The first day of the A/B semifinals began gray and overcast, but then the sun came out, the wind turned to flat or a light tail, the lake stayed calm and the Malta racecourse in Poznan saw a ton of incredible racing for spots in the Saturday medal finals.
Erin Cafaro and Susan Francia in the US W2- could have taken time off after Beijing, but the pair is back, fit and ready to go in any situation; in some ways, they've become Romanians in terms of their versatility. Today, the pair took command of a fast race at about halfway, then brought it all the way home to the line; Susan Francia needed a few minutes after the race to get back to full wind.
"It's all business," said stroke Erin Cafaro after the race. "We didn't want to play around, do anything cute, just get out there and take care of the race." With a day of rest before the final, and another shot at hardware in the eights final on Sunday, the businesslike approach has paid off for the crew, and they are the gold-medal favorites in the event.
Similarly, Megan Kalmoe and Ellen Tomek in the US W2x have gone from being surprise finalists in Beijing to a legitimate threat in the event. The crew qualified just behind a fired-up hometown crew from Poland today, after leading for the better part of the race.
"That was most of the crews from the final in Lucerne, so we knew it was going to be tough," said Ellen Tomek after the race. "We're really excited for the finals! There are six fast boats and it's going to be a barnburner."
With the Polish crew and the US running neck and neck for much of the race, the FISA commentary team ceded the ship-to-shore to their Polish colleagues; I can't claim to have understood much, other than repeated and excited references to "Americanski!"
Charlie Cole and David Banks in the USA M2- seized some redemption for the US Men today, qualifying for the medal final with a competent, but what they themselves considered a substandard row. That desire for another level will definitely serve the crew well going into the final.
"The race felt okay, we are third and still alive. We row better every race," said David Banks, while Charlie Cole added "We will be able to bring a more complete effort for the final."
At the head of the pack in this field, the New Zealand and GB crews seem to be in a class of their own; the Brits practically paddled across the line in winning comfortably, while the Kiwis put 5 seconds on their closest competitors. The GB pair definitely has come along way since earlier this summer, and no one is taking these guys lightly.
While Warren Anderson in the US M1x doesn't really have a significant title to his name in the single, the big dogs in his semi (Tufte, Synek and Campbell) had a big wad of every color of medal under sun; huge credit to Warren, who rowed in a qualifying third place until 1000m in, ahead of the Olympic champ Tufte, before the Norwegian shifted gears and passed, and Warren faded a little bit.
This first semi was a barn burner, with Campbell going hard early, forcing everyone else to catch up. In fact, Tufte only caught the Greek on the line to advance. And then, following that semi, the second semi came down the course even faster, with Mahe Drysdale pacing the field and Belgian Tim Maeyens and German newcomer Matthias Rocher moving on behind him.
Five of the six Olympic M1x finalists are making a return appearance in the final here in Poznan a year later, which is a bit of a novelty; this final should be hugely entertaining to watch.
Judging by the times today, however, the Men's Double seems to be the tightest field here at the Worlds; less than 3 seconds separated all six finalists between their two semis today. The Men's Four is also fairly tight, with the top six separated by only 4.5 seconds. In the absence of the US, and an injury-affected flameout in the semi by a highly regarded German boat, the new GB four and Australia are the likely favorites in this one.
Much like the Chinese in '05-07, the GB is seemingly leaving nothing to chance in their build up to the London Olympics; the Brits qualified six of seven crews from the Olympic events semis today, and have several crews at or near the top of their events.
For whatever reason, I have never seen as many crews paddle it down in the middle of a race if they fell out of contention as I did today; it was weird to watch crews racing a Worlds semi to just spin it right down in front of the grandstands. Perhaps the worst example of this was the Iraqi LM1x, who paddled across the line a whopping 1:49 behind the winner of his D-Final.
Scroll down to the end of this feature for a full slough of athlete quotes from today.
On to the events on the fringes: racing this afternoon was scheduled to begin precisely at 1:33pm. What was wrong with 1:30?
The Italian lightweight eight practiced in their penal colony unis today, which read "Piediluco Prisoner" on the front.
Cryptic line of the day, from the FISA Team Managers meeting on Wednesday: "Spectators were succesfully prevented from boarding buses."
In some hotels, things are apparently getting ugly on the towel front; one hotel has posted a list on the bulletin board in the lobby, by country, of who owes what.
The media work area is a little bit like preschool; everyone is in the same seats every day, and heaven forbid you monkey with anyone's routine. The crews from Polish TV are here now, and seemingly rolled in in a cloud of cigarette smoke, whew.
As of today, row2k is officially a print publication of sorts: a photo taken and submitted by row2k's own Erik Dresser here in Poznan was turned into a giant billboard here at the course. Well played!
The second round of semis are on for tomorrow afternoon, with a batch of placement finals taking place tomorrow morning.
