Day one in Szeged at the 2024 European Rowing Championships

Szeged, Hungary

4 minute read
Words Row360
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 26.04.24

Chilly weather from earlier in the week lifted in time for the first races of the 2024 European Rowing Championships and spectators did not wait long before the first shock of the day. Norway’s new-look women’s double cold-cocked the Romanians into the repechage, yet strokewoman Simona Radis (ROU) soon returned to her winning ways.

Photo NOR W2x
Credit Benedict Tufnell

So it wasn’t a great start for the Romanian women’s double, Radis and Ancuta Bodnar, who shed their cloak of invincibility and suffered their first defeat since 2019. Now they face the repechage. Norway’s new combination of Thea Helseth and Inger Seim Kavlie, the latter of whom won a bronze medal at the last world cup in the women’s single, put pressure on the defending European champions from the get-go. The Norwegians kept their bowball ahead of the Romanians at every marker, just 0.67 seconds ahead at the finish. Great Britain’s Becky Wilde and Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne placed third. Lithuania won the first heat, comfortably ahead of Ireland’s Zoe Hyde and Alison Bergin.

Radis returned for the last race of the day to stroke the Romanian women’s eight. They produced a fierce last 500 meters to overhaul Great Britain on the line. Further back Italy finished ahead of Germany. All four crews meet again in the A-Final. In the men’s eight preliminary race Romania were unable to replicate their counterparts but did enough to pip Italy to second. Great Britain looked commanding at the front of the pack.

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Credit Benedict Tufnell

After the blemish in Varese, where the locals beat the previously unbeaten British men’s four at the first world cup, Great Britain’s flagship crew sought to settle the score, and perhaps a few nerves, here in Szeged. Great Britain’s defending European champions won the first heat ahead of the French. France’s Turlan twins, Thibaud and Guillaume, and their teammates Teo Rayet and Benoit Brunet placed second, earning a spot in the A-Final. Last year France won European bronze medals. Italy won the other men’s four heat three and half seconds slower than the British. Great Britain’s women’s four of Helen Glover, Esme Booth, Sam Redgrave and Rebecca Shorten also delivered a winning performance in their preliminary race.

Photo GER M1x
Credit Benedict Tufnell

Germany enjoyed winning heat performances in the openweight men’s double, single and women’s single. Olli Zeidler not missing a beat and continuing his winning form in the men’s single, behind him a sprint finish saw Italy’s Gennaro di Mauro dumped into the repechage by Giedrius Bieliauska (LTU). Great Britain’s George Bourne bested Damir Martin in the third heat, and the Sverri Nielsen (DEN) and Olympic Champion Stefanos Ntouskos (GRE) won the other two heats. On the women’s side Alexandra Foester (GER) led Lithuania in the first heat, both safely through to the A-Final, and will be joined by Serbia’s Jovana Arsic and Alice Prokesova (CZE).

In the men’s lightweight double Italy won the first heat and Switzerland’s defending European champions, Jan Schaeuble and Raphael Ahumada, beat Norway in the second. Zoi Fitsiou and Dimitra Eleni Kontou (GRE) secured direct entry into the A-Final of the lightweight women’s double sculls, overpowering the British and Swiss combinations. Great Britain have dominated this event but with Emily Craig out of action on medical grounds, Olivia Bates jumped in with World Champion Imogen Grant.

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Credit Benedict Tufnell

“It was nice to get some good close racing to start off with, and we really learnt a lot from it,” said Bates. “The repechage will double the amount of races we’ve had together so hopefully it’ll help our speed a little bit as we move through the competition!” Imogen agreed: “The race was fun and I think it’s a testament to the strength of the team and the strength of Liv to be able to step up at such short notice.” 

Photo GBR LW2x
Credit Benedict Tufnell

Another eye-brow-raising result came early in the day. Norway’s Birgit Skarstein, who holds the triple crown of Paralympic, World and European Champion in the PR1 women’s single scullers, finished in third place behind winner Moran Samuel (ISR) and Manuela Diening (GER). It was a preliminary race so all five crews, including Frenchwomen Nathalie Benoit and Ukrainian Anna Sheremet, will meet again in the final. Italy’s Giacomo Perini dominated the first heat of the PR1 men’s single, and Ukraine’s World Champion Roman Polianskyi won the other.

A new combination of Benjamin Daviet and Perle Bouge delivered a winning performance for France in the PR2 mixed double sculls. Great Britain’s Lauren Rowles and Gregg Stevenson won the second heat thirteen seconds ahead of the rest of the field. “It was good to get out for the first race of the season,” said Rowles. “You never know what’s going to come at you, it’s always one of those daunting moments when you know everyone’s been working hard over the winter and you want to prove that your hard work was better than everyone else’s.”

The openweight men’s double saw a tight finish between Germany and Romania, Jonas Gelson and Marc Weber (GER) getting the betting of the 0.3 second margin. Behind them Great Britain finished third, meaning they will need to go via the repechage if they are to progress to the A|B semifinals. Italy and Spain won the other two heats, with Poland and Norway also earning direct passage to the A|B semifinals. 

It was a commanding performance from Great Britain’s Ollie Wynne-Griffith and Tom George, who were over three seconds clear of Italy and produced the quickest men’s pair heat performance. The Sinkovic switch from double to pair continues unsteadily. The Croatian brothers were unable to get the better of Romania but did enough to put Spain’s 2022 world silver medallist into the repechage. The Swiss World Champions Roman Röösli and Andrin Gulich won the third heat ahead of Serbia, who beat the Dutch. Not the ideal start for the Dutch crew of Guillaume Krommenhoek and Nicolas van Sprang, who have their sights set on securing a place at Paris via the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne in a few weeks time.

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Credit Benedict Tufnell

Defending European champions Ioana Vrinceanu and Roxana Anghel (ROU) dominated their heat of the women’s pair to qualify for the final, along with Great Britain. Greece’s Evangelia Anastasiadou and Christina Bourmpou, bested Croatia in the first heat. Anastasiadou won silver in the lightweight women’s single sculls at last year’s European championship. 

In the women’s quads there was only one A-Final spot available in each of the two repechages. Great Britain delivered a comprehensive performance in the second heat, building enough of a lead by halfway for the rest to accept defeat in the latter stages: Germany finished in second place. It was a similar story in the first heat with Ukraine, who won the first world cup in Varese a fortnight ago. Ukraine won the other heat 0.35s quicker than the British.

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Credit Benedict Tufnell

Poland’s world bronze medallists made a solid start to the Olympic season, producing the quickest time of the two men’s quad heats. They beat the Italian world silver medallists, who claimed the final direct qualification spot into the A-Final. Italy arrive at Szeged after losing to the British in Varese at the first world cup of 2024. Great Britain won the first heat, holding off a late charge from Estonia. With the top Olympic Dutch crew absent (an up-and-coming crew here in its place) this weekend is a great chance for another quad to build momentum on their path to Paris.

Rising temperatures likely contributed to the boat-weight mistake made by three crews (HUN M4x; CZE LM2x; CZE W2x), all relegated to last place in their respective races after missing the minimum boat weight requirements. The German men’s eight met a similar fate for failing to present their boat to the weigh-in area, as instructed, after their race.