British rowers
Photo via World Rowing.

Guest post: Your guide to GB at rowing Worlds

This guest post comes from Martin Gough, a freelance journalist who writes on Olympic and Paralympic sport – particularly rowing, in which he’s a handy coach and about as qualified a writer of this World Championships preview as I can imagine.

Martin now authors regular rowing blog The Rowlup, the next instalment of which is out next week.

Rowing’s World Championships begin in Amsterdam tomorrow, 24 August. Below, Martin previews the British team’s hopes. You might find the official event website and World Rowing’s results index useful.

British rowers
GB’s women’s eight racing earlier this season. Photo via World Rowing.
By Martin Gough

At London 2012, rowing was second only to cycling in terms of the medals it contributed to Great Britain’s record tally.

The GB rowing team won nine medals – four golds, two silvers, three bronze – on home water. A year later the rowers managed five, with two golds, at the annual World Championships, although that was very much a year for taking time out, trying new projects and developing new talent.

With less than two years to go to Rio 2016, the Olympic team is starting to take shape again heading into the 2014 World Champs, a week-long event which starts in Amsterdam on Sunday. How will they get on?

Hot favourites

Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won GB’s first gold of the 2012 Games and the women’s pair have remained unbeaten since. While Army captain Glover served a tour of duty in Afghanistan last year, Glover won a world title with Polly Swann instead.

This season Stanning took a little time to regain her spot, but the Olympic champions have won both World Cup events they have raced in by an average of three seconds – more than the length of their boat. New Zealand look likely to lead the race for silver.

Great Britain have won every men’s coxless four Olympic title since Sir Steve Redgrave’s last victory at Sydney 2000. This week marks the 10th anniversary of Sir Matt Pinsent’s nail-biting, tear-shedding win in that boat class in Athens, and GB have already served notice of their intention to defend that legacy in Rio.

Last year, they were part of a successful project to win Britain’s first-ever world title in an eight. This year, men’s head coach Jurgen Grobler pulled his four best oarsmen – double Olympic champ Andy Triggs Hodge, George Nash, 6ft 7in Moe Sbihi and Alex Gregory – back into the four.

As rowing blogger Daniel “Fatsculler” Spring says: “… the question is not who will win gold, but who will win silver and bronze.” Last year’s world champions, the Netherlands, are likely to lead the charge.

Going for gold

If GB has a strong legacy in fours, the opposite is true of the men’s quadruple scull, where the bronze won by the current line-up at last year’s Worlds was the best British result ever. The next step, naturally, is to target gold and the combination of Peter Lambert, Charles Cousins, Sam Townsend, Graeme Thomas looks well set.

If some boats in the squad sometimes feel like manufactured boy bands, there’s a little bit of rock star in this one, with South African-born Lambert at stroke, the literally-larger-than-life Cousins in the three seat and Prestonian Thomas – once described as “the British Enrique Iglesias” – at bow.

Kat Copeland took a year out of top-level rowing after that famous, stamp-enhancing Olympic victory in the women’s lightweight double scull in 2012, when she was just 21 years old.

On her return she was paired with Imogen Walsh, following the retirement of her 2012 buddy Sophie Hosking, and the duo took a while to gel but they have won on each of their last two trips out, beating the world champions from Italy in Lucerne in July.

Medal hunters

This is the first season since 2005 that Pete Reed and Andy Triggs Hodge have not been together in a boat, after Reed suffered a drop in performance over the winter that was finally put down to an allergy to his pet chihuahuas.

Instead, Reed is part of a men’s eight that has been strengthened as the season has gone on. Olympic stroke man Constantine Louloudis returned to that seat after his exams at Oxford University and the crew took bronze in Lucerne, behind Germany and a Russian crew coached by Briton Mike Spracklen. The Americans are the third crew to stand between the Brits and a medal.

The men’s pair event is a fight for silver behind mighty New Zealanders Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, who are unbeaten in their last 18 events dating back five years. Brits James Foad and Matthew Langridge, who missed out on spots in the eight, will battle the Netherlands, Germany and the United States for the lower steps on the podium.

