Yesterday, the official roster and lineups for the World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia were announced by GB Rowing. Taking a look at the lineups, perhaps the biggest surprise from the announcement is the complete lack of surprises. Then again, as we say in the States, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Lucerne was an extremely successful regatta for the British, who won a total of ten medals, and looked solid across the board, despite a couple noticeable absences. Alan Campbell missed the regatta due to an illness described as a 'sore throat,' which shows that the British are continuing to take every precaution to ensure that their athletes produce to their full potential at Worlds this year, creating the right kind of momentum (as well as sense of inevitability among the other competing nations) for major success on home waters in 2012. Zach Purchase was similarly kept out of the racing due to illness, but will rejoin Mark Hunter in the double in Bled. Even with the absence of Purchase leading to an eight-place finish overall for the GB LM2x, the British lightweight program is very strong (the four won with a substitution, and contains Rob Williams – the top 'ergo' on the lightweight squad), and I confess it does seem likely that despite the early and midseason woes due to injury and illness, Hunter and Purchase will be clear favorites in Slovenia.
Injuries and lineup changes aside, one of the greatest points of interest for followers of GB Rowing is what will become of the two top heavyweight oarsmen, Andrew Triggs-Hodge and Pete Reed. The duo is clearly very talented, and very quick, but following such a cracking race in Karapiro last year, the result in Lucerne came as quite a shock to many, perhaps, outside of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray. After the men's single grand final lost a great deal of interest given the withdrawals of Alan Campbell and Marcel Hacker, the renewal of one of the best rivalries in all of rowing right now – GB v. NZ in the men's pair – was supposed to be a barn-burner. What resulted was more of a 'hoedown' (for non-US readers, that's essentially a party in a barn) for Bond and Murray, who took the event by nearly seven seconds over the Brits.
Following the race, there was much speculation as to the plans for Triggs-Hodge and Reed looking toward Bled, and, eventually, London. According to recent 'rumour,' the GB squad has been mixing it up a bit of late, and sent out two eights at Caversham following Lucerne, the first eight being the eight that raced as GB in Lucerne, and the 'second' eight being comprised (from stern to bow) of Triggs-Hodge, Reed, Gregory, James, Louloudis, Nash, Langridge, and Egington (the A and B pairs along with the M4- from Lucerne). According to this same rumor, the second eight defeated the first eight, and recorded an extremely competitive time in the process. While it's dangerous to lend too much credence to rumors like this (creditable as the source may be), it is certainly not outside the realm of reason to think that such an eight would indeed be one of the fastest ever, given the caliber and experience of the athletes.
While this has, undoubtedly, been a tempting proposition for Jürgen Grobler and David Tanner to consider, it is one that might potentially have limited the number of qualified boats for 2012 following Bled. As it stands, the GB men are all but assured of at least a silver medal in the men's pair (unless Canada can pull something out of their collective hat over the next six weeks), and are strong contenders as is in the eight (their performance in Lucerne, from lane 6, was impressive). Also, the four of Matthew Langridge, Richard Egington, Tom James, and Alex Gregory has looked fantastic, and were the class of the field in Switzerland. If Grobler were to put Triggs-Hodge and Reed into the eight, the men's pair entry might lose a chance at a medal (though they would likely still qualify, due to the depth of the GB squad), and it seems that's a chance they're not willing to take (nor is there any real reason to do so, other than to prioritize the eight). There has also been talk of shifting Triggs-Hodge and Reed into the four (which they won in 2008), but if the current M4- continues to perform to current standards, they may have 2012 locked up by the time they are striking the grandstands in Slovenia. The one fly in the ointment for the GB four could be a resurgent Australia next season, as this year's iteration has been put together late and lacks Duncan Free, who is currently rehabbing from a leg injury following a bicycle accident. It's unlikely that anyone will know just how good the Australians can be until World Cup time next year.
By the same token, if Bond and Murray continue to enjoy the same comfortable margins over the field in Bled, and the GB eight fails to take advantage of a German crew that hasn't managed to fully separate itself from the top competition this year, the temptation of a gold in perhaps the most popular rowing event at the Olympics may be too much to resist.
Looking forward to Bled!