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Kiwi rowers on the pace in Brandenburg

Kiwi rowers on the pace in Brandenburg as Under-23 World Championships kick off

The first day of the World Under-23 rowing championships provided a familiar story for New Zealand’s team.

There were wins for the Graham Oberlin-Brown and Joseph Sullivan in single sculls and great rows by the men’s four, women’s four and women’s quad as they progressed to semi finals– but the picture for the men’s eight was less rosy, with a tough race against three eights that would make impressive Olympic candidates forcing them into the repechage.

Heat two of the Men’s Lightweight Single Scull was all about New Zealand’s Graham Oberlin-Brown. Oberlin-Brown has an Under-23 gold medal from the Lightweight Double and last year he was part of his country’s duo that tried to qualify the double for the Olympic Games. Oberlin-Brown was unsuccessful and is now back in the single. Today he showed what experience can do looking powerful and in control. Austria sat in second but Oberlin-Brown’s lead was formidable. The young man from Te Awamutu advanced directly to the semi final.

Reigning Under-23 World Champion Joseph Sullivan of New Zealand raced in heat five and showed that he has retained his 2007 form. The feisty Sullivan – always a Big Day racer - got out to a comfortable lead over Japan and continued to increase this down the 2000m course. A confident Joseph pleased the crowd by pulling out 20 strong strokes as he came into the line and into the quarter final.

The men’s four – an event in which New Zealand has a fine reputation at all levels - had three heats with the top two boats in each heat moving on directly to the semi-final on Saturday. In New Zealand’s heat Romania made a swift start to lead, chased by the kiwis. New Zealand, who won silver in 2007, stayed close but it was the Romanians who were able to retain control after their quick start. Nevertheless, New Zealand progressed directly to the semi-final.

The Women’s Four bounced back from an average start in their clash with Eastern and Central European crews which left them in third. Undaunted, they set about securing the second place required to see them make the semi final directly and they did this with a powerful second 500 metres that saw them row through one of the fancied crews from Croatia. Not only that, but they moved away from crews from Russia, Belarusia and Slovenia and continued to show pace throughout the race as the Croatians kept them honest. The gap to Romania at the close was about a second – proving the girls are on the pace and looking good.

It was a similar story in the Women’s Quadruple Sculls, where New Zealand lined up against string crews from Russia, Italy and Germany in heat two. Knowing a place directly in the final was at stake New Zealand charged out in front with Germany closely on its tail. By the half-way mark New Zealand and Germany were level, but Germany began to increase its slight advantage. With 500m left to row, Germany had clear water separating them from the rest of the field and Italy’s quad was challenging New Zealand. The kiwis held on though. Germany moved directly to the final, earning two days of rest, while New Zealand – along with Italy and Russia – will line up in tomorrow’s repechages – where a top four finish will see them progress to the final.

In the Eights – the young New Zealand crew faced a heat worthy of final status.  The race included current under-23 World Champions, Estonia, with only two changes to their crew from last year. Then there was Canada, winners of the Grand Challenge at Henley Royal Regatta recently, and the USA – rumoured to be unbeaten in America. The Italians – not rowing slouches either – also lined up for the first heat.

New Zealand quickly established fourth place ahead of Italy – and stayed there. This wasn’t enough to put them straight into the semi final, but they will line up in one of the favoured lanes in the rep.

The race was all about the Americans. Canada led initially, but the USA steadily moved up, and by the half-way mark had overtaken Canada. Estonia, who drew level with Canada, gradually began to lose ground, but clung on firmly to third. The USA kept on increasing their lead in a powerful row, crossing the line a full length ahead of Canada. The USA, Canada and Estonia move on to the semi final.



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