Seven finals done (non-Para/Olympic) on the second day at the 2023 World Rowing Cup II, Varese, Italy, and twenty medals awarded (of which more later) but we were also treated to a world best time and some distinctly spicy racing to qualify for finals.
By the end of the day it was Italy who revelled, winning three lightweight men’s finals in a row and bossing the non-para-rowing medal table as well as the overall one with a trio of golds, one silver and a bronze. The non-Olympic lightweight men’s events were the single, pair and quad of which the latter two were very small fields. Ukraine and Brazil won a gold and a silver each while France and the Netherlands were next with a gold and a bronze.
Italy’s Niels Torre worked hard to beat Swiss sculler Andri Struzina in the lightweight men’s single sculls. The two opened a substantial gap early on over the rest of the field, and while Torre was slightly ahead for most of the first kilometre, he couldn’t relax until nearing the final 500m, when a lift from him coincided with Struzina starting to fade having raced a tough semi earlier in the day. Torre kept the rate high and sailed to the finish, apparently racing the TV drone (watch the video for a great behind-the-sculler view as he winds up to the line).
In the lightweight women’s singles Aurelie Morizot of France doled out some hard lessons to heat winners Sophia Luwis (USA) and Olivia Bates (GBR), who were pushed aside straight away and had to track her through the first thousand. Bates was most able to hold on through the centre of the race, saying later that she had needed to focus hard each stroke on bumpy water, but then with 900m to go Luwis began to edge back through the Briton while both closed on Morizot. At 1800m gone all three were overlapping but Dutchwoman Tosca Kettler started to sprint and that gave Luwis enough of a burst to pass Bates for silver behind Morizot. It was the first senior international medal for Bates, but a joy for the Frenchwoman who jumped in the air when her name was announced at the ceremony.
Earlier in the day the semi-finals kept coming, a barrage of scuffles to qualify in events which have by this point in the summer become quite large, helped along by a good mostly-tail wind. There were plenty of good performances from Americans and Australians, but disappointment for Britain’s two revised openweight doubles. The crowning glory however was Imogen Grant and Emily Craig cropping 0.89 seconds off the world best time in lightweight women’s doubles while being chased home by regular rivals Laura Tarantola and Claire Bove (FRA). They didn’t have to do anything special to win the race after picking off France just after halfway, which made it even more impressive, though perhaps the perfect splits pattern (1:39.19, 1:41.16, 1:41.10, 1:39.02) may have had something to do with it.
The British duo must be favourites for Sunday’s title, but with experienced US partnership Michelle Sechser and Molly Reckford winning the other semi only a little slower than the French and Canada’s golden girls Jill Moffatt and Jennifer Casson also on the hunt, it won’t be easy.
Closest race of the day was the first women’s singles semi-final, a barnstormer in which China’s second sculler Zhu Hong was overtaken inexorably by Diana Dymchenko (AZE) in the closing sprint and shut out of joining Liu Ruiqi (CHN1) on a photofinish by just 0.02 seconds. In between Dymchenko and Liu was wedged German starlet Alexandra Foester, who had won her heat and led the semi almost all the way to the line before being defeated by Liu’s charge. The other semi was less exciting once Kara Kohler (USA) had moved into the lead after a steady start. Australian Tara Rigney tried to close Kohler down but didn’t cause her much trouble, while Czech Anna Santruckova was well ahead of a struggle between Brit Kyra Edwards and Dutch sculler Nika Johanna Vos, won by the Briton.
The men’s singles semis included a satisfyingly decorous win for Sverri Nielsen (DEN) over the squabbling Onfroy brothers (FRA) — elder sibling Theophile beating younger brother Valentin in that argument, though it could all turn round tomorrow. German Oli Zeidler had something of an easy ride too, while behind him Ryuta Arakawa, a former sweep lightweight who went openweight in 2017, reached his first ever M1x final with a strong performance over Tim Brys (BEL1). Arakawa had the host sculling place at the Tokyo Olympics and then competed in the M2- early in 2022 before returning to the single for last year’s worlds. Brys is Belgium’s only hope for a good result on Sunday, particularly since both their second-string crews have had to withdraw for medical reasons.
The fours had bite to them, echoing the imminent Ashes series by having match-ups between Australia and Britain in both sets of semis and reaching deep into the psyche of the historically rival countries. The women were first, Australia1 leading out, passed but then just managing to row back through in time to reach the line before Britain’s first crew, who have reshuffled their order to put Helen Glover at 2 instead of 3 after their narrow loss in Bled. The USA defeated Denmark slightly more comfortably in the other semi without needing to spiral the rate to 44-45 as the Brits and Aussies had done.
For the men’s opening semi the tables were turned, Britain rowing through Australia in the third quarter but opening the gap further instead of being challenged. They had enough in hand to drop the rating right down to the low 30s in the last few strokes, making a point while Australia remained at 37. Italy took the last place in that race, the US, France and China the other three finals spots, and all six crews go into the medal race having been only five seconds apart the day before.