The lightweight men’s four is usually the closest of all events at major championships but results have been strangely uniform this year, with Great Britain third behind New Zealand and Denmark.

Three of the GB boat – Chambers brothers Richard and Pete, and Chris Bartley – have a point to prove in the event, feeling they were denied Olympic gold by an unfair lane draw at London 2012. After a season when the Chambers brothers raced in the double, they returned to the four to compete this year with Mark Aldred, who was watching that Olympic final from the grandstands.

If the GB’s women’s eight are to achieve their aim of an unprecedented Olympic medal in Rio, they must defeat one of the three perennial eights powerhouses – the US, Canada and Romania – each of whom has beaten them at some point this year.

This is a strong combination, though. Veterans like Jess Eddie and Katie Greves have been joined by a group who have moved through development crews together – including cox Zoe de Toledo, who was part of that infamous Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race in 2012.

John Collins and Jonathan Walton have made steady progress in the men’s double this year – sixth at the European Champs, fifth at the second World Cup of the season in France then fourth in Lucerne. They were also part of a race described by some as the best final ever at Henley Royal Regatta – a neck-and-neck battle against the French lightweight crew that saw the lead change three times and which must have given them a further lesson in the fight needed for the closest races.

Elsewhere in the squad

Vicky Thornley faces a strong field in her bid to become GB’s first world medallist in the women’s single since Katherine Grainger in 2009, after illness for Fran Houghton saw their double broken up.

The women’s quad and lightweight men’s double have yet to win a medal this summer and the World Championships is never likely to be the first place to get one.

Olympic bronze medallist Alan Campbell will not compete in the men’s single scull in Amsterdam after struggling for form and failing to reach the required standard in summer competition. Campbell, who became a father for the first time in June, said he was “devastated” to be left out.

Performance director Sir David Tanner believes there is “something not right” with the Coleraine sculler but says he remains part of the plans for Rio.

Zak Lee-Green – originally a travelling spare – was given the green light at the last minute to compete in the lightweight single scull, as well as backing up the rest of the squad.

Paralympic boats

Great Britain’s para-rowing squad features a brand new face, an old face in a new sport and an old face who could be back to his old form, with three potential medals.

Grace Clough only took up the sport late last year, after attending a Paralympic talent ID day, but has slotted into the world and Paralympic champion mixed coxed four with ease, winning a World Cup gold alongside cox Oliver James, James Fox, Oliver Hester and Pam Relph in June.

Rachel Morris transferred to rowing this year after winning Paralympic medals in handcycling at the last two Games, and took silver on debut in the women’s arms-and-shoulders single at the same regatta.

And, after a couple of rough years out of the medals, 2008 Paralympic champion Tom Aggar – the man with the massive bench press – looks to be back in podium contention in the men’s AS single.

Other medal hopes

Because of the Olympic focus of their funding, the GB rowing team concentrates on Olympic-class events, but they also have development crews entered at the World Champs and there is a chance of more medals here.

The lightweight women’s quad of Charlotte Taylor, Brianna Stubbs, Elllie Pigott and Ruth Walczak competed against the heavyweights in Lucerne, finishing eighth overall. The Dutch crew look like their toughest opponents.

Sam Scrimgeour (who won world bronze last year) and Jonathan Clegg have been regular World Cup contenders in the men’s lightweight pair.

Since it was dropped as an Olympic event following the 1992 Games, the men’s coxed pair has generally been relegated to the international sidelines. Not this year though as the Kiwi pair, Bond and Murray, have announced their decision to double up, aiming to emulate the feat of Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell, who 13 years ago won world gold in both the coxed and coxless pairs.

As with the coxless event, it looks like being a race for silver for everyone else, but British boys Alan Sinclair, Scott Durant and cox Henry Fieldman could be in with a shot, especially if their rowing is as good as their film-making.

Heats, semi-finals and “repechage” second-chance races take place from Sunday to Friday, with Para-rowing finals on Thursday, non-Olympic class finals on Friday and finals in the Olympic classes over the weekend. There is a full schedule here.

British viewers can watch live on the BBC on Saturday 30 and Sunday 31 August. The World Rowing website has a live race-tracker, with live audio and video coverage of the later stages.