2023 World Rowing Indoor Championships, Mississauga, Toronto, Canada
2023 World Rowing Indoor Championships, Mississauga, Toronto, Canada

On Day 2 of the 2023 World Rowing Indoor Championships presented by Concept 2, more World Records were broken, the favourites didn’t disappoint, and the Versa challenges created an electric atmosphere at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga, Toronto, Canada. Here are the highlights of an action-packed final day at the WRICH.

Zeidler goes supersonic. One could believe that, after being defeated on home soil at the 2022 European Rowing Championships last year, Olli Zeidler has decided to come back with a vengeance. The reigning World Rowing Champion in the men’s single sculls was back at the World Rowing Indoor Championships – his last participation was in 2019 – and he dominated the race with a supersonic time of 5:37.3, setting a personal best. With the whole arena standing up to acknowledge the performance, Zeidler broke a big smile and took a photo of his monitor. I’m pretty sure I’ve done it at home before, he smiled. But it was fun to do it here and in front of the grandstands.

Zeidler wasn’t the only one going sub 5:40 yesterday. The other favourite of the race and reigning World Champion, Ward Lemmelijn of Belgium, ended up with a silver medal with a personal best time of 5:39.7, which puts him in the ‘sub 5:40 club’. This is the first time ever two athletes went below 5:40 at the World Rowing Indoor Championships. Jakub Podrazil of the Czech Republic went on to win the bronze medal.

Buryak, again and again. She said before the event that she didn’t had any specific expectations. She wasn’t even sure she was going to be able to race. But can we ever be surprised to see Olena Buryak winning an indoor rowing race? Yesterday, she comfortably won the 500m race. Today, she had to face two Olympic gold medallists, racing in front of their home crowd. But neither Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski, nor Sydney Payne, could challenge the “Queen of the Erg”, who added another World Rowing Indoor Championship title to her impressive resumé. Racing in front of coaches and teammates, and proudly wearing a Ukrainian flag around her shoulders, Olena was simply delighted after her race. “It was fun, although I wished I could have raced in front of spectators, said Buryak. I had only one number in mind – a 1:40 pace, I knew I had that in me, and I did it”.

Behind her, to the delight of the local crowd, the two teammates from Canada won silver and bronze.  I think we both felt the nerves today, and it was really nice to feel that again. Our old teammate used to say “pressure is a privilege” all the time and I think that’s really resonating with us at this point in the season” said Gruchalla-Wesierski.

Bullseye for the Versa Challenge. The first-ever Versa Challenge came to an end today, with the athletes having to complete three different challenges, in addition to one yesterday, to try and become the first-ever World Rowing Versa Challenge winners. Today, the rowers had to use different skills – teamwork for Pentagon, and consistency for Key Speed. But it really was the last challenge, Bullseye, that made the difference. Using Concept2’s Target Training feature, competitors had to progress through five 1-minute challenge ergs, and the first competitor to finish all 5 challenge ergs and hit their buzzer was named the challenge winner.

Joel Naukkarinen and Elisabeth Gilmore, the first ever World Rowing Versa Challenge winners.

In an electric atmosphere in the arena, Joel Naukkarinen of Finland managed to hold on the lead he built throughout the two days of competition. On the women’s side, the competition was really tight between Anna Muehle of Germany, and Elizabeth Gilmore of the USA and Charlotte Dixon of Great Britain. But Gilmore finished with the best result in the last event, which helped her capturing the title. Naukkarien and Gilmore are the first-ever World Rowing Versa Challenge champions.

Another World Record broken. In the second race of the day, the sixth World Record of the Championships was broken by Susan Gehrke of the USA, in the Lightweight Women’s 70-74 age group, 500m. She went more than a second faster than the previous record, and although competing from her local gym, she pointed multiple times at her monitor, to express her happiness.

Benko does it again. The honourific title of “most impressive athlete competing in-person at the 2023 WRICH” goes undoubtedly to Andrew Benko of the United States. After winning in dominating fashion the Men 55-59 2000m yesterday – breaking his own World Record – he did it again today, winning the 500m race by 0.3 seconds.

The 2024 World Rowing Indoor Championships will take place in Prague, Czech Republic.