highest rank from 2015 - third. They will be up against a new 2016 Russian line up.
These two crews will be pushed by Italy. The Italians only just missed out on Olympic qualification at last year's World Rowing Championships by finishing sixth and they must be aiming to try and qualify as the Final Olympic Qualification regatta in May.