As tail wind conditions remained on Sava Lake rowers aimed for the finals when they raced in the semifinals.

The men’s quadruple sculls brought the crowd to their feet when six top boats ended up in the same semi together and pushed the pace so hard that eventual winner, Croatia almost broke the World Best Time – a feat that is rarely seen this early in the season.

The women’s pair semifinal got remarkably close to a new World Best Time as well when two United States crews raced each other in one of the semifinals.  

Lightweight Men’s Single Sculls (LM1x) – Semifinal
Watch out for Peter Galambos of Hungary. Semifinal One saw the return of Galambos to the single after spending last year in the lightweight double. Jumping out at the start Galambos recorded a speedy 1:39 split for the first 500m which gave him an open water lead over his competition. Behind him Italy, France and Great Britain battled with each other through the middle of the race. With the top three rowers advancing to the final, Michael Mottram of Great Britain and Stany Delayre of France pulled out the best sprint to shake off Italy. Galambos looked very comfortable coming into the last 200m of the race, taking his stroke rate down to 32. Mottram and Delayre pushed but also looked in control.
Semifinal Two featured the highest seeded sculler in this event. Pietro Ruta of Italy took silver at the 2011 World Rowing Championships and looks to be continuing on a very illustrious career in the single. Pushed by World Best Time holder, Jeremie Azou of France, Ruta finished first with the fastest qualifying time while Azou relaxed towards the end, content with second. Norway’s Svein Urban Ringstad, who is coming into his ninth year of international competition, came through in third to round out a very competent line-up for the finals later today.

Finalists: HUN, GBR, FRA2, ITA1, FRA1, NOR3

Women’s Pair (W2-) – Semifinal
The United States women’s sweep squad is a force to be reckoned with. They have owned the podium in the women’s eight since the 2008 Olympic Games and coach Tom Terhaar uses the pair as an important training boat. Today Semifinal One had two United States pairs racing. It was a race for third for all other crews as the two American boats dominated the race.

Between Erin Cafaro and Eleanor Logan of USA1 and Caroline Lind and Taylor Ritzel of USA2 it was Lind and Ritzel who held the edge for the entire 2000m. Both Lind and Ritzel were in the 2011 World Champion eight with Lind also owning an Olympic gold from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At the line Lind and Ritzel’s winning time was just one second outside of the World Best Time. Cafaro and Logan came in second and Romania’s second crew of Adelina Cojocariu and Irina Dorneanu came through in third.

Number two in the world, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning of Great Britain showed their style in Semifinal Two by leading from start to finish. Only the Netherlands (Claudia Belderbos and Chantal Achterberg) got close to challenging Glover and Stanning. Following in third spot was Kerstin Hartmann and Marlene Sinnig of Germany. Both Germany and the Netherlands are yet to qualify for the London Olympics and this regatta will be very important for them before attempting at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta later this month.

At the line the order remained the same with Glover and Stanning crossing at relative ease and the Netherlands looking comfortable in second with Germany still pushing it in third.

Finalists: USA2, USA1, ROU2, GBR1, NED1, GER

Men’s Pair (M2-) – Semifinal
There could be a new challenger for the top medals later this season in the form of Anton Braun and Felix Drahotta of Germany. Braun and Drahotta are in their first season together with Braun, 22, coming through from under-23s and Drahotta being last year’s sixth-place finisher in this event. Today in Semifinal One, Braun and Drahotta challenged the very successful Gkountoulas brothers from Greece and got the better of them after pulling out a dominating sprint piece at the 1750m mark.

This gave Braun and Drahotta first place with Greece following in second. The third, and final qualifying spot, came down to an all out battle between two Czech crews. At the line Czech Republic2 (Jan Gruber and Jakub Makovicka) had got the better of Czech Republic1 to qualify for the final.
Serbia earned their first spot in the final when Nenad Bedik and Jovan Popovic of Serbia came through in Semifinal Two. The order of the top three spots was sorted out early in the piece with George Nash and William Satch of Great Britain taking off in first followed by Serbia and then Netherlands2 (Nanne Sluis and Meindert Klem) in third. This order remained for the full 2000m Sava Lake course and these are the three crews that will get to go to tomorrow’s final.

All three of these crews are new line-ups for 2012 as coaches work out their best combinations for the coming 2012 Olympic Games.

Finalists: GER, GRE, CZE1, GBR1, SRB1, NED2

Men’s Double Sculls (W2x) – Semifinal
Five boats took off at a cracking pace in Semifinal One of the men’s double sculls so that with 500m rowed there was less than two seconds separating them. Ukraine then dropped off the pace leaving a line of Italy, Argentina, Great Britain and Germany to fight it out for the three qualifying spots. Argentina then began to slip back leaving former World Champions, Eric Knittel and Stephan Kruger (GER), Bill Lucas and Sam Townsend (GBR) and Alessio Sartori and Romano Battisti (ITA1) to fight it out.

