The first medals were up for grabs on day three of the 2023 European Rowing Championships. Despite bouncy conditions on Lake Bled a steadily building tailwind helped some crews deliver new best times.
“I was aiming to keep my European title and I managed it,” said Italy’s PR1 M1x Giacomo Perini who set a new world best time of 8:55.08 despite the waves.
Ukraine’s Roman Polianskyi won a silver medal, and Germany’s Marcus Klemp took bronze. After the race Polianskyi revealed the ongoing war in Ukraine had hampered his training.
“I was so nervous before the start,” confessed Paralympic champion Birgit Skarstein after winning the PR1 W1x. “I always wonder why I do this, because I’m so nervous, but then the racing is so much fun.”
Israel’s Moran Samuel led in the early stages but Norway’s Skarstein took poll position in the third quarter. A tight battle between France and Israel for silver, was won by Samuel.
“I had such a bad season last year,” said Samuel who suffered Long Covid. “It took me a long time to recover, almost one year. Getting back on my game, and feeling in control of my body is amazing.”
The first PR3 Mix2x European championship gold medal went to France. “It was a very hard race,” said Laurent Cadot. “It is magnificent to win the European championship.”
Great Britain, France, and Ukraine duked out the first half before Cadot and Guylaine Marchland took an unassailable lead. Ukraine kept overlap with the French and finished in second place, six seconds ahead of Great Britain in third.
Poland delivered a ruthless victory in the men’s quad sculls, while heat winners Great Britain struggled to stay on terms and finished in fourth place.
The Dutch, who beat Poland earlier in the week, closed the gap in the final few hundred meters, but they barely clung to second place against the high-rating Italians. Bronze went to Italy, 0.4s behind the Netherlands. Ukraine finished last 0.22 behind Romania.
Before warming down the Ukrainian men were all smiles while watching their women’s quad on podium after winning gold.
“We didn’t expect this,” said Nataliya Dovgodko who raced in the two-seat. Last season they finished third at Europeans and fourth at worlds. “It has been hard in Ukraine this winter. We don’t have electricity and our houses are cold, but we worked hard. We want to do all that we can for our country.”
The British were disappointed to finish in third place, behind the Dutch silver medallists. “It’s slippery out there,” said Hannah Scott, as her teammate, Lucy Glover, suggested they’d been caught off-guard by the change in conditions from warming up to racing. Scott summed up the mood: “Sad today, but there’s always tomorrow.”
Great Britain’s women’s four probably share a similar sentiment. Helen Glover looked set for a golden comeback – they won Friday’s heat, and last season the Brits went undefeated in this boatclass – but Romania had other ideas.
Glover’s crew steadily extended their early lead over the first 1500m of the race before the Romanians launched a fantastic last 500m. Romania hit 46spm and slipped by Britain’s flagging flagship.
Silver for Great Britain behind Romania who set a new European best time of 6:22.96. The Dutch won bronze 0.12s ahead of Denmark. It is back to the drawing board for Ireland’s Tokyo 2020 and 2022 European W4- medallists who finished in fifth, ahead of Spain.
Ireland were also out of luck in the lightweight doubles.
2023 European Rowing Championships, in pictures
In the lightweight men’s double the Greeks narrowly led the Swiss to the first marker but faded in the second 500m, allowing Switzerland control of the race. At the finish Jan Schaeuble and Raphael Ahmada won gold 1.25s ahead of Italy, who outsprinted the Greeks.
“We had a really good race,” said the Swiss bowman, Schaeuble. “There were waves but we stayed clean, kept calm, and rowed over them. It was like a meditation, and that helped, then in the red buoys I was like, ‘Oh my god we are winning!’”
With Paul O’Donovan absent, the makeshift Irish combination languished at the back, finishing behind Czechia and Ukraine in respective fourth and fifth. How will Switzerland fair when the O’Donovan returns? “That’s hard to say,” said Ahmada, “but we are getting faster”.
Great Britain’s first gold medal came via the seventh A-Final, it was delivered by the reigning world and European LW2x champions, Emily Craig and Imogen Grant. They dominated the lightweight women’s double A-Final, grabbing a one length lead which rarely looked under threat.
Behind them a fierce contest saw Greece’s Zoi Fitsiou and Dimitra Eleni Kontou outsprint the French Olympic silver medallists. Ireland’s 2022 world bronze medallists finished in fifth place, three seconds behind Poland but ahead of Switzerland.
