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Olympics Day 2

Olympics Day 2 Back for more today and it was the turn of the Mens K4 1000, C2 1000, Womens K1 500m and Womens K2 500m. The first part of the day was spent on the heats of all four events. To say that I would rather have had my fingernails pulled out would be an exaggeration but it wasnt easy viewing. All the heats made their way down the course and at their conclusion there were a sum total of two boats eliminated. The heats were basically a waste of time and certainly would have tested the patience of the casual observer. It is hard for the layman to grasp the concept of a qualification round in which no one is eliminated.
As far as TV spectacle goes we may be better off if this round was renamed the seeding round so it is clear that the heats are simply a reshuffling of the athletes to try to create equal strength semi finals.

 

There were some positives though, in the K4 the first place qualified direct to the final which at least showed us those crews that fancied their chances. The Hungarians it seems have made some positive advances with their crew and the Slovakians looked to be in great shape also. The nature of the qualification though meant that those who gave up hope of first drifted down in processional form.
The C2 had the same qualifying format and it was the young Germans who impressed most along with Azerbaijan who took the other automatic slot. Everyone else would contest the semis.
The womens K1 saw one of the two eliminations of this round and looks to be one of the most populated classes at this Games. As everyone who was anyone qualified there was never going to be much to see but plenty of the women took this round seriously. For Team GB, Rachael Cawthorne made the most aggressive start we have seen from her in a long time and looked every bit as good as any of the other big names, she showed that she is back to the sort of form we saw a couple of years back. The semis of this were going to be hard fought!
Womens K2 saw Japan fall to the only other elimination of the day. Another lane reshuffle and a run out for some of the crews was the only reason for this round and watching it you were very aware of that. Again though it was clear the semis were going to be very hard fought.
When the semis started, the racing finally began to resemble the type of racing we see at World Championship level, crews were missing out by the smallest of margins and most races were decided in the final 100meters. This is what our sport is about. Perhaps in future Games, if this very restricted format has to be followed, the initial rounds should take place away from the cameras so at least we can spare ourselves the embarrassment of a sport that is forced to look decidedly amateur.

The Mens K4 was first up, the heats had removed the top 2 players so 8 crews were to compete for 6 places. Only China on paper looked to have no real chance and there were several crews who could, on a bad day, take the last elimination slot. The Aussis took the race from the start and showed the World Medallist form they had last year, but behind them the race ebbed and flowed with even the mighty Germans looking vulnerable at one point. The eventual loser was Serbia but Denmark, who had showed so much promise throughout the year were the next in line for the chop and breathed a heavy sigh of relief when they scraped through. They have some serious talking to do before Thursdays final.

The Mens C2 semis illustrated the folly of the seeding round. Without everyone putting in maximum effort this round simply does not work, results are skewed by varying levels of effort by the crews. The Poles paid a very heavy price for this and despite getting a faster time than any of the crews in semi final 2 they were the ones who narrowly missed out on qualification. The racing was brutally tight and a blanket finish was always going to be harsh on one crew. Behind these 4 realistic contenders came the young crew from AUS. They performed well but I still question whether the Olympic Games is the place to be a plucky loser. The continental qualification system really needs a tweak.
In the second semi there were again 4 crews with a chance of qualifying but in the end it was Brazil who lost their spot to Cuba. The final will be a great race and it is probably only the Germans who look to be on their best form. However finals are a different story and anything goes. The only real shame is that Poland who would have added to the excitement will sit this one out while lane 9 remains empty in the final.
The Womens K1 lived up to expectations, great racing with 2 to qualify from each of the 3 semis and two fastest losers going to the final. Lane 9 will sit empty again and I dont understand what we gain from this decision.
The stand out athlete was Kozak from Hungary who not only posted the fastest time but just looked fully in control of her semi, the two fastest loser spots went to Paldanius of Sweden who always seems to crumble at the crucial time in the season, and Rikala of Finland. Although the 3rd semi was slower the race was no less impressive. Again Rachael Cawthorne impressed with her aggressive first 200 meters and to me looks in with a fighting chance of a medal (along with 7 other women). She was beaten into second place by Idem of Italy who, although old enough to be Rachaels mum, was very impressive and clearly really pleased to make the final at this, her 8th Olympic Games!

 

It is great to see Rachael back to world class form in her K1 and with a bit of luck on Thursday we will see her giving us the excitement of a potentially great result. The big loser here was the German, Wagner-Augustin whose challenge faded in the 2nd half of Rachaels semi. She was a relatively late replacement for Nicole Reinhardt who had to withdraw through illness.

The final races of the day were the womens K2 semis. Sawers and Edmonds went for Team GB which to the outside observer seems a little odd as they have consistently been the slowest of the 3 GB crews all year. We didnt actually qualify a K2 by right so the crew had to be made from 1 member of the k4 and the athlete we nominated for the host nation slot. I am sure there is plenty of debate to be had over how and why the final decision was made. Ultimately the girls raced well though but it was never going to be enough to challenge for a final place. The head to head in Semi 1 of the Germans and Hungarians was a preview of the final I think, and it was the German crew who came out on top in a photo finish. Everything to play for in the finals.

It is finals only now for the next two days and they are going to be spectacular. The best of the best are all there with very few exceptions. I hope the wind stays away and racing is fair, if it does we are in for a real display of just how spectacular this sport can be.

Tomorrows highlights will be....

Tim in his final, not the ideal lane draw and realistic hopes of a medal are slim, however this is Tim Brabants, once a winner always a winner, so who knows what he can salvage from his season? The odds are very slim but you cant forget his final performance in 2010 Worlds where, off the back of a very mediocre season, he stormed down to a silver medal and very nearly shocked everyone with a gold! Good luck to Tim!

The Mens C1 100m final. Now all the cream has come to the top this race will be one of the closest all day and will show C1 racing for what it can be. Mens K2 final, can the flare of the Hungarians take on the efficiency of the Germans? This will be a close one.

Womens K4 500m. It is impossible to forget how close we came last year to not only medalling in this event but also winning it! One year on and the crew has changed slightly due to a dip in form and things are not looking so rosy. Lane 1 draw does not help but to be fair the 500s are mainly in the shelter of the stands which reduces the negative effect. It would be great to see our girls fighting for medals but Poland, Germany, Hungary and Belarus are going to be hard to live with.

The downside of the day will be the B Finals which in the main will be fought out by a couple of very disappointed non qualifiers, a bunch of Continental token athletes and a few who dont actually want to be there in the first place. Dont blame Richard Jeffries for his predicament here, it is not a position of his choosing and it is one we all need to have a little sympathy for. Lets just hope it is not televised! Perhaps this time could be best used making a cup of tea to steady the nerves before the next A Final!


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