Rowers ready for ‘world-class’ European test

This weekend’s European Rowing Championships in Brandenburg, Germany will provide “a world-class stage” on which to launch the Rio 2016 Olympic racing season.

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That is the view of many of the 47-strong GB Rowing Team as they flew out on Wednesday for their first major test of a massive season.

The women’s pair of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning was one of six GB crews to win gold at last year’s European Championships in Poznan, Poland.

“It is a title we need to go and defend as it kicks off a big season with the Olympics at the end of it,” said Stanning.

“Within our event we tend to think our competition will come from outside of Europe but we need to be aware that there could be nations who pop their heads up.

“There are also people who have yet to qualify for the Olympics so they will be really race-ready and that is nice for us too.”

Also looking to defend their title this weekend is the lightweight women’s double scull of Kat Copeland and Charlotte Taylor.

“I’m really excited to be back in the double with Charlie,” said Olympic champion Copeland. “She has an amazing head on her shoulders, she knows how to get a lot out of me and she has a really good approach to training and racing in general.

“I think it is going to be really tough at the Europeans, given how much the field stepped up for the Worlds last year, but we’re good as well.”

Alex Gregory returns to the boat in which he won Olympic gold at London 2012 after being named in a men’s four along with Moe Sbihi, George Nash and Constantine Louloudis.

“Finally we are in the racing season and I’m really looking forward to getting out there in Germany and testing what we can do,” said Gregory.

“It’s an early indicator of potentially what could happen later on in the year at the Olympics and I’m itching to get going.”

The women’s eight finished last season as Europe’s leading crew after placing just outside the medals at the World Championships and will be looking to put down a marker in Brandenburg.

“The Europeans will be a big test,” said Jess Eddie, one of five members of last season’s crew to be selected for the Europeans.

“There are some crews there who haven’t qualified for Rio yet so they will be preparing for the qualification regatta and will be on tip-top form.

“But by the time we got to the World Championships last year we were the fastest European crew so we have to put ourselves out there to win this race. We have the quality and skill to do that.”

Polly Swann returns from injury to join Eddie in the eight along with Katie Greves, Melanie Wilson, Frances Houghton, Olivia Carnegie-Brown, Karen Bennett, Zoe Lee and cox Zoe de Toledo.

In the men’s eight are Matt Gotrel, Scott Durant, Pete Reed, Paul Bennett, Andrew T Hodge Tom Ransley, Matt Langridge, Will Satch and cox Phelan Hill.

It will be a first international competition since the 2014 World Championships for double Olympic champion Hodge, who missed last season through illness.

“It’s been an 18-month winter for me but summer is definitely on the horizon and it feels really good,” he said.

“I go into this project in a similar mind-set to when I first came into the GB team, particularly with having a year off. I’ve got a great opportunity and I’m on a voyage of discovery, I have everything to look forward to and nothing to fear.

“Our goal is definitely Rio and we are building towards that but we will certainly be challenging in Germany and we want to hit the ground running.”

Crew-mate Reed, who won Olympic men’s four gold with Hodge in 2008 and 2012, added: “I’m really excited. The crew is immense, just really strong guys. I look down the boat from cox all the way to bow and there is no weakness there.”

Alan Sinclair and Stewart Innes will be looking to build on their impressive showing at the GB Olympic-season Trials when they contest the men’s pair.

Vicky Thornley and Katherine Grainger won women’s double scull bronze at last year’s European Championships and head into this year’s event confident they are improving all the time.

“This winter has been about moving on physically and technically, both individually and in the crew boats, which I think we have done and done well,” said Thornley.

“We want to keep improving all the way up to the final of the Olympics, so we are working every day towards that.

“We’re in a tough event and there are a lot of really good crews, so we have to make sure we put ourselves in the best position. I am confident we can do that, starting with a good performance at the Europeans.”

London 2012 bronze-medallist Alan Campbell is also expecting a “very good challenge” as he starts his tenth successive year in the GB men’s single scull.

“I’ve seen the entry list and pretty much everyone you would expect is there, it’s a really strong field,” he said.

“Ondrej Synek is there, he’s a three-times World Champion now, and what Croatia’s Damir Martin did in winning the World Cup in Varese last month was pretty exceptional.

“There are also a lot of new guys coming through and some people who are still looking to qualify for Rio, so they will really be on their game. It will be a very good standard and a very good challenge.”

John Collins and Jonny Walton will once again race in the men’s double, while hoping it will be third time lucky are the men’s quad who have won silver and bronze at the past two European Championships.

“It would be really nice to finally become a European Champion,” said Graeme Thomas, who will race alongside Angus Groom, Sam Townsend and Peter Lambert.

“The championships will be a real indicator as to what the standard will be at the Olympic Games. Seven of the eight qualified boats for Rio are European so that really shows the depth.

“It’s a big challenge but we are really excited at the prospect of putting down a good performance at the start of the season.”

Also looking to make a strong start to 2016 are the lightweight men’s four of Chris Bartley, Mark Aldred, Jono Clegg and Peter Chambers, who finished ninth at last year’s World Championships.

“We’ve raced together and know what doesn’t work, so hopefully we can find out what does work and put in a good performance at the Euros,” said Clegg.

“The Europeans is a big competition in itself, so to be going there to represent your country is a real privilege and honour. In our event the World Champions from Switzerland will be there, so we have a truly world-class stage to go and perform on.”

For the women’s quad of Tina Stiller, Holly Nixon, Jess Leyden and Rosamund Bradbury, the Europeans provide more race experience as they prepare for the final Olympic qualification regatta later this month.

They finished fourth in the recent Varese World Cup and Nixon said: “This weekend is going to give us more of a glimpse of what could turn up at the Olympic qualification regatta in Lucerne.

“I think things are going well so far. Having more time in the crew is always a positive and we are making the most of that time together.

“I’m just really happy to be here. I feel really lucky each day I get to go out with the girls. I am learning so much from them.”

Defending champion Imogen Walsh and Jamie Kirkwood will contest the lightweight single sculls, while reigning World Champions Joel Cassells and Sam Scrimgeour go in the lightweight men’s pair. Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne is a racing spare in the women’s single.

The European Championships will take place from May 6-8. The current racing schedule is (all times in BST):

  • Friday: Heats 9.30-12.50; repechages 15.00-15.40.
  • Saturday: Repechages and semi-finals 9.30-11.45; C Finals 11.50-12.15.
  • Sunday: B Finals 8.00-9.10; A Finals 9.33-13.33.

Live coverage and highlights will be on BBC2 from 13.00-14.00 on Sunday, May 8.

The GB Rowing Team is supported by the Lottery through UK Sport and has Science in Sport as a supplier.  SAS Analytics is the Official Analytics Partner of British Rowing and the GB Rowing Team. Follow Britain’s rowers on the Road to Rio via Twitter – @GBRowingTeam – and at www.facebook.com/GBRowingTeam.

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