Rachel Quarrell

Day 5 Review: 2017 World Rowing Championships

by Rachel Quarrell

As we rush towards the apex of the 2017 world rowing championships, everything suddenly started to speed up on day five. With the temperature gauge zooming past 90 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity above 70%, FISA were busy rearranging the schedule (latest version here) to cope with the fact that thunderstorms may interrupt racing on the last three days and that distant thunder can turn into local lightning quickly on the Florida coast.

So far the main change has been to move the C/D/E/F/G finals back into Friday, shifting Friday’s racing earlier by an hour to help. At the moment Saturday and Sunday remain unchanged, but the next tactic, if the forecasts for the weekend deteriorate, will be to hold the A-finals first on each day, leaving the B-finals (which could be cancelled or turned into timetrials without affecting medals) to be run later on when storms threaten.

After the singles fun of Wednesday it was mostly the turn of the bigger boats

Meanwhile the racing sizzled on a pretty calm lake, where the only breath of wind mid-morning was an undisturbing tail which merely shortened races. After the singles fun of Wednesday it was mostly the turn of the bigger boats, particularly the quads, fours and eights who churned up the lake with the fury of their passing.

Let’s start with the biggest crews, and with both eights qualified for the medal race the USA are in high spirits tonight. Their women for a while looked like the heroines of old, heading the repechage (with NZL and ROU already qualified, remember) for 1600m while Canada’s latest eight-pack steadily eroded and finally stole their lead. In the more brutal two-through repechages for the bigger men’s eights event, the American men did it the other way around, being headed by New Zealand for a few hundred metres until their better boat-pace put them firmly in charge and dreaming of potential medals on Sunday.

The GB men’s eight crashed out of the worlds A-final for the first time in 19 years

A few minutes earlier the British end of the grandstand had reverberated with shock as the GB men’s eight crashed out of the worlds A-final for the first time in 19 years. They’d missed it at the Athens Olympics, but before that the last time the GB eight had failed to compete for medals was at the 1998 worlds in Cologne. This time it was at the hands of the Dutch, who turned what might have been Roumania’s picnic into a celebratory Heineken-fest as they took a very early lead and pulled themselves and challengers Roumania well clear of the chasing pack.

We all know that changes in personnel mean that the GBR M8+ here are hardly ‘the Olympic champions’ any more you could say it of the US women’s eight as a unit, but nevertheless it was a reality check few would have expected the Brits to suffer now that they seem to have got back the hang of winning eights metalware. That their para-four had smashed 22 seconds off the USA and 15 off the world best time while winning their race for lanes did not, alas, make up for it.

Will Watch seen with GB team doctor Anne Redgrave

It was a nervous day for Britain, since earlier the sight of M4- stroke Will Satch consulting team doctor Ann Redgrave post-outing led to supporters’ worst fears coming true as he was pulled out of the four an hour before their semi-final due to illness. Spare man Ollie Wynne-Griffiths duly jumped into one of the most pressurised seats in the team, and led the rest of the Lucerne champion crew to second place in a sensible row which saw them limiting the damage while Italy gleefully took the win ahead of them and the Dutch.  “Health is more important than rowing races,” said 2-man Moe Sbihi (quite right too) and there is a decent chance Satch will be back for Saturday’s final. Australia bossed the other semi without serious challengers, and were able to stroll a bit at the end, unperturbed by the rapidly closing Danes and Germans – the latter seemed to have steering trouble near the line, veering onto stroke side.

The lightweight doubles are shaping up nicely, with some of the best racing of the day. France have to be sewn-on favourites for the LM2x, their speed having faded not a whit since their victory in Rio. Behind them was quite a scrap early on, which resolved into Poland having the edge over Germany and Britain leaving too much to do to get the third place. The second semi was a smidge slower, but with new boys Sun Man and Fan Junjie (CHN) fighting like dragons to avoid ceding the lead, Italy’s Stefano Oppo and Pietro Ruta had to push themselves very hard to get through and claim the best lane in the final.

The lightweight women’s doubles will be another where it could be a blanket finish, especially after Britain, USA and Roumania finished within feet of one another in the second race. Each in turn looked impressive: the Brits at the start, the USA at the finish, and Roumania for their relentless forcing of the pace in the final 500m, while France were very unlucky to fade just a bit too much after having a very good middle thousand. The other race looked under the control of New Zealand’s Zoe McBride and Jackie Kiddle, although Poland, who didn’t seem to be playing every single card and still came an easy second, might have something to say about that.

It’s not surprising that 2016 LM1x champion Paul O’Donovan bided his time.

The non-Olympic events have one of the most difficult pieces of scheduling, with semis only one day before finals. In that context perhaps it’s not surprising that 2016 LM1x champion Paul O’Donovan bided his time, letting the sting drop out of Michael Schmid’s quick Swiss start before powering through to take the win as near the line as he dared. In the same race everyone watching was expecting Poland’s Artur Mikolajczewski to take third when he was surprised by a startling rate-44 sprint from Brazilian Uncas Batista which grabbed the final slot.  By contrast Norwegian Kristoffer Brun’s 1.66 second win over Matthew Dunham (NZL) was rather tame.

The LW1x semis were incredibly feisty, with nobody apparently saving anything for Friday’s final. Patricia Merz and Kirsten McCann (from Switzerland and South Africa respectively) were light years ahead of their nearest rivals, yet battered the strength out of each other while trying to win – McCann clinched it by 0.08 seconds in the end. And in the second semi there were again lengths of clear water between Ireland (Denise Walsh), USA (Mary Jones) and Sweden (Emma Fredh) yet they continued to push each other right to the line despite qualification being certain. I wonder if the rumours that we might end up in echelon [1-6] seeded lanes at the weekend are starting to gain traction – currently there is no reason to think it will happen since the feared ‘bad weather’ is lightning storms not strong crosswinds.

The fiercest non-Olympic A-final on Friday may be that of the lightweight men’s quads, with the six LM4x qualifiers ending within three seconds of one another. Note that the French LM4x is stroked by 2015 LM2x champion Stany Delayre, who must be boiling with frustration after being deselected for Olympic year, and punched his quad straight to the front of its race at the earliest opportunity.

What haven’t we covered? Ah, men’s pairs, which can be summed up as a bunfight between the Kiwis and Italians which Matteo Lodo and Giuseppe Vicino won in the closing strokes, followed by a haughty demonstration of ‘we are the best’ by the Sinkovic brothers. The Croatians found the race coming back to them as the scrap between Britain, Roumania and France turned serious, and it was the Roumanians who lost out as two pairs of brothers and one pair of Toms proved more effective. Great stuff, and the number of newcomers to the senior teams fearlessly taking it to the old top dogs is very encouraging for this Olympiad.

Finally, more serious news today is that Cuban LW1x Licet Hernandez Licea has gone missing, with defection (for a native of that country in the US) perhaps a possibility. It hasn’t been put online, but a notice which went up in the press centre (see above) makes it clear nobody yet has any idea of her whereabouts.  Let’s hope Hernandez Licea is well and in control of her own life, wherever she has gone to. I certainly hope it’s nothing more sinister.

Rachel Quarrell will be blogging for Row360 from Sarasota for the full 8 days of the WRC.

All photography © Benedict Tufnell.

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