After many years of continuously flowing data from regattas, world rowing supporters outside Austria were stumped on Tuesday as the tracker and live results feed hit a brick wall. Fortunately the grandstands were full of extremely enthusiastic supporters so the atmosphere at the course was electric as another 33 crews fell off the medal pathway, even if everyone had to rely on old-school commentary to keep up with the action.
All the Olympic and Paralympic events will become especially newsworthy as the qualification rollercoaster accelerates each day, but the eights are such a tight class that right from the start the pressure was on. One (W) or two (M) through from each eights heat, and two through per rep means no space for error. Undisputed season — and indeed Olympiad — leaders Germany stalked along at the top of the first men’s heat with Canada and Australia scrabbling it out behind them, the antipodeans taking place number two while Germany had ample time to relax and drop their speed before the line. The second men’s heat was considerably more uncertain, Britain at first grabbing a strong lead but the chase between the Dutch, Americans (and until halfway, the Kiwis) eroded the British advantage until it was only half a second between them and the Yanks at the end. Italy, Russia and Romania are going to have to pull out a miracle to qualify for the remaining two spots in the sole repechage later in the week.
The women’s eights cut-off was more aggressive on Tuesday with only the USA and New Zealand taking the sole A-final slots on offer. New Zealand’s engine room is anchored by a certain duo of oarswomen who are also racing the pair: Kiwi sweep queens Grace Prendergast and Kerri Gowler have revitalised their national octet, beat the British by clear water and look on for some double trouble medal-grabbing at the weekend. USA’s women were on fine dominating form in the other eights heat, and Australia played a blinder to pull strongly ahead of Russia and Romania but will still have to go to the reps, though should have no difficulty qualifying from there.
A sizzling women’s quads first heat saw the Dutch first to reach the W4x final, a few feet ahead of Poland, while China, who have been leaders in this event all summer, easily dominated the second heat. They are also, incidentally, the very first two crews to confirm places at the Tokyo Olympics though as most readers will probably know by now, any athletes can next year occupy seats booked here.
There were repechages for lightweight singles — one race featuring an amazing split-second finish between Alice Arch (AUS), Paola Piazzola (ITA) and Lydia Heaphy (IRL) — men’s fours and men’s quads, the latter more intense than might be expected with three through from each race. Rep one saw Norway lead Estonia and China home from before halfway, with Austria in the frame early on. Rep two had a quartet of hopefuls vying for places, with Britain redeeming their sub-par Sunday heat with a solid win and New Zealand clinging on to second with Ukraine and the USA in hot pursuit. The women’s fours had a clearer divide between qualifiers and not, with New Zealand and China the non-stop leaders of the two reps and Ireland putting in a particularly effective sprint to bag second behind China near the line.
And that’s the heats done and dusted. Wednesday hoicks the intensity level up properly with a clutch of quarter-finals in the very large-entry events, and even higher air temperatures to scramble everyone’s brains. Crews going to bed dreaming of finals and Japan on Tuesday night will suddenly find their ambitions trodden underfoot. The screw is tightening.