A gloriously sunny afternoon greeted the semi-finals of GB April trials on Saturday, as those not laid low by the usual round of illnesses and injuries battled it out to be in the top three so as to make the big races on Sunday. There were few unexpected results, though plenty of close racing, especially between third and fourth places as the line drew near. Largely windless conditions prevailed once racing began, despite a bit of northerly wind earlier having pushed the draw to be reorganised with the quickest time-triallists in lanes 5 and 6 nearest the boathouse. In the end all four time-trial winners — Emily Craig (LW1x for W1x), John Collins (M1x), Helen Glover/Rebecca Shorten (W2-) and Ollie Wynne-Griffith/Tom George (M2-) dominated their semi races but had to work hard to do so.
The pairs got the voices of bike commentary team Pete Sheppard (Shep) and Henry Fieldman rising in excitement, Shep pointing out that the first men’s semi-final was composed solely of medallists at under-19, under-23 or senior level. This race was bossed by time-trial runners-up Oliver Wilkes and Jacob Dawson, on a mission, who grabbed the lead at the start and never let it go. Having passed the midway boathouse with the field in a staggered echelon, Wilkes and Dawson pushed with 250m to go, and held off Morgan Bolding and Rory Gibbs, whilst Matt Aldridge and Sholto Carnegie sprinted to make sure of third but were unable to close further on second place. In the second semi Olympic medallists Ollie Wynne-Griffith and Tom George confidently ruled the roost, with a battle royal for second place being won by James Rudkin and Tom Digby narrowly over Tom Ford and Charlie Elwes. Closest of those heading for the B-final were Matt Rowe and Sam Bannister, but they couldn’t quite get on terms with the three leaders despite never being far off the pace.
Stellar returner Helen Glover has teamed up very successfully with Rebecca Shorten, and the duo repeated their February trials win with victory in their semi-final over nearest challengers Natasha Morrice and Juliette Perry. The latter had worked steadily through Amelia Standing and Daisy Bellamy, whilst under-23s Evelyna Davies and Philippa Emery flew off for an impressively quick start before being outgunned by the senior rowers and dropping into the lower half of the race. The other semi-final saw Esme Booth and Rowan McKellar soar into an early lead and bring a spread-out field home ahead of Hattie Taylor and Annie Campbell-Orde who saw off a challenge from Lauren Irwin and Karen Bennett.
John Collins in the men’s singles was by far the most experienced sculler racing at these trials, and set out his stall to the selectors with a fine win in his semi-final right from the first stroke. Behind him Oliver Costley and under-23 Miles Devereux challenged hard, but first Costley and then Devereux fell prey to the stalking Matt Haywood, who came pushing through in mid-race. (Cue bad dad jokes from the commentators about the move being costly for Costley — and yes, it sounded just as corny over the radios….). The alternate Devereux, Seb, had led the first men’s singles semi, heading George Bourne and Callum Dixon in a tight Leander/Twickenham battle, before Bourne pushed past the other two and Devereux took second for a Pink Palace 1-2 in a field which shifted positions more than most of the other races.
Last but not least, the final races of the day were delayed by a misbehaving swan who tried to interpose His Majesty’s veto on the women’s singles before being encouraged away from the racing lanes. Hannah Scott swung along beautifully in the first semi, beating determined under-23 Lauren Henry and February trials winner Georgie Brayshaw in that order after Brayshaw and Henry slugged it out for most of the middle 1000 metres. Henry tried to close on Scott but couldn’t make enough of an impression, and Scott was just about clear in their final sprint. The second race was reigned over by lightweights, particularly the on-form Emily Craig: without times being published only the athletes know how fast she is compared with the openweights but the bets have to be on for her being up at the front on Sunday. She sped out rapidly into a feisty lead and quickly took charge ahead of Kyra Edwards who was later passed by two more lightweights, Imogen Grant and Olivia Bates, with Grant surging through into second in a trademark wily finish. The British lightweight women are exceptional, but because they have to remain close to summer racing weight even for these early trials, Craig’s two victories in a mixed-weight field on Saturday does prompt some questions over the base speed of the GB openweight women’s sculling squad.
The finals run from 9am to 11:10am on Sunday 16th April.