Who to watch in Linz: Sarah Cook’s 2019 World Champs Predictions

The Australian Olympian, Henley steward and World Rowing commentator Sarah Cook provides her top tips on who to watch in Linz at the 2019 World Rowing Championships

8 minute read
Words Sarah Cook
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 23.08.19

With the 2019 World Rowing Championships being the primary Olympic qualification event, the decisions made by rowing nations as to which boats to target for qualification will be very interesting. The world cups this year were used to trial different crews, combinations and boat classes, but it seems as though the focus will shift from potentially winning world championship medals to ensuring qualification for Tokyo.

With only five positions available in the men’s and women’s eights, these are going to be two of the most hotly contested and exciting events to watch at the world championships in Linz. With that said, here’s my event by event guide on who to watch this week in each of the Olympic and Paralympic boat classes:

Men’s Single
Photo Sverri Neilsen (DEN) racing in Rotterdam at World Cup III

Based on his form at the world cups, all signs point to Sverri Neilsen of Denmark being the favourite for the men’s single scull. However, there have been flashes of brilliance over the past two seasons from the “new kid on the block” and European champion, the German sculler Olli Zeidler. The reigning world champion is Kjetil Borch of Norway, and after a slow return from injury earlier this season he could return to previous form by the time of the world championships. 

Women’s Single
Photo Emma Twigg in Poznan at World Cup II

Back from “retirement” and two fourth placings in this event at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, this year we see the return of former world champion and three-time Olympian Emma Twigg on career best form. Since returning to competition Twigg has been unbeaten, taking out world cups II and III, and the Princess Royal Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta a decade after she last won the event. I’d also expect to see a challenge come from 2018 world champion Sanita Puspure of Ireland, and 2017 world champion Jeannine Gmelin of Switzerland, but Twigg seems to be on a roll that’ll be hard to stop. 

Men’s Pair
Photo Martin and Valent Sinkovic in Lucerne at the European Championships earlier this year

The selections of the bigger boats and limited qualification spots in those events will have some impact on the entries for the men’s pair. Despite winning this event at world cups II and III, I would expect the Australians to boat their strongest possible men’s four and eight for the world championships. This leaves the pair wide open, and with the strong pairings of Lukas Helesic and Jakub Podrazil of the Czech Republic, Thomas Murray and Michael Brake of New Zealand, and Kai Langerfeld and Conlin McCabe of Canada, this podium could belong to anyone! Although they didn’t race at world cup II and III due to injury, I would still back the reigning world champions and 2016 Olympic gold medallists in the men’s double scull Martin and Valent Sinkovic of Croatia, but it will be tough. 

Women’s Pair
Photo Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast in the NZL W2- in Rotterdam at World Cup III

At world cups II and III this was a two-horse race between Australia and New Zealand, with the positions reversing on their second meeting. The 2017 world champions and world best time holders Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler, could not hold off the charge of the new Aussie pairing of Jessica Morrison and Annabelle McIntyre in Rotterdam. This could go either way, will it be the experience of the Kiwis that will win out, or the new Aussie combination who are on the up and up?!

Lightweight Men’s Double
Photo GER LM2x at World Cup III in Rotterdam

The German combination of Jason Osbourne and Jonathan Rommelmann have struck gold! Rommelmann raced in this event last year, finishing in the C-final. However, after pairing up with 2018 world champion in the lightweight men’s single scull and world best time holder Osbourne and his coach Robert Sens, this crew has been dominant. In the lead up to world cup III Osbourne raced the national time-trial for cycling in Germany, where he placed sixth overall and was less than a minute behind the podium, perhaps indicating where his interests may lie post-Tokyo. However, despite carrying this fatigue into the regatta, the combination still managed a win in Rotterdam. Looking very dangerous though are the new-look Irish combination of Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy, who finished 0.03s behind the Germans after O’Donovan performed an incredibly skillful retrieval of a SpeedCoach mid-race, which perhaps ultimately cost them the gold medal. 

