Last Chance

Lucerne, Switzerland

5 minute read
Words Row360
Photography Benedict Tufnell and Steve McArthur
Published 21.05.24

Lucerne’s ‘Last Chance Regatta’ concluded with a bang, and while the weather was underwhelmingly humdrum the racing was anything but. Beneath grey skies and downpours the remaining athletes took the Rotsee by storm: A final spin, on the final day, of the 2024 Final Olympic and Paralympic Qualification Regatta.

Home side Switzerland, led by New Zealander Iain Wright, welcomed the cow-bell-clanking support of their fans, and delivered fantastic performances in the men’s four and women’s single scull, the 20-year-old Aurelia-Maxima Katharina Janzen (SUI W1x) earnt a spot at her first Olympics after an opportunistic last 500m in the final, but there was disappointment for the veteran sculler Jeannine Gmelin and the Swiss lightweights.

The Danish women were on song, as were the French small boat scullers and several USA crews. The USA women’s quad upheld the strong American record in their event – with the exception of the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics there has always been a USA W4x at every Games since women’s rowing was introduced at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. (Twice winning medals, first in 1984 and again in 2012.)

France, whose 2023 World Championship campaign was hampered by illness, were another strong performer. Gianni Postiglione, Greece’s head coach, watched his two lightweight doubles book tickets to Paris. His countrymen from Italy produced top performances in the PR3 Mix4+, two eights and the men’s four, but the Valentina Rodini and Federica Cesarini’s (ITA LW2x) dream to defend their Tokyo title died on the Rotsee.

German supporters were buoyed by their underdog men’s pair but soured by a succession of dreaded ‘first not to qualify’ results in the W2x, PR2 Mix2x, LM2x, and M4-. Likewise it was a mixed bag for Great Britain (W2x qualified, M1x not qualified) and Norway, who had success in the men’s quad but disappointment in the men’s single. Canada left wholly dejected after coming oh so far yet oh so close in the last race of the day.

Para Singles

The first to book their Paris ticket was Uzbekistan’s Mukhayyo Abdusattorova. Or at least she thought she had… the Classification Advisory Panel received a protest concerning Abdusattorova’s classification so the quota allocation has been postponed. Separate to this issue there will be one additional place allocated after racing, in this boat class.

Billed as a winner takes all race, the eighteen-year-old Uzbek toppled the Dutch favourite and early-race leader Eva Mol, who was the fastest qualifier from the heats. Overrating the rest of the field Abdusattorova finished 0.04s under the eleven-minute mark.

There was another upset on the men’s side. Backing-up his dominant performance in the heat – and following on from his fourth-place finish at the Europeans in Hungary last month – Frenchman Alexis Sanchez put paid to the ambitions of Brazil’s Tokyo 2020 bronze-medallist Rene Campos Pereira. Pereira had hoped to compete at his third successive Paralympic Games. Instead, Sanchez will make a Home Games Paralympic debut later this summer.


In the women’s pair Denmark enjoyed a one length lead coming into the final quarter of the race, behind them New Zealand, Croatia, and France jockeyed for position. Each crew vying for the all important two qualification spots. New Zealand’s sprint finish finally freed them from their pursuers, and they came charging up alongside Fie Udby Erichsen and Hedvig Rasmussen (DEN).

Devastation for the Jurkovic sisters (CRO), who threw everything at it, a blistering rate included, but finished third. That’s one place better than their last Final Olympic Qualification Regatta (FOQR) in 2021, but that will be of little consolation.

A furiously competitive race followed in the men’s pairs, which saw Dutchmen Guillaume Krommenhoek and Niki Van Sprang finish fast, but not fast enough. Germany, the surprise winners by 0.24s, and Lithuania were not to be denied the top spots. Denmark’s Olympic bronze medallists led early in the race but flagged in the third quarter. The last time Germany had an Olympic men’s pair was in London 2012, it’s even longer for Lithuania… Atlanta 1996.


Danish supporters were buoyed one race later as their women’s four pushed Ireland all the way to the finish line, both securing places at Paris well ahead of the rest of the field. In 2021 the Irishwomen came through the FOQR and went on to win bronze in Tokyo. Will history repeat itself come Paris? A tough task but so far so good.

