Only 3 days after Coupe, the most prestigious junior rowing event in the world opened its doors; the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo Bay is soon to be the site of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Regattas, and more recently was the site of the World Rowing Junior Championships 2019. It follows a similar format to other world championship events. Wednesday and Thursday hosted the Heats, where the fastest crews directly qualify for their Semi-Finals, and the others get another chance to qualify in the Repechages on Thursday and Friday. Friday and Saturday hosted the Semi-Finals, where the 3 fastest each from the A and B Semis will make the A Final, the 3 slowest from each make the B Final etc. The Finals were almost all on Sunday for the medal presentations. Team GB had 5 men’s crews and 4 women’s crews racing, and ended the regatta with a silver and a bronze medal.
The first of the GB crews racing was the men’s pair of Henry Pooley and James Stevenson. In the toughest heat they kept pace through to halfway and then dropped off the pace to finish fifth. The other crews in their their heat (Italy, Croatia and Belgium) came 2nd, 4th and 6th respectively in the A Final, so their campaign was stacked against them early. Racing in the repechages the next day, their battle for a Semi A/B place against the South Africans was unfortunately not to be despite a real charge on the rate. With a day off for recovery before the C Final, the pair pulled out a fast 7:04, comfortably winning their Final with a time that would’ve placed them fifth in the A Final. A great show of improvement across the regatta, Westminster and Eton should be proud of their boy’s performance.
The next men’s boat was the quad, comprised of Julian Van Gelderen from Windsor Boys, Miles Devereux from Leander, fresh from winning the Fawley, and the duo of Edward Roy and Balthasar Issa from Henley Rowing Club. Armed with their cobra, their first 500 was the slowest in the field, but their late charge saw them battle Canada and Russia for that second place to send them straight to the semi. Losing out to Russia by 0.9 seconds, who led the race almost the entire way, they slipped into the repechage, winning theirs by almost 2 seconds. Cruelly in their semi they finished fourth, just half a second off the Czech Republic, but miles clear from China and Switzerland. With this in mind, the boys won the B Final coming from behind again, preferring to keep their rate steady while the Romanians next to them went out hard and fast, and leaving it to the last 500 to claim their victory.
The worlds single was Seth O’Connor from Henley Rowing Club, a daunting prospect given the field of twenty countries. This meant that, like the quad, only 2 from each heat would go straight to the semi-finals. A fifth in his heat sent him to the repechage where he finished third after a monumentous charge from the Tapei sculler bumped him down from second. A comfortable win in his semi led to a dominant C Final win. With potentially another year to wear the GB vest next year, Seth will be one to watch.
The two other men’s boats had their heats on the Thursday with the coxless four up first. A very exciting crew: it consisted of record-setter and 4- returner Ollie Parish from St Paul’s, fellow 1st VIII oarsman from St Paul’s and J16 Joe Middleton, Felix Rawlinson who dominated the junior trials this year from Radley, and Miles Beeson, who because of the Scottish school system is currently at Yale University, and has returned to worlds after racing the pair last year. A third in their heat gave them a chance for redemption in the repechage, where their second place sent them straight to the A Final (no semis in this event due to only ten entries). The A Final of the coxless fours was incredible and as the commentator said, it was Great Britain and Romania from the repechage who were leading most of the field. The Germans took the lead and just stayed there for the gold, while Romania held contact until halfway. On complete opposite sides of the course, GB had no idea where Romania were on the course, and were only aware of the wash they were sending down to the USA. Romania’s campaign to catch Germany likely hit them hard in the last 500 as GB overtook, and now had to worry about the Italians doing an absolutely textbook Italian sprint, casually hitting 45 after racing the whole course at 39. Their rate didn’t quite get them past the four, who even gained some contact with Germany to collect their well-earnt silver medal.
The last of the men’s boats, and the blue ribband event, was the men’s eight. Seven entries meant only the fastest boat in each heat were guaranteed an A Final space, and GB went out and did just that, overcoming Hungary to cruise through and avoid the repechage. The boat has crew members from five different schools. Dom Brown from Shiplake College, Connor Brown from Abingdon School, Iwan Hadfield from Haberdashers’ Monmouth, Maxim Beekenkamp, Ben Ray and Cameron Spiers from St Paul’s School, and Simon Nunayon, Henry Pearson and James Watson-Gandy from Eton College. The eight lined up between Germany and Poland, and an unfortunate seat malfunction left GB in last off the first 10 strokes. This did not last long, and by 500m China had been bumped down into sixth. Now the hunt was on for GB. Poland and Hungary were next, caught before even reaching 1000m. At this point the Americans had a 5 second lead, desperately trying to hold overlap with Germany. GB held this margin and gave an almighty sprint in the last 500, reducing this gap to almost 2 seconds, but the American sprint at 44 held them at bay, presumably less worried about catching Germany and more about the incoming British threat. A testament to their training, the GB eight kept their cool, held their nerve, and turned around a situation that could’ve spelled disaster for another crew. Third in the world really isn’t that bad now, is it.
The first of the women’s events down the course was the quad on Wednesday. Comprised of Emma Dabinett from Marlow, Angharad Broughton from Llandaff, Jess Read from Bedford Modern School and Ella Stanhope from Warrington, their tough heat saw them lose out to Germany by a second but keeping their A/B Semi place. Not matching the stroke rates of the other faster countries left them in the B Final, where they finished on the right side of a clear gap in the competition standard: in fourth 2 seconds off the Netherlands and 11 seconds clear of China.
The women’s’ sculling boat, the double, was formed from this year’s standout single scullers: Lauren Henry from Leicester and Olivia Morgan from Shiplake College. With a 2nd and 3rd respectively at NSR, the girls came in strong to win their heat almost 4 seconds clear of Spain in second. In the stacked field this meant they were the only crew from their heat going straight into the semi. High on the rate, their second half suffered, and they finished fourth thus coming into the B final. Despite comfortably moving through the Russians and South Africans, the girls finished fourth, just sneaking into the top 10 globally.
The women’s sweep crews started the day after the scullers with the pair kicking off GB’s Thursday at Tokyo. Similar to the men’s pair at worlds last year both rowers hail from the Aberdeen Schools Rowing Association, Megan Hewison and Abigail Topp. Finishing fifth in their heat they qualified for the repechage where they then came third, and despite a good row in an almost identical time to their heat, they missed out on an A Final space by five seconds. You can probably start to see a pattern here, as the pair of them went on to win the B Final by a clear four seconds after being in third at halfway, with the GPS showing some incredible consistency in their speed as everyone else dropped off.
The last of the GB crews in this article is the women’s four. The competition in this category was immense, and the experience of Amber Harwood and Hannah Medcalf from Kingston, combined with Phoebe Snowden from Henley and Alexandra Riddell-Webster from Godolphin & Latymer wasn’t enough to get straight through the heats. These girls had to dig deep. Their heat leaving them in the repechage gave them their extra life, and their rep was 3 seconds faster than their heat. They went out fast, second at out the blocks, and an epic battle between them and the USA formed. The Americans only broke away right at the end after jacking the rate to 42, and this left the girls as the fastest crew coming into the B Final. This they were, as they led from the very start with a great final time that would’ve placed them well in the A Final.
The World Rowing Junior Championships ended with a lot of wins in B Finals and some extremely close margins, but overall the GB squad performed exceptionally and to even say you’ve raced at worlds, and have clocked a world rowing profile, is huge. The coaching team from schools and clubs all around the country who have sacrificed precious holiday, time and resources to train and enable these crews deserves the biggest thanks of all. Next year the championships will arrive in Bled, Slovenia, and I wonder how many of these athletes will be there again.