FISA commentator Camilla Hadland reviews the action from the European Rowing Championships and looks ahead to the A finals
After a gap of 20 months, the GB Rowing Team finally returned to racing this weekend at the European Rowing Championships in Varese. After two days of racing, we review the standout performances so far and look forward to Sunday’s finals.
There have been plenty of standout British performances from the first two days of competition, building on the team performance at the World Championships in Linz, back in August 2019. It’s been great to see a mixture of established crews, new faces, and the return of some well-known names racing on the water.
Prior to these championships there was a lot of excitement about how Helen Glover would perform on her return for her first race since the Rio Olympics. Reuniting with Polly Swann, with whom she won World Championship gold in 2013, it felt like she had never left, the duo comfortably holding off the Greek pair that took bronze at this event last year. In doing so, they resumed Glover’s remarkable winning record that started in 2012 but has been on pause since Rio.
Swann said afterwards that: “We were trying to control the race and not show too many of our cards.” They may need to show them tomorrow as closer competition will come from the Romanian European champions.
One of the returning crews who have built on their 2019 performance is the lightweight women’s double of Emily Craig and Imogen Grant. The bronze medallists from Linz comfortably led the Dutch crew, who took silver at the same event, throughout their semi-final. After establishing a commanding lead by 500m, they were able to control the race easily. With the retirement of Zoe McBride from the world champion New Zealand crew, the competition in this event looks wide open.
The British have dominated the men’s four category at the Olympic Games for the last two decades. Whilst this year’s crew might not have quite the same pedigree as previous Olympiads, they have shown huge promise since taking gold at their first race together at the European championships in 2019. So far, they have easily polished off the world champion Polish crew in their heat and then the European silver medallists from Italy in their semi-final.
“I guess there was a bit of surprise when we were walking through the Netherlands”
A new combination has been formed in the women’s quad, with the returning Hodgkins-Byrne sisters being joined by 2019 U23 medallists Lucy Glover and Hannah Scott. Glover and Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne took gold in this boat class together back in 2017.
They rowed away from the European champions from the Netherlands with a very classy performance. Having only been selected as a crew three weeks ago, they have gelled together remarkably quickly.
After the race, Lucy Glover said: “We were unsure about where our speed was. We’d had some good pieces, but, overall, we were looking to make the unit work.
“I guess there was a bit of surprise when we were walking through the Netherlands. We didn’t expect that, but it felt nice and long and relaxed.”
In the final, they will face stiff competition from the European silver medallists from Germany, though the world silver medallists from Poland surprisingly missed out on the final.
The three British Para crews all laid down strong markers for the season on Friday.
Both the PR2 mixed double and PR3 mixed coxed four comfortably won their preliminary races for lanes, whilst Benjamin Pritchard also won his heat in the PR1 men’s single. He is sure to have a much tougher race on Sunday against the reigning world and Olympic champion from Ukraine, Roman Polianskyi.
After Pritchard just missed out on the podium in Linz, a close race tomorrow bodes well for Tokyo.
For many of the British team, 100% of their focus this season will be on the rescheduled Olympic and Paralympic Games in Japan this summer. For four crews, however, places on the start-line of the Sea Forest Waterway still need to be secured. The men’s single, pair and lightweight double, as well as the women’s double, will need to qualify through the qualification regatta in Lucerne next month.
The new women’s double of Saskia Budgett and Holly Nixon started well, finishing closely behind the world bronze medallists from the Netherlands in their heat. In Sunday’s final they will come up against Germany and France who also need to qualify in Lucerne.
The men’s pair of Morgan Bolding and Harry Glenister were unlucky to miss out on their A final by just two-hundredths of a second. Many of their opposition in the B final are also looking for Olympic spots, so racing is sure to be tight.
The two-time champion from the U23 men’s quad, Matt Haywood, steps into the single this season. The two spots available in Lucerne will be very tightly contested and getting into the B final on his senior debut is a positive performance, but Haywood will want to push on to be in a good place for Olympic qualification.
The lightweight men’s double of Jamie Copus and Sam Mottram will have been disappointed to come fifth in their semi-final. They will also be looking to improve in their B final tomorrow to better their chances of sending their boat to Tokyo.
Looking outside the British team there were plenty of impressive performances that stood out. The Dutch men’s quad continued their imperious run of form, but did have to shake off the British crew in their semi-final with a remarkable turn-of-speed in the third 500m that secured the win.
Meanwhile, in the absence of reigning world champion Sanita Puspure in the women’s single, Russia’s Hanna Prakhatsen dominated. Having stepped out of the women’s quad, she led GB’s Vicky Thornley comfortably in the first semi-final and set the fastest time.
The GB men’s eight put in a dominant performance in the race for lanes ahead of Sunday’s A final. There was some surprise that the usually dominant Deutschland-Achter only finished fourth. They did keep pace with the rest of the field for the first kilometre, so perhaps they are keeping some of their powder dry for Sunday.
You can watch the European Championships on Sunday 10 April on BBC Two (from 13:00), BBC Red Button (0920-1300) and uninterrupted on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website & app.
Photos: Getty Images