The 2021 World Cup Series has begun and Croatia plays host to the international rowing community for World Cup I . Strong headwinds and occasional crosswind gusts meant conditions on Lake Jarun – situated 7km south of Zagreb’s city centre – were not easy for the international athletes.
It was an unusual start to proceedings as each crew followed one after another in processional order. World Rowing deemed it best to rehearse the time trial format in the heats of the first World Cup. The decision was taken with an eye towards the upcoming Tokyo Olympics as time trialling might be required should bad weather make multi-lane side-by-side racing impossible.
After warming up, the crews line up either side of the race lane before backing into it one at a time, ready to race the clock. Frida Svensson the Chair of World Rowing’s Athletes Commission said it was good for the athletes to have tried this way of racing.
It feels a fortuitous time to practice given that the forecasted bad weather this weekend has caused the event organisers to pull Sunday’s racing schedule to forward to Saturday.
Supporting their home event, Croatia has a large team entered with multiple crews competing in the men’s pair, double, and single. Alongside the well-known faces that headline the event are younger up-and-coming Croatian athletes who have been blooded into senior World Cup racing.
The Olympic and World gold-medal-winning Sinkovic brothers were the fastest men’s pair on the water today. After reclaiming their European title in Varese the Croatian heroes showcased their speed in Zagreb. Valent said, “We are super excited that the rowing family is in Zagreb. Yesterday morning I saw some of the other nations arrive and I spoke with the Lithuanians, Norwegians, and Polish athletes. So far everyone is delighted. This is a historic moment for us, and we are looking forward to the final.”
His brother Martin was also enthusiastic, “It is the first time we host in our hometown and it is wonderful to see what I have only seen when racing abroad; all the World Rowing advertisements and banners lining the track. Everything is very beautiful – I’m enjoying it.”
They were comfortably ahead of Belarus, Slovenia and Turkey and progressed directly into tomorrow’s A-Final. Their time of 6:32.79 was nearly eight seconds quicker than the winners of the first heat – the French Turlan brothers who will hope to upset the locals in tomorrow’s race.
The fastest women’s pair racing today was also flying the tricolour flag of Croatia. It was only a preliminary race as the withdrawal of the Spanish European bronze medallists means there are just three nations competing in this event. The Jurkovic twins will race from the centre lane after winning today in a time of 7:25.30 – they were well ahead of second place Czech Republic and France who took the third and final spot.
Josipa Jurkovic said, “It’s really different to row at home. The experience is much more special. In tomorrow’s A-Final race we hope that everything we have been working on will pay off. We have not had some special training program for this World Cup because we are going to Lucerne to compete in the last chance regatta for Tokyo. That is where we need to be at our best. So, all these races here in Zagreb will be good preparation for what awaits us.”
Magdalena Lobnig of Austria was the class act in the women’s single. She handled the rough conditions with aplomb and won her heat in 7:53.80 a performance that supports her position as event favourite. Josana Arsic of Serbia was the other heat winner to secure direct passage into the A-Final tomorrow.
On the men’s side it was World and European Champion Oliver Ziedler who set the standard. Olympic Bronze medallist Kjetil Borch has a strong history in time trials and progressed direct to the A-B Semi Final. But he had to settle for second place after Zeidler the German sculler pipped Kjetil by one second.
Borch said, “I like the intensity of a normal side-by-side race, but it’s cool to spice things up every once in a while, with a time trial. You have to turn on autopilot and work within your own head. I love it!”
Double Olympic silver medallist Damir Martin was not in love with the time trial format. Saulius Ritter of Lithuania claimed the top spot in their heat and edged the local hero Martin into second. They both progressed direct into tomorrow’s A-B Semi-Final. Damir was happy with his race but believed he could have gone “a second or two” quicker “…but this time trail format is killing the joy of competition.” Damir still enjoyed the day: “It’s cool to race at home, the conditions were tough, a lot of side wind but the sunny weather made everything great.”
The third Croatian men’s single Boris Cesarec enjoyed his first taste of senior racing and competes in tomorrow’s C-Final. He was not surprised by the weather. “It is always windy here in spring, but we are used to it. Lake Jarun is a beautiful course, and it is a special feeling to see the elite rowers on my lake. I hope they like Zagreb.”