rowingvoice

The independent voice of rowing in Britain

World best time doesn’t disguise some issues for GBR team

Posted by rowingvoice on May 26, 2012

The presence of a former headmaster at the helm of GB Rowing often makes the urge to give the team a report card instead of a write-up overwhelming.  After the opening day of the 2012 Lucerne world cup, with four crews in finals but both quads and eights in risky Saturday repechages, the verdict would be “not quite fulfilling the potential”.   And the fact that the flagship men’s crew has become the quickest four ever to race 2000 metres, doesn’t disguise that.

As news of the coxless four’s record time filtered through the Twitterverse, and a rush of other countries followed breaking several long-held records, it overshadowed the fact that Team GB’s success level was quite dented by the appearance of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, all of whom were largely absent from the first world cup regatta.  Second place for all three Olympic lightweight crews and the women’s eight, together with third for the men’s eight, is a step down from the Serbian results — at this point three weeks ago, 14 of the team’s 19 crews were unbeaten.  If we want to match or outdo the Beijing medal record, more is needed.

The context is important.  The women’s eight has been reshuffled again, is still without stroke-woman Polly Swann, who is being coddled to prevent long-term repercussions from a back injury, and has just regained the talents of Annabel Vernon and Debbie Flood.  These two experienced scullers are not only slightly rusty in racing terms, but also must still be adjusting to the different demands of sweep rowing, which takes a while, however good you are.   Fortunately there are enough crews here to require heats and a rep, which may be the eight’s saving grace.  On Friday being drawn against world champions USA, on a mission to beat their own record time, left second place the only realistic option, and the first half of the GB race was good enough to encourage optimism for now.

The men’s eight also still lacks its injured selected stroke (Constantine Louloudis) and though James Foad led a rearranged crew order with dogged determination, the flair which had the crew leading Germany for a part of the Belgrade final was absent and will need to be rediscovered before the final.  Canada’s 2011 eight may have returned to the scene with surprising (and record-beating) speed up its sleeve due to a seating reshuffle, but if GBR have any intention of being on the Olympic medal rostrum, they have to be right alongside an eight that a weaker British crew beat last summer.  A win in the rep is a minimum now. The same is true of the women’s quad, unchanged since Belgrade and showing a dead pedestrianism on Friday which is not a fair reflection of these four oarswomen’s talent and verve.

The last seat in the men’s quad has now been confirmed for Tom Solesbury (sending Marcus Bateman to a trial in the eight this weekend), and the seating order has also been confirmed with Charles Cousins at stroke and Matt Wells behind him, but it has not yet yielded results.  Russia tore the heart out of the pack and hacked two seconds off the new world best time which had just been set by Croatia, but that is no excuse for GBR to be content with fifth place out of five crews, even if they were once again only three seconds off what would have been record pace last week.

The four was sparkling, and the women’s pair, women’s double and Alan Campbell also won their heats comfortably, as did lightweight spares Adam Freeman-Pask and Kathryn Twyman.  That’s a thin list compared with Britain’s usual clutch of first places, but one reason was the common sense shown by crews in tight events.

All three lightweight crews, and the men’s pair and double, faced the challenge of rivals desperate to win races at any cost.  The GB response, though it won’t satisfy those who insist the only way to get to the final is unbeaten, was mature.  It’s important to remember this week that the only result which will count is Sunday’s and that sometimes an early loss can lead to a later gold.  So what if France’s LM2x reached the line first?  GBR’s Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase clearly have more in the bank and after some of their previous Lucerne experiences it makes sense to save energy for the fights which matter.

The same was true for Will Satch and George Nash, initially looking likely to win as well as easily qualify, but rumbled by Australia’s late-sprinting James Marburg and Brodie Buckland.  The latter is a former Oxford oarsman who was probably spurred on by the prospect of beating Light Blue Nash.  Satch and Nash will go faster in Saturday’s semi-finals, but they will need to, with the Kiwis setting a good pace.

Paul Mattick deputised for the injured Pete Chambers well in the men’s lightweight four, and it looked as if they also settled for second as best pro tem, well ahead of the cut-off for the automatic semi-final qualification.  The tiny LW2x entry meant that second sent lightweights Sophie Hosking and Kat Copeland to the rep, but pacing uneven-ness suggested it may do them a power of good ahead of Sunday.  In the men’s doubles Australia’s Olympic champions Crawshay and Brennan read the race beautifully to win at a canter leaving Bill Lucas and Sam Townsend having to speed up in the final quarter to stay close behind.  It’s more worrying that the Britons were beaten by Norway, and they need to beware that small slips can cost several places in this tight event.

So, the British team is still a work in progress.  There was plenty to cheer, but some causes for gentle concern.  Time is running out, both for the injuries to heal, and for the interim crews to get racing experience in their final combinations.  Two more days to go here, and three in Munich.  And then come the Olympics.

Rachel Quarrell

Read the Rowing Voice blog here for more analysis after Saturday’s racing in Lucerne.

The GBR Olympic team will still be announced on 6 June 2012, but it looks increasingly likely that some crews (probably including the women’s eight) may not be confirmable on that date.  If need be unfinished crews can be announced later.

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