The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Swan stand-off on the Red Sea

Posted by rowingvoice on May 26, 2012

Mahe Drysdale being attacked by a swan while dunking his back in the lake

Lucerne, Saturday 26 May 2012

The most vicious encounter on the Rotsee today was the fight between a huge aggressive swan and a kiwi. It looked one-sided as the champion NZ sculler Mahé Drysdale, cooling off in the lake after winning his quarter final, was attacked by a bird who realised that the intruder on his water could not fly.

Three times the swan charged, spreading his immense wings. Three times the kiwi stood his water and fixed his gaze. On the third volley he rose up and raised a flipflop to strike his attacker. At this the swan recoiled and sailed away, and Drysdale lived to tell the tale to an intrepid Radio Berkshire reporter who gingerly rolled his trousers up and paddled into the lake. I understand the Swiss are appealing for swan uppers for next year’s regatta.

Later, Drysdale stole first place in his semi-final from under Alan Campbell’s nose. He won by hundredths of a second after Campbell had led all the way. Ondrej Synek took the third qualifying place.

Marcel Hacker won the other semi by a country kilometre. This was a new smooth, relaxed Hacker. Angel Fournier Rodriguez of Cuba followed him home easily with his sights set on China’s Liang Zhang in third. These three and the South African Peter Lambert dropped Olympic champion Olaf Tufte right at the start. Tufte was miles off the pace. But the Norwegian has come back from the dead before.

The final is, as usual nowadays, a lottery among usual suspects Drysdale, Synek, Campbell and Hacker, with Zhang and the smiling Angel breaking down the door to the last six. The women’s event is without Ekaterina ‘Choco’ Karsten-Khotodivitch, the strongest woman on the planet. In her absence the finalists are Xiuyun Zhang (China), Mirka Knapkova (Czech), Emma Twigg (NZ), Kim Crow (Australia), Nataliya Mustafayeva (Azerbaiyan) and Ilia Levina (Russia).

The second day was a Lucerne classic – sunshine, calm water with an occasional flutter of breeze, but not to the strength of the previous day’s record-assisting talewind. In a few years hence the Rotsee will become the New Rotsee if plans to rebuild the rowing centre and construct a new finish tower work out. Architects Andreas Fuhtimann and Gabrielle Haechler have come up with an imaginative design for buildings in a nature reserve, and other amenities are due for a scrub up as well.

Britain’s men’s eight, still without its new stroke Constantine Louloudis— he hasn’t rowed in anger in it yet — and with the veteran star Greg Searle now in the bow seat, qualified for the final in a storming semi that was won by the Aussies. Coming into the season there was a blinkered view in some quarters that this event was between world champions Germany and GB. It’s clear, though, that the Canadians are going faster than they were in Bled last year, and ‘we haven’t finished yet,’ their coach Mike Spracklen told Voice today. The Australian boat is fizzing, and so are the Poles and the Dutch who ran the Brits very close in the rep.

It is crucial, too, to remember Bled last year, when the American eight failed to qualify. The response of the Yanks to the unthinkable was to draft Mike Teti back into the national team and charge him with building an eight. What came out of San Francisco earlier this week qualified by clear Rotsee water for an Olympic place. They’ve gone back home to tune the engine. There is a lot more on board Teti’s boat than go-fast stripes.

The overall British results were successful but salutary today — the appearance of four combative countries (Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada) since Belgrade has considerably upped the ante. Ten boats progressed to finals as expected, to join the men’s four and women’s double scullers who qualified on Friday. The exception is the men’s quad who head for the B final. Difficult boats, quads, especially when their line-up changes, for whatever reason, every week or two.

The women’s quad also faced failure, but managed to turn their Friday lack-lustre performance round today. The lightweight world and Olympic champion double scullers Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter led off their semi-final and then faded into the third qualifying place. Unusual tactics. It’s all right, they told Voice later —‘All OK. Good to try stuff. Bring on the medal!’ you heard it here first.

In the men’s pairs, the Eric Murray and Hamish Bond continue the dominance that chased Hodge and Reed back to a four with their old Bejing mate Tom James. In the other semi George Nash and Will Satch  had a fight with Niccolo Mornati and Lorenzo Carboncini of Italy and beat them, but were overhauled by the 2011 bronze winners Dave Calder and Scott Frandsen of Canada. The current state of play is that the Kanuks are probably about to inherit the silver slot, with the bronze up for grabs, and the new Brits in the running.

Outstanding British performances were by the pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning and the lightweight four with Paul Mattick subbing for Pete with-a-damaged-rib Chambers. Both won their semis. Glover and Stanning fought off a challeng by the Americans Erin Cafaro and Eleanor Logan with a sprightly sprint at the finish. The four led a tight race all the way in a time a fraction slower than the other semi. No surprises there, then.

Adam Freeman-Pask blasted out of the blocks in the final of the lightweight singles like a greyhound before the traffic light turned green. “I have 15 dogs at home,” he said.  “I’m used to being chased by them, so my usual tactic is to run away.”  At the second attempt he become Britain’s first winner at Lucerne 2012. He led the final all the way, seven days after being shifted to the solo boat.  “A week’s notice to do the single is about right, otherwise I get bored,” he said.

Christopher Dodd


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