Time for the third and final part of my European Championships preview – The Lightweights…
A comparatively small but high quality field. The leading sculler in the field is Slovenia’s Rajko Hrvat. Winner of the silver medal in this boat class at the 2015 World Championships he also raced at the 1st World Cup in Varese and took gold by 3 and a half seconds. Silver medallist in Varese was Croatia’s Luka Radonic. The Croat had a mixed season in 2015, bronze at U23 level and a 4th place at the 2nd World Cup he ended up a slightly disappointing 11th in Aiguebelette. Lukas Babac of Slovakia was the standout performer for most of last season, taking medals at all three World Cups and the European Championships. However injury meant he missed the World Championships. He made his 2016 debut in Varese but could only manage 13th. The question is was this just “race-rustiness” or something more? We shall find out at the weekend!
Great Britain’s Jamie Kirkwood was an A-Finalist in this boat class in Aiguebelette and raced in the LM2X with Zak Lee-Green in Varese (finishing 8th). He had a mixed 2015, after winning the GB trials he was provisionally selected in the LM4- but injury meant he only got one chance to race in that event finishing 7th in Lucerne. 2nd at this year’s GB trials he’s likely to be named as the spare for Rio and then either race the LM1X or LM4X at the Rotterdam World Championships.
The Netherland’s Timothee Heijbrock has been part of the LM4- since the middle of 2009, raced to an A-Final place at London and helped qualify the boat for Rio. But, for the European Championships he’s been replaced by 18 year old junior World Champion Bart Roovers. This could well be down to selection battles for other boats having a debilitating effect on him. Time is running out for him to reclaim his seat so a good performance in Brandenburg is paramount. He last raced the LM1X back at the 1st World Cup in 2009 when he finished 5th.
My picks…Hrvat for the win with Radonic 2nd and Kirkwood 3rd.
A relatively small field but one that does contain the reigning World Champions, Sam Scrimgeour and Joel Cassells of Great Britain. They will be starting as clear favourites to add the European to their World title. Their main challengers will probably be the Germans Sven Kessler and Julius Peschel, winners in Varese they were both part of the LM4- last season that came first in the C-Final at Aiguebelette.
The Danes have a new pairing which includes Jens Vilhelmsen who was part of the LM4- that took silver at the World Championships. With the return of Morten Joergensen from injury, Vulhelmsen steps out of the four. He’s partnered by Emil Espensen who raced to bronze in this boat class at the Lucerne World Cup and followed that up with a bronze in the LM4X.
The Irish are quietly putting together a very talented lightweight squad especially the LM2X. The pairing of Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll won the B-Final in this boat class last year and took 6th at the final World Cup. In Varese they raced in the LM4- but that boat has now been disbanded and they return to the light pair.I don’t think they’ll trouble the top end of the field but could well be pushing the Germans and Swiss for the bronze medal.
For their part the Swiss, Fiorin Rueedi and Joel Schuerch were silver medallists in Varese 1.7 secs behind the Germans.
My picks…..the British should be comfortable winners but the Danes are an interesting looking combination and will push them hard. It’ll be a good battle for the bronze with the Germans just pipping the Irish.
The top two boats from 2015, France and Great Britain, are missing from Brandenburg. In their absence the leading contender are probably the Norwegians, Kristoffer Brun and Are Stradli. World Champions in 2010 they took bronze in Aiguebelette and in Amsterdam in 2014. Behind the Norwegians the chase is likely to be between the young German and Irish doubles. Moritz Moos and Jason Osborne of Germany have already racked up a number of medals including the 2013 and 2014 BLM2X titles, 2013 LM4X world silver and two successive LM2X World Championship final appearances. For their part the Irish, Mark and Gary O’Donovan have far less experience. 11th last year they’ve made a blistering start to 2016 pushing the 2014 World Champions from South Africa hard in Varese, eventually missing out by just 2/10th of a second.
The Danes have a different line-up to that which finished 6th in Varese. The Olympic champions, Rasmus Quist and Mads Rasmussen, are striving to recapture the form that took them to gold in London. Their focus this month is to qualify for Rio so they are missing from Brandenburg. In their place come Andrej Bendtsen and Mathias Larsen. They were both part of the bronze medal winning light quad from 2015.