Lightweight Women’s Double
Photo NZL LW2x in ROtterdam at World Cup III

Undoubtedly one of the toughest events to call, as the crews have been so close, and the results changeable on almost every meeting. It’s hard of course to go past the Kiwi combination of Jackie Kiddle and Zoe McBride, who were the winners of world cups II and III. The dark horse could be China, as the women’s crews particularly across the team seem to be rapidly improving with every outing. Obviously, some recent acquisitions by the high-performance team have had an impact, including high performance director Sir Steve Redgrave and coach Paul Thompson. Dandan Pan has raced with Wenyi Huang and Qiang Wu this season at the world cups with some success, and it remains to be seen which combination will race at the world championships. We haven’t seen much yet from 2018 world championship gold and silver medallists of Romania and the USA, but the bronze medal winning combination of Ilse Paulis and Marieke Keijser from the Netherlands have had a reasonable season thus far. 

Men’s Double
Photo SUI M2x beat GBR in Poznan at World Cup II

The 2018 world championship silver medal winning Swiss combination of Barnabe Delarze and Roman Roeoesli have had a fantastic season thus far, with a silver medal at the European championships and gold medals at world cups II and III. Of course it may depend on what Poland decide to do with regard to prioritising their double or quad, but the Swiss look poised to build on their performance from last year. The British combination of John Collins and Graeme Thomas have also been steadily building throughout the season and looked really strong with their win at Henley Royal Regatta and their medal winning performance at world cups II and III. Keep an eye on the Irish though, as Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne threw a spanner in the works with their silver medal row in Rotterdam. 

Women’s Double

The big question is what will the USA do? With Kara Kohler being the top US sculler, this has forced the returning Gevvie Stone into a crew boat, and she has found a promising combination with Cicely Madden. The pairing won the National Selection Regatta and the right to compete at world cup II where they won silver, with the 2017 world championship silver and 2018 bronze medallist US combination of Meghan O’Leary and Ellen Tomek placing 4th. Presumably with a medal win at the world cup, this provides Stone and Madden the right to choose to race the double at the upcoming world championships, but one can’t help but wonder if there is a quad combination there that might work. Certainly though the odds on favourites are Olivia Loe and Brooke Donoghue of New Zealand, particularly after some lacklustre performances this year from 2018 world champions Lithuania. Keep an eye on Romania, Australia and Germany who have all had podium performances this season. 

Men’s Four
Photo The M4- medal podium in Poznan at World Cup II

The Oarsome Foursome of the 1990s are part of Australian sporting history, and it seems as though this boat class could bring Australia a long-awaited gold medal in the event at Tokyo 2020. The 2019 World Rowing Championships will see a new line up for the Ian Wright coached crew, which has won the last two world championships, with Joseph (Jack) O’Brien and Nick Purnell coming in and fresh off wins at world cup II and III. Purnell will bring some experience, while O’Brien at only 21 years of age brings some real talent and youthful exuberance to the boat. With Alex Hill and Jack Hargreaves being retained from the world championship winning crew, they’re going to be hard to beat. Expect challenges to come from Italy, Great Britain, Poland and Germany. 

Women’s Four
Photo AUS W4- in ROtterdam at World Cup II

Since being reintroduced to the Olympic programme, the strength and depth in the women’s four has continued to grow. As nations try different combinations in their sweep boats, it’s hard to know who will step up to take this event, which also makes it one of the most exciting to watch leading into the world championships. With one crew change from their 2017 gold and 2018 silver world championship line-up, Olympia Aldersey comes into the Australian boat now stroked by Lucy Stephen along with Katrina Werry and Sarah Hawe, who won gold at world cup III and seem to have found their groove. However, the crew to watch will be the new line-up from 2018 world champions — the USA. This year we see the return and selection of three-time Olympic medallist Caryn Davies, who last raced for the USA when she stroked their women’s eight to victory at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Davies will join 2018 world champions from the four, Molly Bruggeman and Madeline Wanamaker, and Vicky Opitz who was world champion in the eight. Several crews have featured on the medal rostrum this year, including Romania, Denmark, China, and the Netherlands. 

Men’s Quad

It’s hard to go past Poland following their wins in this event at world cup I, II and III. The crew line-up has changed throughout the season as different combinations have been trialled in their double and quad, but the combination of Czaja, Chabel, Posnik and Baranski that won world cups II and III seem to be on the money. Australia has a new crew line-up for the world championships and will be looking to regain the podium following their silver medal at the 2018 world championships. However, all eyes will be on the 2018 world champions of Italy, whose only international outing this year has been a silver medal performance at the European championships, which is surely a frustration for the non-European crews in this event. The Dutch will also be a crew to watch, following their win at the European championships and bronze medal in Rotterdam. 

