With a revised schedule to beat an adverse weather forecast, racing was fast and furious on a blustery Ada Ciganlija Regatta course on day 2 of the 2023 World Rowing Championships. While some crews’ hopes of a qualification spot for Paris 2024 were dashed, four boats secured their nation’s places at next year’s Paralympic Games.

First A-Final places booked

In the PR3 Mixed Double Sculls, the relatively new British combination of Annie Caddick and Sam Murray took the race out hard against reigning world champions Elur Alberdi and Laurent Cadot of France, but the French attacked in the second half and crossed the line just in front of the British to claim a place in the final. In heat 2, it was World Best Time holders Nikki Ayers and Jed Altschwager who took the win with a clear-water victory over the rest of the field, and set a new World Championship Best Time in the process.

“It was hard, conditions were a bit unpredictable, but we just stuck to our race plan. Jed set a really good rhythm and just did all those technical things we’ve been focusing on in the lead-up to world champs. Overall a pretty good row for our first hit out: onwards and upwards for the final now,” Ayers said.

Winner takes it all

There was only one automatic semifinal place up for grabs in each heat of the women’s pairs, and Romania, Chile, the Netherlands and Australia duly took them. Chilean quadruplets Melita and Antonia Abraham won heat 2 after a superb battle down the course which Greece’s young pair led out. The other victories were more straightforward, with Australians Jessica Morrison and Annabel McIntyre in particularly looking dominant. Everyone else must go through the repechage.

“It was pretty tough conditions, but it’s nice to start a tournament off this way,” said Veronique Meester of the Netherlands.

World leaders Great Britain continue to shine

After setting a World Best Time earlier this season, Imogen Grant and Emily Craig of Great Britain are the crew to beat in the lightweight women’s double sculls. New Zealand’s Jackie Kiddle and world championship debutant Shannon Cox gave it a good effort, but Grant and Craig were stronger in the second half. Romania, the USA and Canada were the other heat winners. But Olympic silver medallists France and Olympic champions Italy will have to race the repechage, after finishing third and fifth respectively in their heats.

Romania supreme

Romania’s Ancuta Bodnar and Simona Radis have been untouchable for some time in the women’s double sculls, and they made easy work of their heat in Belgrade – posting the fastest time of the day, 6:55.41, despite being lengths ahead of their opposition. Ireland, the USA and New Zealand were the other heat winners, with the Irish duo of Zoe Hyde and Alison Bergin showing impressive composure to row into the lead from third place after the first 500m.

First berths booked for Paris 2024

The first opportunity for any boats to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic or Paralympic Games came in the heats of the PR3 mixed coxed four, which is proving to be an increasingly competitive event. In heat 1, Germany led from start to finish but were challenged hard by China in the opening stages before France pulled level and then ahead of the Chinese to take the second qualifying place for both the final and their home Paralympic Games. Great Britain, who have dominated this event for the last decade, won heat 2 but were surprisingly third at the 500m mark behind the USA and Australia before pulling ahead; the USA were second.

British coxswain Erin Kennedy said she was looking forward to the final, adding: “It’s going to be really tight. I think it’s going to be the tightest this field has ever had, particularly over the 2k (course). We’ve got the Americans, the Germans, the French, the Australians. It’s going to be a spicy final.”

Netherlands, GB and Romania win women’s fours

There were few upsets in the heats of the women’s fours, with three crews progressing from each heat. The Netherlands won heat 1, ahead of the USA and Denmark. Defending champions Great Britain secured top spot in heat 2, with Australia and Ireland – always strong in this event – second and third. Poland missed out in the four-boat heat 3, which was won by Romania over China and New Zealand.

“We did what we had to do, but it didn’t feel like our best race yet. We’re saving that for the final, hopefully. We only did one race together (before this regatta) and that was after two weeks of rowing, so we really feel like we still need to get to know each other when the pressure’s on and you need to perform,” said the Netherlands’ Roos de Jong.

USA upset Australia

The Olympic champion men’s four from Australia found themselves on the back foot in their heat, with a new-look USA combination leading through every marker. Ukraine were also in contention for the first 1000m. Reigning champions Great Britain won heat 2 more comfortably over France, and the Netherlands produced the fastest time of the day (5:59.50) as they edged out New Zealand in the final heat.

Great Britain’s Matt Aldridge said: “It was very good. We dealt with the conditions very nicely, (Oliver) Wilkes steering in the bows did a nice job, it’s quite a nasty cross-head(wind). Tick in the box and move on to the next one now.”

China back on top

China’s dominant women’s quadruple sculls crew finished off the podium at World Rowing Cup III, but were back to winning ways in Belgrade with a good win in their heat – beating Switzerland, who snatched third in Lucerne. Heat 2 was all about the Dutch; although theirs is a relatively new combination, they held off Germany for the win. Great Britain were patient in heat 3, allowing Ukraine to lead out before moving through and away, with Romania coming second.

More Dutch sculling success

The Netherlands’ men’s quadruple sculls matched their teammates’ success by winning their heat in the fastest time of the day (5:59.78). World champions Poland were pressed hard by Switzerland in heat 1, with the Swiss recovering from a small crab in the blustery conditions, but held on to cross the line first. Italy and Great Britain were the two semifinal qualifiers from heat 3.

“It was a tough race, especially the wind was strong, but our performance was good and we’re looking forward to the semifinal. We are aware that our opponents are strong, we have to be really strong to defend our title,” noted Poland’s Fabian Baranski.

Last chances for former champions

Former men’s single sculls world champion Kjetil Borch was relegated to the repechage in yesterday’s heats, but progressed safely to the quarterfinals in the repechages. Individual neutral athlete Alexander Vyazovkin, who made the A-final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, was less lucky as he was beaten by the USA’s Eliot Putnam. Uzbekistan’s Olympic silver medallist Anna Prakaten likewise won her women’s single sculls repechage. The day ended with two close races in the repechages of the men’s double sculls: Bulgaria beat Uruguay for the second qualifying spot in the first race, while Australia rowed through a fading Great Britain in repechage 2. Cuba and Czechia were the two repechage winners.