Day two of Lucerne started with scorching sunshine and a continued gentle tailwind, and ended with the first three (non-Olympic) gold medals being awarded, with two new best times being set. The setters are a pair of exceptional lightweight scullers both in their penultimate years studying medicine, who have therefore not yet trained full-time with their national teams this year. Imogen Grant and Paul O’Donovan could not be denied lightweight singles titles, both shocking their opposition with their speed.
An imperious Grant added the Lucerne LW1x crown to her 2022 tally of GB trials, the Boat Race and several victories against openweights at Henley Royal. This time she bossed the field from the first stroke, keeping Mexico’s Kenia Lechuga and South African Kirsten McCann at bay while they threw the kitchen sink at her in a vain attempt to claw some distance back. The final margin was five seconds, but in a new world’s fastest time, Grant breaking through the 7-24.46 set by Zoe McBride (NZL) at the 2015 Varese world cup, by 1.1 seconds. Sixth in the race was Susannah Duncan, a crewmate of Grant’s at the U23s in 2017, since when Duncan has switched her competitive nationality to France.
“From racing at Henley Royal [last week] I knew that my speed was pretty good”, said Grant, “so given that Lucerne is a favourable course, I came here with the intention to break the world best. I’m so happy I managed it! Doing my bursts in the warm-up I could see my splits were pretty good, and given it’s the final you don’t stop until you reach the finish line.” Much as she likes the single and has had to race it in the early summer to fit around her fifth-year medical exams, Grant would obviously like to be in the Olympic-class double for the Europeans in August and then September’s world championships.
Tokyo Olympic LM2x champion O’Donovan played the race tactics differently, stuffing in a flurry of strokes off the start, but then taking his time to carve a way through the field. Once he had the lead he was off like a train, staying ahead of Belgian Tibo Vyvey by far enough to ensure the win. It was six seconds outside the overall world best time, but was at least a new world cup best.
“I’ll improve a bit more as the summer goes on”, said O’Donovan. Vyvey, who had won the event in Belgrade and aims to go to the U23s in the single before joining the LM2x at the worlds, knew he was up against a colossus of the lightweight world. “I thought if I could keep up with him, I would definitely get a good place”, he said. “The last 500m I had to let him go, because in the last 500 he went even faster than the other pieces. It was very hard but I enjoyed every moment of it. It is an honour to race against him at my age (21).” Uruguayan Bruno Cetraro Berriolo won bronze, his first ever senior medal “a dream come true” and further proof of the quality of Uruguay’s lightweight sculling after he and his partner finished in the A-final of the LM2x in Tokyo.
The third non-Olympic final was a two-horse race in the lightweight quads, in which Germany uneventfully beat a Dutch club crew (part of a group which has come to Switzerland in lieu of the real team) before the Dutch quartet was relegated to a last place they had already finished in, due to their boat being underweight at the post-race check.
The other matter dealt with on Saturday was the remaining reps and semi-finals in the larger events. In the men’s singles Graeme Thomas (GBR) swooped past Mattheiu Androdias in the last 300m after the Frenchman had led the rest of the way, but the speed suggested Androdias had let this insult go in favour of coasting in ready to take revenge on Sunday. The other semi-final was dominated by Kristian Vasilev, on his own here in the absence of his doubles partner Emil Neykov, but turning the enforced single sculling to advantage by easily holding his own against Canadian Trevor Jones and Spain’s Jordi Jofre Senciales.
In the women’s singles Tara Rigney (AUS) broke through China’s Olympic W4x champion Ling Zhang at halfway, towing Alexandra Foester in her wake but just managing to stay ahead of the German, while local heroine Jeanine Gmelin was quicker to row past Diana Dymchenko (formerly UKR, now AZE) the last qualifying slot held by Emma Lunatti (FRA) at a sprint. One W2x semi-final was won at a relative canter by Italy and the other by a definite saunter by the Olympic champions, Ancuta Bodnar and Simona Radis (ROU) who have a chance of holding the world, European and Olympic titles by the end of this year if all goes well.
The lightweight women’s doubles is shaping up well: the finalists cover a range of eight seconds but there is a sense of holding back a few beans for the last race. This was particularly true of Olympic champions Valentina Rodini and Federica Cesarini (ITA) who tested the British double of Emily Craig and Maddie Arlett early on but then stuck it on cruise to come home behind China but well clear of Canada. The French double of Laura Tarantola and Claire Bove, silver medallists in Tokyo, were not really tested at all in the other LW2x semi-final where the two Polish duos took the remaining A-final places. Croatia tried to lay down a marker in the M2x by beating Lithuania but dropping their speed considerably in the last few hundred metres, while Australia, with David Bartholot now in instead of Jack Cleary, even-splitted it to win the other in a faster time.
Top qualifiers in the LM2x were the gold and silver medallists from Poznan, Norway1 (Lars Benske & Ask Tjoem) taking one win from Italy2, and France (Hugo Beurey & Ferdinand Ludwig) taking the other from Italy1. Meanwhile the men’s quads got interesting with world cup leaders China leading the field early on but then coming in third behind Romania and the Ukraine, and the revamped Polish quartet dissecting Italy to win the other semi, though without either crew sprinting. In the men’s pairs Australia1 (Harley Moore & Alex Hill) narrowly won a dingdong battle with Serbians Milos Vasic & Martin Mackovic, GBR’s second pair surviving a desperate but ultimately unsuccessful charge by Romania to claim the third spot. In the other semifinal GBR1 got the revenge they have been awaiting for six days, bashing through New Zealand who conquered them at Henley Royal, though neither pair showed all their cards in the last 100m.
As day two came to a close, the cowbells clonking on the opposite hillside, there’s the usual degree of Lucerne-induced illness going around and there will probably be more withdrawals on Sunday. But we now have the A-finalists confirmed, fast times already in the bag, and the hunt for gorgeous Rotsee trophies is on.