Italy, who beat the British World Champions at the first world cup in Varese, delivered a classic men’s four race; leading from start to finish, with a typically Italian sprint sprinkled on top. Afterwards they joined their jubilant supporters in the grandstands and boosted the celebrations!

Switzerland secured the last qualification spot, having had South Africa and Germany close behind them early in the race. “We knew how strong their boat was,” said Kai Schätzle (SUI) on his Italian opposition. “We have now taken this important step and want to be at the forefront in Paris.” A valiant Danish effort saw them overturn the South Africans in the final quarter, Ukraine finished in last place.

Para Crew Boats

Ukraine secured the first of two FOQPR tickets to Paris. The newly engaged, European PR3 Mix2x medal winners Dariia Kotyk and Stanislav Samoliuk came through Brazil in the final few hundred meters. Brazil, who had steadily extended their lead, wavered under mounting Ukrainian pressure and came to a standstill moments before the grandstands. It left spectators and commentators puzzling over the reason for such a dramatic turn of events.

Just before stopping Brazil struggled with their steering, and their strokeman, Jairo Natanael Frohlich Klug, appeared to scuff a few strokes and then miss one entirely. Eventually, having conceded defeat, the duo restarted and glumly crossed the finish 30s ahead of Thailand, but without a ticket to Paris.

Consolation for the Brazilian coaches came a few races later when their PR3 Mix4+ secured second place and the last ticket to Paris behind Italy. It was a commanding performance from the Italian PR3 Mix4+, who finished several lengths ahead of Brazil, and left no doubt as to their intentions this summer.

Fist pumping the air at the finish line, strokewoman Perle Bouge (FRA) was overjoyed to claim a place at her Home Paralympics. Bouge and Benjamin Daviet delivered a gutsy performance in the French PR2 Mix2x, besting the hotly tipped German crew who’d beaten them in Szeged, Hungary four weeks earlier. Israel came closest to spoiling the French victory party, just 0.23s behind them in second place.

Lightweight doubles

For the very last time the lightweight doubles hunted down qualification places for a chance to compete at the final edition of an Olympics with lightweight rowing. These races served double measures of a Greek-French showdown.

First up were the women’s lightweight double. It was a tight race to halfway before the Olympic silver medallists Laura Tarantola and Claire Bove (FRA) blazed to the front at a spicy 39 strokes-per-minute. Greece’s Zoi Fitsiou, who narrowly missed out on Tokyo 2020, and Dimitra Eleni Kontou, 17, went with them to secure the final qualification spot. Italy’s reigning Olympic champions finished fourth and will not get to defend their title at Paris.


And there was another ding-dong battle between the same two nations in the men’s final. Last year’s Lucerne Regatta winners Hugo Beurey and Ferdinand Ludwig (FRA) led to the first marker before yielding poll position to Greece in the middle thousand. Germany’s Olympic silver medallist Jonathan Rommelmann and his teammate Paul Leerkamp posted the fastest time in the heats but were out manoeuvred in the final.

The Frenchmen left it until the last couple of strokes before stealing back the lead from Greece, both crews safely through to Paris. Two and a bit seconds back, Germany finished third unable to get on terms with the leaders. Portugal, who earnt their spot in the final by beating the Americans by the narrowest of margins in Monday’s repechage, finished in fifth place behind Poland.

Openweight doubles

Czechia delivered a consistent 2000m performance in the women’s double, stalked by the British who finished with a flurry in second. The Brits were one of the few boats to traverse the repechage and still go on to qualify for Paris. The new Swiss double, stroked by two-time Olympian Gmelin, were unable to muster a repeat of their second-half rally as delivered in the repechage. “We started bravely and were at the front,” said Gmelin. “We are proud of this race and the whole weekend, we constantly improved. We’ve been rowing in this boat together for less than two months and have made great progress.”

Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, the British bowwoman, said: “I was aware that more and more crews were coming behind us. … we were just counting down strokes – it was such a relief to get through the finish line. I’m still in shock, I’m mainly relieved. Our biggest project was trying to qualify, so I’m excited to see what we can do now.” Her tearful teammate Becky Wilde said: “I’m in shock. I don’t know what happened there. It’s been a lot of hard work and there have been some downs as well as some ups. It’s been tough, but Tom Pattichis, our coach, has been brilliant. I can’t believe we’ve qualified for Paris!”