“Tough conditions, it was quite bouncy. Before the race we talked a lot about staying loose and staying together. It felt like the Tideway!” said Grant. “We want to finish this season unbeaten and continue that to Paris next year, but we will take it each race as it comes.”
Photo finish in the Men’s Eight
Saturday’s A-Finals concluded with a fierce men’s eight race. Great Britain defended their European title by the narrowest of margins, flanked either side by the Dutch and Romanians who delivered stellar performances.
The Dutch were determined not to finish second to Great Britain (again). “It wasn’t silver but we didn’t mean bronze behind the Brits and the Romanians!” said their bowman, Niki van Sprang. The Dutch planned to improve on the preliminary race which van Sprang felt was “a bit tame”.
In the final the Dutch locked into a “super strong, big-boy rhythm” which heaped pressure on the Great Britain. In lieu of Harry Brightmore, Henry Fieldman was calling the shots in the British boat, a last-minute substitute for medical reasons.
The second half saw Germany, Italy, and Poland slip back, as the top three pushed on. “A beautiful race,” said Romania’s Olympian cox, Adrian Munteanu. He felt his crew were “very motivated to beat the British” and, as the red buoys rushed by, Munteanu urged his crew to “make history”. Their incredible sprint reeled Great Britain back to within 0.05s, and earnt them a silver medal.
In the first A|B semifinal of the men’s pairs Great Britain’s Tom George and Ollie Wynne-Griffith beat Romania’s defending European champions by three quarters of a length. Denmark’s Olympic bronze medallists were squeezed out of the A-Final by the young Lithuanian pair.
Switzerland led the second semifinal in their new combination of Roman Röösli and Andrin Gulich, but were pressured by Spain’s world silver medallists in the last 250m. Serbia’s Olympic pair took the last spot into the A-Final.
A dramatic men’s double semifinal saw Lithuania misjudge their effort and come to a standstill in the last two hundred meters, thus forgoing a place in the A-Final. They’d tracked behind the Sinkovic brothers until the Irish breezed by in the third 500m. Belgium were ecstatic to pick up the last spot into the A-Final ahead of Germany and Moldova.
The first race turned out to be an appetiser for a sensational second semifinal. The Olympic champions (and one of France’s best medal hopes) were dismantled by Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. The Dutch winners, Stefan Broenink and Melvin Twellaar, were 0.36s slower than Croatia’s win in the first semi. The M2x A-Final is sure to be a corker.
Croatia’s Damir Martin will not compete for the medals in the men’s singles after Denmark’s Sverri Nielsen won the first A|B semifinal of the men’s single sculls ahead of Lithuania’s Dovydas Nemeravicius in second place. Bulgaria’s Kristian Vasilev denied Italy’s Davide Mumolo the third spot.
World champion versus Olympic champion, part one: Olli Zeidler underrated Greece’s M1x Olympic champion, Stefanos Ntouskos, cruising to the win in the second half of the second semifinal. Behind them the race for third went to the Dutch sculler after Belgium’s Tim Brys petered out in the final hundred meters.
A determined effort from Denmark’s Fie Udby Erichsen forced Serbia’s Jovana Arsic to muster a final effort to secure third place, and a spot into the W1x A-Final. It was a winning effort from the Macon-wielding Swiss sculler, Aurelia-Maxima Janzen, who underrated Bulgaria’s Angelova Desislava in second place.
Wider gaps emerged in the second women’s single sculls semifinal which was won by the Dutch world and European champion, Karolien Florijn. The Slovenian grandstand announcer whipped up local support for Nina Kostanjsek but Spain’s Virginia Diaz Rivas safely secured third behind Lithuania’s Ieva Adomaviciute.
B-Finals, birthdays and breakages
Poland beat France in the opening race of the morning, the women’s four B-Final. The Czech effort in the B-Final of the women’s quads was curtailed by equipment damage: Czechia’s bowwoman Marketa Nedelova forlornly held her blad parallel to the boat as her crew paddled over the course, two minutes behind the Romanian winners.
Jan Jonah Plock finished fourth in the M4x B-Final, it was his 25th birthday and he received a quick rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the Swiss supporters. And it was a case of ‘Viva Italia’ as the newlook Italian lightweight women’s double secured a valuable win for in the B-Final.