The joke around here is that this preview is running a little behind schedule...then again, so are worlds! As of today, Worlds are delayed for a liveable one day, but training for a year, travelling around the world to a regatta, then not being able to boat up, and starting a regatta two days late is bound to tweak a few domes in the run-up to racing.
With the exception of a few years when the LW2- did not make time standards, it's been a long time since US has not sent a full team to worlds. However, despite some groaning about time standards, the US squad is still the largest of any - clearly we're the only ones who think you have to race every event. Even Germany, the other federation most likely to be filling lanes, doesn't have as many crews in the game as the US this year.
On the flipside, despite being only the proverbial hop, skip and jump away from the regatta, China will have no crews at Worlds. All Chinese national level rowers are scheduled to race at their national regionals regatta, which is scheduled for a few weeks after worlds. The official explanation is that the Chinese coaches were concerned about recovery time between worlds at the regionals competition, and so opted to scrap the trip to Gifu. A more illuminating explanation from folks familiar with the Chinese setup is that the athletes get better funding based on regionals results than on Worlds results.
The post-Olympic worlds is typically a hodgepodge of rookies and vets; here's row2k's take on the events and trends:
Among the best events at the regatta looks to be the M4-. The field is extremely deep and the level of competition is seen as being very high for a post-Olympic year. The GB M4-, who have run the table at the World Cup regattas this year, are being touted as being "better" than their predecessors, Pinsent & Co., and look to be the favorites. However, the US men's four is the same crew that won Lucerne last year save for one seat - Matt Deakin takes over the bow seat. Last year's win over both the British and Canadian crews, who dueled to a near-dead heat in Athens, set off rumors that the group would stay in the four for the Games. This year, the four will double into the eight, with the stern three of the four sitting in the stern four in the eight, and Matt in the two-seat of the eight. Matt recently humbly and generously noted that "I know having all the good-looking guys in the bow messes up your pictures, but we're here for you if you need us."
The fast squads in the eight are Germany (winners at Eton & Lucerne), Italy (winners at Munich), and Canada, who return 6 of 8 rowers from their Olympic eight. Barney Williams, stroke of the almost-gold Athens M4- from Canada, is at stroke of the crew.
The US eight is rounded out by three oarsmen from the 2004 Worlds coxed four (Inman, Coppola, and Daniels), and Mike Blomquist, who was in the 4+ in '01 and '02.
Incidentally, the US has crews doubling for first time since at least the early 90s. Also doubling up is Marcus McElhenney, who will steer the men's eight, as well as the coxed four. The US M4+ is a young boat - McElhenney is the oldest member, the crew may have forged some steeliness from the brawl of a trials they went through a few weeks back. The M4+ is a final-only event, with 6 crews entered.
A couple of the big dogs are here; Olympic champion Olaf Tufte is in the mix, though he hasn't been dominant thus far this year. The biggest surpises are the Czech Republic's Ondrej Synek and New Zealand's Mahe Drysdale, who made headlines of a different sort earlier this spring when he was whacked by a motorboat while training. He's obviously recovered, coming second to Synek at Lucerne, with Tufte third.
The event's resident Hulk Hogan character, Germany's Marcel Hacker, came fourth at Lucerne and might also challenge for a medal. Hacker can be very good (world champion in 2002), or a bit of a headcase (at the Olympics, he prima-donnaed his way into the petites), but the guy has definitely got the physical gifts to perform at this level.
After struggling for weeks to meet the time standard - one of the more stringent of this year's standards - and racing at the World Cup and Henley in between attempts, US M1x Wyatt Allen has spent a few quiet homebody weeks rowing on the Carnegie, which could be just the ticket for a guy who is a proven racer but doesn't have the miles in a single that some of the folks in this event might.
With most of last year's Olympic competition out of the picture, Slovenia's Iztok Cop and Luka Spik also look like a "gimme" for Worlds. They won Lucerne fairly handily, and seem to have their groove from 99-00 back, when they won Worlds and the Sydney Olympics.
The US M2x is a microcosm of the post-olympic theme - Olympic 4x vet Sloan DuRoss, and newcomer Sam Stitt, who is relatively freshly moved to Princeton and into sculling boats after four years on the Raritan (including a henley trip).
