Hedvig Laerke Rasmussen (b), Fie Udby Erichsen (s), Women's Pair, Denmark, 2024 World Rowing Final Olympic & Paralympic Qualification Regatta, Lucerne, Switzerland © World Rowing / Benedict Tufnell

A few weeks ago, the Rotsee in Lucerne was the stage for crews from around the world to secure the last remaining places at the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Qualifying required the successful athletes to produce a perfect performance – and then get ready to do that again in two months’ time.

“We knew there was a lot at stake in Lucerne. We knew we wanted it, but it’s true that it was a stage we had to get past,” admits France’s Claire Bove, who with her lightweight women’s double sculls partner Laura Tarantola still have a chance to improve on the silver medal they won in Tokyo.

But just how should crews reset, now they know a place at the Olympics is guaranteed?

“We had a week off,” says Hedvig Rasmussen, half of the Danish women’s pair, who raced in Poznan and picked up bronze. “It was really good to get our minds off rowing and preparing ourselves for the big block that we’re now in.”

Rasmussen and her pairs partner Fie Udby Erichsen are no strangers to the process they are currently in. They qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in 2021, going on to finish eighth overall. Paris will be Erichsen’s fourth Olympic Games, and, incredibly, she has gone through the last chance regatta route each time, winning women’s single sculls silver in 2012.

The key lesson Erichsen has learned, she says, is: “That you have to relax afterwards. You can’t keep on going, because then you can’t do well at the Olympics.”

“It was really tough coming back to training. But it gets better, and now I’m kind of looking forward to Paris,” adds Rasmussen.

Qualifying can help with that motivation. Back in 2021 the New Zealand men’s eight came through final qualification to ultimately win a superb, surprise gold medal on the Sea Forest Waterway. Matt Macdonald, who stroked the Olympic champion eight and is now stroking the New Zealand men’s four, says the crew were aware they would need to peak twice back in 2021.

“We were sort of aware of that, so we didn’t completely peak for the last chance, which in itself was a bit of a gamble but we were confident that we could do it that way,” Macdonald explains.

After qualifying, the Kiwis went home “super hungry for more and just trained up a storm before Tokyo”, Macdonald adds.

His crewmate – then and now – Tom Murray agrees that making it through final qualification got the boat in the right mindset for what was to come.

“There’s not a lot of time to dwell on it between last chance regatta and the Olympics, so it gets you in that mindset early and then it’s just a matter of holding on for a few months. It feels like it’s primed you well for the Olympics,” Murray says. “Looking back for us it was definitely a help more than it was a hindrance because of the mindset it gave us, that sense of urgency it gave us.”

It is of course down to individual coaches to get the taper right for their teams – do too much, and you end up with an exhausted crew at risk of injury. Do too little, and you risk not being ready in time.

This year’s crews have it slightly easier than those which qualified in 2021, because they do not have the additional challenge of Covid-19 to deal with. The Kiwis had to spend two weeks erging in quarantine before they could get back on the water.

“It came down to our scientists and our coaches to get that taper right with the timings, and they did an incredible job. As you could see it was a matter of on the day. They nailed that and we had to trust in that,” Murray explains.

But there is a lot to be said too about mindset and the power of positivity in the weeks this group of boats have left. Bove and Tarantola are full of buoyant excitement about what they describe as a “new chapter” in their story.

“We didn’t experiment, we did it, and it’s fun to try new things,” Bove says, with Tarantola adding: “It’s different. It’s a new adventure, we’re resetting everything to zero and we move on like that.”

Julie Poulsen, stroke of the Danish women’s four who, alongside the pair and the Danish eight, also came through the last chance regatta in May, says looking for more speed within the constraints of not being able to change the personnel within the crew which qualified is the next challenge.

“We just swapped around in the boat and there’s been so much potential that we haven’t seen before this year. We’re just very excited every time we go out. I feel we’re just gaining every day lately,” Poulsen says.

She adds that the atmosphere in the Danish camp has been euphoric.

“Since Lucerne all of us have just been so happy. We’ve qualified so many women and it’s been amazing being at training every day. We’re just trying to enjoy it all,” Poulsen says.

Erichsen’s experience about how to manage the nerves has been important for Denmark.

“There are only three girls that are not debutants, so it’s really weird having this big team with only three of us having attended before,” she says. “Everybody is really excited, and we’re trying to keep it grounded and keep the focus where we want it to be, but it is difficult. A lot of unanswered questions, but it’s amazing and we’re really enjoying it.”

Those questions will be answered in Paris next month, where we will find out if any of this year’s last-chance qualifiers can repeat the feat of the Kiwi eight and walk away with the top prize at the biggest regatta.