Day three in Szeged at the 2024 European Rowing Championships

Szeged, Hungary

4 minute read
Words Row360
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 27.04.24

What’s the race plan? Big start, sprint finish, win a medal. Simple. Oh and then get down on one knee and propose to your teammate in the medal ceremony. It wasn’t exactly orthodox, but that’s exactly what one athlete did today at the 2024 European Rowing Championships.

Photo UKR PR3 Mix2x
Credit Benedict Tufnell

As if race day nerves aren’t bad enough the strokeman of the Ukranian PR3 mixed double, Stanislav Samoliuk, decided to up the ante. On the podium he grabbed the mic and proposed to his partner Dariia Kotyk. Thankfully, it was well received, so an awkward warm down paddle was avoided.

Marriage proposals aside it was an eventful day of racing. Bright blue cloudless skies belied a changeable crosshead wind on day three of the 2024 European Rowing Championships. Conditions proved a challenging puzzle for the athletes as well as for the Fairness Committee, who kept reallocating the lanes.

The wind eased as the ten medal races started and the first athlete to be crowned European Champion came from the PR1 men’s single scullers.

Photo IRL M1x
Credit Benedict Tufnell
Fighting for the medals

Ukraine’s Paralympic and World champion Roman Polianskyi was led off of the start by the French sculler, but through the mid-race Polianskyi pushed to the front and began to distance his opposition.

Behind the Ukrainian, world bronze medallist Ben Pritchard (GBR) went bowball-to-bowball with Italy’s defending European champion Giacomo Perini. Alexis Sanchez’s (FRA) quick start did not pay off.

At the finish Ukraine won gold, Giacomo took silver and it was another bronze medal for Pritchard. De ja vu? This is the same order as the 2023 World Rowing Championships.

Will it be a breakthrough regatta for Israel’s Moran Samuel? In the preliminary race of the PR1 women’s single sculls on Thursday Samuel pushed the Paralympic, World and European champion Birgit Skarstein into third place.

Today Samuel started well, leading at the first two markers. Ukraine’s Anna Sheremet slipped from second to third in the second quarter as Skarstein began to reel back the Israeli, behind them France and Germany remained in the hunt for a podium places.

As the crews approached the grandstand, the Norwegian champion proved her pedigree and, despite a late charge from Manuela Diening (GER), it was gold again for Skarstein. Samuel faded to fourth, France’s Nathalie Benoit won bronze medal and it was silver for Germany.

Photo NOR PR1 W1x
Credit Benedict Tufnell

Until two weeks ago, Helen Glover’s comeback lacked a certain golden lustre, but at Varese the British women’s four finally struck gold.

The early stages of the Szeged final were a good ol’ fashioned duel between the two favourites. Great Britain and Romania fought for the lead, with the Dutchwomen lying in wait, a length back. The two frontrunners have similar crews, each with a single crew change since last season.

The Brits were composed, holding good speed through the middle thousand. But Romania are well-known for their dynamite sprint finishes, they ramped up the pressure and hoicked back a seat or two.

Too little too late, Great Britain reached the finish line first, half a length clear of Romania. It’s a reshuffle of last year’s Europeans result, this time. Silver for Romania and bronze for the developing Dutchwomen, who were lengths and lengths ahead of France and Poland.

In the three boat lightweight men’s pair race, Austria wasted no time building a commanding lead, leaving Moldova and the hometown heroes Hungary scrambling in their wake. They finished nine seconds ahead of Hungary. Bence Szabo and Kalman Furko (HUN) beat Moldova to give the host nation their first medals of the championship.

It was a four boat race in the PR3 mixed double sculls. The French blasted out of the blocks keen to defend their European title, but their efforts steadily lost traction and the field picked them off. Samuel Murray and Annabel Caddick (GBR) found a consistent rhythm, which proved to be a winning formula. Germany and Ukraine tussled for the minor medals with Germany bagging the silver by the finish. The French team will need to rethink their strategy before the Paris Paralympics.

There was no love lost in the fast and furious start of the women’s quads race. Ukraine punched into the final 750m with a three-quarter length lead over the British. These two crews continued to extend their gap on the rest of field.

Great Britain pulled level with Ukraine as the red buoys beckoned, another race going down to the wire. Pain was etched across the Ukrainian strokewoman, Anastasiia Kozhenkova. She unleashed one last effort, but her crew’s sprint finish faltered and the Brits were merciless in their wind to the line. Gold for Great Britain and silver for Ukraine. The German bronze medallists denied the French a spot on the podium by the narrowest of margins.

Following the Samoliuk’s mid-medal-ceremony marriage proposal, the crowd’s attention returned to racing, and the men’s quads made it worth their while.

Italy were first to halfway with the Swiss crew close behind. Another second back, Poland and Great Britain tracked the front runners with Belgium and Estonia not far behind.

In the dying meters Italy hauled themselves across the finish, after a fiercely fought contest, with the Swiss 0.73s behind in second. Poland, nearest to the grandstand, did enough for bronze.

