Who to Watch at World Rowing Cup I, Bled
Athletes from around the world are gearing up for the first World Rowing regatta of the season to be held this coming weekend in Bled, Slovenia.
In the past two years, the first World Rowing Cup of the season was held in Sydney, Australia in early March. The World Rowing Federation, FISA, in discussion with the coaches, decided to move the first World Rowing Cup of the season back to Europe for this Olympic qualification year and the coming Olympic year.
The Bled International Regatta will precede the World Rowing Cup on Friday 8 May, changing the World Cup to a two day event of heats, semifinals and finals. The one day Bled International regatta is designed to give more racing opportunities as many crews are still in the formation phase. This will give national team coaches an additional opportunity to test combinations and make selections.
The World Rowing Cup regatta will then take place on Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 May. It has attracted entries from 34 nations and more than 400 athletes. Wondering which crews to look out for this coming weekend? Find out in World Rowing's Who to Watch. Also stay tuned throughout the weekend to www.worldrowing.com for live results, race reports, photos and more.
Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls (LM2x)
The lightweight double is possibly the boat class featuring the most sibling combinations and very often they're twins. There are the Muda twins, Tycho and Vincent, from the Netherlands. They raced in the A-final at last year’s World Rowing Championships, finishing sixth overall.
The Czech Republic is sending to Bled the Vetesnik duo of Jan and Ondrej. They have spent the majority of their rowing career in the lightweight men’s four and last year focused on the double, racing to a sixth place finish at the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne. Austrian brothers Paul and Bernhard Sieber became World Under 23 Champions back in 2012 and since then have been aiming to make their mark at the senior level.
Portugal’s Pedro Fraga, the Olympian and 2014 European Champion in the lightweight single, has a new doubles partner in Nuno Goncalves Coelho. Also to be noted is Peter Galambos from Hungary who raced to World Championship bronze in the lightweight men’s single sculls in 2013 and is now racing with Daniel Matyasovszki.
Lightweight Men’s Four (LM4-)
Switzerland will likely be the crew to beat in this boat class. They have not featured a crew in this boat class since the London 2012 Olympic Games where they finished fifth. The same crew is back together after racing with success in smaller boats for the past two seasons.
The Netherlands are sending the same crew that finished sixth at the 2014 World Rowing Championships and will be the crew for Switzerland to use as a benchmark. China readily comes up with surprises and they will line up two boats, aiming to find the perfect combination to improve on their seventh-place finish in Amsterdam last year.
Watch out too for Spain. The members are the same as last year’s and with the experience they gained together as a crew they will likely be competitive.
Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls (LW2x)
The 2014 world bronze medallists from China, Wenyi Huang and Dandan Pan, will race as their country’s number two boat, having to prove to selectors that they are still their nation’s best choice for the lightweight double.
World Champions in the lightweight women’s quad, Maaike Head and Elisabeth Woerner (and the crew that also set a new World Best Time) from the Netherlands, will be testing their strength in the double. Together they raced as a duo at the 2013 World Rowing Championships where they finished sixth. They also raced to fifth in the lightweight double last year at the European Rowing Championships. Back in the double must be a strategic move to be in the Olympic boat class boat in this Rio 2016 Olympic Qualification year.
Watch out too for Poland’s experienced lightweight sculler Weronika Deresz. She will be racing with a new partner, Martyna Mikolajczak.
Men’s Single Sculls (M1x)
The men’s single sculls will see the arrival of a newcomer to this boat class. Damir Martin from Croatia is a World Champion and Olympic medallist in the men’s quadruple sculls. In 2014 he did not race due to injury and now makes his comeback in the single. All eyes will turn to observe his level of fitness and the type of contender he will be in relation to the rest of the field.
But it is Cuba’s Angel Fournier Rodriguez that will be the one to beat. Cuba's top rower and world silver and bronze medallist will again be aiming for the podium this year and in the absence of World Champion Ondrej Synek, from Bled he is likely to take gold.
Also lining up in the single will be Roel Braas of the Netherlands. In the past two years Braas has been a regular A-finalist in the single and claimed bronze at the European Rowing Championships in 2013. Braas is a powerhouse on the indoor rowing machine and is constantly inching towards the leading bunch on the water.
Men’s Pair (M2-)
In the absence of the Kiwi pair - World and Olympic Champions, Eric Murray and Hamish Bond - the top boat to watch out for will be France’s Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette. The Olympic silver medallists in the pair are resuming their partnership after a year of racing in the men’s eight. The break from the pair that they had in 2014 was likely to have been strategic and will no doubt boost their motivation in the pair.
China, Croatia and the Czech Republic have all entered two boats in this event, showing their intention to identify the best possible combination for the remainder of the season.
Men’s Double Sculls (M2x)
Croatia's Martin and Valent Sinkovic became the top boat in the double in 2014 when they left their 2013 World Champion men's quadruple sculls behind. The switch from quad to double last year served them well as they not only set a new World Best Time to become the first double ever to go under six minutes, but they also became 2014 World Champions.
