Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Whom to Watch at Lucerne

Lucerne, the World Cup III. Photo: FISA.

This coming weekend, 11 - 13 July, it is time for the final World Rowing Cup for the 2014 season. As always it is held in Lucerne, Switzerland, where FISA writes in a press release, ‘there are high expectations of top quality racing, fair conditions and tight finishes.’ Whom to watch for? This is what FISA writes on its website:

Women’s Pair (W2-)
There is no doubt about the crew that will dominate. The Olympic Champion duo of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning (Great Britain) had a comfortable win at Aiguebelette last month and their confidence to continue to improve is evident. The question is who can step up to the standards that Glover and Stanning are setting. With the United States not racing in Lucerne, the big challenges may come from Rebecca Scown and Louise Trappitt of New Zealand. After winning at the Sydney World Cup, Scown and Trappitt were unlucky to not make the A-final in Aiguebelette. Debuting their 2014 season is South Africa’s young and dynamic pairing of Lee-Ann Persse and Naydene Smith. Persse and Smith raced in the A-final at last year’s World Rowing Championships and this regatta will reveal their current form. Keep an eye out too for Romania. Regularly strong in the pair, Romania is boating Laura Oprea and Mihaela Petrilla in one crew and Nicoleta Albu and Roxana Cogianu in another. Both of these combinations will be strong.

Men’s Pair (M2-)
Essentially this will be about the race for second. New Zealand’s Eric Murray and Hamish Bond have been completely dominating for the last five years, leaving other countries to scratch their heads to work out new winning formulas. More than other international races this season, Lucerne may see some surprises, as some new dynamic combinations are racing. Serbia is back with Dusan Bogicevic and Veselin Savic who raced splendidly to gold at the European Rowing Championships. Greece is trying some new pairings with Georgios Tziallas and Konstantinos Christomanos in their country’s number one crew. Great Britain has stepped up for Lucerne by putting James Foad and Matthew Langridge together. Both Foad and Langridge raced at the World Cup in Aiguebelette in the silver medal eight. But it may be Rogier Blink and Mitchel Steenman of the Netherlands who will really shine. They have a solid track record including a medal from last year’s World Rowing Championships, and as their country plays host to the World Rowing Championships, they have an added incentive to do well. Watch out too for Germany's Bastian Bechler and Anton Braun who come to Lucerne after finishing second to the New Zealanders at Aiguebelette.

Women’s Double Sculls (W2x)
Leading the way this year are Sally Kehoe and Olympia Aldersey of Australia. Kehoe and Aldersey won at both the first and second World Rowing Cups and this new combination look like they have really gelled. Kehoe and Aldersey will face the reigning World Champions, Milda Valciukaite and Donata Vistartaite of Lithuania. Valciukaite and Vistartaite got off to a slow start this season in Sydney, but there is little doubt that they will be stepping up for Lucerne. Also in strong contention for the medals will be Aiguebelette silver medallists Meghan O'Leary and Ellen Tomek of the United States and bronze medallists Magdalena Fularczyk and Natalia Madaj of Poland. Both of these crew will add to the potential for a very close finish. And the talent does not end there. Keep an eye out for silver and bronze medallists from last year’s World Rowing Championships, New Zealand and Belarus respectively. Both crews have retained their line ups, Zoe Stevenson and Fiona Bourke for New Zealand and Ekaterina Karsten and Yuliya Bichyk for Belarus.

Men’s Double Sculls (M2x)
There is an evolution going on in the men’s double. No crew has yet to come out as a definite medal prospect with a variety of crews medalling so far this season. At the World Cup in Aiguebelette, Croatia’s Sinkovic brothers came first. The Sinkovic’s are remaining in the double (rather than their World Champion quad) for Lucerne and will be high on the list to medal again. Australia’s Alexander Belonogoff and James McRae finished third at Aiguebelette and in their first season together their extra time in Europe will surely be paying dividends. New Zealand’s Karl and Robert Manson are in a similar situation. With more time in Europe they will be well settled into the racing season. Keep an eye out for World Champions Kjetil Borch and Nils Jakob Hoff of Norway. Despite a slow start to the season they cannot be dismissed. A similar scenario goes for Italy’s Romano Battisti and Francesco Fossi. Third last year, Battisti and Fossi have had a very slow start to the season.

