2023 World Rowing Championships, Belgrade, Serbia © World Rowing/Benedict Tufnell

Belgrade turned on its best weather for the last A-final session at the 2023 World Rowing Championships, with hot sun beating down on a calm Ada Ciganlija Regatta course. After intense B-finals it was time for the last eight medal races, with all but one world champion retaining their 2022 titles. The Netherlands topped the medal table with six golds and three silvers; Great Britain won the same number of golds, plus one silver and two bronze medals.

Podium places for Polianskyi, Perini and Pritchard

Result: Ukraine, Italy, Great Britain

Boats qualified for Paris: Italy, Ukraine, Israel, Great Britain, Germany, Australia, Uzbekistan

Although former world champion and Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games silver medallist Erik Horrie of Australia withdrew from the PR1 men’s single sculls A-final for medical reasons, the field of five scullers contesting the medals remained incredibly strong.

It was Israel’s Shmuel Daniel, the only one of the five to have never won an international medal, who took out the racing from lane 1. But Ukraine’s Roman Polianskyi was in his rhythm by 500m and began to stretch out a lead over the field, as last year’s silver and bronze medallists Giacomo Perini of Italy and Benjamin Pritchard of Great Britain also chased Daniel down.

By halfway, Polianskyi had established a clear-water lead, and he had done enough to claim another victory. Perini had stretched ahead of Pritchard, who in turn was clear of Daniel, and this was the way the medals remained. Polianskyi set a World Championship Best Time of 8:59.60.

“It’s difficult to train due to the war. We have alarm systems that never stop, and I’m not getting enough sleep. I feel grateful for this win, that I was able to achieve a good result,” said Polianskyi.

As in the previous rounds, France’s Alexis Sanchez shot out of the blocks in the B-final – but this time he held his lead for much longer, tracked closely by Uzbekistan’s Egamberdiev Kholmurod. Just before halfway Kholmurod’s higher stroke rate took him through Sanchez. A late challenge by Spain’s Javier Garcia almost took him through, but Kholmurod responded to secure the win.

Skarstein’s love for rowing takes her to gold

Result: Norway, France, Ukraine

Boats qualified for Paris: Israel, Norway, France, China, Ukraine, Germany, Brazil

Norway’s Birgit Skarstein has been absolutely dominant in the PR1 women’s single sculls for years, but her competitors are pushing hard and the final was a cracker. While Skarstein led out, Israel’s Moran Samuel chased her – but the other scullers did not let off the pressure.

Very little separated the field at halfway, and it was there that last year’s silver and bronze medallists Nathalie Benoît (France) and Anna Sheremet (Ukraine) started to move, bringing their bows in contact with Skarstein’s stern.

Skarstein called on all her experience and was able to hold on for the win, with Benoît second and Sheremet third – as in 2022. Samuel, fading at the end of the race, was fourth.

“This is not only the end of this season, it’s the start of the journey to Paris, with four boats and seven athletes. I’ve been to two summer Paralympics, and I know how much dedication and hard work and emotions that’s in it. I’m a little scared because I know it’s going to take it all from all of us, but I’m just so deeply in love with this journey,” a tearful Skarstein said afterwards.

Brazilian Claudia Cicero Sabino took out the B-final, but Eva Mol of the Netherlands was not letting her get away and there was nothing in it at halfway. Cicero Sabino found a bit extra in the third 500m to take her clear of Mol, and she secured a win by over four seconds.

Clinical Dutch blow away Sinkovics

Result: Netherlands, Croatia, Ireland

Boats qualified for Paris: Netherlands, Italy, China, Croatia, Ireland, Spain, Romania, Germany, Norway, France, New Zealand

Melvin Twellaar and Stef Broenink said earlier in the regatta they would build through and become stronger, and they made good on that promise with a fairly flawless final in the men’s double sculls. They had their bows in front at 500m and were able to keep extending the lead, initially over 2022 silver medallists Spain but then over former world and Olympic champions Martin and Valent Sinkovic of Croatia, who moved up into second after halfway.

Ireland’s Daire Lynch and Philip Doyle had a poor start, but their second-half speed matched the Dutch and got them into a solid bronze-medal position, behind the Sinkovics and ahead of Italy. That was how the positions remained; Martin Sinkovic reflected afterward it was the first time the brothers had been on a world championship podium since 2019.

Broenink said: “After Lucerne we had some pressure riding on us, and especially yesterday we were seeing all the Dutch crews win medals. It was also crews we were beating in training, so we were really pushing to get this result.”

With five qualifying spots for Paris available in the double sculls, the key was not to come last in the B-final. Moldova made a brave start to the race, leading early on, but they were the ones to fade and finish last, out of the running. Romania’s Florin Arteni and Ciprian Tudosa took the win, with Germany, Norway, France and New Zealand also qualifying.

Bodnar and Radis remain supreme

Result: Romania, Lithuania, USA

Boats qualified for Paris: USA, Ireland, France, Romania, Lithuania, New Zealand, Italy, Australia, Norway, China, Netherlands

Romania’s Ancuta Bodnar and Simona Radis continued their unbroken run of victories in the women’s double sculls, but were made to work for the win as the rest of the field raced hard behind them for the minor medals.

The immensely experienced Donata Karaliene and her young partner Dovile Rimkute of Lithuania sat in second place down the track, just a length or so down on the Romanians and never letting them ease up on the pressure.

France and New Zealand both had great starts from the outside lanes, but in the middle 1000m it was the USA’s Kristina Wagner and Sophia Vitas who came into the picture. Their sprint almost got them past Lithuania, but took them away from Ireland in fourth.