This event has had a few surprises in it this year, most notably a Canadian bronze medal at Lucerne, just ahead of uber-LM2x rower Leonardo Pettinari and new partner, uber-Lightweight standout Stefano Basalini (former world champion in: LM4x, LM2-, LM1x, to name a few). Hungary won the event a hair ahead of Denmark and Canada, while the Italians were an uncharacteristic 8 seconds back...surely that margin has to shrink a little by Worlds?
After a few tries in the light men's pair, Mike Altman picked up another oar this year and will row the US light men's double with a guy who only sounds like he should be Olaf Tufte's training partner, Bjorn Larsen (who is actually from Washington).
The Men's pair has been a pretty wild affair this year, with another surprising NZ boat winning the final tuneup at Lucerne. The Skelin brothers, Olympic bronze medalists, are in the mix, as are the defending silver medalists, the South African duo of Di Clemente and Cech.
The US entry of Patrick O'Dunne and Matthew Schnobrich is internationally inexperienced, but has shown good speed stateside, finishing within a blink of Hoopman & Volpenhein at NSR 2.
The LM4x this year is one of those brutal events; 7 crews entered, 6 lanes in the final. Surprisingly, Germany, usually good for a medal in this event, did not enter a crew. The favorites mantle falls on the Italians, and their entry shows some pedigree in the event. Beyond them, the entries from France, Canada and Austria have a few proven names, with Japan and Belgium also represented. The US crew should be solidly in the mix. The upside? With seven crews entered, 42% of them will win medals...
This is also a pretty loaded field. Cop and Spik are also doubling into the SLO M4x, and the crew isn't slow...they took the Munich World Cup stop ahead of the crews that would later make up the Lucerne medalists. In their absence in Lucerne, Estonia won it, with the Czech Republic and a surprising GB entry taking the medals. These crews, plus the defending Olympic champs from Russia and Germany, with a completely new crew, might figure in the A-final picture. This field is tight, with the top 5 crews within about 4 seconds, so a lot of things can happen.
Back when it wasn't clear that he would make time standard, and might have an opportunity to try out for the quad, Wyatt was overheard to say, with some trepidation, "I saw those quads in Europe, and that is no easy event." If they're giving away some time in the sculling boats, this year's US entry probably isn't giving away much in size to the field - Ken Jurkowski is arguably the little guy in the bunch.
New era indeed: no DEN LM4- or LM8+ for the first time since way early 90s or even late 80s. The Danes have two lightweights making the trip to Japan, the LM2-. Ireland seems to be the crew finding speed at the right time in this event, winning at Lucerne, with Germany and France also in the mix.
While the US men's light four seems to be composed of all "new" faces, three of the four have done plenty of time in the light eight, and Rich Montgomery was the Worlds single sculler last year.
Ekaterina Karsten has owned the field in the W1x this year, winning Lucerne by 12 seconds in less than ideal conditions. Given her experience, she'll likely be extremely difficult to catch. That said, there are three medals out there, and there have been a host of new faces in this event during the season, so there might yet be a surprise or two.
Michelle Guerette is the US entry in the W1x. There has been no Michelle sighting since the NSR in which she won the right to row the 1x; a rumored World Cup appearance never materialized. Like Wyatt, time in the boat may be more important than jetting to races at this point.
There are 20 crews entered in this event, an assortment of proven scullers, LW2x Olympians, etc., as well as the newcomers. All six finalists from Lucerne are represented in the Worlds field. US entry Marika Page came in 10 seconds under the posted time standard this year, so looks to be in good shape going into worlds.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing matchups is in the W2x: can the Evers-Swindell's win again, or is Bulgaria quicker? Bulgaria handed the NZ double their first loss in a good 3 years at Lucerne, in the Evers-Swindell's first outing in the 2x after racing singles all spring. It remains to be seen whether Bulgaria, with former 1x world champion Rumyana Neykova aboard, can hold their speed.
The US women's double of Lia Pernell and Megan Cooke are relatively new faces; talk about getting right into the fray. Both were in the 2004 Worlds 4-.
