New Zealand's Mahe Drysdale
Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand races in the A-final of the men's single sculls at the 2014 World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

In 2005, both Drysdale and Synek competed internationally in the single for the first time. Drysdale had previously raced in the men’s four and Synek in the men’s double sculls. That year, at the 2005 World Rowing Championships in Gifu, Japan, they both made the podium, Drysdale in gold and Synek in bronze.


From then on, neither of them would ever miss a World Championship or Olympic podium, with the exception of Drysdale who, in 2013 suffered from injury and did not complete the World Rowing Championship regatta.

To this date Drysdale has the statistical edge. He has five World Championship titles and Synek three. Drysdale has won Olympic gold and bronze. Synek has two Olympic silvers. Drysdale also holds the current World Best Time, 6:33.35, set at the 2009 World Rowing Championships in Poznan, Poland.

With the start of the 2014 season, speculation was rife. Would they both be on form? Which of the two would dominate the season? Or would there be a new player filtering through the ranks?

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Neither of them entered the first World Rowing Cup of the season in Sydney, Australia. Synek first raced this year at the European Rowing Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. At these championships, his main challenger was Marcel Hacker from Germany. Hacker’s rowing career started in the mid-1990s and he has been racing almost exclusively in the single for the past 15 years. The German sculler has one World Championship title from 2002 and also a number of other World Championship and European Championship medals. At last year’s 2013 World Rowing Championships, he won bronze.

In Belgrade, Hacker stayed in close contact with Synek in the final and took the lead in the third quarter. But Synek managed to push through to get back in front and take a third European Champion title.

Drysdale and Synek met for the first time this year at the second leg of the World Rowing Cup in Aiguebelette, France. Synek started out at the front of the field in the final, Drysdale at the back. The Kiwi seemed comfortable in sixth for the first 500m and granted the Czech the lead for three quarters of the race. In the last 500m, Drysdale demonstrated an incredible turn of speed, rapidly moving up from fourth to second. Gaining momentum, he kept moving on Synek and in the last strokes overtook the reigning World Champion and crossed the line in gold. Cuban sculler Angel Fournier Rodriguez, world silver medallist in 2013, held on to a steady third throughout the race and crossed the line in third.

After the Aiguebelette final, Drysdale said: “It was a good race. I came here with the goal to come within five seconds of the winner, so to be the winner is great.”

“It was very difficult to compete against Mahe again,” said Synek. “The last few days have been very difficult for me because my father died. I wanted to win for my father and next time I will do my best for him.”

In Lucerne at the third World Rowing Cup, Mahe again stayed further behind in the initial stages of the final, but this time he did not wait as long to catch up. He overtook Synek early on in the second half and held on for the gold.

After the race, Synek commented: “I saved a little bit of power for the last 500m, but not enough for the victory. I feel good going for the worlds. I know I need to train more going into the World Rowing Championships, and I will be the strongest competition for Mahe!”

“I had good speed coming into the second 1000m but my start is lacking,” said Drysdale. “Rio is the big event I am looking forward to now.”

With two wins out of two, it seemed year 2014 would be Drysdale’s.

In the World Rowing Championship final in Amsterdam, it was Fournier who took the early lead ahead of Synek. As was Drysdale’s custom, he did not hurry to move up the ranks. With a quarter of the race gone, the Kiwi was sitting in fourth behind Cuba, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania’s Mindaugas Griskonis. Coming up to the half-way mark, Synek overtook Fournier while Drysdale passed through Griskonis into third position. From this point onwards, the Czech-Kiwi-Cuban trio began to break away from the rest of the field.

Synek had seen Drysdale overtake him twice in the last stretches of the Aiguebelette and Lucerne finals. He was no doubt expecting the Kiwi to try the same tactic again. Had the Czech sculler been able to prepare for it?

In the last 500m, Drysdale and Synek were going head to head, Drysdale with the lower stroke rate but higher boat speed. The duo moved clear away from Fournier in third. In the last 250m Synek upped his rate to 40 with Drysdale trying to hang on. Synek had been prepared. Crossing the line ahead of Drysdale, he won his third World Championship title. Fournier took Cuba’s second World Championship medal, a bronze.

After the race, Synek said: “It was head to head at 500m.  I really wanted to beat Mahe so I pushed the rate up above 40. It was really go or die.”

“He (Synek) was just too good,” said Drysdale.

In all likelihood New Zealand and the Czech Republic will again be the top contenders in 2015 with Cuba getting stronger and stronger. Will new tactics be adopted to gain or keep the advantage? The world of rowing is looking forward to another year of exciting battles in the men’s single sculls.

2014 World Rowing Championships men’s single final

2014 World Rowing Cup, Lucerne, SUI, men’s single final

2014 World Rowing Cup, Aiguebelette, FRA, men;s single final