2024 European Rowing Championships, Szeged, Hungary © World Rowing / Benedict Tufnell

The European Rowing Championships travelled to Hungary for the first time this year, and with 20 nations winning medals, places booked at the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and a proposal, there was lots for rowing aficionados and casual fans alike to enjoy. Here’s the debrief.

Another step towards Paris

The Final Olympic & Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne is approaching fast. But some boats got to bypass Lucerne by qualifying for Paris in Szeged in the European Olympic & Paralympic Continental Regatta, which brought fierce racing and delighted athletes in six boat classes booking their tickets to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

For those crews hoping to get their opportunity in Lucerne, the European Rowing Championships was a chance to prove they deserve the chance. Plenty of crews that are yet to qualify for Paris won medals in Szeged, and the ‘Regatta of Death’ promises to be fiercer than ever.

The Norwegian history-makers

Norwegian rowers have won plenty of Olympic, world and European medals in Olympic boat classes over the years, but, exclusively, all the athletes involved have been men. Their outstanding PR1 women’s single sculler Birgit Skarstein, who added another European title to her list of achievements on Saturday in Szeged, is the only female rower to also have achieved international success.

Until Sunday. Earlier in the regatta, Thea Helseth and Inger Seim Kavlie had come out in the heats of the women’s double sculls and promptly stunned reigning champions Romania by pushing them into the repechage.

“We talked about it yesterday, it would be funny to push them down to the reps. Today we saw that we had the chance, so we went for it,” Kavlie said after the heat.

Although Romania’s Simona Radis promised more would come from her boat, in the final it was Norway and Lithuania who took on the race, and Helseth and Kavlie who prevailed. With less than a fortnight in the boat together, since Kavlie won bronze in the single sculls at World Rowing Cup I, there is immense potential for this combination to continue to impress. Can they match the achievements of the likes of Olaf Tufte, and stand on top of the podium in Paris?

Putting a ring on it

Most of the mixed double sculls out there are purely professional in their relationship. Partners on the water; friends, perhaps, off, but that’s all.

Not so for the Ukrainian PR3 mixed double. Stanislav Samoliuk and Darya Kotyk have rowed together for five years, when Kotyk – aged just 15 – joined the Ukrainian PR3 mixed coxed four. Samoliuk himself was only 17 at the time. The two were both in the boat through the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2021, and the following year combined into the PR3 mixed double sculls, winning bronze on their first outing at the 2022 World Rowing Championships.

In Szeged, they won bronze again behind Great Britain and Germany. Samoliuk had everything planned, having given the ring to his team manager, who was ready to produce it at the end of the victory ceremony. Samoliuk did the whole going-down-on-one-knee thing, Kotyk said yes, and the crowd went wild.

The perfect engagement present would of course be a ticket to Paris, the city of love, but the Ukrainians still have to earn that, at the Final Olympic & Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne next month.

Light as a feather?

All the talk for the first two days of the regatta was just how many underweight boats the jury had found post-racing. In total, five boats were found to be underweight and the German men’s eight was relegated to last place in the preliminary race after failing to take their signature green shell for weighing.

When boats are underweight they are relegated to last place in their race; luckily, none of the relegations actually affected progression to the next round.

To check what was going on, the scales were checked and calibrated and it was confirmed they were weighing accurately. The assumption is that the cooler, windier, wetter training days before the regatta had meant that boats which may have been slightly underweight were coming in as above the minimum, but once the sun came out on Thursday, any residual moisture evaporated and those boats were then a fraction too light.

By the finals, the problem had been solved, and no more boats were relegated.

Köszönöm (thank you!) Szeged

The Szeged National Canoeing and Rowing Olympic Centre is no stranger to big events. Canoe sprint regattas – wildly popular in Hungary – are held at the venue regularly, and in fact it will host the European Olympic Qualifier, para-canoe World Championships, and canoe sprint World Cup, in just a couple of weeks. The New Zealand canoe sprint team rocked up in Szeged on Sunday evening for their pre-competition camp, ready to take over the course when the rowers had left.

But Szeged has never hosted a senior international rowing event before. The regatta attracted plenty of crowds, drawn to watch some quality racing, with the fanzone busy throughout the weekend as local children took part in ergo competitions. Meanwhile the athletes got to chill out between races on deckchairs and beanbags just down from the finish, keeping an eye on their friends, teammates and rivals in comfort.

Conditions were a little blustery, prompting the Fairness Commission to keep an eye on the crosswind and make a number of lane changes to compensate and ensure the best possible racing. As the tailwind switched to a headwind for finals day, that meant a long slog down the course, especially for the single scullers, with the women and lightweight men taking over 8 minutes to complete the track.

But we still saw medals won on the unfavoured side of the course, with both the German men’s eight and German PR2 mixed double sculls grabbing silvers from the outside; the water remained rowable, if tricky; the weather was warm, and everyone came away full of praise for the show Szeged put on.