Men’s Four (M4-)
There is no doubt that the British crew of Alex Gregory, Mohamed Sbihi, George Nash and Andrew Triggs Hodge are looking hard to match. This is their first season together, but so far they remain unbeaten and have the power to lead for the entire race. Australia, however, has a strong affiliation with the men’s four and, despite finishing second to Great Britain at Aiguebelette, they will be training to win gold. Watch out for Canada. They had a very strong finish at Aiguebelette and if they get out of the start a bit quicker they will be able to challenge for the medals. Greece also has a talented line up that is able to produce a devastating sprint when needed.

Women’s Single Sculls (W1x)
The 2013 World Champion, Kim Crow of Australia is back on the international scene after missing the World Rowing Cup in Aiguebelette. In the meantime, Emma Twigg of New Zealand scored her second World Cup win of the season. Twigg won in Aiguebelette and also beat Crow at the start of the season in Sydney. When these two top scullers meet again in Lucerne it will be a full 2000m fight to the line. Coming along in rapidly is Magdalena Lobnig of Austria. The young Austrian was fourth at last year’s World Rowing Championships and then in Aiguebelette she scored bronze. Lobnig will be challenging Olympic Champion Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic for a medal spot. Keep an eye out too for Ireland's Sanita Puspure and the ever-improving Chantal Achterberg of the Netherlands.

Men’s Single Sculls (M1x)
Back leading the pack after a win at the Aiguebelette World Cup is Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand. Drysdale overtook World Champion, Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic, in a close finish. Synek, however, is not ready to play second fiddle to Drysdale and he will be using his racing skills to get the better of the New Zealander in Lucerne. Always ready to challenge is Marcel Hacker of Germany. The experienced Hacker is in his 20th year on the German national team and when he has a good race, he medals. Coming up through the ranks is A-finallist from Aiguebelette, Stanislau Shcharbachenia of Belarus. This sculler has proved that he is one to watch. Also with the potential to push into the A-final is Roel Braas of the Netherlands and Mindaugas Griskonis of Lithuania. Braas recently won his country’s prestigious Holland Beker regatta, which will boost his single sculling confidence. Griskonis is a regular A-finallist with his most recent result being a bronze medal at the European Rowing Championships.

Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls (LW2x)
The unbeaten crew of Laura Milani and Elisabetta Sancassani from Italy are back after not competing at Aiguebelette. Milani and Sancassani are the current World Champions and they have shown their ability to win from behind. The Italians will have their work cut out for them as winners of the World Rowing Cup II last month were Katherine Copeland and Imogen Walsh of Great Britain. Copeland is the Olympic Champion in this boat class and has made a successful return to international rowing after taking a year off. Germany has brought Lena Mueller and Anja Noske back together for Lucerne. Mueller and Noske are the bronze medallists from the 2013 World Rowing Championships and also have a silver together from this year’s European Rowing Championships. Keep an eye out too for Canada and Sweden. Both of these crews raced in the A-final at Aiguebelette and both are edging towards a medal spot.

Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls (LM2x)
France’s Jeremie Azou and Stany Delayre are on fire this season. They already collected gold at the Aiguebelette World Cup, the European Rowing Championships and the open double at the Henley Royal Regatta. Together they have every intention of remaining at the front of the field. The World Champions, Kristoffer Brun and Are Strandli of Norway look to be building as the season advances and will be aiming to improve on their Aiguebelette bronze medal. Also ones to watch out for are the Greek duo of Eleftherios Konsolas and Panagiotis Magdanis, who have shown great results in the past. Willing to fully challenge Azou and Delayre will be Germany’s Lars Hartig and Konstantin Steinhuebel. After an average performance in Aiguebelette, Hartig and Steinheubel will be aiming to show their country’s selectors that they are the best combination.   

