Marius Cozmiuc (b), Sergiu Bejan (s), Men's Pair, Romania, 2023 World Rowing Championships, Belgrade, Serbia © Maren Derlien / MyRowingPhoto.com

Tickets to Paris were booked by 19 nations on the first day of semifinals at the 2023 World Rowing Championships. Crews found themselves racing into a stiff headwind, but in most cases pre-event favourites were able to overcome the bounce and book themselves an Olympic Games berth and stay in medal contention.

Romania become first boat going to Paris Olympics

The Romanian women’s pair impressed in the heats and they impressed in the semifinal, leading out the first race of the day to qualify their boat for the A-final and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Behind them, Ireland rowed well to come second, and there was joy for the Chilean quadruplets Melita and Antonia Abraham, who just missed out on a Tokyo 2020 berth at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in 2021 but booked their spot with third place. In semifinal 2 the USA were third, two-time Olympic women’s eight champion Meghan Musnicki making a great comeback after some time out of the sport.

“Alie (Rusher) did an incredible job, she called an amazing race. We trusted ourselves, stuck with our plan; she kept me on point. I couldn’t be more proud of her and I’m super-excited to have qualified this boat for the US for the Olympics. It’s an amazing thing,” said Musnicki.

Boats qualified: Romania, Ireland, Chile, Australia, Netherlands, USA

Favourites and defending champions both win

The strong British crew of Tom George and Oliver Wynne-Griffith led out semifinal 1 in the men’s pair, chased by Switzerland right down the course. The USA’s young pair were delighted with third place and a Paris berth. In semifinal 2, the 2022 world champions Romania and silver medallists Spain were next to each other; while birthday boy Marius Cozmiuc and Sergiu Bejan made no mistakes to win the race, Spain found themselves out the back and were never really in contention. Instead, Ireland and South Africa booked places in the final and the Olympic Games.

Switzerland’s Andrin Gulich said: “The first goal was achieved, Olympic qualification, so it’s all good; pretty tricky conditions out there today, so the goal was just to keep it clean and be sure to get in the final. Now we have two days more of recovery and then it’s full gas on Saturday.”

Boats qualified: Great Britain, Switzerland, USA, Romania, Ireland, South Africa

Olympic medallists pushed to B-final

At least one of Olympic champions and silver medallists Italy and France will miss out on Olympic qualification in the lightweight women’s double sculls, with both relegated to the B-final where just one spot is available. Defending world champions Emily Craig and Imogen Grant of Great Britain won semifinal 1 by five seconds, despite a slowish start. In semifinal 2, four boats were in contention for the three places at the 1500m point, Ireland having rowed their way back through France and Switzerland. But that effort cost them, and they were unable to contend with the American sprint.

“In the stroke seat I just try to keep my head forward. But we like a headwind in New Zealand, so we were like ‘yep these are our conditions’, so we’re just really excited to put out a good race,” said New Zealand stroke Jackie Kiddle.

Boats qualified: Great Britain, Romania, China, Canada, New Zealand, USA

Bicep work pays off for Ireland

It’s never entirely clear when Ireland’s Paul O’Donovan is joking, so when he said that he and Fintan McCarthy had been putting in lots of work on their biceps ahead of Belgrade, it may or may not have been true. But whatever training the Olympic and world champions have done paid off, as they secured a win and another Olympic berth in the lightweight men’s double sculls. Jan Schaeuble and Raphael Ahumada of Switzerland were also dominant in semifinal 2, followed home by Italy and Spain. Meanwhile the conditions got the better of Germany, who capsized soon after halfway, but got back in their boat and paddled home to applause from the grandstands.

“It’s a lot of emotions right now, because since I started rowing it’s my dream to qualify a boat for the Olympics, and we just did it. I’m really happy with that, I’m really glad to be here,” said Ahumada.

