Time for part two of my preview of the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta…the women’s events.
Qualifying spaces available: 3
This is a ridiculously stacked field. There are 10 Olympic and 23 World medals among the 13 scullers. Ekatarina Karsten of Belarus personal contribution to that tally is 6 Olympic and 16 world medals! Karsten is an astonishing athlete, the 43 year old won her first senior medal in 1991 racing for the Soviet Union, that was before 6 of her rivals were actually born! She’s far more suited to the single scull and has proven time and time again that on her day she is capable of beating anybody. So far this season she took silver in Varese and 4th in Brandenburg. If she’s successful in Lucerne she’ll be headed for her 6th Olympic Games.
Emma Twigg of New Zealand must be considered the favourite to win in Lucerne. The 2014 World Champion is returning to competition after a year out studying for her FIFA Masters degree. Somewhat controversially Rowing New Zealand didn’t select her to race last year, instead giving the W1X spot to Fiona Bourke. A potential showdown for the Olympic spot between the two New Zealanders was avoided when Bourke failed to qualify in Aiguebelette.
Denmark’s Fie Udby Erichsen is the reigning Olympic silver medallist. Having returned to competition in 2014 she’s yet to recapture that sort of form, she’s only appeared in one A-final since and that was the European Championships in 2015. She raced in Varese finishing 7th.
Ireland’s Sanita Puspure is showing excellent form this year with bronze medals from both Varese and Brandenburg. She already has Olympic experience under her belt with a 13th place in London. Her current form makes her one of the favourites for a top 3 in Lucerne.
Another sculler with Olympic experience is Germany’s Julia Richter. She was in the quad that won silver in London. She also won gold at the 2013 Worlds before being moved into the 2X in 2014 and then the W1X for the 2015 World Championships (where she finished 13th). So far this season she raced at the European Championships finishing 10th. She seems happier in the bigger sculling boats and on current form she may not have enough to make the top 3.
Nataliya Dovodgko of Ukraine is another sculler who prefers the bigger boats. Olympic champion in the quad in London. After the Olympics she moved into the W1X but hasn’t had too much success. Her best performance in this Olympiad was a 5th place at both the 2103 and 2015 European Championships. This season she has raced at both Varese and Brandenburg with a 12th and 9th place respectively.
GB’s Mathilda Hodgkins Byrne was a late addition to the European Championships team and rewarded that faith with an excellent 7th place. The 21 year old is likely to be the spare for the Olympic team but she has an outside chance of getting there in her own right. She may not get to Rio but she will definitely be a name to watch for the Tokyo Olympiad.
A sculler at the other end of her career to Hodgkins-Byrne is Julia Levina of Russia. The 43 year old is trying to qualify for her 5th Olympics and won a bronze in Sydney back in 2000. Her best performance in this Olympiad was 6th in Amsterdam in 2014. On her current form she may not have enough to get to that elusive 5th Olympics.
My picks…Twigg, Karsten and….Puspure
Qualifying places available: 2
The form crew in this event look to be the Italians, Alessandra Patelli and Sara Bertolasi. 14th in the Worlds last year they have made an excellent start to 2016 with a silver medal behind the South Africans in Varese. One place behind the Italians in Varese were the Spanish, Anna Boada Peiro and Aina Cid I. Both these boats have made a big step on from their 2015 performances and will be confident of their chances in Lucerne.
Another crew in with a good shout of qualifying are the Russians, Maria Kraslinkova and Ekaterina Potapova. 4th at the European Championships and 5th in Varese. For both of these athletes they have spent their whole international careers to date has been in the sculling squad but without much success. The switch to sweep this season had already provided dividends.
These three crews look to be well ahead of the rest of the field. The Polish Wierzbowska sisters were 8th in Varese and 7th in Brandenburg. The Chinese, Min Zhang and Tian Miao were both part of the W8 that finished 9th last year.
My picks….Italy and Russia.
Qualify places available: 2
So far the Netherlands have qualified 6 boats. With the W2X of Lisa Scheenaard and Marloes Oldenburg look set to make it 7. Silver medallists in Varese and A-Finalists in Brandenburg they look to be the in-form crew of all 9 boats. Chasing the Dutch will be Czechs and Danes. Kristyna Fleissnerova and Lenka Antosova were 15th in the world last year but have started off 2016 in good style with a bronze medal in Brandenburg.
The Danes have also made a strong start to 2016. Following a 13th place in the world last year they took bronze in Varese.
Two crews with more of an outside chance of qualifying are Italy and Finland. Laura Schiavone and Giada Colombo were 5th in Varese one place behind the Finnish crew of Ulla Varvio and Eeva Karppinen.
My picks…The Netherlands and the Czech Republic
Qualifying places available: 2
Ukraine are the defending Olympic champions in this boat class but they only retain one member of that gold medal winning crew, Anastasiia Kozhenkova. She’s joined by Daryna Verkhogliad, Olena Buryak and Ivegeniia Nimchenko. They will probably start as favourites in Lucerne following two solid performance so far this year taking bronze at both the Varese world Cup and the European Championships.
Behind the Ukrainians it’s going to be a real dogfight for the 2nd qualifying spot with the main protagonists being the Kiwis and the British. These two crews were fairly evenly matched last year. Both had to race in the repecharges at the world championships with the British just missing out in one and the Kiwis snatching the final qualifying spot in the other (albeit in a slower time to the British). So far this season the British have raced twice finishing 4th in Varese and then 5th (after catching a boat-stopping crab at halfway) at the Europeans. There really isn’t much to call between these two crews, but the extra race experience this season may just play in the Brits favour.
The Romanians aren’t renowned for their quads and their crew in Lucerne look to be there to gain experience rather than with any real expectation of qualifying. They are a young crew with the 2015 JW2X silver medallists Elena Logofatu and Nicoleta Pascanu at bow and stroke.
The Chinese on the other hand are definitely in Lucerne to try and qualify. They have made 2 changes to the crew that finished 7th in the world last year. Yan Jiang and Xinyue Zhang retain their seats with Ling Zhang (making her senior debut) and Yuwei Wang coming in. They’ve yet to race this season but could well spring a surprise.
My picks….Ukraine followed by…….I’m going to allow a bit of favouritism and say GB (fingers crossed!)
Qualifying places available: 2
The Dutch are my favourites to qualify from this event. Winners in Varese they had a great race against the British in Brandenburg just being caught before the line and ending up with the silver. They were the unlucky ones in 2015, making the A-Final at the world championships but then being “tail-end Charlie” finishing 6th with only the top 5 qualifying. They will be confident heading into Lucerne that they have the speed to secure the qualifying spot.
Romania on the other hand will be approaching the Regatta of Death with some trepidation. They used to dominate this event having qualified for every Olympic Games since women’s rowing was introduced in 1976 and medalling at 8 successive games (including gold at Atlanta, Sydney and Athens). If they fail to qualify for Rio it will be a massive blow to Romanian rowing. But, the omens aren’t great. 7th in the World last year they were 4th in Brandenburg over 7 seconds behind 2nd place Netherlands.
Australia are another nation with a strong pedigree in this boat class with appearances at the last 5 Olympic Games. The Australians struggled in both the men’s and women’s 8’s last year and it was a knock to the Aussies pride that both their big boats have to go through the final qualifying. They’ve made 4 changes to the crew that finished 8th last year with Fiona Albert, Jessica Morrison (making her international debut), Molly Goodman and Olympia Aldersey coming into the crew.
China have made 2 changes to the crew that finished 9th last year with Liqin Yi and Wenjing Cheng coming into the boat after winning bronze in the W4- last year.
My picks…The Netherlands and Australia