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Digital Subscriptions > Row360 > Issue 20 - Oct | Nov 2017 > SARASOTA

SARASOTA

WORLD CHAMPS REVIEW

Yah-boosucks to Hurricane Irma. In early September 2017 it looked as if the world championships would be cancelled for the first time in history, but this year FISA played chicken with a malevolent Atlantic superstorm, and won.

There would have been no backup plan: while the crews could have scraped together enough equipment and managed somehow, had Florida been devastated by Irma then nothing would have permitted about ten thousand athletes, support staff, volunteers, administrators, umpires, press and spectators to descend upon a devastated US county. And you can’t suddenly hold this big an event somewhere else — you might have a lake and volunteers, but finding hotels, transport and flights at short notice for that many simply isn’t feasible. But in the end it was Irma which blinked first, swiping Sarasota only briefly, causing more trouble to the event organisers than to anyone else as they had to delay putting up all the temporary facilities which made the 2017 champs such a fantastic experience. Still, they managed it with immense poise, and bar the odd wonky-looking palm tree it was hard to tell anything had gone wrong.

The rowing was top-drawer: somehow this sport manages to up its game every time it meets to give away gold. Long gone are the days of a post-Olympic/Paralympic slump in form. Medals post-Rio were never going to be easy to claim, and as Italy topped the list with nine, 29 different countries shared the podium limelight and saw their flags mount the flagpoles with pride. Brazil took the first gold, the Romanians the last, the para- rowers confidently conquered 2000 metres, and Australia claimed its first men’s coxless fours title in 21 years. Howzat, Irma?

PHOTOGRAPHY BENEDICT TUFNELL

M1x MEN’S SINGLES

•CZE •CUB •GBR

4th GER 5th NZL 6th CRO

Mahe, there’s bad news. You weren’t missed. The absence of the Rio and London champion Kiwi, having a year off to welcome his second child and take a bit of personal time, might have dented the fun in the men’s singles. Not a chance, with Ondrej Synek (CZE), Damir Martin (CRO) and Angel Fournier Rodriguez (CUB) all on flying form. Coming into Sarasota the two biggest names on everyone’s lips were Martin, planning to prove he was the best fourteen months after a heart-breaking photofinish loss to Drysdale, and the next quick Kiwi, holder of the world best time Robbie Manson. And that was without even reckoning with a trio of young guns, freshly graduated from the 2016 under-23 world final: Tim Ole Naske (GER), Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk (POL), and Tom Barras (GBR). There wasn’t going to be enough space in the medal race for all of them.

Knowing it was going to be a long week, the opening heats took it reasonably steady, with Manson content to qualify in second behind Barras, and regular internationals Sverri Nielsen (DEN) and Stanislau Shcharbachenia (BLR) also appearing on the winner’s list beside the regular leaders. Once the cohort had been bulked up from some vicious repechages, it was on to the demanding quarter-finals, where the group was summarily chopped in half. Here the winners were the Cuban, Czech and German, with Russia’s Vladislav Ryabcev nipping to an unexpected victory ahead of Nielsen and Switzerland’s Nico Stahlberg.

The semi-finals weeded the talent out further, but the order surprised, only Synek retaining his unbeaten record when all three of he, Fournier Rodriguez and Manson were able to relax and cruise to the line well ahead of the competition. Manson’s supporters were by this point still claiming he was hiding his light under a bushel, but it was tricky to see how deliberately coming third in the semi (guaranteeing a bad lane in the final) was a smart strategy. Slightly surprisingly youngster Barras got the better of Martin and Ole Naske in a tight second semi-final, his sprint taking him past to guarantee a top lane for the big match.

The final was, in the end, the Synek Show, as the Czech sculler swept to his fifth world title with Cuba’s finest, Fournier Rodriguez, stalking him beautifully to clinch silver. For Synek, regeneration after back injuries in Rio, and a gold dedicated to a former Olympic champion friend who died last year. The highlight was a side-byside thriller in the middle thousand, the two leaders dropping everyone for dead as they battled along. A fierce crosswind had led to a lane redraw, of which the principal casualty was Martin, originally between Synek and Ole Naske but now placed between the Czech and Cuban, and as a result experiencing hefty wash from both sides. Meanwhile Barras and Manson were doing what both did best, the Brit just about keeping up in mid-race before unleashing his startling sprint, and Manson rating high but not quite ever getting on terms. In the final 500 Synek’s class showed through, and he moved ahead of Fournier Rodriguez while Barras claimed a debut bronze by holding off the Olympic runner-up, Martin. With Drysdale now back in training, next year’s final can’t come soon enough.

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