The first two days of racing in Poznan at the second world cup was a mixture of fresh new faces, along with Belgrade winners showing off how fast they could go. There was a crosswind on the Thursday, when an hour’s worth of Olympic class singles and pairs were run to declutter the main race days, then the conditions turned a notch or three quicker on Friday, which the para-crews promptly took advantage of before the conditions turned bumpier for the later races.
Belgrade PR1M1x winner Erik Horrie of Australia had a bittersweet start to the second world cup regatta, breaking his own world best time in Friday’s test race but still losing, to Italy’s Giacomo Perini, who beat it by 15 seconds more. Perini had won the Gavirate para-rowing regatta in mid-May after Horrie had to withdraw from racing so this augurs well for some very big fights to come. A new test race WBT was also set by Norway’s PR1W1x legend Birgit Skarstein, who was joined by Ukrainian Anna Sheremet going under Skarstein’s 2018 mark, but still won comfortably despite feeling unsettled by pandemic and its aftermath. “It’s been like you’re standing on this flying carpet and someone can just pull it – oop! – at any time”, she said. “That’s what the last two years has been like. You never know what’s around the corner. You think you’re in control of everything and you think you have a map for what’s coming, and no you don’t.”
Those repeating confident opening wins from Belgrade include Croatian brothers Martin and Valent Sinkovic, who won the slowest of the three M2x heats at a stroll after winding down for the last 500m. Dutchmen Stefan Broenink and Koen Metsemakers balked Australia’s Caleb Antill and Jack Cleary of making a mark in heat one, while the second Dutch crew won also. “Conditions were a little challenging”, said Kevin Cardno of the USA1 M2x who came third behind the Sinkovics. “It’s fast but you have to row well: technically it was just a few small errors that added up. [We need to] loosen up, try and relax now we’ve got the first one out of the way, try and blow all the dust out of the exhaust pipe.”
Before the regatta the 11-crew Swiss team had been hit by an unexpected computer glitch grounding all planes to and from Swiss airspace on Wednesday, at which point a snap decision had to be made. Minibuses were hired to get the crews to Poland from Zurich, an 11-hour journey. This didn’t stop their W1x supremo Jeanine Gmelin beating CZE’s Lenka Antosova in a staggering photofinish, though new Dutch star Karolien Florijn was seven seconds faster in the previous heat without having to sprint. The two Swiss quads also look highly competitive along with the Chinese W4x and the Dutch M4x, while their LW2x also won its opening heat.
Fastest in that event however were the USA’s Mary Reckford and Michelle Sechser, posting a speedy time and joining their LW1x Mary Jones as a heat winner. The USA1 women’s double has been formed from Kara Kohler joining Sophia Vitas to win National Selection Regatta 2 last month and is now looking set to challenge the new Dutch combination of Roos de Jong and Laila Youssifou who have been left together for Poznan. “I think we’ve made good strides since [NSR 2] since we weren’t totally pleased with how we rowed that race and I think just time in the boat is pretty beneficial”, said Kohler. “We realised we had a lot of improvements to make in our rhythm and timing and I believe we’ve done so in the past month. We’re feeling more confident racing together.” The other heat winners were Ireland, where former world champion single sculler Sanita Puspure has gone into partnership with Zoe Hyde to try something new.
Ireland’s other big name Fintan McCarthy was in action in the LM1x, poaching one of the heat wins alongside New Zealand’s Matthew Dunham, while Uruguayan sculler Bruno Cetraro Berriolo held off Irishman Gary O’Donovan who caught a mis-stroke near the finish line. Ireland’s new-look women’s four was outwitted in a tense race by the strong Dutch combination made of the pairs who came third and fourth in Belgrade. In that event the Australians look dangerous however, Lucy Stephan and Annabelle McIntyre from the victorious Tokyo crew now joined by experienced oarswomen Katrina Werry and Bronwyn Cox to win the other fours heat.
The men’s fours has Olympic champions Australia returning almost intact, their only change at stroke where Joseph O’Brien replaces Alexander Purnell who was originally due to race the single. The Aussies were on fine form, blasting out a 5:47 just ahead of a feisty USA entry, but will be wary of the Dutch top crew, who matched their time. The men’s pairs were closely contested by a series of mostly new combinations, while in the women’s pairs NSR 2 winners Claire Collins and Madeleine Wanamaker strongly defended a slight lead from Dutchwomen Ymkje Clevering and Veronique Meester. That’s a rivalry likely to revive in the final though the Dutch first have to race again in the repechage.
The second world cup has proved popular with teams from other continents including most of the Australian and New Zealand teams, sixteens crews from the USA, and several Canadian lineups. The US team doesn’t yet include their eights, but they are using Poznan as a small-boat information-gathering expedition before Lucerne, and will stay in Italy between the two races, evaluating performance in a wide range of events. “Maybe not the normal American approach where you start building a boat and then look for what the next boat will be”, said new chief high performance director Josy Verdonkschot. “There’s nothing wrong with that except that I think in the build-up to the Olympic Games you should be cautious of not putting all your money on one boat and ignoring the rest because you’ve got only one shot and then there’s only two options, you either get one medal or zero.”
Most of Netherlands and China repeat their Belgrade entry, with crew changes, and Germany has virtually a full team, with the exception of Oli Zeidler who was the sole German to race in Serbia last month. There are also entries from India, Japan, Korea and Thailand, whose keenness to race more this year may be due to the upcoming Southeast Asian Games which will be held in Cambodia next May and will include rowing.
Saturday’s racing – as well as a possible thunderstorm – offers an extra delight, because ALS (Athlete Lane Selection) is being trialled across the later rounds of all events at this world cup, opening heats having been allocated via seeding and random draw as usual. For those who didn’t spot when it was first test in 2018, ALS involves the highest ranked crew/sculler of the previous round being given first choice of a lane, 45 minutes before that race. If crews are ranked evenly (eg both won their heats) then the faster crew on timing is given priority.
There’s a complicated system for making sure their Designated Person (eg coach/team manager) can make the choice and collect the right bow number in time, otherwise the next ranked crew can jump in. It’s a motivation to go quickly in every round, as well as putting the burden of what to do in variable wind/conditions onto the athletes, but needs a lot of computer support. Spectators won’t be able to see the lane draw until 40 minutes before each race, and if there are postponements of more than an hour the draw will be redone, though not otherwise.
Roll on Saturday!