A redemption of sorts followed in the men’s race, which saw a stars and stripes master class from two athletes who previously missed out on Olympic qualification. Benjamin Davison in 2016, and his now teammate Sorin Kosyk in 2016, both in the USA men’s quad.

The second half of the men’s doubles final proved a real separator, Moldova, Greece and Sweden slipped back while the USA, Serbia and Australia continued to press on. As the red buoys beckoned, Davison and Koszyk (USA) edged into a clear water lead and held it to the finish. It proved to be the first of three winning performances by American crews. They will be the first American men’s double to compete at an Olympics since Beijing in 2008.


Despite recent internal selection kafuffles and governing body debt drama during the winter, Serbia produced a men’s double quick enough to deny Australia the final ticket to Paris. Exhausted and emotional – relief was writ large on the Serbian bowman, Martin Mackovic, after the race.

Mackovic and Nikolaj Pimenov, the latter of whom relocated to Serbia following the Russia-Ukraine War, were initially not selected to race at this event. They arrived in Switzerland unsure whether they would be allowed to race and with little to no (recent) time together in this combination. The World Rowing Executive Committee allowed them to compete “in order to avoid irreparable harm to the athletes”.


A highly anticipated women’s quads final got off to a fierce start with all bar New Zealand very much in the mix at the first 500m. Ukraine, who narrowly missed being crowned European Champions earlier in the season, led the way, initially Poland chasing before succumbing to the mid-race heft of the Americans, and later the Canadians too.


In the closing stages USA steamed to the finish line, and Ukraine looked vulnerable as Canada piled on the pressure, but they held on to take the last ticket to Paris. That result completed the set for the USA, who for a second Olympics in a row qualified all their women’s crews to the Games.


An absolute humdinger in the men’s quad saw Norway deliver a cold, clinical win. There wasn’t a lot in it at halfway, the Norwegians holding court by a little more than a bow canvas. USA and Estonia fought hard for second place, while France were caught adrift but still ahead of Australia and Ukraine. At the finish line Estonia clinched the last spot to Paris by just 0.13s. Heartbreak for the Americans.


The men’s single sculls was a predictably fierce contest, with overlap between all six scullers at the first marker. The grandstand were stunned as arguably the two race favourites, Great Britain’s George Bourne and the big name Norwegian, two-time Olympic medal winner Kjetil Borch, were sculled out of the running by Romania’s Mihai Chiruta and Jacob Plihal (USA). These two scullers exchanged the lead through the mid-race, but it was Chiruta who landed the win, and set himself on course to become the first Romanian Olympic men’s single sculler.

Plihal, who jumped into poll position beside the boat park (around 1200m in) underrated the rest of the field and is set to become the first Olympic USA men’s single sculler since London 2012.

It has been an uphill battle for Borch this Olympiad, struggling with significant illness and injury. Despite missing the qualification quota he delivered one of his best performances of late, moreover the Norwegian champion took the opportunity to propose to his partner, Alice Mayne, on the pontoon immediately after the final. “I told you, when you least expect it,” Borch said, reportedly.

A fourth Olympic Games looked in the bag for Ireland’s Sanita Puspure, 42, who held a solid lead 1500m into the race, but disaster struck. Nearing the buoy-line Puspurse came to standstill with less than 250m left to go. Switzerland’s Janzen didn’t hesitate, sculling through the stricken former World Champion for second place behind Spain’s Virignia Diaz Rivas. (There will be one additional ticket to Paris in both the men’s and women’s single sculls, allocated after the racing.)


The Danish Sweephearts narrowly avoided heartbreak in the women’s eights. They fended off a fierce finish from China to secure the last spot to Paris by a mere 0.19s. Ahead of them both, Italy stole the show with a supremely assured winning performance, leading from ticker to tape. It is the first time these two nations have qualified Olympic women’s eights.


The regatta closed with an eruption of emotion in the grandstands following a fantastic men’s eights race. Out front, the Americans made amends for their disappointing sixth place finish at the 2023 World Champs.

The USA men’s eight stormed to the front of the field and held on until the finish, earning themselves just over a one length winning margin, but they were kept honest by a brutal duel behind them. Like a frenzied firework show, Italy and Canada fought desperately for the very last ticket to Paris.

A tense wait – that must have felt like an eternity – followed. And then the result was confirmed, 0.01s to Italy. The impassioned Italian supporters were overjoyed. Bravo!