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Rowers off to a racing start

7 August 2016

ROWING: Australia’s rowers began positively on the opening day of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Facing blustery conditions, which proved tough for many competitors across the various boat classes, Australian crews prevailed and six secured spots in the next round of racing while only one will face the repechage on Monday.

The men’s and women’s single Sculls both progressed to their respective quarter-finals, the men’s double sculls, women’s double sculls and men’s pair progressed to their respective semi-finals, while the men’s quadruple sculls won their heat to automatically qualify for the finals of their boat class.

The women’s quadruple sculls finished second in their heat and, with only the winner automatically progressing to the A-Final, the Australians will now race Monday’s repechage.

First up for Australia on opening day was Rhys Grant in the men’s single sculls.

Drawn in Lane 3, the Olympic debutant required a top-three finish in the heat to book a place in Tuesday’s quarter-finals.

In beautiful conditions on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the young West Australian started well in a heat that featured reigning world champion Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic.

At the halfway mark, Grant was in third behind the Czech Republic and Paraguay with conditions turning blustery.

However, with 250 metres to go and the Czech Republic sculler out in front, Grant made his move to finish second and book a place in the quarter-finals.

“The first part of the race was really good and I got myself into a good position there, and then the wind blew up” Grant said.

“That was pretty challenging to say the least, it was sort of survival in the middle point of the race.

“Coming into the last 500 metres it flattened down a bit and that’s when I could really race rather than try to not fall out the boat.

“It was a fine line between going as fast as you can and not falling in.”

Reigning world champion in the women’s single sculls, Kimberley Brennan, came in to today’s event as the number one seed.

Brennan was drawn in Lane 1, taking on crews from Mexico, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Zimbabwe and the Bahamas.

The three-time Olympian, who won bronze in the same event in London 2012, started well in blustery conditions which saw all the scullers struggle to maintain a line on the course.

While leading early, Brennan was overtaken by Mexico and Zimbabwe by the halfway mark.

As the crews approached the final 500 metres, Brennan had dropped back to fourth, battling the conditions, however the Victorian fought back in the final 250 metres to finish third and book a quarter-final spot on Tuesday.

“It’s a bit unprecedented to race in conditions like this, so we’ll need to go back to the drawing board to prepare for this type of conditions,” Brennan said.

“To race here it’s going to be about handling the conditions as well as possible.

“It was good to see some girls handle it really well and I’ll try to learn from this to improve in my next races. I’ve got to look to use those conditions and be more prepared next time around.

“I’ve actually got two boats here; a calm boat and a rough-water boat.

“We made the mistake of taking the calm water boat out because conditions were perfect when I got on the water for the warm-up, but the conditions changed pretty fast and I was left on the water in a boat taking on water and I had some difficulty with steering too, so next round I’ll be in the right equipment and I’ll be going out there in the next few days and figuring out how to adapt to these type of conditions.”

Olympic debutants Alexander Lloyd and Spencer Turrin were Australia’s third crew to take to the water.

The duo needed a top-three finish in the men’s pair event to reserve a lane in Tuesday’s semi-finals and avoid the repechage.

Taking on crews from Spain, the Czech Republic, South Africa and the United States, the Australians paced their race beautifully in conditions that were proving tough for all competitors.

Turrin and Lloyd were quick out, with South Africa also looking good. It was the South Africans leading in the first half of the race, but as the crews approached the 1000 metre mark, Australia made its move.

Having taken the lead, Turrin and Lloyd maintained their pace, upping their stroke rate in the final 500 metres to secure the win and a place in the semi-finals.

Three-time Olympian Sally Kehoe and the rowing section’s youngest member, 21-year-old Genevieve Horton, took to the water in the late morning heat in the women’s double sculls.

Drawn in Lane 3, the crew were joined in their heat by world champions New Zealand, as well as crews from Greece and the Czech Republic.

Taking advantage of the tough conditions, Horton and Kehoe made their move after 500 metres to build a two-length lead as they approached the halfway mark.

As conditions became rougher in the second half of the course, the Australians began to slow and New Zealand made its move to take the lead in the final 500m and win the race.

Kehoe and Horton finished second in a time of 7min 17secs to book a place in Tuesday’s semi-finals.

Another three-time Olympian, Chris Morgan, took to the water today, this time in the men’s double sculls with Australian Olympic Team debutant David Watts.

Joining the Australians in their heat were world champions Croatia, as well as crews from Serbia and France.

Taking on the Sinkovic brothers of Croatia, the Australian duo pushed hard from the start to maintain a good rate throughout in order to sit themselves in second for the majority of the heat.

As they approached the final 500 metres, the French double pulled past to take second place, but it mattered not as Australia finished third, in a time of 6min 36sec, and progressed to the semi-finals later the week.

Seeded number one in their heat, Australia’s men’s quadruple sculls were drawn in lane five in their heat, racing against crews from Great Britain, Switzerland, Poland and Lithuania.

The crew of Karsten Forsterling, Alexander Belonogoff, Cameron Girdlestone and James McRae were looking for a top-two finish position to secure a spot straight in Wednesday's final.

Facing similarly tough conditions to their teammates, the Australians were quick out and were leading in the first half of the race before Poland made a move into the lead in the third quarter of the race.

As the Australians broached the final 500 metres, the crew upped their rate and, with all crews pushing for the line, the Australians pushed past the Poles to take the win. Both crews automatically progressed to Wednesday’s final.

“It was a tighter race than we would have liked, we would have liked to have moved away through the middle but we had a few bad strokes and we ended up having to chase the other crew down,” McRae said.

“As long as the conditions are the same in all lanes, then we’re all effected in the same way, so we kept it pretty simple and stuck to our race plan. We were aware it was rough, we’d watched everyone else’s races in the smaller boats but the race plan stayed the same.

“It was pretty wild steering out there and I’m probably going to adjust it ahead of the final to give me a bit more turning capacity which should help us, we stayed in the lane most of the race, so that was positive,” added McRae, who strokes the boat.

The final crew to race on the opening day of the games was Australia’s women’s quadruple sculls of Jessica Hall, Kerry Hore, Jennifer Cleary and Madeleine Edmunds, who required a first place finish in their heat to automatically book a lane in Wednesday's A-Final.

Taking on crews from Ukraine, the Netherlands and China, the Australians were quick out after the start, but Ukraine took the lead and maintained a four second advantage over the Australians for roughly three-quarters of the race.

The Australians picked up their rate in the final 500 metres in a bid to chase down the Ukrainians but the lead was too great, with the Australians finishing in second, just 1.95 seconds behind.

The crew will now race the repechage on Monday, where they will require a top-four finish to progress to the final. They will be joined in the repechage by USA, Poland, Netherlands and China.

On Day 2, Australia’s men’s four take to the water for the first time. The crew of Alexander Hill, Joshua Booth, Joshua Dunkley-Smith and Will Lockwood will race at 12pm Rio time (01:00 AEST Monday, 8 August) and will require a top-three finish to automatically book a place in the semi-finals.

There are 13 boats entered in the class, including reigning Olympic champions Great Britain, as well as reigning world champions Italy.

Lucy Benjami

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