As the Croatian brothers will not be racing in Bled, the top boats to look out for will be those from Germany. Formerly Germany’s top single sculler, Marcel Hacker lost his national champion title to countryman Stephan Krueger a couple of weeks ago. German selectors have placed Hacker and Krueger in the double and the question will be whether the two can gel together in this short space of time. Germany has also entered three other boats, including three members of the 2012 Olympic Champions from the men’s quadruple sculls.
Watch out also for Bulgaria’s Georgi Bozhilov and Kristian Vasilev. Together they finished sixth at last year’s World Rowing Championships and will be looking to keep on improving.
Men’s Four (M4-)
With last year’s world medallists not competing in Bled, this field will be a relatively clean slate. One of the top crews to look out for will be Serbia who finished ninth at last year's World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam. Two of those crew members will be racing in Bled: Nikola Stojic and Deric Radoje, with Stojic being the most experienced competitor. Stojic has not only been rowing internationally for more than two decades, but he also knows Bled well through the many changes in the region. Now 40 years old, Stojic was most recently successful at the 2013 European Championships.
Also on the radar will be France and Germany. Their new line-ups should stay on the look-out for China who have entered two boats in this event.
Men’s Quadruple Sculls (M4x)
In this event, Germany has united its top single scullers, including Stephan Krueger and Marcel Hacker, in two separate boats. All of them are also racing in the men’s double sculls. Clearly selectors are looking to form the most efficient combinations in both events making the most out of the wide pool of talent they have available.
Croatia medalled at Olympics and were the 2013 World Champions in this event with the famed crew of the Sinkovic brothers, David Sain and Damir Martin, before the crew split up for the 2014 season. For Bled Croatia has entered a quad that contains Sain. Whether this new combination will be able to live up to the name of the Croatian men’s quad remains to be seen.
Estonia finished fifth at the 2014 World Rowing Championships and will feature the same crew in Bled, with one change: Olympic medallist Tonu Endrekson has returned to elite competition and replaces Kaur Kuslap.
Men’s Eight (M8+)
Germany are the reigning Olympic Champions in this event, but their losses to Great Britain at the latest two editions of the World Rowing Championships means they are looking to fine-tune their line-up and have consequently entered two German men’s eights for Bled.
Great Britain will not be racing in Bled, so stay on the look-out for 2014 world bronze medallists Poland. Their crew remains identical to last year’s. France will also be a boat to keep a close eye on as they have shown regular A-finalist potential, with last year’s boat finishing fifth at the World Rowing Championships.
Women’s Single Sculls (W1x)
In the absence of the 2013 and 2014 World Champions, Kim Crow (AUS) and Emma Twigg (NZL), all eyes will no doubt return to 2012 Olympic Champion Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic. Knapkova underperformed in 2014, but will she be on form as she views to qualify her boat for Rio 2016 later this year?
China won bronze in this event at the World Rowing Championships last year with Jingli Duan. In Bled, another Chinese athlete, Weiwei Zhu will be representing China instead in this boat class. To date she has mostly been seen competing in the women’s double sculls.
Also back in the single in Bled will be Ekaterina Karsten from Belarus. Karsten, the multiple Olympic and World Champion, left her priority event, the single, following London 2012. In 2013 she won World Championship bronze with Yuilya Bichyk in the double and last year raced in the quad. Initially, Karsten and Bichyk were entered to race in Bled in the double, but due to Bichyk having a back injury, Karsten has moved back into the single.
Austria’s young Magdalena Lobnig is a name to watch out for. The 2012 under-23 World Champion continues to improve her senior level standing. A regular A-finalist, Lobnig has already medalled at the European Rowing Championship and World Rowing Cup levels.
Women’s Pair (W2-)
With the top boats from Great Britain, the USA and New Zealand not yet competing be ready to see new names coming to the fore. The most likely candidates for the medals are China and the Netherlands.
Women’s Double Sculls (W2x)
The top boat to look out for is likely to be Poland. Magdalena Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj won silver at the Worlds last year and were part of the bronze-medalling winning quad at the 2013 World Rowing Championships. Fularczyk also won Olympic bronze in this event in 2012.
Also look out for the two German entries. Both boats will be aiming to impress selectors.
Women’s Quadruple Sculls (W4x)
The top boat in this event for the past few years has been Germany. They are the 2013 and 2014 World Champions and won Olympic silver in 2012. There is little doubt that the Germans will be the crew to beat in Bled.
But watch out for China. They are back with the same boat as the one that won World Championship silver last year and it can be expected they will do just as well this year with Olympic qualification on the horizon.
The Netherlands will also be aiming for the podium, but there will be no shortcuts for the Dutch with Poland’s two entries likely to be pushing all of the way to the line.