Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reflecting on Lucerne, Looking Forward to Bled

Lucerne was a fantastic regatta this year, and while Rowing New Zealand looks to be rivaling GB for the best squad in the world right now, the US also made some great strides.  Rowing Canada Aviron had several strong performances, the US men posted some of the best results we've seen since the Teti era, and the depth of the US women's team is truly incredible. First, let's talk about the Kiwis.

The best-known, and perhaps most dominant crew that the All Blacks have out there right now is the men's pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray. The duo looked phenomenal over the weekend in their first race this year against rivals Andrew Triggs-Hodge and Peter Reed of Great Britain, winning the event by roughly seven seconds (not quite the barn-burner that was expected given the outstanding results for the GB pair at Henley two weeks ago). In the women's pair, the NZ duo of Rebecca Scown and Juliette Haigh took second place, just behind a young but well-coached (and very powerful) GB pair of Heather Stanning and Helen Glover – this result was a reversal of Karapiro last November. The men's lightweight double looked fantastic in a field that did not include the defending Olympic and World Champion GB crew (Mark Hunter was without partner Zac Purchase, as Purchase was ill over the weekend), as Storm Uru (possibly the best name in rowing) and Peter Taylor out-dueled the Italians (Bertini and Luini) as well as the former world champions and perennially competitive Danes (Rasmussen and Quist). A solid showing from reigning World Champions Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan in the heavy double saw them sprint through the field to take the gold, while Mahé Drysdale came up just short against defending World Champion Ondrej Synek. In the women's single, Emma Twigg showed that there may be a new sheriff in town, rowing extremely well through difficult conditions to take the gold in an excellent field. Add to this the bronze for the NZ women in the quad, and you have seven medals, four of them gold.

While the Rowing NZ has a grip on the small boats, Team GB is still the deepest international squad, and proved it again over the weekend, taking home a total of 10 medals from Lucerne (four gold, four silver, and two bronze). The GB men's pair, while off the pace over the weekend, cannot be discounted, as six weeks of training remain and it's never certain where the top crews are in their training cycle in the build up to the main event. Also, silver isn't exactly a poor result (though they were hoping for more). The women's double of Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger won for the 11th consecutive time, winning the World Cup and setting the stage for a repeat of their golden performance last year at the World Championships. The GB lightweight men's four took gold despite having to make a late substitution – Peter Chambers joined his brother Richard in the lineup as regular Chris Bartley was out with an injury. The M4- took first without being pressed, leading from wire to wire, and the women's pair added to the gold medal tally, as discussed above. While Zac Purchase sat out due to illness, the GB LM2x (Mark Hunter, Adam Freeman-Pask) still managed second in the B final in one of the most competitive events on the international circuit, and the eight gutted out a very close race to edge the US out of the medals, taking bronze.

Canada brought defending World Champions in the LW2x Lindsay Jennerich and Tracy Cameron to Lucerne, and the duo continued their excellent run, taking the gold roughly two seconds in front of the top GB double (to whom the Canadians had lost in Amsterdam earlier this Summer), with the US combination finishing third. The Canadian women's eight had a great race, but were unable to hold off a late charge from the US, who took first in the event. In the men's eight (which featured UW Husky and Rowing News interviewee Conlin McCabe), Canada finished fifth, just back of the pack, and in the men's single, Malcolm Howard showed that he is steadily improving, taking a strong fifth just ahead of Olympic Champ Olaf Tufte. In the men's pair, Beijing silver medalists Scott Frandsen and Dave Calder took a solid third, and will look to make gains in the month and a half remaining before Worlds.

Some crews to watch for Bled – despite jumping back into the double (and into international racing) only recently, Luka Spik and Itzok Cop of Slovenia took fifth in Lucerne, and will be a force to be reckoned with on home waters. The men's single field was without GB standout Alan Campbell, and a rejuvenated Marcel Hacker, who has looked very much on top of his game thus far in 2011 (both pulled out of contention just prior to the racing over the weekend).

Now, let's turn our attention to Team USA's performance over the weekend.

This year's performance in Lucerne marked the best set of international results for the US men's team since the departure of Mike Teti following Beijing, and is a good sign looking forward to Bled. The US men fielded two very competitive fours, with USA 1 taking the bronze medal in one of the most competitve events at the regatta (USA 2 also performed well, finishing 9th overall just two seconds behind the Australian four, featuring Drew Ginn). The new-look US men's eight, stroked by Cal alum and 2010 IRA champion Nareg Guregian, was surprisingly quick, finishing just two tenths of a second out of the medals (and only 0.24 out of second place) in a tightly packed field, less than a length behind an outstanding German crew. Given the next month to prepare, we are looking forward to more speed and a great performance from the US men in Bled. Another fantastic showing came from Kenneth Jurkowski, who has learned how to race from the front and put himself in a position to compete, finishing just outside the medals in Lucerne in one of the best performances from a US single sculler since Jamie Koven in 1997. If Jurkowski can continue to make similar gains, he'll certainly carve out a spot for himself in the final in Bled.

What the US women have accomplished over the last two weeks is truly incredible. Here's a breakdown of what they've done this July:

The eight wins the Remenham Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, tying a course record in the process. The US women's quad wins later that afternoon. The quad does so despite having to double-up Esther Lofgren (who had raced the eight earlier) due to an illness. The lineup includes Kara Kohler, who began rowing in 2009, and who has never sculled before on the international stage (though, if you ask Dave O'Neill, he'll probably say he saw this coming), as well as Elle Logan, who is typically a sweep rower.

Fast forward to Lucerne. The US women's eight looks completely different, with Francia, Musnicki, Ritzel, and Lind coming out to race the pairs event. The quad is also different, with Kohler and Logan moving into the eight. The pairs finish third and fourth, just behind last year's gold an silver medalists from Karapiro, the eight wins in a very competitive field (as well as from a difficult lane), and the quad places fourth overall, just over one second out of the medals. Imagine if they were to have more than one week in the lineup...

Also, the women's lightweight double of Kristin Hedstrom and Julie Nichols continued their run of success, taking the bronze medal in their event. This result earned the US a World Cup title for the first time, as the duo took bronze in Munich, gold in Hamburg, and bronze again in Lucerne.

Team USA has built up some momentum, and it will be important to capitalize on those gains in Bled. While the US women will look to continue their dominance, the men can make a statement about how far they've come as we count down toward the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

-RR

No comments:

Post a Comment