Australia ended Rotterdam on top of the medal table, world cup champions for the day and also for the series, having claimed four world cup and one non-Olympic gold medals to leapfrog them above China and Poland after attending two of the three regattas. The stand-out performances of the green and gold clan were in the men’s and women’s pairs and fours, a quartet of victories which put them top of the sweep heap with a good second-place also for their women’s eight.
As the crosswind became more of a straight headwind, the fairness commission changed the lanes for the lightweight doubles onwards (just in case) but it was more about surviving the excessively bumpy water and those who did reaped the rewards. Rowers who usually rocket off the start at 49-50 were settling for a staid rate 40 or below, since the headwind was hitting them from behind and in front as it bounced off the start jetties, and several took more than 500m to get into their best race rhythm. As practice for what may be equally bouncy water in Tokyo next summer, it was perfect.
Two who will take confidence from winning in such annoying conditions were single scullers Sverri Nielsen (DEN) and Emma Twigg (NZL) who repeated their Poznan wins to make them Rotterdam champions, world cup champions and also Holland Beker champions (since the stellar contest was merged with the FISA event this time, giving all the winners extremely gorgeous trophies to hold for about three seconds). Twigg proved that her Polish victory was no accident, playing the same trick on Jeannine Gmelin (SUI) that she had on Austria and the USA’s best scullers three weeks earlier, and leading all the way. The best part of the race was happening while she crossed the line, as Vicky Thornley (GBR) and Lisa Scheenaard (NED) scrapped it out for bronze. The Dutch Henley Royal champion got through the Briton late on and then held it by inches, the eventual photo finish margin being 0.06 seconds. Twigg has now raced and beaten everyone of note except Ireland’s Sanita Puspure.
Nielsen survived the choppy waters of the start, but was led by Kjetil Borch (NOR) for more than half the course despite the Norwegian having suffered a boat stopping near-shipwreck early on. [To be fair, it was pot-luck for the scullers whether their blades would plunge into solid water or a nerve-shattering trough of air on any given stroke, so for there to be a few mishaps was no more than expected in such ocean-rowing conditions.] But Nielsen had a tiny bit more shelter in lane 1, and made the most of it, forging steadily through to take the lead with help from Damir Martin (CRO) who was consistently threatening on Borch’s other side. Borch hung on for silver, Martin took bronze, and Ondrej Synek (CZE) proved his quality coming through from sixth to fourth in one of the most impressive final 500m of the day.
The men’s eights had the element of surprise in it, at least for anyone who had thought that the British win in Saturday’s time trial had been a one-off lucky run. It was lucky in that it put them into lane 1, but perhaps the increased confidence from having a good speed test on the board also showed in a focused rhythmic row from their newly reordered crew. They got properly past the crucial point of the German bow-ball just before halfway, and then stretched the lead steadily for the next thousand metres while Germany briefly came under increased pressure from New Zealand, the best of the rest, before they shook the Kiwis off. It was a sight we haven’t seen since the final of Rio 2016, Britain’s yellow Empacher leading the German green in a medal race, and it broke the long gold-medal streak of the Deutschland-Achter of the last three years. It could be dangerous, giving the Germans a reason to train harder, but it certainly shook the form guide up.
The pairs had benefited from the least windy part of the day, racing just after the junior and corporate crews of the Holland Beker event took to the water. The Aussie men’s pair led from start to finish in what has become their trademark style, moving away from the pack for all but the last split, while the Czech Republic put on their best speed and sent a disappointed New Zealand into third safely ahead of the British top pair. The Australian women did it differently, joining the Kiwis in biding their time as most of the rest of the pack took a turn in leading early, before the quality of the two Southern Hemisphere crews showed and they built a substantial lead over the field, Prendergast and Gowler (NZL) leading by a narrow half-length. What the Kiwis knew was that the Aussies were still very dangerous, Gowler visibly and repeatedly looking back to their rivals as the lead sneaked away to nearer a length. And the challenge duly came as the buoys changed colour, Australia breaking the 2018 winners with strokes to go in a stupendous effort. Both pairs then raced later in their respective women’s eights.
There were less exciting wins for New Zealand in the LW2x over the gallant Dutch double, and for their W8+ in the final race of the day, where they slipped steadily away from Australia and Canada in a manner worthy of the missing Americans. But the lightweight men’s double was a corking final, Ireland leading out and even surviving a boat stopping crab in the revoltingly bumpy water, to stay ahead of Australia who had a storming first thousand metres. Germany and Norway then closed on the pair of them, Germany starting to move like a train and together with Ireland and Norway blasting in for a three-boat finish as Australia faded to the back. The result was a photo finish won by Germany over Ireland in 0.03 seconds, with Norway only a few feet behind. Classic lightweight racing.
Ireland also registered their first ever medal for their new openweight double of Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne, who repeatedly challenged eventual winners Switzerland for the gold despite being under pressure themselves from Britain, who had heavy legs after racing last week at Henley. Silver to Ireland, gold to Switzerland and bronze to Britain who proved that you can beat a home advantage after they held off the Dutch despite deafening cheers in the grandstand. There were no home golds for the Dutch but their smooth-as-silk men’s quad did manage a bronze, losing out to Germany’s power by 0.09 seconds after a three-way fight with Poland down much of the course. The Poles repeated their Plovdiv and Poznan victories to become the only crew to win all three world cups this year, and Germany reversed the favour in the women’s quads, where their European champions easily held their own in the absence of Poznan winners China. Romania bagged their sole gold in the women’s doubles, bouncing Australia out of the top spot after both had dealt deftly with the challenge from Canada and left the rest struggling well behind.
The Australian wins in the mens’ and women’s fours were textbook, both leading at every mark and the men letting a high bouncy cadence do the damage to Britain and Germany, who mopped up the lower medals. The women were a touch lower in the rating, but just as inexorable, holding a steady lead over the lower-rating Danes who raced sensibly to silver. The change to a national training centre has done Australia no end of good, and if it is the sweep squad who have benefited the most so far, there is a warning in this for the rest of the events. Look out everyone, the Aussies are coming. See you in Linz.