As reality bites in this pre-Olympic year, rowers at the European Championships are starting to feel the pressure, and the Rotsee served up a menu of serious races on Saturday as the semi-finals and repechages were run in front of a vociferous Swiss crowd.
With barely a breath of wind, there was only one new European time set (by the Dutch M4x winning their semi with space to spare over Italy), but the Belarussian LW2x (featuring Anastasiia Ianina who until 2017 competed for Russia) got within a second of their Friday mark.
On the ‘disappointed from Lucerne’ list this time were Polish sculler Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk, possibly a little rusty at single-sculls racing after a year spent winning the Boat Race with Cambridge. He was ejected from third place in the M1x quarter-finals by Britain’s Tom Barras despite the support of BBC commentator and Cambridge crew-mate James Cracknell, who had just arrived to watch the early races. Lithuania’s Mindaugas Griskonis was another also-ran, but the Plovdiv silver and bronze medallists, BLR’s Pilip Pavukou and Finn Robert Ven, got through in the same quarterfinal. Pavukou then clinched an A-final spot along with Damir Martin (CRO), Stef Broenink (NED), Sverri Nielsen (DEN), a strolling Ondrej Synek (CZE) and the as yet undefeated German Oliver Zeidler.
In the women’s singles the Swiss-buzz created by Jeannine Gmelin’s carefully-judged semi-final win over Lisa Scheenaard (NED) and Magdalena Lobnig (AUT) edged tired Brit Vicky Thornley out of contention, while an on-song Mirka Topinkova Knapkova (CZE) seemed to have no trouble beating world champion Sanita Puspure (IRL) and Dane Fie Udby Erichsen.
Another crew chucked off the medal pathway were the Moldovan M4x, relegated to winning the C-final now that the big boys of the big sculling boat are all here. The quads semis were won by the Dutch and British, the former looking quite a lot more comfortable, but both holding power in reserve for a blistering final on Sunday. It’s not clear whether we’ve seen the best of the Italians and Germans either, as the two runners-up, so this could get interesting. By contrast the W4x, like the M8+, had a relatively comfortable qualification with four going through from the rep, which hid their real speed. The men’s eights dumped Poland out the back early enough for the rest to be certain of their finals places, but GBR, ROU, RUS and ITA will have to raise their game to match NED and GER who went straight through on Friday.
The Sinkovic brothers look ready to take on the world in the men’s pairs, perhaps smarting slightly after the (to them) unexpected defeat by Serbia. They are now undefeated here in Lucerne, and posted the quickest times of both rounds, but gold is by no means a done deal with sparkling crews from Serbia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Spain in the mix. Romania and Spain added to the fun with a near-photofinish in the first W2- semi (won by Spain over Romania’s new pair), but despite that the other semi-final, won by Italy narrowly over Greece, was four seconds faster.
The LM2x semis showed a disconcerting tendency for crews to give up when they felt the situation to be hopeless: in the first race the Slovakians and Poles knocked it on the head in the last 500m once the leaders had clear water, and in the second the Poles, Brits and Austrians did the same thing. As a result Italy’s Stefano Oppo and Pietro Ruta look set to continue their very successful Olympiad: the other semi winners were Germans Jonathan Rommelmann and world LM1x Jason Osborne, who have proved satisfyingly speedy at their first regatta together. Backing this event up is the highly serious LM1x, where the top scullers so far have been Martino Goretti (ITA), Artur Mikolajczewski (POL), Rajko Hrvat (CRO) and, of course, Peter Galambos (HUN).
The LW2x event has a different feel, with 2018 champion Ilse Paulis finding it tougher to defend her title without former partner Marieke Keijser, who is single sculling. Paulis and Martine Veldhuis were dumped out at the semifinal stage by the Romanians, hard on the heels of the Swiss and Italians, while in the LW1x where the Greek defending champion is absent, Leonie Pieper (GER) and Sofia Meakin (SUI) led the way to join Keijser and Italian Federica Cesarini in the final.
The other fun to be had on semi-finals day was in the men’s fours — eight crews within three seconds of each other with Switzerland and the Netherlands fractionally losing out — and the men’s doubles, which was equally close with the Dutch and Poles heading the last but harried to the line by another six crews. Sunday morning and the medal finals away, and the media area has an extra space for TV interview cameras this time, a welcome bonus after last year’s European Games in Glasgow, which revived interest in this continental championships.