ROWING IN OLYMPIC YEAR: WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN RIO AND BEYOND IN 2016 January 08 2016
Olympic year is always a cracker but the rest of the rowing world doesn’t stop just because Britain’s best are going for gold. Here – with a little help from some social media from 2015 – are some possible highlights for 2016...
January: Big dreams and Hard Yards
“When you wake up in an Olympic year it suddenly feels very close,” says reigning Olympic champion Helen Glover as she prepares for another tilt at glory in Rio.
Great Britain topped the medal table at London 2012 but the rest of the world will be pushing them, especially New Zealand who were ahead in the Olympic-events table at the 2014 World Championships.
Glover and the rest of the GB women and lightweights are currently on camp in Portugal, while the heavyweight men are in South Africa. Whether you’re an aspiring Olympian or a rower further down the food chain, though, if you want success in the summer, January is all about getting the hard yards in.
One who has followed that maxim impressively is 17-year-old Meg Saunders of Tideway Scullers School, who set a new hour record for junior women in the first week of the new year. Meg covered 15262m, with an average split of 1:57.9.
New Junior Women's 60 Minute World Record set today by Meg (17). 1:57.9 / 15262m Congrats to Meg and her coach @smithmaestro #indoorrowing #concept2 #c2 #rowing #remo #aviron #roeien #canottaggio #veslanje #crossfit #fitness #gym #thisgirlcan #secondpostofthedaypleaseforgiveus @rowingrelated @just_rowing @britishrowing
February: Next generation
February still sees international aspirants trekking to Boston in Lincolnshire for long-distance trials but likely Olympians are exempt this year, so it is down to those on the fringes of the senior squad – perhaps hunting a spot for Tokyo 2020 – plus Under-23s and juniors to enjoy the delights of the Witham.
Their target is the World Championships, which in non-Olympic year rolls together senior, U23 and junior events and takes place at a new venue in Rotterdam at the end of August.
March: Boat Races break more new ground
History was made at the Boat Races last year as women joined the men on the Tideway for the first time and Oxford swept the board with resounding victories in the blue-boat and reserve races for both genders.
This year they go an extra step, with the women’s reserve race (held on Friday last year) joining the main event, although there may be a decent amount of wash for both reserve races with only 15 minutes between them.
The timetable for 27 March looks like this:
- 310pm - Newton Women’s Boat Race
- 325pm - Osiris-Blondie (women’s reserve) race
- 340pm - Isis-Goldie (men’s reserve) race
- 410pm - BNY Mellon (men’s) Boat Race
Will Cambridge get more of a look-in this time around? The men certainly had a strong four in the autumn, winning the elite coxed event at Fours Head. December Trial Eights were inconclusive, although the men in light blue suffered a crab, just as they did in the big race in 2014.
March is always a biggie for domestic head races with Women's Eights Head (complete with new pennants) on 5 March, the Schools Head 12 days later and the Head of the River Race just two days after that.
April: Paralympians show their colours
The annual Varese International Regatta is always the first chance – and one of the only chances - Great Britain’s Paralympic rowers have to strut their stuff and they are likely to do some final fine-tuning for Rio here this year.
None of the four boat-classes returned from last year’s World Championships in France with less than a silver medal, the biggest surprise coming with the second-placed finish by new mixed double Laurence Whiteley and Lauren Rowles.
Varese also hosts the first World Rowing Cup event of the summer but GB will apparently not be taking part.
May: Olympic crews take shape
What will Great Britain’s Olympic crews look like? We are likely to find out in April, after trials in March, but they will be in action for the first time at the European Championships in Brandenburg, Germany on 6-8 May and then at the second World Cup in Lucerne from 27-29 May.
GB’s heavyweight men have won gold in the eight in each of the last three years so will they attempt to win an Olympic title in the boat class for the first time in 16 years? My hunch is no: a gold is more likely in the four and other medals could still be on offer for the eight and pair.
Every rowing selector bone in my body is screaming "do the 4 for Rio Jurgen!" Margins are wider, more chance of winning. #rowing— Matthew Pinsent (@matthewcpinsent) September 6, 2015
Will Katherine Grainger get another shot at gold? Will it be in the double, and if so, who will her partner be? The smart money seems to be either on Anna Watkins – who gave a brilliant interview to the Guardian recently about combining rowing with motherhood – or Vicky Thornley, Grainger’s partner last year who has also been much on the media trail recently.
