Seven national anthems were played throughout day seven of the 2022 World Rowing Championships. Italy lost the top spot on the medal standings to Great Britain who might yet muster their best ever world championship performance. It was a bittersweet day for the Azzurri who saw their fallen Tokyo 2020 heroes in the LW2x slip to ninth place, and although gold was promised A-Final Italian crews ended the day with two minor medals.
Kiwi supporters breathed a sigh of relief when Grace Prendergast and Kerri Williams delivered New Zealand’s first gold medal of the championships. So, no matter what, New Zealand will outdo their gold-less 2018 World Rowing Championships. Tokyo 2020 M8+ gold medallists Tom Mackintosh and Matt MacDonald were unable to follow suit: they finished sixth in the M2- despite showing promise earlier in the season.
Romania, Spain, and Australia were the early pace setters, with Great Britain looking a little stiff three-quarters of a length back. Romania’s Marius Cozmiuc and Sergiu Bejan were bold, brave and did not fade. As the Australasians slipped out of contention two races began to emerge, Romania against Spain for the gold, and Serbia against Great Britain for the bronze. “Amazing race,” said gold medallist Bejan, “We are so proud because in Romania this is the first medal for this category”. Spanish silver medallist Jaime Canalejo Pazos said, “It is our first medal at the world championships and it is just incredible, we made the most of the whole regatta and it has been a fantastic experience. The last 500 we thought about our families and friends, all the training we put in, and we’re so delighted with that result”.
Rowing New Zealand are relying on their single scullers (especially Emma Twigg) if they are to add to the two medals (W2- gold and LW1x bronze) they have so far. Prendergast and Williams were one of three crews racing today that have maintained consistent line-ups while successfully bagging gold medals at 2019 World Rowing Championships and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. And, like the Kiwis, the Chinese W4x and the Irish LM2x successfully defended their world titles.
Ireland had four crews in the second batch of A-Finals. Their PR2 Mix 2x finished fifth, ahead of Uzbekistan and two seconds behind the Dutch. Ukraine won that one, the first A-Final of the day, with the Polish in second and France third. Ireland’s W4- Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medallists fell short in their final and struggled to make an impression on the race.
The Irish gems were in the lightweight doubles. Aoife Casey and Margaret Cremen improved on their Munich fourth place and delivered an assured performance to win their first ever world championship medal. The USA sliced between France and Ireland in the middle thousand and won silver behind the Brits. Silky smooth and oozing composure, the victory of Imogen Grant and Emily Craig never looked in doubt after they distanced the pack. As the red buoy beckoned, France tied up and the Irish unleashed an aggressive push to the line. “Very hard, I don’t remember the last ten strokes,” said Casey. “The LW2x is so competitive, we are so pleased. At Europeans we came fourth, so we came here and had nothing to lose. Everybody in that race was so fast, we executed our race plan, we’re so pleased.”
Ireland’s consistently brilliant LM2x Olympic champions passed the Italians just before halfway and played their typical trump card in the third quarter. What ensued was an absolutely brutal race for the medals. Much to the disappoint of the home crowd the Czechs did not get a sniff of the podium. The Swiss scraped every ounce of effort they had left but were found wanting. Italy outdid Ukraine to snag silver by 0.42 seconds. “For me, this is one of the best medals after the one at the Tokyo Olympics. It means so much. We didn’t have very good racing this week, we almost missed out on the qualification for the semifinal, but this race was very good,” said Italy’s Stefano Oppo. “It is wonderful,” said Ukraine’s Stanislav Kovalov, “We just won our first medal”. “End of a good year, I guess! We train pretty hard, our technique is improving a bit,” said the erudite Irishman, Paul O’Donovan. “Last year we were focussing on the biceps, if people don’t think they are big enough now, they will be pretty afraid when they see us next year. You will need a pretty wide angle on your camera!”
Great Britain has a thing for fours, and Saturday saw them claim all three gold medals on offer (PR3 Mix4+, M4- and W4-). First up were the para rowers who tasted gold the day before in the PR3 pairs. Coxed by Morgan Baynham-Williams (in for Erin Kennedy who is currently focussing on her breast cancer treatment) the World, European and Paralympic champions put 17 seconds on the German silver medallists and set a new world best time (6:48.34).
Next it was the turn of the British women. Fortified on a piece-heavy programme from their new head coach Andrew Randell, the GBR W4- enjoyed an undefeated run this season which they duly protected despite gutsy attacks from the other A-Finalists. “Each race we knew we had to improve to stay on top of the field, and this race, we had to keep our head down, make sure we didn’t move from our position. This has been a long year, long season, and next year with the Olympic Qualification it will be another huge one. But right now, I am a bit speechless!”
It was a golden end to a gruelling week for Coach Christian Felkel’s GBR M4-, and a quantum leap from last year’s Tokyo nightmare. Two-seat Sam Nunn celebrated first, his arms aloft and outstretched at the finish. The Brookes rower has had quite the turnaround year from hip surgery and selection jeopardy to a first World Championship gold medal! Sympathy goes to his teammate Matt Aldridge who was substituted for medical reasons before the start of the regatta. “He’s been crushing it all season and has been working hard all year in this crew, so it’s a tough thing to be ill,” said David Ambler who filled in for Aldridge. “The result is a reflection of his work in the crew throughout the year.”
The day’s racing finished with the quads. As predicted by race commentator, Martin Cross, Italy were the early leaders of the men’s crews. In the early stages, the Italians could not shake free of the Polish, and the British tracked alongside the Poles. As the race progressed, Poland drove to the front and Italy were left to fend off the Dutch. Following a troubled season, the British quad delivered an exquisite rally to claim silver. Italy were visibly disappointed with bronze but there was no denying the amazing performance from Poland. “Special for us, in front of our families,” said Poland’s strokeman, Fabian Baranksi, who looked to be suffering in the last 500 meters but it was worth it. “We are World Champions! Competition was strong, but we’re happy that we won the rematch from the Europeans with Italy.”
China’s defending world and Olympic champions delivered gold again in the W4x. They asserted their dominance early in the race, inched away from the chasing pack through the middle and utilised their experience to hold firm to the finish despite a fantastic sprint by the Dutch. Great Britain worked hard to reel back the Chinese but in the end were too gassed to hold off the Netherlands. They had built just enough of a margin to hang on to bronze. Ukraine’s hurt at finishing fourth place is justified after a solid season. On the podium, the masked Chinese scullers sang their national anthem with gusto. The Chinese team have been extremely diligent with their Covid measures. Picking it up in the boat park would delay their return home, something any athlete that has been on the road since the start of the season is keen to avoid.