Lightweight Men’s Four (LM4-)
The results from the World Rowing Cup in Aiguebelette last month got people talking. This race usually presents very tight finishes. But in Aiguebelette, New Zealand won with a handy margin over World Champions, Denmark. Was this a one-off by the New Zealand crew of Hunter, Lassche, Rapley and Taylor or will they be able to do it again in Lucerne? One thing is for sure, Denmark will not make it easy for New Zealand. Also right in the mix will be Great Britain. The British are back with three members of the crew that took silver at the London 2012 Olympic Games. They finished third in Aiguebelette and will be aiming to go higher in Lucerne. Keep an eye out too for France who raced in the A-final at Aiguebelette and are looking to remain on the path of improvement as the season advances.

Women’s Quadruple Sculls (W4x)
Following their dominating win at the World Rowing Cup last month in Aiguebelette, it looks like Germany has found the perfect combination for the season. The current World Champions are sticking with Carina Baer, Julia Lier, Lisa Schmidla and Annekatrin Thiele to fly the flag for Germany. Challenging Germany for the lead is likely to be the bronze medallists from Aiguebelette, the New Zealanders. This is a new line up for New Zealand, but their Aiguebelette medal proved that they have strong capabilities. Keep an eye out too for Canada, Great Britain and Australia. These nations regularly put together medal winning quads and both Canada and Great Britain raced in the A-final at Aiguebelette. Australia won the Sydney World Cup in March and, with the very experienced Kerry Hore in the boat, this crew will be aiming to impress.

Men’s Quadruple Sculls (M4x)   
One of the biggest surprises from the World Cup in Aiguebelette was the win by Great Britain’s Cousins, Lambert, Thomas and Townsend over Germany. They will now race with a target on their back as other crews now know their capabilities. It also means that Germany will be ready and waiting to strike back. Great Britain and Germany may be the front runners, but they better watch out for Australia and Canada. The Canadian’s debuted at Aiguebelette and finished third, while Australia has a new line up racing internationally for the first time in Lucerne. Australia has gone through a series of trials to select this crew and are expecting some positive results. Watch out too for the new United States line up. There are some familiar names in the boat including the Graves brothers and it will be interesting to see what they can achieve together with Benjamin Dann and Stephen Whelpley.

Women’s Eight (W8+)
Last month in Aiguebelette, Canada led for the majority of the race before being overtaken by the World Champions United States on the line. Canada can take pride in this performance and will come to Lucerne with added confidence of their racing abilities. But, in the absence of the United States, Canada has a new challenger – Romania. The Romanians had a great start to the season by winning at the European Rowing Championships. They are also the silver medallists from the 2013 World Rowing Championships and have done some strategic tweaking to find the best line up. At Aiguebelette, Great Britain finished third and looked rather displeased with this result. They will be using their bronze medal to motivate them to move up the medal ranks. Keep an eye out too for the Netherlands who are known to medal when they put it all together on race day.

Men’s Eight (M8+)  
The final of the men’s eight in Aiguebelette last month was not as expected. The United States won, with Great Britain and Belarus taking the lesser medals. This was a coup for Belarus who have not seen medals in the eight for a number of years. Can Belarus do it again in Lucerne? In the absence of the United States, there will be room for another crew on the medals podium, but with the Olympic Champions, Germany back racing, a medal spot may have already been reserved by the Germans. Germany, however, cannot expect an easy ride. Russia finished second at the European Rowing Championships and, under the guidance of new coach Mike Spracklen, they will be looking for a World Cup medal. Watch out too for New Zealand who arrive with an under-23 crew filled with high expectations.

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