Women’s Quad
Photo CHN W4x in Henley in July

Poland are the reigning world champions, yet they have struggled throughout 2019 to get back to the middle of the podium. The Germans claimed gold at the European championships and world cup III, once again affirming themselves as contenders in this boat class in which the nation has had so much success for decades. However, the crew to watch and perhaps narrowly favourites for this event at the world championships are China, following their wins at world cup I, world cup II, and Henley Royal Regatta. The Dutch were world champions in 2017 and have certainly been in the hunt throughout the season. This means they should not be discounted for a podium finish.

Men’s Eight
Photo M8+ final in Poznan at World Cup II

Leading up to world cup III in Rotterdam it seemed as though the Germans were nervous, and it turns out they were right to be. For the first time in this quad we saw the undefeated German men’s eight rowed through in the final, and although conditions were not necessarily fair from lane to lane, the British simply rowed better and their confidence grew down the track. However, the world championships will be a completely different scenario, and with only five Olympic qualification spots up for grabs the final could quickly change from crews aiming to win medals to just not coming 6th! The Australian eight have a new line up and added strength, and that could put them into contention. The Kiwi eight seems to be getting faster, and with their commanding win over the British at Henley Royal Regatta they undoubtedly have speed. The Dutch and Canadians will also be dark horses, and we’re yet to see what the USA has to offer as the crew racing at world cup III was their under-23 boat. This final at the world championships could well be one of the closest of the whole regatta, and fortune will favour the brave. 

Women’s Eight
Photo AUS W8+ in Poznan at World Cup II

Much like the four, the eight is a tough event to call as nations trial various combinations across the sweep boats. Australia won world cup II, building on their 2018 world championship bronze medal. However straight off a win at Henley Royal Regatta, the Kiwi women’s eight stormed through at world cup III to take the gold. The reigning world and Olympic champions are the USA, and they know how to get it done at the main event and I would favour them for the win in the boat class they have dominated for much of the last 14 years. They will no doubt be keeping a close eye on their neighbours, with Canada building a strong sweep squad under the guidance of Kiwi coach Dave Thompson. 

PR1 Men’s Single Sculls
Photo UKR PR1 M1x in Rotterdam at World Cup III

The world championships will once again be a showdown between five-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medallist Erik Horrie of Australia, and the 2016 Paralympic champion Roman Polianskyi of the Ukraine. Based on their last meeting at the 2019 FISA International Para Rowing Regatta, where Polianskyi took two wins from their two race meetings, it’s hard to go past the Ukrainian as the favourite for this event. 

PR1 Women’s Single Sculls
Photo Birgit Skarstein (NOR) in Rotterdam at World Cup III

After placing fourth at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Birgit Skarstein of Norway has been unstoppable and undefeated thus far this quad. She is once again the firm favourite for a third consecutive world championship, with Moran Samuel of Israel and Anna Sheremet of Ukraine also vying for the podium.


PR2 Mixed Double Sculls
Photo NED in Rotterdam at World Cup III

Since his fourth placing at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Corne [need an acute on the last e] de Koning of the Netherlands has found gold medal success with Annika van der Meer and the two-time world champions look unstoppable as we head towards Tokyo 2020. Impressively, at world cup III De Koning won the PR2 men’s single scull and Van der Meer won the PR2 women’s single scull before combining to win the PR2 mixed double scull. Poland, Ukraine and Great Britain will all be contenders for the podium.

PR3 Mixed Coxed Four
Photo The GBR PR3 Mix4+ in Plovdiv 2018

The British have been so strong in this event for so long, but at the 2018 world championships they had a great tussle with the Americans who won the silver medal. It’ll be interesting to see how the USA have stepped on over the last year and whether they can finally topple the British, who have set the benchmark in the mixed coxed four. The French won the bronze medal in 2018, but at the 2019 FISA International Para Rowing Regatta they could only manage fourth behind a class Australian crew who finished second to the British, and the Ukrainians in third.