Claire Ghiringhelli, PR1 Women’s Single Sculls, Switzerland, 2024 World Rowing European Olympic and Paralympic Qualification Regatta, Szeged, Hungary © Maren Derlien / MyRowingPhoto.com

All of the European qualification places for the Paris 2024 Olympic & Paralympic Games are now taken, with Ukraine and Belgium both bagging two places in Sunday’s finals.

Ghiringhelli set to make Swiss history

Switzerland have never had a representative in rowing at the Paralympic Games, but 46-year-old Claire Ghiringhelli stormed to a huge win in the PR1 women’s single sculls over Sweden’s Ebba Einarsson and Denmark’s Chinette Lauridsen. An aeronautic engineer by profession, Ghiringhelli made her international debut last season, after switching allegiance from France, where she was born, to Switzerland, where her mother is from. She was unable to compete at the 2023 World Rowing Championships due to a thrombosis but has recovered to find the form she needed to become her country’s first Paralympic rower.

Ghiringhelli said: “I wanted to get out in front straight away, and then press my advantage and control the wind, there was a bit of a headwind. I’m pretty happy with my race, it was the aim and we achieved the aim. I’m very happy to have succeeded, and to have succeeded so well. It’s the first time that a Swiss Paralympic boat qualifies, so I’m super-happy for Switzerland, for para-rowing and for myself. It’s brilliant.”

Garcia Martinez throws off Belgrade disappointment

Spain’s Javier Garcia Martinez just missed out on the Paralympic Games at the 2023 World Rowing Championships, where he was eighth. But he qualified in style in Szeged, leading the field out and winning the race by more than a minute. Garcia was the youngest in the field at 27 years old, and will surely keep on improving. Like Ghiringhelli, his international debut was last season – indeed, his first race was in Belgrade at the World Rowing Championships. Tokyo 2020 Paralympian Zsolt Peto of Hungary was second.

Garcia said: “I did rowing before my accident. Now I row again, it’s an amazing sensation. I’m so very grateful.”

Klimovich, Dymchenko and Dovhodko take Paris spots

In the earlier rounds individual neutral athlete Tatsiana Klimovich, Azerbaijan’s Diana Dymchenko and Ukraine’s Yevheniia Dovhodko looked like the scullers to beat, but it was Slovenia’s Nina Kostanjsek who went out hardest. Klimovich moved through 500m and by 750m was clearly ahead of the pack, with Dymchenko moving out ahead of the rest of the field. As Kostanjsek dropped back, Dovhodko was able to consolidate third place. Kostanjsek found a bit more speed in the closing stages and sprinted through for fourth place.

Dovhodko said: “I feel very good and my emotions are very high. It was very hard and during the race I lost motivation from time to time. This is my first Olympics in this boat, and this is the first qualification for Ukraine in the single scull. I am very happy.”

Paris beckons for Pimenov, Vasilev and Brys

Serbia’s Nikolaj Pimenov and Bulgaria’s Kristian Vasilev came the closest of the field to qualifying for Paris at last year’s World Rowing Championships. Pimenov was the early leader in the men’s single sculls final in Szeged, leading out ahead of Belgium’s Tim Brys and Vasilev. The young Slovenian Isak Zvegelj was also not out of the picture as the leaders came through 1000m, but Brys was keeping pressure on Vasilev and those two were moving out a little ahead of Zvegelj. That was enough to secure Pimenov, Vasilev and Brys the qualification spots. Zvegelj was fourth, and Hungary’s hero Bendeguz Petervari-Molnar finished fifth.

Pimenov said: “I just got my Olympic qualifying spot, I’m so happy for it. I made so much work this year and last year, I changed too much. It was a crazy change in my life, and I think today I deserve this.”

Vasilev said: “I came here prepared, and my mind was focused only on winning. I know that my toughest opponent is going to be Nikolaj Pimenov, but the main goal was to be in the top three so I can qualify for Paris. Physically it was tough because of the conditions today, the cross-headwind, but the most difficult thing was my mind.”

Brys said: “I had only three years after Tokyo to make the switch from lightweight to heavyweight, so it was a short time, especially when you normally have four years. I had to gain a lot, eat a lot, hit the gym. Now especially with the headwind and against those big guys to qualify in those conditions is amazing.”

Poland and Austria seal LW2x places

The lightweight women’s double sculls final was all about Poland and Austria, who were fastest out of the blocks and had soon established a decent lead ahead of the rest of the field. That lead continued to stretch out and remained the order to the end of the race, with these two boats booking their places in Paris. It will be a debut Olympic Games for both Martyna Radosz of Poland and Lara Tiefenthaler of Austria, with their partners Katarzyna Welna and Louisa Altenhuber having competed in Tokyo.

Welna said: “We’re going to the Olympics, so we are very happy. It was our dream, and we did it. The wind was very hard and it was very hard for us, but it was a good race for us. We did everything perfect.”

Altenhuber said: “The conditions were really quite tough, because the wind makes the race longer. We had really good winter training, so we had a solid endurance base, but the last weeks were really difficult for us because Lara was sick two times so we weren’t quite sure how we would manage if the race gets longer, but we did good. I’m so relieved, I can’t even describe it.”

Belgian strength gives them a place alongside Ukraine

Ukraine’s Igor Khmara and Stanislav Kovalov return to the Olympic Games after dominating the lightweight men’s double sculls final from the start. Even though they slowed in the second half, the lead of almost 5 seconds at the halfway mark was enough to secure them qualification. Behind them, there was a great race for the second qualifying spot. Poland were in second at 500m, but Austria had taken that place by 1000m. At that point Belgians Niels van Zandweghe and Tibo Vyvey put on a burst and moved up from fourth to second by 1500m, a position they managed to cling on to despite pressure from Poland and Portugal.

Kovalov said: “The last qualification for Tokyo was my dream, now it is my goal. The race is very hard. We had to do it together.”

Van Zandweghe said: “For both of us it was an extremely long and hard way here, we both had to overcome incredible upsets, and we really grew together as a team. Four weeks ago neither one of thought we could do it, but it shows that when you work together as a team and you talk together you can overcome anything.”