Varese is the perfect location for the second World Cup of the summer. There’s something about being by a large open natural lake, in a country which values relaxation, rich coffee and perfect ice-cream above stress and fuss, which just makes it work. It has the most laid-back venue ever, with a bathing shore adjoining the spectator bar, a patrol of ducks quacking importantly as they skitter about finding abandoned morsels of food on the grass, and the media workroom is a temporarily repurposed indoor rowing tank beside the lake.
Against this backdrop 41 countries have come together to test their mid-season speed and try out new combinations. As ever the opening heats were made to sound more interesting than they really were, but a tailwind with a generous hint of cross kept the racers honest and there were four photofinishes. One minor early casualty was 2013 LM2x world champion Kristoffer Brun, who failed to qualify directly to the semis in Norway’s openweight double, but he and his partner then promptly won Friday’s later repechage. Italy’s first men’s four also had a bad day, finishing fifth, while Denmark’s Fie Udby Erichsen fell foul of a heat led home by the excellent Diana Dymchenko (AZE) and yet another good Dutch single sculler, Nika Vos. The men’s singles, a whopper with 33 entries, was not for the fainthearted, but all the usual top names made it through.
Romania aren’t here, recovering from the exertions of winning five gold medals in Bled, and nor are Ireland, who entered World Cups 2 and 3 then decided that racing in Lucerne was their main aim, and cancelled. This kind of thing does risk putting off the overseas squads such as Australia, Canada and the USA, who are over here specifically to race a wide range of nations, but New Zealand have already decided the Varese competition is not for them so despite the breadth of competition, it’s hardly a full house.
Slightly spoiling the festive air on day one of the second 2023 World Cup was the mildly ridiculous result of some keen doubling-up: several crews declined to take part in their optional exhibition races ahead of straight finals because they already have four paddles a day. Exhibition races started life years ago as Preliminary Races, ahead of one-off medal finals for events with six or fewer entries and useful for crews racing only once to get the feel of the venue, warm-up circulation and conditions. Then they became Races for Lanes, compulsory for everyone and used to seed the lanes in case of a crosswind. Now they are Exhibitions and voluntary, but that can lead to the ludicrous spectacle of a lonely solo crew being commentated home with nobody to race (Australia’s W8+) or even (PR2 M1x) complete cancellation.
Saturday’s racing has C-finals, reps and semi-finals from 9:25 to 13:35 local time before there is a lunchbreak and then the seven non-Olympic/Paralympic A-finals from 15:00 to 17:00. These feature a lot of lightweights, obviously, since hosts Italy still run a full lightweight squad. Sunday’s racing will deal with the Olympic and Paralympic events. As the evening sun sets over the lake the pressure screw is starting to turn and the indolent air disappearing. It’s getting serious.
On Saturday there is also a short press conference with WR President Jean-Christophe Rolland and Executive Director Vincent Gaillard, where amongst the topics are likely to be Russian/Belarussian competitor rules, gender issues, the IOC’s delay in deciding what to do about lightweight and coastal rowing, and that’s just for starters. Thirty minutes is unlikely to be enough….