The Dutch Muda brothers were 4th in Varese and are still striving to find the speed that their abilities are capable of. They are an infuriating double to watch. At their best they are capable of pushing the best, but too often they produce inconsistent performances that sees them in C-Finals. Varese was a good start to their 2016 season and they too will be looking for qualification in Lucerne.
The final couple of crews to mention are the Belgians, Tim Brys and Niels Van Zandweghe bronze medallists in Varese, and the Poles, Artur Mikolajczewski and Milosz Jankowski who won the B-Final in Aiguebelette.
My picks…Norway for the win with Germany in silver and the Irish in 3rd.
The Swiss are the reigning world champions and also took a comfortable gold in Varese. But, I have heard a rumour that they have had some injury concerns so whether they race in Brandenburg is in question. If they do race they will, once again, be clear favourites.
The British have kept the same line-up that finished a disappointing 9th at the World Championships. They are an experienced line-up, with Olympic silver medallists Pete Chambers and Chris Bartley. In 2015 they under-performed as a unit, but under coach Hamish Burrell they will be looking to step up and become true medal contenders in Rio. This will start in Brandenburg and pushing the Swiss World Champions are close as possible.
The Dutch will also be looking to push for a medal. As mentioned above they have made one change from the crew that finished 5th last year and so far this season they have a 4th place from Varese. One place behind the Dutch in Varese were the Germans with a new line-up from last year including LM8 World Champion Tobias Franzmann.
The final crew to mention are the Czechs, 6th in Varese. They have made one change from the crew that finished 10th in Aiguebelette with Michael Humpolec replacing Jan Vetesnik.
My picks….Switzerland for gold with the British hot on their heels and these two crews well clear of the Dutch in bronze.
A small field and one that should be dominated by GB’s Imogen Walsh. The world silver medallist narrowly missed out in a fierce battle for selection for the Olympic class boat but has made the LW1X her own. She’s the defending European champion and should have little difficulty in retaining her title.
Leading the chase of the Brit will most likely be Belgium’s Eveline Peleman. The 2014 World Champion spent 2015 racing heavyweight in a bid to qualify for Rio, but a 22nd place finish in Aiguebelette looks to have put paid to that ambition and she returns to her more natural lightweight category.
Anja Noske of Germany won gold in the LW4X last year and will be in the hunt for the medals. Another sculler to watch for is Denmark’s Runge Holmegaard, bronze medallist from Lucerne in 2015 and winner of the B-Final at last year’s Europeans.
The Netherlands Elisabeth Woerner won bronze in the LW4X last season and raced in the LW2X in Varese that finished 4th. For Brandenburg she steps out of the double to make way for Maaike Head. It remains to be seen if she’s had the time to get the single up to race pace to challenge for the medals.
My picks…Imogen walsh for gold with Eveline Peleman in silver and Noske in bronze.
Another event in which the British should start as clear favourites. Kat Copeland and Charlie Taylor are holders of the World Best Time and World silver medallists. With most of their chief challengers coming from outside of Europe, anything but a comfortable win for GB will raise some eyebrows. Only two other crews racing in Brandenburg reached the A-Final in Aiguebelette, the Danes in 5th and the Germans in 6th. Both these nations have kept the same line-ups as 2015 with Anne Lolk Thomsen and Juliane Rasmussen for Denmark and Fini Sturm and Marie-Louise Draeger for Germany. Rasmussen is one of the most experienced athletes in the field and Rio will be her third Olympic Games. Chasing the Danes and Germans for the minor medals will be the Poles and Irish. The Polish crew, Joanna Dorociak and Weronika Deresz finished 8th last year. In Varese Dorociak raced the single, finishing 5th, and Deresz raced the double with Martyna Mikolajczak which finished 6th.
Ireland’s Sinead Jennings is having a bit of a renaissance in her career. The 39 year old retired after taking a silver medal at the 2008 World Championships after an international career that stretched back to the turn of the century. But in 2015 she returned for another bid to reach her first Olympic Games. With partner Claire Lambe she finished 9th in Aiguebelette and achieved that all-important qualification spot. In Varese they didn’t have a particularly successful regatta ending up 13th, but their focus is at the end of the summer, it’s just great to see another Irish boat booking their place for Rio.
My picks…GB for a clear win with the Danes in silver and the Germans in bronze.
That’s it….it promises to be a fantastic championships and a first chance to see the top GB and German crews in action. Bring it on!
Photo by Merijn Soeters