Olivia Whitlam, Louisa Reeve (GBR) – Semi A/B One - 2nd
"The racing conditions were quite good, much better that in our heat. We raced well but it still could be better, we can still improve. We wanted to have a good position in the final and we raced towards that goal." Louisa Reeve
Kerstin Hartmann, Marlene Sinnig (GER) - Semi A/B One - 3rd
"Another goal reached – we are in the final and we did it without having to try too hard. This is good. In the final we will lift up our game. We still haven’t used all engines yet." Marlene Sinnig
Zsuzsanna Francia, Erin Cafaro (USA) - Semi A/B Two – 1st
"It was a good, we are learning with each race and we go faster. The semis can sometimes be the hardest race of them all and we now feel ready for the final." Erin Cafaro
Sarah Cook, Kim Crow (AUS) – Semi A/B Two – 2nd
"We raced a sensible and smart race and we are improving with each row." Kim Crow
"We maintained a solid pace through the race." Sarah Cook
Peter Reed, Andrew Triggs Hodge (GBR) – Semi A/B 1 – 1st
"Really nice. We have been working very hard over the past few weeks and months. It feels like we made a great step ahead. It was a good race and I’m pleased, but there are still a few things to improve on." Andrew Triggs Hodge
Shaun Keeling, Ramon Di Clemente (RSA) - Semi A/B 1 - 3rd
"This was a little bit better than the heat. But we still have to get better for Sunday – hopefully." Ramon di Clemente
Eric Murray, Hamish Bond (NZL) – Semi A/B 2 - 1st
"It wasn’t an easy race. We knew we had to get out there fast and make the top three. So we went in front and when you are there, you want to stay there. We look forward to the final". Eric Murray
Anna Bebington, Annabel Vernon (GBR) - Semi A/B1 - 1st
"It was good to win and I’m very pleased with the result. I really enjoy sculling in this boat and it’s something like a personal project for us. We expected the Czechs to move through more, but when I made the call to get them, that’s what happened." Annabel Vernon
Magdalena Fularczyk, Julia Michalska (POL) – Semi A/B 2 - 1st
"We had a better race than in the heats and I think the final will be very good." Julia Michalska
Rumyana Neykova, Miglena Markova (BUL) – 3rd
"The race was so so; we will be better in the final". Rumyana Neykova
Julien Bahain, Cedric Berrest (FRA) – Semi A/B One - 1st
"It was a good practice for the final. We raced according to plan and controlled the race correctly. On Saturday we will probably not control the race. We cannot wait for the final." Cedric Berrest
Luka Spik, Jan Spik (SLO) – Semi A/B One - 2nd
"Second is fine, but I didn’t expect the Serbs to be so strong. They really surprised us. But I think we have good chance to do well in the final." Luka Spik
Eric Knittel, Stephan Krueger (GER) – Semi A/B Two - 1st
"This was like we had hoped for. We wanted to keep up with the crews in front right from the start and that worked out. We know the Estonians would be fast at the start, but we were able to move through them in the third 500. This race was fun and we want to keep it up for the final." Eric Knittel
Matthew Trott, Nathan Cohen (NZL) – Semi A/B Two - 1st
"We are feeling good. We had a good race and are happy." Matthew Trott
Matthew Ryan, James Marburg, Cameron McKenzie McHarg, Francis Hegerty (AUS) – Semi A/B Two – 1st
"It was good. The plan was to take it out pretty hard today. We had a rough start in the semi in Beijing and didn’t want that to happen again. It should be great to race Great Britain in the final again." Matthew Ryan
Vazim Lialin, Andrei Dzemyanenka, Yauheni Nosau, Aliaksandr Kazubouski (BLR) – Semi A/B Two - 2nd
"The start and the middle part of the race was okay, but the finish was hard. We are in the final and that’s what counts". Aliaksandr Kazubouski
Mirka Knapkova (CZE) – Semi A/B One – 1st
"I’m happy, but I think all three competitors who were in front are happy as we are all in the final! We’ll see on Saturday who is faster." Mirka Knapkova
Katherine Grainger (GBR) – Semi A/B Two - 2nd
"I’m pleased, I wanted to have a decent lane in the final. There are quite a lot of newcomers in this field and you cannot always know what can happen. It’s been a while since I didn’t have competitive semis." Katherine Grainger
Alan Campbell (GBR) – Semi A/B 1 – 1st
"It was a pretty good race - I’m in the final. It just felt good in the race and I kept it up. Just at the end I shortened up a bit, but I promise that won’t happen in the final. Now we’ll see how many guys, I’ll be able to beat on Saturday. I haven’t got a World Championship medal yet and I think I’m in the best possible shape to do it." Alan Campbell
Mahe Drysdale (NZL) – Semi A/B 2 - 1st
"I was feeling pretty good. It’s always good to have a blow out a couple of days before the final. Now I know where I am before the final and it’s going to be a good one." Mahe Drysdale
Tim Mayens (BEL) – Semi A/B 2 - 2nd
"It went well although there were lots of waves for 500 m. It will be an exciting final". Tim Mayens
Mathias Rocher (GER) – Semi A/B 2 – 3rd
"I had hoped for this, but didn’t expect it. I had a good start and didn’t let myself be irritated by the Argentinean and Cuban. At 1000m I thought I maybe could make the qualification and just pushed. But only on the last 100m I actually believed I could make it, but with the crab I caught yesterday, I was still a bit scared that something might still prevent it. Now I will enjoy it and see how far I can get. It will be interesting and fun to race the top guys." Mathias Rocher