“This was the hardest race for me. It was really difficult. We had a hard year, but we made it today, together. We are so proud and thankful for this great result,” said Radis.

Another close race saw South Africa edged out of the Olympic qualification place. The South Africans led to halfway but the rest of the field powered back through in the second 1000m. Italian lightweights Stefania Buttignon and Silvia Crosio took the win from lane 1, 0.05 seconds ahead of Australia and 0.07 seconds over Norway, who qualify their first women’s boat for an Olympic Games since 1996.

Romania retain eights title in style

Result: Romania, Australia, USA

Boats qualified for Paris: Romania, Australia, USA, Great Britain, Canada

Australia had an amazing start in the women’s eights final, taking a lead of about half a length early on with the chasing pack all close behind led by the high-rating Romanians. At halfway, there was still less than three seconds separating the six crews, with Olympic qualification on the line and the crew finishing last knowing they would not be heading directly to Paris.

In the third quarter Great Britain, Canada and the USA were all in a line for third place while Romania had closed right up on Australia to take a marginal lead. It would all come down to the last 500m.

Into the closing quarter Romania piled on the power; the USA were closing on Australia and moving away from Great Britain. Italy were out of the picture and Paris qualification. On the line, Romania took the win, with the USA coming through for second, and Australia hanging on to third. Great Britain and Canada also qualify for Paris, with Italy missing out.

“ It was one of the best races that we’ve made in the eight. I’m really grateful for this result. We knew that the second part of the race would be ours,” said Romanian six-seat Maria Tivodariu.

Zeidler powers to consecutive world title

Result: Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand

Boats qualified for Paris: Germany, Greece, Croatia, Netherlands, Denmark, New Zealand, Japan, Lithuania

This was reigning champion Oliver Zeidler’s race to lose, the conditions perfect for the big German’s style. Behind him, the equally tall Simon van Dorp of the Netherlands tried to put the pressure on early, but could not make much of a dent in Zeidler’s early lead.

Zeidler went through 1000m under World Best Time pace, but was controlling the race from the front in the third quarter.

Behind him, Thomas Mackintosh of New Zealand was threatening van Dorp’s silver medal, but the Dutchman raised his pace. And then in the last metres Greek Olympic champion Stefanos Ntouskos threw in a sprint that almost took bronze from Mackintosh.

The minor medals are even more impressive given that van Dorp and Mackintosh both got into the single fairly recently – van Dorp moving from the men’s quadruple sculls, and Mackintosh returning after a break following his Tokyo 2020 gold medal in the men’s eight.

“It was a very fast race, especially the first 1000. I really had to work for it because the others were tracking me. It was tight, the last 15 strokes were very tough, but in the end it worked out well,” said Zeidler, after some time spent with ice packs stuffed down his racing suit.

Serbia’s Nikolaj Pimenov led out the B-final, with a quality field on his heels. Pimenov was first through the 1500m marker, but in the closing sprint he faded badly and collapsed just before the line to finish sixth. Individual Neutral Athlete Yauheni Zalaty won the B-final to finish seventh overall, with Japan’s Ryuta Arakawa second and Lithuanian Dovydas Nemeravicius seizing third on the line.

Florijn, Twigg and Rigney bond on single sculls podium

Result: Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia

Boats qualified for Paris: Netherlands, New Zealand, Bulgaria, USA, Australia, Lithuania, Austria, Germany, Serbia

It was another repeat podium in the women’s single sculls, with Karolien Florijn retaining her title for the Netherlands over New Zealand’s Emma Twigg and Australian Tara Rigney, as in 2022.

Florijn was again dominant from the buzzer. Rigney was second to the first 500m, before Twigg moved up into the silver medal position she would retain for the rest of the race. Rigney found herself under some pressure from the USA’s Kara Kohler in the middle 1000m, but was able to hold off the tall American for bronze.

The three women embraced each other on landing, and Twigg said they all had a strong bond especially after spending time together at the Philadelphia Gold Cup regatta.

“This is what you put all your hours in, and where you put your life into. When you win it’s really great,” said Florijn.

Austria’s Magdalena Lobnig won bronze at Tokyo 2020 in the women’s single sculls, but has been focusing on the double with her sister Katharina this season. Katharina fell ill just before Belgrade, forcing Magdalena back into the single. A confident B-final performance ensured Austria have a boat going to Paris 2024 in this event; Germany’s Alexandra Foester rowed into second from fourth at 1500m to also qualify, while on her 31st birthday Serbian Jovana Arsic was third.

Britain make it an eights clean sweep

Result: Great Britain, Netherlands, Australia

Boats qualified for Paris: Great Britain, Netherlands, Australia, Romania, Germany

The regatta ended with the traditional fast and furious sight of six top men’s eights powering down the course. And with all capable of challenging for the medals, and a place in Paris at stakes, there was yet another fantastic race to finish things off.

Australia had beaten Great Britain at World Cup III and they carried that confidence into the final, with the two boats exchanging the lead in the first half of the course and Germany sitting in bronze medal position.

In the third quarter the defending champions turned on the after-burners and took a two-second lead that gave the rest of the pack just too much to do to catch up. As Germany faded, the Netherlands charged, coming back on Great Britain towards the line and taking silver from Australia.

Romania were able to pull past Germany for fourth, but the USA were the crew who had been left behind and failed to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Notably, Great Britain have won the men’s eights title at all three of the junior, under-23 and senior World Rowing Championships this season.

“It’s great to win a world championship but the goal is the Olympic Games and we’ve got to get the boat to the start line first. To have got that qualification and a win today is amazing. I remember in 2019 we got a bronze medal and we were scrapping for qualification. It’s amazing to have moved on from there and be out the front this time,” said British seven-seat James Rudkin.