The third and final World Cup regatta this weekend on the legendary Rotsee just outside of the town of Lucerne in Switzerland could provide some of the closest and fiercest racing seen in the sport for decades.
With New Zealand having dominated the small boat categories at the second World Cup regatta in Hamburg, and Great Britain having done the same at the first World Cup event in Munich, and last week at the Henley Royal Regatta with both big and small boats – many rowing pundits are predicting this weekend’s clash of the two great rowing rivals could be the best in the history of the sport with many boat classes simply too close to call.
New Zealand’s dominant position in the men’s pair event over the past two years is likely to face its sternest test to date this weekend when Britain’s top two male rowers, Peter Reid and Andrew Triggs Hodge, try once again to break the 13 – 0 race stranglehold held by the super fast Kiwis Eric Murray and Hamish Bond.
In what were very fast conditions, the British were unbeatable at Henley last week, eclipsing the best time ever in the event which was set by legends Sir Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent. But Murray and Bond produced some incredibly fast times earlier at Hamburg in conditions that were not ideal. The Canadians too, returning to the Big Time after two years off since they captured Olympic silver, will also be a threat. This event alone would be worth the entry fee but there are many more mouth-watering clashes to savour. Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown are unlikely to have as gripping a contest, or at least they will be hoping that is the case after they look to extend their winning run after a comprehensive win in Hamburg.
At Henley, many were talking of the ‘best British team ever’ and after the world championship results at Karapiro last November, and the dominance of the New Zealand team in Hamburg last month, many are talking in the same terms about the Kiwi team.
World champions in the men’s double scull Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan face their first big test since the world championships with a re-match against the so-called Red Express of ginger-topped Poms of Matthew Wells and Marcus Bateman. The Aussie Olympic champions of Scott Brennan and David Crawshay are also out, as will be the best of the rest of the world’s top men’s double sculls. Like the pair, this final promises to be an absolute classic.
Yet another opening clash of the best in the world is likely in the men’s lightweight double sculls, with the British Olympic and world champions Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter likely to be starting as favourites against 2009 world champions Storm Uru and Peter Taylor. Taylor and Uru however, have been chomping at the bit for another crack at the Brits following their own disappointing third place at Lake Karapiro. One year ago the Kiwis absolutely dominated the British at this regatta and won by a good margin. It is likely to be much, much closer this weekend.
The women’s lightweight double scull of Lucy Strack and silver medal winning sculler Louise Ayling makes its international debut this weekend. In this event too Great Britain has been top performers, with gold and silver medal winners in Munich. A dominant win is probably too much to expect from Strack and Ayling, but their times in the build up to the Lucerne regatta have been both consistent and promising, so it should not come as a surprise to see them at the sharp end of the field. The Kiwi team fields a double scull in the women’s class this weekend, with Anna Reymer and Fi Paterson finally getting to race in a combination that raised a few eyebrows with some fast times early last year. Injury forced Reymer to sit on the sidelines, but the crew is now back and working towards being at full strength.
New Zealand’s promising new four makes its second appearance this weekend. Hammond, Harris, Dallinger and Meyer went very well indeed at Hamburg but the mighty British four – dominant in recent times – represents a huge challenge. In what promises to be an ultra competitive race, the form of the crew, two of which were world champions in this boat in 2007, will be keenly observed. The other part of the bug sweep oar development group emerging at Lake Karapiro is the men’s eight, which has shown real promise over the past year with races at Henley and the world championships. Many of the personnel from the great row against the German world champions in the final at Henley last year are in the boat for this weekend, including Jade Uru, Dave Eade, Hamish Burson, Sean O’Neill and Ian Seymour. They will be hoping for a good start to this year’s campaign, as their pecking order in the likely group of Olympic qualifiers is – like the four – still largely to be established.
New Zealand also fields two quadruple sculls this weekend in Switzerland, with the women’s quad going for the second regatta and looking to build on their promising fourth place. Positions in Hamburg were meaningless so thin was the field, but the times achieved by the Kiwis suggest they could get themselves into the chasing pack behind the absolute fastest boats. That could be where the men’s quad find themselves as well, although coach Mike Rodger is quietly optimistic they will be closer to the pace than they were last year after some decent times in prognostic testing.
That leaves the single scullers and there is even more intrigue to look forward to here. Mahé Drysdale looks over his injury-blighted 2010 thanks to a new regime that keeps him training but protects what is now a back condition rather than a back injury. His huge pace at Hamburg, and his coming home just a tiny margin behind world champion Ondrej Synek at the Holland Bekker regatta suggests he is going well. The full complement line up this weekend and it should be superb. Alan Campbell, Marcel Hacker, Olaf Tufte, Lassi Karonen, Ondrej Synek and Drysdale himself could all feature in a dress rehearsal for London 2012.
And can Emma Twigg make that final step to international elite victory? The former Junior and under 23 world champion has just been getting closer and closer to the benchmark of the event over the past decade, Ekaterina Karsten, and sooner or later the win must replace the close seconds she has been achieving in recent weeks. Lucerne could be that moment.
For Duncan Grant – only a win will do. The three time world champion was right on the pace in Hamburg, losing out to Denmark’s Henrik Stephanson. Competitive as the event is, it is nonetheless not on the Olympic regatta schedule and all of the lightweight scullers who will race this weekend are essentially still trying to get themselves into an Olympic class boat, whether that is the light double scull or the lightweight four. With New Zealand seemingly focussing on just the double, Grant must look for wins, and impressive ones at that.
All of the action can be followed this weekend at www.worldrowing.com and the big finals will be shown live on Sky television this weekend on Sunday evening.