It has been a bumpy route to the A-Final for the scratch British lightweight women’s double, who were beaten by the Greeks in the heat but felt they’d improved in the repechage, where they beat Italy. The Italian Tokyo 2020 Olympic champion Valentina Rodini, and her new partner Silvia Crosio, were out for revenge.

Confounding British and Italian ambitions Romania’s Ionela Cozmiuc and Gianina Van Groningen leapt into an early lead. Reunited for the first time since finishing sixth in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the Romanians were relentless.

Gold to Romania by a length, and by the standards of this uber-competitive event they were practically untouchable. Silver to the Greeks, and Italy kept the newcomers at bay, denying Imogen Grant and Olivia Bates (GBR) a spot on the podium.

Photo ROU LW2x
Credit Benedict Tufnell

The rousing Italian national anthem, courtesy of the winning men’s quad, injected yet more energy into the grandstands before the penultimate race of the day, the lightweight men’s double sculls.

Switzerland’s race to lose? The red-clad defending European LM2x champions confidently uncorked the cleanest of starts. The Swiss reached halfway a length in front of the chasing pack. As the meters amassed the line of chasers stretched and became ragged, yet still the Swiss smoothly marched on.

In the final 400m Italy momentarily crept their bows alongside the stern of Schaeuble and Ahumada Ireland (SUI), only for the Swiss to squeeze back out, leaving the Azzurri to defend against the fast finishing Norwegians. They did. Another gold for Switzerland (in a field notably lacking the Irish World Champions), silver for Italy and bronze for Norway.

Blink and you’ve missed it. The men’s eights start fast, this time hunting the last medals of the day. A bullhorn formation ensued with the British and German crews on either side of the lake vying for the lead.

As the crews came into view from those in the grandstand the British bowball was in front of Deutschland Achter (GER), while a length behind Romania sat in third place. In the final stages, Germany’s charge lost its bite. The British World and European champions won gold, perhaps not quite as convincingly as they might have hoped. Germany held on to silver and Romania won bronze. No doubt the Australian men’s eight will have watched this race with a keen interest and are likely to be prime challengers later in the season.

Photo GBR LW2x
Credit Benedict Tufnell
Sizzling Semifinals

Before the medal races the last spots into tomorrow’s finals were established via the semifinals. First up the men’s pairs. Great Britain’s Ollie Wynne-Griffith and Tom George were led to 500m by Romania. Florin Arteni and Florin Lehaci (ROU) beat the Sinkovics in the second heat on Thursday, but were unable to hold off the experienced British duo, who slipped to the front of the field in the second quarter.

The Serbians were further back, in third place, with the Dutch hounding them, but Dusan Slavnic and Viktor Pivac drifted out of contention in the second half. A dogged Dutch effort by Nicholas Van Sprang and Guillaume Krommenhoek who will be hoping to step on tomorrow. The second semifinal was a few seconds slower than the first, and won by the Swiss world champions. Croatia and Italy also secured A-Final spots.

In the men’s double sculls semifinal, Luca Rambaldi and Matteo Sortori (ITA), who narrowly missed gold at Varese two weeks ago, flew off the line to reach the 500m marker first and continued unabated. Germany, alongside the Italians nearest to the bank, moved into the lead in the second half. Further back Great Britain left themselves too much to do and were picked off by the French. Jonas Juel and Erik Andre Solbakken (NOR) successfully defended their qualifying position all the way to the finish.

The second semifinal was more spread out. Romania, at the front of the field, underrated the Spanish 2022 European silver medallist behind them in lane one. Greece earnt the final qualifying spot into the A-Final ahead of Belgium, Poland and the Netherlands.

The first men’s single sculls semifinal saw Olli Zeidler and Stefanos Ntouskos build an open water lead early in the race, with the Greek Olympic champion tracking along behind the talismanic German, in lanes one and two, respectively.

No real fireworks today from the Olympic torchbeaer. Ntouskos had a nibble at 1500m and Zeidler marked the move. Behind them Bulgaria’s Emil Neykov, in lane six, took one last blast at neutral athlete Yauheni Zalaty before falling back. Zalaty secured the final spot into the A-Final. Triple Olympian Damir Martin (CRO) sculled languidly to the line, lengths behind in last place.

A brief delay preceded the second men’s single semifinal, on-site commentators suggesting Ireland’s Paul O’Donovan had capsized. The cameras cut to him attaching on the start dock.

Sixty seconds later, Denmark’s Sverri Nielsen took the lead. Nielsen and Giedrius Bieliauskas (LTU) exchanged pole position through the middle of the race. Great Britain’s George Bourne a little further back meant it was one of the few morning races in which the lane two crew wasn’t near the front. In the third quarter Italy’s Gennaro Di Mauro dropped off the pace. At 1500m there was a handful of seconds between the five frontrunners.

A noisy grandstand welcomed the ensuing three-way battle between O’Donovan, Bourne and Romania’s Mihai Chiruta. Sprinting into the crosshead O’Donovan was left wanting, and Bourne got the better of Chiruta by a 0.41s. Nielsen crossed the line in first place, a second in front of Lithuania.

A race day to remember, especially for Kotyk. I propose we reconvene tomorrow for the conclusion of the 2024 European Rowing Championship.