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Benedict Tufnell

What Have We Learned From World Cup I?

by Benedict Tufnell

The winter cobwebs were well and truly blown off the international season in Serbia this weekend at what was the first leg of the 2018 World Rowing Cup. Of course, many of the big guns such as USA, New Zealand and Australia didn’t come out to play – they typically wait for world cup II to make their season debuts – even neighbouring Italy opted out. So what can we take away from this early-season tussle?

Perhaps the most obvious thing is that the Netherlands are back in business, and firing on all four cylinders. Not only did they achieve six gold medals – a tally previously only achieved by GB, Germany, Australia and New Zealand – but also scooped both first and second place in the men’s and women’s fours. It demonstrates a remarkable depth of talent currently in the Dutch squad.

Netherlands W8+ winning in Belgrade, Serbia.

The Dutch however can only be cautiously optimistic. What we don’t know is what has been happening behind the scenes in the run-up to this event. Nobody wants to peak at the start of the season, and many nations treat world cup I much like a training row – doing little to taper their work load in the lead up to the event. What will happen in Belarus at the end of the summer remains to be seen.

Looking to specific events, the top of the men’s and women’s singles remained unchanged from where things finished last season; the reigning world champions Jeanine Gmelin of Switzerland and Ondrej Synek of Czech Republic won the women’s and men’s heavyweight singles in Belgrade. Again, there is a lot of talent still to return to the events, but both Gmelin and Synek look strong and fairly unassailable at this point. Returning straight to the top spots will have only helped their confidence as we approach the half-way point to Tokyo.

Jeannine Gmelin, W1x winner in Belgrade, Serbia.

Ireland’s sculler Sanita Puspure will also have taken some confidence from the women’s singles final. With all three of last year’s medallists in the race, Puspure rowed through the British world silver medallist Vicky Thornley and Austrian world bronze medallist Magdalena Lobnig to take silver behind Gmelin, posting Ireland’s best ever result in this event. Puspure has long been hovering just shy of the podium places – could this be the year she steps up?

Most interesting in the men’s single was the international debut of 21-year-old German Oliver Zeidler. The ex-swimmer only took up rowing for the first time 18 months ago and this was his first international regatta of any kind. For the newcomer to be attending, let alone come away with the bronze medal in such a challenging and technical event is remarkable. With all the markings of a future German superstar, will be following Zeidler’s progress closely.

M1x podium. Oliver Zeidler (right) impresses on international debut with bronze.

The top spot in the men’s eight was also unchanged from the 2017 world championships, with the German eight further cementing their position as the world’s fastest – for now. While the Germans will be pleased with the win, they looked far from unbeatable.

British chief coach Jurgen Grobler has stacked his eight this season, and the brand new British line-up managed to push the seasoned German crew to within half a length. The ‘Deutschland-Achter’ has had no personnel changes from last year, while the British eight have had only weeks to gel, and feel confident they have more speed to come.

We can only hope that we are in for another nip and tuck, GB-Germany rivalry all the way to the Tokyo finish line. And what about USA and Italy? We still know nothing about the reigning world silver and bronze medallist’s form. Mike Teti, who oversaw USA’s Athens gold and Beijing bronze in 2004 and 2008, returns now to the US national team with high hopes resting on his shoulders. The Romanians also came out of the woodwork with a blistering first half in Sunday’s final. They too may have more speed to come. If nothing else, we have learnt that we should be in for some exciting racing this year and beyond in the men’s eight.

Chinese rowing has set its sights high for the future.

As for the women’s eight, few conclusions can be drawn here. There was only a field of four in attendance in Belgrade and none of the 2017 world’s medallists. China however showed up in force with two entries. While they were clearly off the pace, this is very early days in what may well be a resurgence in Chinese rowing. This world cup marked the start of a new phase in Sir Steve Redgrave’s career as he steps into his first team-management role as the performance director for China. Having set themselves a target of achieving two Chinese rowing gold medals in Tokyo 2020, their results from this weekend only confirmed the enormity of the task Redgrave has ahead of him.

Elsewhere, the Sinkovic brothers won the pair looking increasingly confident in their new-found sweep event, albeit with the reigning world champs from Italy absent, and the GB heavyweight men’s quad showed that – when all fit and healthy – are the crew to beat.

Bring on world cup II.

World cup II will take place in Linz Ottensheim, Austria from June 21-24.

 

Photos © World Rowing

 

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