For all the blasé big rowing nations to whom medals are normal business, there are dozens of countries to whom merely being on the podium is special. On Saturday that honour belonged to India’s para-rowing pair of Kuldeep Singh and Narayana Konganapalle, who stayed ahead of Germany in the PR3 M2- final to claim bronze. Not quite the country’s first ever FISA medal, but it was India’s second, ten full years after their LW4x claimed an historic bronze at the 2009 Munich world cup.
The erratic head/cross wind on semi-finals day dealt a blow to hopes of new world best times, but the one person who had managed a WBT on Friday, NED’s Annika van der Meer, took the first of what she hopes will be two golds with a win in the PR2 W1x. This was something of a favour from the Dutch to the British, after GBR’s Lauren Rowles was left partnerless because Laurence Whiteley hasn’t yet recovered sufficiently from injury. A quick wheedle to the Dutch, who agreed to enter van der Meer and her partner Corne de Konig separately in the PR2 singles on Saturday, a day before they race the straight final in the doubles. Van der Meer and Konig both won comfortably and are strong favourites to add more gold on Sunday.
The wind deceived so that on paper it would seem as if the LW1x and LM1x finals, won by Canada’s Jill Moffat and Australia’s Sean Murphy, were straightforward. In fact the margins were small, and Artur Mikolajczewski nearly claimed a Polish gold as he sprinted for the line, roared on by a vociferous local crowd. Earlier the eights repechages had started a similar roar. New Zealand won the women’s and Canada the men’s, but although the fourth crew in each race had to push hard to be certain of its qualifying place, the winners were not put under much pressure and Sunday’s fight for medals may be tighter than numbers would suggest. For the aficionados of Olympic legends the Kiwi eight containing Mahe Drysdale and Hamish Bond, which came third, seems to be struggling to find its race magic, but was hounding Australia closely and could yet click into gear.
The semi-finals were, of course, superlative. At the risk of sounding repetitive the men’s doubles continue to amaze, and there was a four-way scrap in both races, the first won by Switzerland over Britain after some ferocious sprinting. But even that was outdone a race later, as an incredibly close photofinish was needed to separate Hamish Playfair and Campbell Watts of Australia from Poland’s Mateusz Biskup and Miroslaw Zietarski. They dead-heated on time, but with the modern version of the FISA rules if they can be separated by the camera then they are, and so the Poles will get the centre lane on Sunday after winning by about half a bow-ball.
We can’t finish this semi-final review without a mention of the singles, continuing to spin out interesting stories. Magdalena Lobnig (AUT) made a fierce statement of intent while beating Kara Kohler (USA) and the returning Emma Twigg (NZL1), but it looks as if neither of them put everything on the line yet, and Twigg in her earlier days of glory was an excellently devious racer. Meanwhile NZL’s second sculler and 2018 world under-23 champion Samantha Voss, who turns 23 next weekend, was hard on Twiggs’s heels and will give Annekatrin Thiele a run for her money in the B-final. The second semi, which put paid to Thiele’s hopes, was a more sedate affair bossed by Canada’s Carling Zeeman over Brit Vicky Thornley.
The men’s singles are shaking down nicely for an uber-competitive final, and after some uneven rows and surprising defeats it will be Sverri Nielsen (DEN) and Oliver Zeidler (GER) in the centre lanes. Whatever messing about was going on saw Kiwi Robert Manson shoved into the B-final by Kjetil Borch (NOR) and this season’s new discovery Pilip Pavukou (BLR), two years after Manson smashed the world best time here. Manson and Pole Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk both ran out of steam early on: in Manson’s case that kind of performance has often been a harbinger of injury or illness, but the Pole has been off his singles form since spending most of the year winning the Boat Race for Cambridge.
In the other semi Mindaugas Griskonis (LTU), yesterday a strong front-runner, faltered to walking pace soon after midway and came in a minute behind Zeidler and fellow qualifiers Thomas Barras (GBR) and Angel Fournier Rodriguez (CUB). Zeidler may hold the most speed cards but all the finalists are dangerous, particularly Rodriguez, who has only won a FISA gold once at a poorly-attended first world cup regatta. We have a treat in store.