The Chinese entry put 5 seconds on the field to win at Lucerne, but they will not be attending. Behind them, Germany was next fastest and so moves into the front-runner position for Gifu. In fact, a lot of crews have been beating on each other in this event throughout the year, it really appears that the standard in this event is getting consistently better.
Irish novice sculler cum world champion cum world class cyclist Sinead Jennings is back in the LW2x this year, though this crew doesn't have international results to their credit this year.
The US light women's double of Renee Hykel and Julia Nichols has been training in Philadelphia with Coach Ted Nash, who always seems to find some speed late in the game.
At first glance, the Women's pair is wide open. The front-runners are the NZ pair of Juliette Haigh and Nicky Coles who won Lucerne by scads of open water (this duo also distinguished themselves by flipping in the prelim during the Athens Olympics, then qualifying through the rep). The Belarus crew has one Olympian returning, and Romania and Australia have experienced crews as well.
The US women's pair of Caroline Lind and Lindsay Shoop is second in the depth hierarchy, and despite having two rookies in the ranks, was the first crew to beat the time standards at trials, and was the only crew to do it on Sunday morning, when they crushed the standard in conditions were not completely favorable. This bodes well for the crew's chances, so long as they navigate the maze of training in two boats at the same time; the crew is also the stern pair of the eight.
As on the men's side, the LW4x has seven entries. The Lightweight women's quad is a festival of doubling up this year, as the Canadian entry contains their LW2x AND their LW1x, while the Dutch entry has Marit van Eupen doubling from the LW1x. Conspicuously absent at Gifu are the Germans, who tend to field strong entries in this event, and China, who managed to swipe the Gold AND the Bronze medals at Lucerne in July.
The US crew contains some strong scullers, and could be in the hunt for a medal.
With nine entries, the Women's 4x is on the thin side. Earlier this season, the front runners were the Russian quartet and the GB crew, but with Kathrin Boron's decision to scrap the W1x (where she'd not been performing that well), and head back into the German W4x, this event could once again become the "Germany, then everyone else" show.
The US W4x is the "priority" boat this year, and the lineup shows it - two member of last year's women's eight, including Anna Mickelson, who has been in the women's eight the past four years, a vet from the quad, and only one rookie.
The Romanians and the Dutch, both with a few returning Olympians in the mix, look to be the favorites in the women's 8+. Germany is sporting a polished, if young unit, and seem to already by rationalizing their worlds performance. "If we make the final, it'll be an accomplishment for us," comes the word from the German camp. With eight boats entered, and the prospect of a two-crew petite looming, crews will be revving pretty hard in the heats and reps.
The US crew is a classic post-Olympic year mix of vets (Dirkmaat, Magee, and coxswain Whipple from last year's eight), rookies (Lind, Shoop, and Goodale), and folks who have been knocking on the door for the past couple years, either at the training centers or top clubs (Malcos, Francia, Kriz).
Mark Gerban of Lower Merion, PA is representing Palestine in the LM1x. Gerban finished a respectable 20th in the event at Lucerne, and has been living la vida remada on the road, training in Germany. The US doesn't have an entry in this event, as Tim Larson, winner of an insanely hard-fought trials regatta, did not make the posted time standard to qualify for Worlds.
A couple of events at these championships are undersubscribed to "woah!" levels...the Women's 4- has 4 entries (Australia, Belarus, Germany, Korea), the Men's 2+ has three entries (USA, Italy, Australia), and the Men's Lightweight 8+ has two crews entered, Japan and Italy. It's ironic that the Men's Lightweight 8+ was just saved from "extinction" by the actions of the US, German and Australian federations at the most recent FISA Extraordinary Congress; none of these federations have sent a crew. For the record, the Italians put 12 seconds on the Japanese at Lucerne.
There are no Canadian openweight women's crews racing at worlds this year. Canada tends to take the post-Olympic year a little more lightly, so only a few crews raced at the Canadian trials earlier this year, but none made the posted time standards.
This will be the fourth time that Worlds includes Adaptive rowing. Now that adaptive rowing is paralympic games event, the standards of competition may rise. Given the weather situation though, you have to wonder if the adaptive events would be the first on the chopping block if the schedule has to be compressed.
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