Boats qualified: Ireland, Czechia, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, Spain

GB and Netherlands strong in women’s four, but Ireland out of final

Olympic bronze medallists Ireland are out of contention for the women’s four medals, with fifth place in semifinal 2. But reigning world champions Great Britain, world and Olympic silver medallists the Netherlands, and Olympic champions and world bronze medallists Australia all progressed. The first semifinal was significantly faster than the second, but wind conditions changed between the races and the final will show the crews’ true relative speeds.

“I’m really happy, we did a good job, but we are here for this World Championships and not for Paris. Everybody is like you have to be celebrating, and we’re like: no. We’re here for the finals,” said the Netherlands’ Marloes Oldenburg.

Boats qualified: Netherlands, Romania, Australia, Great Britain, USA, China

French four give hosts Paris berth

The French men’s four held on against the Italian sprint to secure third place in the first semifinal, giving the Paris 2024 hosts their first Olympic Games qualification spot alongside the USA and the Netherlands. Semifinal 2 saw New Zealand get off to a brilliant start, and they led out reigning world champions Great Britain by a second at 500m. However, the British stayed patient and put down the power in the third 500m to move through and take a win of nearly five seconds. Australia’s Olympic champion crew were third.

New Zealand’s Tom Murray said: “We knew there were going to be really tricky conditions going in, so it was really cool to get off the start like we did. Really happy about that, especially after a slow start in the heat. A couple of boxes ticked today, but definitely a lot more to come in the next two days.”

Boats qualified: USA, Netherlands, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia

China beaten again, Swiss make big boat history

For the second time this season China’s women’s quadruple sculls crew were beaten by World Rowing Cup III winners the Netherlands, who led their semifinal from start to finish. A young Romanian crew were ecstatic to secure the third qualifying spot, some distance back. Great Britain looked totally in control of semifinal 2, winning by six seconds ahead of Switzerland and Australia; Switzerland qualified their first ‘big boat’ for an Olympic Games. Australia stayed patient in the first 1,000m, clawing back a two-second deficit on Ukraine to beat them by three seconds at the finish.

“We are absolutely ecstatic, we probably couldn’t be happier right now. We found ourselves in fourth position early, but the crew stayed really calm and we stuck to our race plan and were able to execute our pushes where we needed them, and get ourselves into that vital third spot,” said Australia’s Caitlin Cronin.

Boats qualified: Netherlands, China, Romania, Great Britain, Switzerland, Australia

Netherlands set up showdown with Polish world champions

The two form crews in the men’s quadruple sculls, the Netherlands and Poland, won their semifinals, but the story was all about the second and third qualifying spots. In semifinal 1, Germany produced an extraordinary fourth quarter to come into contention. The German surge for the line not only took them clear of Ukraine, but almost past Italy. In semifinal 2, the pack trailed the Dutch early on, with the Swiss second and Australia third. Olympic and world silver medallists Great Britain got the better of the field to come through some distance behind Poland.

“It’s so great to see this team develop from four individuals to really get this team together and now qualify for the Olympics and go to Paris next year is more than a dream come true,” said Germany’s Tim Ole Naske.

Boats qualified: Poland, Netherlands, Germany, Netherlands, Great Britain, Switzerland

Struzina finishes a good day for Switzerland

Swiss lightweight men’s single sculler Andri Struzina made light work of the headwind to take the win in the second semifinal of the event, well up on Italy’s Niels Torres. Poland’s Artur Mikolajczewski won semifinal 1 ahead of the fast-starting Baptiste Savaete of France. Algerian Sid Ali Boudina was unable to replicate the form which took him to heat and quarterfinal wins, and finished fourth.

A-finalists: Poland, France, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary

McCrohan consolidates comeback

Before the 2023 season, the last time Siobhan McCrohan represented Ireland was in 2016. But the 36-year-old has had a superb comeback and she secured herself an A-final place with a steady, assured row that took her past the quick start of Mexico’s Kenia Lechuga in the first lightweight women’s single sculls semifinal. The USA’s Sophia Luwis took semifinal 2 after rowing past France’s Aurélie Morizot.

A-finalists: Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, USA, France, Romania