The battle between needing rest and needing to get inside one’s opponent’s head was on show during Semi-final Saturday, as the top rowers conserved as much energy as possible for the next day while still winning to secure a good lane. In some races cruising was not an option against tasty opposition, as the Dutch found when winning by a photofinish a lengthy battle against New Zealand in the first semi-final of the men’s pairs. The two of them had left Moldova, the third to qualify, languishing in their wash during the last km. In a rare turn of events the same happened in the second semi-final just one race later, USA1 and JPN1 scrambling to the line, this time only a short distance ahead of the rapidly closing Swiss crew. In the end Justin Best and Michael Grady’s rate-45 efforts as USA1 weren’t quite enough, Yoshihiro Otsuka and Ryuta Arakawa of Japan outdoing their efforts with longer if lower-rate strokes and nipping the win by half a second. It was much slower than the other semi though.
That was the closest and highest-rate pair of semi-finals all day, though Matthieu Androdias (FRA) had to keep it tidy to stay ahead of Danish single sculler Bastien Secher in the M1x second semi. In the same race Trevor Jones upset both Australian scullers, banishing them to the B-final, while NED sculler Melvin Twellaar remained serene while winning the other semi-final in front of the USA’s Benjamin Davison and perhaps surprisingly Monaco’s Quentin Antognelli.
The women’s singles proved a risky round for Switzerland’s Jeanine Gmelin, beaten by Germany’s Alexandra Föster in a rush to the finish which saw the Netherlands’ Lisa Scheenaard pushed into fourth by Tara Rigney from Australia. Meanwhile Karolien Florijn had it all her own way in the other semi-final without significant challengers. The Sinkovics had to work hard to stay on top of their men’s doubles semi with Poland chasing, having had to give up on their world best time ambitions for now, but they scored one important point by going quicker than Australia’s Caleb Antill and Jack Cleary, who beat the Dutch and Germans. A reckoning comes on Sunday, which also looks set to provide great racing in the women’s fours and a close contest in the lightweight women’s doubles. The men’s eights repechage was notable for India making the A-final ahead of both the Czech Republic and the Ukraine: India’s first Olympic eights medal race at a FISA senior event.
The Saturday A-finals have always been those which don’t feature in the Olympic programme, such as the lightweight singles. Now in the new joined-up era the Paralympic categories have moved to Sunday’s session while the para-rowing non-Games events have been allowed to join the World Cup party. This has been a long time coming and is most welcome, because the Paralympic mixed crew events have always been susceptible to minor problems — small illnesses and injuries, exam and similar unmissable commitments — pushing the whole crew out of competition at the drop of a hat. Now the PR2 athletes can single-scull if their crewmate can’t race, the PR3 athletes can row pairs if a four isn’t possible, and both types of crew can also keep spares and potential substitutes busy with race practice.
The upshot was useful racing for fifteen crews and new world best times for three of the four winners, who seized the chance to lower the mark at an official FISA regatta. Corne de Koning (NED) has become quite used to winning the PR2 M1x whenever possible, and swiped one of the new records, a feat which Katie O’Brien matched in the women’s event, over both Ukrainian scullers. “It’s been three years training without properly getting to race, I’m just really happy with that”, said O’Brien afterwards. “I knew it was a fast first 500 because I was looking at the clock, then I just tried to keep the pace as something I could hold, then once I got to the last 500 I just said let’s go.”
In the PR3 men’s pairs Frenchmen Jerome Hamelin and Laurent Cadot proved that they haven’t finished setting the bar yet, lowering their new best time from Friday by another three seconds, a considerable margin ahead of Ukraine. In that event India’s pair turned over Italy to take a welcome bronze by less than a second, which virtually counts as a photofinish in para-pairs terms.
The lightweight singles saw pitched battles between canny experienced scullers and a win for Mary Jones (USA) in the LW1x to cement her favourite status so far this season. Her main rival was Marie-Louise Drager, who could not quite match Jones’ power at halfway when the American began to surge, and who was then pushed into third by Georgia Nesbitt of Australia who sneaked past for silver.
In the men’s lightweight singles Olympic doubles champion Fintan McCarthy had won the semi-final against Kiwi Matthew Dunham earlier in the day, but then lost the gold in a reverse as Dunham got past him late in the final. Mouthwatering stuff, and Uruguay’s Felipe Kluver Ferreira pulled out a brilliant finish to claim a slightly unexpected bronze behind them. “We were pushing each other pretty hard in that one, it could have been anyone’s race in that final”, said Dunham. “[Fintan’s] got so much out of me at this world cup.” Both scullers admitted to having been aware of the quick conditions. “I had a look down a few times and saw some quick splits, but then I was ‘don’t look at it’”, said Dunham. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t peek at it”, said McCarthy.
Dunham was delighted to be in the warmth of Europe for the world cup season. “It’s so cold in New Zealand at the moment and it’s so nice to be able to train and enjoy the summer here.” His main goal is the LM2x double but his doubles partner Chris Stockley had Covid three weeks ago and is being cautious ahead of their plan to race the crew boat at Henley Royal Regatta and then at Lucerne.
Sunday’s A-finals begin at 10:05 local time with Norway’s Birgit Skarstein defending her reputation in the women’s PR1 singles.