In a closely packed finish Knittel and Krueger, rating 37, managed to hold the upper hand. Great Britain’s new 2012 doubles line-up of Bill Lucas and Sam Townsend, who made up half of their country’s quadruple sculls last year, held on to second. Sartori and Battisti came through in third and as Italy is yet to qualify for the London Olympics, this could be the crew that aims to do it later this month at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta. These three crews made up the three fastest qualifying times.
Cedric Berrest and Julien Bahain of France brushed off their second place in yesterday’s heat by racing at the head of the field in Semifinal Two. Berrest and Bahain have quite the rowing pedigree behind them, having medalled at the 2008 Olympics in the quad and Berrest also having raced at the 2004 Olympics.
Berrest and Bahain, however, did not have it easy. Both Slovenia’s Luka Spik and Iztok Cop and GER2 of Hans Gruhne and Mathias Rocher pushed the French right through to the finish. Coming into the final sprint 2000 Olympic Champions, Spik and Cop rated 39 with Gruhne and Rocher hitting 40. France looked in control at 35 strokes per minute, encouraged by the tailwind conditions. A big closing sprint by Norway was not enough to get them ahead of Slovenia in third, but it certainly added to the closeness of this finish.

Finalists: GER1, GBR, ITA1, FRA, GER2, SLO

Men’s Four (M4-) – Semifinal
What a race! Semifinal One of the men’s four had the excitement of a photo finish and a show of power by Great Britain. The British have put together a new four for 2012, bringing back 2008 Olympic gold medallists from the category, Andrew Triggs Hodge and Pete Reed into the boat after a three-year stint in the pair. They join 2008 crewmate Tom James and Alex Gregory who has been in the four for the last three seasons.

Today Great Britain took off at the start and had more than a boat length lead by the halfway point. With the British clearly in front, a very close battle went on between Serbia, the Netherlands, Russia and France. The battle remained an issue as the final sprint came into view with the crowd loving seeing Serbia just holding on to second place. As a relaxed looking Great Britain crossed the line in first, the Netherlands, at a 39 stroke rate, squeezed through in second. France, at 43, secured third with Russia just missing out, despite an awesome sprint, finishing fourth. Serbia stopped rowing before the line.

Semifinal Two recorded the fastest qualifying times when three crews challenged each other from start to finish. Greece, who were silver medallists in 2011, got out in front, but they were unable to create a significant lead between themselves and challengers, Belarus with the Czech Republic also holding the pace. Greece’s Papachristos, Tsilis, Tziallas and Christou are used to rating high and they kept the pressure on through the body of the race to keep their nose ahead of Belarus. The Belarusian’s qualified for the London Olympics last year when they finished ninth and the same line-up has been maintained this year.
Coming into the finish Greece topped a 44 stroke rate and the lead over Belarus’s 36 with the Czech Republic, who are yet to qualify for London, at 43 keeping up. This is how they crossed the line as the three qualifying boats for tomorrow’s Final A.

Finalists: GBR, NED, FRA, GRE, BLR, CZE

Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls (LM2x) – Semifinal
Denmark’s Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist set the World Best Time in 2007 and then went on to medal at the Beijing Olympics. They then took time off from the double, reappearing on the international scene last year. At the 2011 World Rowing Championships Rasmussen and Quist finished fifth showing a positive build-up towards the Olympic Games. Today the Danish duo pushed past Cuba to take the lead by the half-way point of Semifinal One. Italy’s 2011 bronze medallists, Lorenzo Bertini and Elia Luini challenged hard from second with Are Strandli and Kristoffer Brun of Norway very much on the pace.
These three countries joined in a sprint to the finish which moved them well away from the rest of the field. The order did not change and the finalists were decided for Sunday’s race – Denmark, Italy and Norway.

Semifinal Two featured the Olympic and World Champions Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter of Great Britain and this duo showed their pedigree by getting out in front at the start. But three crews were giving Purchase and Hunter something to think about. Greece’s Panagiotis Magdanis and Eleftherios Konsolas were matching the British, while Hungary and China remained overlapping.
Hungary’s Zsolt Hirling and Tamas Varga raced together at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics with Hirling then taking time off after 2008. Hirling decided to come back this season and the duo may well aim to qualify for London later this month. Coming into the final sprint Hirling and Varga had moved into second and were pushing Hunter and Purchase to the line. The British held them off. Great Britain, Hungary and Greece earn the spots in the final.

Finalists: DEN, ITA, NOR, GBR, HUN1, GRE

Men’s Quadruple Sculls (M4x) – Semifinal
Semifinal One turned into the race of the day when some of the top names in quad rowing took to the Sava Lake regatta course. This included the most medalled crew in the last decade, Olympic Champions Poland, Russia with three of the 2004 Olympic Champions in the boat, 2010 World Champions, and Croatia along with Estonia, Ukraine and Great Britain.

Semifinal A/B of the men’s quadruple sculls: Croatia, Estonia and Russia compete at the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup in Belgrade, Serbia.