Angus Groom, who won the December trials in a single, will surely move up from his spot as sculling spare last season, requiring a re-jig elsewhere. Olympic bronze medallist Alan Campbell was asked recently whether he might move out of the single scull. His answer: "It's definitely, highly possible".
May is also the final Olympic Qualifying Regatta in Lucerne, just before the World Cup. GB have qualified 12 out of the 14 possible boats but will send a women’s quad here and possibly take a shot at the women’s single too.
As ever, the National Schools Regatta takes place in the final weekend of May but is at Dorney Lake this year after the NWSC, Nottingham decided to book in a triathlon instead. With ever-increasing entry numbers, the regatta has cut down the number of age-group small-boats events this year to focus on quads, fours and eights.
June: #TheseGirlsCan at Henley
As the number of women’s events slowly increases at the Royal, does Henley Women’s Regatta still have a role to play? Ever-growing entries - 427 crews in 2015, up from 374 in 2014 - help the yes argument. It may be neither purely a high-performance event nor one aimed solely at participation but it remains a great celebration of women’s rowing at all levels.
Wishing all our friends and followers wherever you are around the world, a Happy New Year. Where did 2015 go?... https://t.co/qDiAKBuMfs— Henley Women's (@henley_womens) January 1, 2016
Just one tweak to the programme: after feedback from junior coaches, the Junior 4+ goes coxless, while there will be some junior time trials on Friday evening for the first time. Next year, Senior 4+ will also lose its cox.
July: Hooray Henley
How could Henley Royal Regatta be more exciting than last summer’s version? Good question. Not only was there nail-biting racing, some smashed records and history-making results but there was also full live video coverage for the first time and some outstanding footage from the drone camera.
One interesting club to watch this year will be Thames RC. When they hired coach Ben Lewis, it was with a long-term view further than last summer’s Thames Cup victory – even if that was the first win for the club in a men’s eight in 68 years. Next stop is the Ladies Plate for intermediate eights. Lewis told me he believes last year’s eight would be competitive in the Ladies, although it would take a “massive step” to win it.
No.— Is It Henley Yet? (@IsItHenleyYet) December 7, 2015
August: Rio, baby!
How do you top the Olympic regatta of 2012? With a breath-taking venue for starters. Have a look at these photos from Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in Rio de Janerio.
The eight-day regatta again includes four days of finals. Here’s a quick run-down from a British point of view:
- Wed 10th Aug: GB won a world title in the quad for the first time in 2014. Can they translate that into Olympic success?
- Thurs 11th Aug: Can GB's women's double defend their title? And can one or both of the Chambers brothers overcome their 2012 heartache and upgrade Olympic silver?
- Fri 12th Aug: This could be Fabulous Friday. Helen Glover and Heather Stanning bid extend an unbeaten streak that goes back before London 2012, the men's four aims to win their fifth straight Olympic title and both lightweight doubles have strong chances.
- Sat 13th Aug: There should be a medal for the men's eight, could be one in the women's eight and might even be one in the men's single.
Great Britain have never lost a Paralympic final in the mixed coxed four and they’re reigning world champions again. Tom Aggar won in Beijing but missed out on a medal in London – here’s a chance for revenge. Whiteley and Rowles won world silver after a few months together – what could they manage after a year?
The biggest British story at the Paralympic Regatta, though, could be that of Rachel Morris, who is in her first Olympiad as a rower but already has a gold and bronze medal from her career as a handcyclist. She also won a world title in sailing in 2004. After world rowing silver last season, anything is possible.
October: Brit Champs and The Charles
Once again, a single weekend in October sees lots of rowers competing at a national championships in Nottingham who would far rather be at a head race in the United States.
The post-Olympic Brit Champs, though, could be a real chance for the British public to celebrate on home water with their Rio heroes. Let’s hope British Rowing takes that opportunity.
November: Fun of Fours
The Head of the River Fours is often overlooked as a showcase for current and emerging British talent but just take a look at the pennant winners in the last Olympic year, then make a note in your diary to watch or compete if you can.
December: Back to BRIC
No word yet on whether the British Rowing Indoor Championships will become a regular pre-Christmas fixture but after a triumphant second-running of the new format at the Olympic Velodrome – including Moe Sbihi breaking Sir Matt Pinsent’s British record – the prospect looks very likely.
Hope that’s enough to get you excited about the year ahead. Whether rowing, coaching, officiating, volunteering or spectating, here’s to a happy and successful 2016!