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Rachel Quarrell

Day 4 Review: Singles Rule The Day In Florida

by Rachel Quarrell

Don’t worry Mahe, we aren’t missing you yet. Olympic champion Drysdale may have hung up his sculls at least for now, but as Wednesday’s quarterfinals proved, the men’s singles competition is in very good fettle without him.

Anyone who wanted to reach the A/B semis had to get past at least one of Angel Fournier Rodriguez, Robert Manson and Damir Martin

We started with a barnstormer – the QF from hell – in which anyone who wanted to reach the A/B semis had to get past at least one of Angel Fournier Rodriguez (CUB), Robert Manson (NZL, the world’s fastest sculler) and Damir Martin (CRO, who dead-heated with Mahe for the Rio gold). Somewhat inevitably none of the rest could hold a candle to that trio, and they duly soared through qualification, although it was interesting to see the Cuban trying hardest to win the race, while Manson eased off in the final quarter. That may yet land the Kiwi in trouble — we will see when we get the semi-final draw.

Next up was Ondrej Synek, the triple Olympic medallist who generally shows great consistency across the season. Sharing his quarterfinal were Finn Robert Ven, Serbia’s Marko Marjanovic and Brit Tom Barras, and as European champion Synek started in leisurely fashion, it was Marjanovic who made a very good stab at leading early and holding on well enough to finish a comfortable third. Meanwhile Synek forged slowly through to take the lead, towing Barras in his wake, and then nipping the rate up at the end to stop the upstart young Brit taking the win off him.

The interesting question will be which of these recent graduates from the under-23 programme can take it to rest of the big boys

QF3 started by going all Tim Ole Naske’s way (GER) but as Stefan Broenink (NED) and 2017 under-23 medallist Natan Wegryzcki-Szymcyzk (POL) came into the picture, it was briefly more of a bunfight. The German and Pole are friends off the water, and finished first and second in the 2016 under-23s at which Barras was 5th. Here it was Ole Naske’s final push which made up the Pole’s mind, and he dropped back to end third with the German first and Dutchman second. The interesting question will be which of these recent graduates from the under-23 programme can take it to rest of the big boys in what will be two very hefty semi-finals on Friday.

The fourth race of the quartet was the real barnstormer, Nico Stahlberg (SUI) holding onto a paper-thin lead for minutes until a full-on battle between Sverri Nielsen (DEN) and Vladislav Ryabcev (RUS) put him under such severe pressure that he had to cede the lead. Primarily a sculler, Ryabcev was one of the few Russians permitted to (sweep) row in Rio last year, after he had spent enough time outside his home nation to have built up a clean drug-testing profile. Some motivation, you would think, and his energy took him to a useful win this time, while Stahlberg beat Nielsen by 0.02 seconds to fill the other two spots. Unseen behind them Olympic finalist and European medallist Stanislau Shcharbachenia (BLR) could not quite close the gap as the trio spurred each other on, leaving him dropping out of the top twelve.

Elsewhere we should have a brief pause for Azerbaijani Aleksander Aleksandrov, whose undoubted ability in the single has been undermined by a medical issue this week. He finished third in the E/F/G semi, and then promptly withdrew from the F-final on doctors’ advice. Meanwhile in the LM1x the qualifications were fairly clear-cut, Michael Schmid (SUI) and Kristoffer Brun (NOR) causing a clash of cowbells as they whizzed down the track for first and second in their race, and almost all the other big names including 2016 LM1x champion Paul O’Donovan (IRL) qualifying without trouble.

Unfortunately there was a brief interruption to racing during the last 150m of the fourth LM1x race, when Slovenian Rajko Hrvat slewed and tipped in, earning a sad DNF despite having won his opening heat. Hrvat had a serious chance at the title, and it’s a sad end to his ambitions. There were no other accidents, although it seems mean when the finish tower can’t wait for back markers such as the fabulously-named Gunter Slowing Rossil (Guatemala) to take his last few strokes before lining up the next race.

Lest you think it was only about the singles, the day featured some zinging repechages from larger boats.

The women’s singles repechages took to the water as well, and although two of the races were very close in mid-course, all four ended with big clear-water verdicts, not only between first and second (who both got through to the semis) but also between second and third. Those who found the challenge a little too much this time included Finn Eeva Karpinnen (daughter of the legendary Pertti), Chinese Olympic bronze medallist Duan Jingli (who has been very off her form here), and Norway’s Marianne Madsen, who was in the double until after Lucerne.

Lest you think it was only about the singles, the day featured some zinging repechages from larger boats. The battle for supremacy between the Polish and Chinese W4- left GBR with too much to do to catch them, and a 0.03 second photofinish photo, while there was a three-way fight in the second M2x repechage, Canada losing out by 0.38sec as the USA and Netherlands clung on desperately against the Canadian sprint.

The final word of the day was another chime in the death knell of the LM4-, now almost totally abandoned by the countries which used to champion it. An exhibition race for lanes was won by Italy, who led all the way and may well see this as low-hanging fruit on the medals tree.

On Thursday the shit gets serious, with A/B semi-finals for eight events and (eek!) repechages for the eights. FISA’s fully commentated video service will start running, and professional talkers Sarah Cook, Greg Searle and Martin Cross are giving their vocal cords an alcohol rub tonight in preparation.  Meanwhile FISA have been asked to circulate this, which is in no way meant to worry anybody…..

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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