Jumping out at the start was Russia followed closely by Croatia with these two boats remaining at the front as they went through the 1,000m half-way point. Then Croatia’s Martin, Sain and the Sinkovic brothers did a push that got their nose ahead of Russia with Estonia now fast closing on the leading crews. Estonia’s boat included Kaspar Taimsoo and Allar Raja who both raced in this boat at the 2008 Olympics. Poland and Great Britain were also moving up.

Coming into the final sprint there was practically a line of five boats with only Ukraine down on the pace. Who could do it in the sprint? A smooth looking Croatia, rating 35, won the battle followed by Estonia rating 36, and Russia just holding on using a 39 stroke rate. Croatia crossed the line in a time just 0.44 seconds outside of the World Best Time.

After the excitement of the first semifinal, all eyes were on what last year’s silver medallists, Germany could do in 

Semifinal Two. The answer was simple – lead from start to finish. Schulze, Wende, Schoof and Grohmann of Germany got out in front and moved their boat to a full boat length lead over their nearest threat, France. Behind France the remaining four boats held a very close battle for the remaining one qualifying spot.

As the Czech Republic dropped back Switzerland and Italy charged for the line. The Italians, using a 38 stroke rate sprint, got there first. Germany, France and Italy qualify for tomorrow’s final.

Finalists: CRO, EST, RUS, GER, FRA, ITA 

Men’s Single Sculls (M1x) – Semifinal
When 2010 World Champion and 2011 silver medallist Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic finishes in second but don’t be alarmed. Synek, racing in Semifinal One, is well known to be a wily competitor and today’s race could well be an example.

Aleksandar Aleksandrov of Azerbaijan celebrates his qualification for the men’s single sculls Final A after the semifinal A/B at the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup in Belgrade, Serbia.

Alan Campbell of Great Britain took the lead at the start, just holding off Synek to reach the first 500m mark as race leader. Synek then pushed through with Sweden’s Lassi Karonen and Mindaugas Griskonis of Lithuania holding the pace. As Russia and Denmark dropped right back, the remainder of the field remained on top of each other. Then Griskonis decided to do a breakaway. Synek did not seem too concerned, watching Griskonis rate an impressive 37 strokes per minute. The line was coming close with Synek in second on a relaxed 31 stroke rate pace behind Griskonis. This left Campbell and Karonen to fight for the remaining qualifying spot.

Campbell got there first. Griskonis, Synek and Campbell move on to tomorrow’s final.

Semifinal Two ended up in a huge upset when Olympic Champion, Olaf Tufte of Norway got pushed out of the final by two rowers who have rarely made the A-final – Angel Fournier Rodriguez of Cuba and Aleksandar Aleksandrov of Azerbaijan. The gutsy former junior World Champion and former Bulgarian rower, Aleksandrov, led the field at the start before Fournier took over in the lead with Liang Zhang of China nestled into third.

Tufte, meanwhile, was near the back of the field and with 500m left to row he needed to overtake two crews in order to make the final. At the head of the field Fournier continued to lead over Aleksandrov with Tufte now trying to take on Zhang. As Tufte sprinted, Zhang reacted and took his stroke rate to 40. Tufte then appeared to end his challenge to progress to tomorrow’s final.

Last year Cuba, Azerbaijan and China finished eighth, ninth and tenth respectively. In Belgrade their positions have improved as they move on to the final in the same order.

Finalists: LTU, CZE, GBR1, CUB, AZE1, CHN

Women’s Single Sculls (W1x) – Semifinal
Following in the mould of fellow Czech single sculler, Ondrej Synek, World Champion Mirka Knapkova paced herself throughout the 2000m race and seemed content to finish second in Semifinal One. At the head of the field was China’s rowing stalwart, Xiuyun Zhang, who earned silver in the double at the 1996 Olympic Games.

With Zhang and Knapkova at the head of the field, Sanita Puspure of Ireland slotted into third followed closely by Estonia’s sole elite woman rower, Kaisa Pajusalu. A push by Knapkova in the third 500 gave the Czech the lead, but Zhang was not giving up. Zhang pushed back in the final sprint rating 36 strokes per minute to Knapkova’s 34. Pajusalu seemed to run out of steam handing Puspure the third and final qualifying spot.

Estonian single sculler Kaisa Pajusalu prepares for the start of her heat at the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup in Belgrade, Serbia.

Semifinal Two really brought the crowd to their feet as local rower, Iva Obradovic, raced at the head of the field. Obradovic has been racing internationally ever since making the junior national team a decade ago. She then spent time rowing in the United States university system before returning to Serbia. Today, Obradovic used the crowd support to completely break away from the field ahead of 2010 World Champion, Frida Svensson of Sweden. Azerbaijan’s Nataliya Mustafyeva followed in third. A full six seconds was Obradovic’s margin at the end with Svensson in second and Mustafayeva recovering from a crab just 10m from the line to hold on to third.

Finalists: CHN, CZE, IRE2, SRB1, SWE, AZE

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