The 2022 World Cup Series has begun and Belgrade’s Lake Sava glistened beneath beautiful blue skies. The slight cross-headwind present in the early races dropped away to leave only glorious sunshine and exquisite race conditions. Of the 36 countries competing the biggest teams are Netherlands, China, and Great Britain.
The Sinkovic brothers returned to their former home, the men’s double scull. Dutch duo of Guus Mollee and Guillaume Krommenhoek held an early lead but Croatia’s Martin and Valent Sinkovic pushed past them in the final stages to win the heat. Krommenhoek last raced the Croatian in the men’s pair semifinal at Tokyo 2020. In the third heat of the men’s double Netherlands 1 were forced into the repechage by Spain and Great Britain. Despite the setback Koen Metsemakers, who won gold at Toyko in the quad, and Dutch double Olympic silver medallist Stef Broenink, kept their composure and won the repechage. Other boat class swapping athletes include Shiyu Lu and Karolien Florijn. Lu, who previously competed in China’s women’s four, won the second heat of the women’s single scull and forced Dutch Olympic sculler Lisa Scheenaard into the repechage. Olympic silver medallist Florijn also traded the four for the single scull.
Greek olympic champion Stefanos Ntouskos withdrew from the regatta before racing began, due to illness. Magdalena Lobnig raced in the heats but the Austrian Olympic bronze medallist was later forced to withdraw after a “massive allergic reaction”. The Austrian single sculler struggles with a pollen allergy, and has been plagued by injury since Tokyo 2020. Beaten by the Dutch sculler Karolien Florijn, Lobnig later posted on her social media account: “If you can’t breathe you can’t race!”
China’s young lightweight women’s double of Xiuping Qiu, 22, and Jiaqi Zou, 21, made an impressive start to the regatta with a dominant win in the first heat of the lightweight women’s doubles. Their time was bettered by the British crew who won the second heat in 7 minutes and 13.8 seconds. Tokyo 2020 fourth place finisher Emily Craig is racing with Maddie Arlett while Imogen Grant finishes her final medical exams at the University of Cambridge. In the men’s lightweight double Ukraine secured victory in the first heat. With the support of the Bulgarian Rowing Federation, Igor Khmara and Stanislav Kovalov have relocated to Bulgaria since the outbreak of the war in their home country. Switzerland produced the quickest of the three heats, winning the second heat in a time of 6 minutes and 30.96 seconds.
The seven test races were optional races for crews who will compete in straight finals later in the regatta. Three were in Paralympic boat classes; PR3 mixed coxed four, PR1 men’s single scull, and PR2 mixed double. Finding themselves a cox short the Australians were helped out by British cox, Alexandra Wenyon, who made her world cup debut with the Australian PR3 mixed coxed four. Of the four Olympic boat class test races it was the women’s quad that sprung a surprise. The Dutch women overhauled China at the finish line to win by a canvas. China are Olympic champions in this boat class and have gone undefeated since 2019. Yang Lyu and Xiaotong Cui will be keen to set the record straight come Sunday. The Dutch team decided not to race the eights test races. This left the two Chinese women’s eights to half-heartedly race down the course, China 2 beat China 1 by three seats. There are no returning Olympic bronze-medallists in either of these crews. In the men’s eight the Dutch left it to Great Britain and China to compete. Great Britain’s sleek rhythm gave them a comfortable lead and Tom Ford eased the rating down to 33 in the final stages. Great Britain beat by China by a considerable margin but both crews were conserving energy for the final on Sunday.