The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Where have all the eights gone?

Posted by rowingvoice on June 15, 2012

The Munich boathouse basking in the sun

The soon-to-be-reduced Munich boathouse basking in June sun

The Munich course has been transformed since I was last here by solar panels the length and breadth of the boathouses and accommodation block. The course at Oberschlossheim was purpose-built for the Olympics in 1972; a massive facility that has suffered the familiar Olympic problem of high maintenance and low usage, at least as afar as bums on seats is concerned. Now apparently there are plans to knock half of it down, though I don’t know if this is a case of Euro crisis or ‘Hammersmith flyover rot’.

Anyhow, the solar panels were soaking up bags of sunshine today, sunshine and heat which brought topless sun worshippers to the pontoon situated just downstream of the finish line. I don’t know if this acted as an incentive to those on the water, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

So here we are in the sun in an empty grandstand save for a knot of British supporters at one end and a few dozen media types at their desks. First thing is to watch the men’s quad, because I heard that they flew in on the first of three flights bringing the British team here, and are booked on the earliest flight home on Sunday. Their travelling companions are the lightweights whose events tend to be early in the programme. But the quads are later in the day, cutting shuttling to the airport a bit fine. One is led to wonder if the team management are confusing their B finals with their A finals? Surely not. What an ignoble thought.

In their heat the quad finished hard on the heels of the Germans who took the one passage directly to the final. Faster than everyone in the second heat, too.

Meanwhile, what’s going on in the eights, still the blue riband of Olympic rowing? This is the last competition before London 2012 and there are only six women’s boats, and only four men’s. The big boats seem to have been hit by the world recession, the impending implosion of Euroland, the greed of bankers or an attack of stage fright — or all four. Shock of shocks, the all-conquering German men’s eight is missing. I bet that goes down well with the fans. There must be some football on or something.  At this rate they will be able to hand the medals out at the gate to Eton-Dorney.

Meanwhile, the British eight is still without Stan Louloudis, the cool Blue who is supposed to be occupying the stroke seat. His recuperation from back problems has limited his training outings, and so far he has not actually raced in the eight that he is setting the rhythm for. It’s clear that coaches and crew hold the opinion that he makes a difference, but if he is to do the job in Dorney he needs to be in the boat pretty damn soon.

The other shock of this regatta occurred on the road when Mahé Drysdale, the world champion sculler, was knocked off his bike — not for the first time. Apparently nothing is broken, but in trying to scull today he was in pain when coming forward, so he is out for the weekend at least.

Further, Ondrej Synek, the Czech sculler who won a great final in Lucerne three weeks ago, did not enter Munich, and nor did the Cuban, Angel Fournier Rodriguez, who beat Britain’s Campbell to the bronze medal in Lucerne behind Synek and Drysdale. So on the first day, Campbell’s star rises by absenteeism if for nothing else. In his heat he was chased by the Egyptians Nour El Din Hassanein and Moustafa Fathy, and Luka Spik’s younger brother, Jan. There were six heats to qualify 24 contenders for the quarterfinals.

In the quarterfinals, Campbell led Olympic champion Olaf Tufte home, with Tufte looking livelier after his illness-struck performance in Lucerne. Graeme Thomas, Britain’s second string, also won his quarterfinal. Others of note to reach the semis are Germany’s Marcel Hacker and Sweden’s Lassi Karonen.

How did the Brits do?

The men’s four shuffled their order for this regatta, Pete Reed moving to the bow seat with Alex Gregory at 2, Tom James at 3 and Andy Hodge at stroke. Three crews qualified from each heat, and the heat winners were Britain, the Czech Republic and Australia.

The women’s quads was another event with only enough entries to make final. Debbie Flood is now restored to this crew, stroking with Fran Houghton, Beth Rodford and Melanie Wilson behind. Ukraine won the silly old ‘race for lanes’. One supporter, I noticed, was sporting a wonderful Union Jack umbrella to shield herself from the sun.

The Chambers brothers with Rob Williams and Chris Bartley won their heat of the light fours and headed to the final, along with the Germans from the other heat.

Sophie Hosking and Katherine Copeland won their heat of the light doubles, with Imogen Walsh and Andrea Dennis third behind the Danes Thomsen and Rasmussen.

Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger also went directly to the final in the open doubles.

Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won their pairs race in a much faster time than Juliette Haigh and Rebecca Scown of NZ who won the other heat.

Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, world and Olympic champions, qualified for the semi-final safely, but behind their chief rivals Storm Uhu and Peter Taylor of New Zealand. The British double were below par three weeks ago in Lucerne when Purchase went down with a bug.

Bill Lucas and Sam Townsend made good in the rep after finishing last in a heat. The double won the rep convincingly to reach a semi-final.

Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell and Cameron Nichol face a repechage tomorrow in the pairs. Two chaps wearing black strip called Murray and Bond won the other heat.

Christopher Dodd


In passing, I should remind you that the position of this piece of water on the outskirts of Munich was a matter of controversy when it was built in 1972. It is situated in a rural area between the small towns of Oberschlossheim and Dachau, and the story goes that the original proposed rowing ditch was at least partly within the boundaries of Dachau. When the plans were put to FISA, the international rowing federation, a Polish council member declared that positioning the course in Dachau was unacceptable even 30 years after the War, and so the organising committee moved it at FISA’s request. Dachau is a sleepy and pleasant little place, but it is as extraordinary to me now as it was when I first came here in the 1980s that such appalling things could have happened there.

Coming soon – a right royal fiasco in the Docks


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