After hosting the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta the Swiss welcomed the rowing family back to Lucerne and the beautiful Rotsee. Conditions were fair but for anyone expecting the usual warm sunny summer racing it was a disappointing reality. The second instalment of the 2021 World Cup Series began in cold wet weather. Another difference from the typical Lucerne World Cup was the absence of any Australian or New Zealand crews – such is the burden of travel during the era of Covid.
True to form it was a slow start from the European bronze medallists Aina Cid and Virginia Rivas who were led to the first 500-meters by two Irish pairs in the first race of the day. With Glover and Swann nursing niggling injuries at home in Great Britain the Spaniards will have an eye on the gold medal at this World Cup. Their chance of winning on Sunday increased as the Spanish duo left the Czechs behind and slid past both Irish crews. It was a well-paced effort, but the Romanians will prove stiffer competition. Striking 34 strokes a minute Romania barely broke a sweat as they cruised through Heat 2. They had over three lengths on China who had ample distance on the young Chilean crew.
Any morning sleepiness was exorcised by the French men’s pair as they roared across the finish line. The Serbians also won their Heat and both crews will meet in the A-Final. The men’s double 2019 World Champions of Liu and Zhang marked their return to competition with an impressive four lengths of clear water on the Germans. Both crews progressed to the A-B Semifinals along with Ireland, France, Netherlands, and Switzerland.
In the women’s double sculls, it was a fortuitous start by the new partnership of Olympic silver medallist Gevvie Stone and Kristi Wagner. Their all-American sprint finish forced the Dutch crew into second place. The American effort will yield a centre lane but both crews pass direct to the A-Final. They will meet European Champions Bodnar and Radis from Romania and the Czech double. The Italian women missed out by less than half a second but have a second chance in the repechage.
It could have been a disappointing debut for the Bermudian sculler, Dara Alizadeh who clipped the penultimate red buoy before the finish line. A swift recovery and restart ensured Dara held on to third place and qualified through to the men’s single sculls quarterfinals.
For the Dutch – their Lucerne campaign might have ended before it began. Two of their athletes in the men’s eight and one in the men’s four were taken ill meaning both crews were absent from the racing. Covid testers were called in and the teams nervously awaited the results. A positive test had the potential to eliminate the whole national team or more likely the specific crew from which the positive test arose. A fate known only too well by Swiss women’s quad who missed their opportunity to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics last week. Fortunately, the Dutch athletes returned negative test results and local health authorities released the crews from isolation. They continue their quest – the men’s eight will race on Sunday and the men’s four on Saturday in the repechage.
The Dutch second four did race their Heat and it was an opportunity they initially enjoyed. They dominated the early stages of the race but paid for the fast start in the final 500 meters. They failed to hold off a marauding South African sprint. High on Olympic qualification the former lightweight and Olympic Champion John Smith and his fellow South African crewmates stormed past the Dutch to claim the win. The high-rating Romanians also passed the courageous but beleaguered Dutch. In the other Heat the current European Champions from Great Britain beat the 2019 World Champion Polish crew and both progressed to the A-Final.
Only two crews competed in the men’s eight but that was two more than the women’s event. The women’s eights event will not feature in this World Cup. There were two entries and after the Chinese withdrew the British women’s eight were forced to stay at home. On the men’s side it was another memorable contest between longstanding rivals; Deutschland Achter and the British. The intensity of the fight did not reflect its status as a preliminary race for lanes. A race worth watching despite the cold and pouring rain.
The two eights hammered down the course with a lane between them but barely a bow ball in it. Smarting from the disappointment of the European Championships the Germans had everything to prove. They may have lost their lustre – the German bladework fails to shine like eights of the past but their hunger and grit is faultless. Every oarsman in the German boat knows they have a legacy to protect and they are desperate to deliver.
Powering past the red buoys in the final few hundred metres the British threw everything they had on the end of the handles, but the Germans did not yield and held on to a very slender lead. Along with the Dutch both crews are poised for another showdown on Sunday. It’s a tantalising spectacle – an Olympic hors d’oeuvre.