The grim reality is that head-winds spread out a field, so fans of tight racing were bound to be disappointed on semi-finals day in Rotterdam. The morning started even grimmer, a misty fine rain dampening everyone’s enthusiasm as racing started with the unlucky para-rowing and non-world cup souls required to give it their all twice in one day. The wind strengthened steadily during the morning, veering from slightly head to entirely cross, and the FISA fairness commission responded by ducking into echelon draw. The only good news was the fact that the breeze blew away the rain, but it created decidedly oceanic conditions at times, especially for the unlucky lightweights.
There were some absolute corkers, and top of the world cup events had to be the men’s eights repechage, with four from six set to join Germany and Britain in the final. With no big eight to wash everyone down it was a drag race for the first thousand metres, Australia’s early canvas lead sucked back by the raw pace of all the rest bar Russia, and an atmosphere of thundering elephants as the crews charged along. Then Romania got a sniff, but a big Kiwi push began at about 1300m gone and drove through the pack to record a one-second win over Romania, Australia and the Dutch, with the USA under-23s’ exciting late surge only just failing to push out the relieved Dutchmen.
One of the day’s closer races for qualification came in the first women’s pairs semi-final, where the recently successful Spanish duo came whizzing through to seize third place from Germany by a whisker. It wasn’t a photo, and that honour went to the first LW2x semi, where the Dutch reigning world cup champions, boosted by local support, beat out a cheeky charge from the Swiss to give them the useful best lane by 0.09 seconds. The other lightweight semi went to the Kiwi double who frankly look the quickest so far. The field was more spread out in the LM2x, where the Norwegian 2013 champions are totally on form and must be the ones to beat.
The men’s pairs final will be lacking the Sinkovic brothers, after they withdrew from yet another regatta, this time Martin unable to race due to illness. In their absence we look set for a Kiwi/Aussie fight-out, while the Australian women’s pair is also looking speedy and the returner GBR2 W2- is improving rapidly. Another good crew in action on Saturday was the Dutch M4x, best of the rest in the repechages and looking odds-on to medal on Sunday. The women’s eights wasn’t the most complex of races with the British top boat and Romania taking the two finals slots, but it was GBR2 who acquitted themselves well for a development boat, finishing solidly ahead of the Dutch and Germans who will have to go back to the drawing board.
The men’s doubles semis were amongst the closest, with a total of five seconds margin between the qualifiers in what was by then a notable cross/head wind making the equivalent of a split second on any other day. The Irish are on the rise, the Germans and Brits weren’t showing all their cards, and the Dutch second double went and won their semi, while their team-mates were pushed into fourth Australia, all very exciting. If the wind turns more direct head as predicted, we may be in for some fun, with prolonged racing giving time for more moves.
A quick mention of the M1x C-final, in which normal service was resumed for a crestfallen Oliver Zeidler, the German winning it comfortably enough to restore some confidence. The lesson is clear: by hook or by crook, fast performances are the only option in the current FISA time-trial system, and windy courses should be bread and butter to all competitors with Tokyo waiting next summer.
There’s no doubt Zeidler would have added his inimitable sprintability to the M1x semi-finals, but you wouldn’t have wanted him to be in the second semi, which saw Kjetil Borch (NOR), Robbie Manson (NZL) and Ondrej Synek (CZE) push through steadily and sensibly with no heroics required though it was hard on the British, Dutch and Swiss scullers behind them with three huge names in their race. Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk (POL) was probably the fortunate sculler benefiting from Zeidler’s absence in the other semi, which meant Sverri Nielsen (DEN) and Damir Martin (CRO) weren’t pushed as hard as they might have been. The smart money’s on Borch, whose consistency (the blip at Henley Royal aside) has been notable this summer, but it may depend on the wind who gets a chance to challenge.
There were some deadbeat reps, particularly those (W2x, M4-, W4-) for the last two places where most of the medallists should already have reached the final. But there were also some sparkling non-Olympic finals to end the day. The lightweight men’s singles gold went to Australia’s Sean Murphy ahead of Slovenian Rajko Hrvat, with a massive effort from Gary O’Donovan to claim bronze in a less favourable lane: it was not close, but an impressive slog from all concerned.
A better race, and one of the best of the day, came in the lightweight women’s singles, as Georgia Nesbitt (AUS) and Imogen Grant (GBR) duked it out in decidedly bouncy water. Reaching 500m to go clear water ahead of Germany’s Marie-Louise Draeger, the two Anglophones both started sprinting with Nesbitt ahead but Grant steadily eating up the gap. It was a serious contest, both sculling superbly but the Briton’s bow driving along and breaking through strongly with only 100m to go.
China were roughly a mile ahead of Germany in the LW4x, while a deeply popular Dutch LM4x win over France topped the afternoon off with spectators singing student songs to celebrate the victory after their medal ceremony.