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Great Britain was the birthplace of rowing as a competitive sport, with the Oxford versus Cambridge University boat race having started in 1829. And 184 years later, the island nation remains the ‘one to beat’ at regattas.
After topping the medals table at the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Brits showed that their new-look team could continue that success in 2013.
At the World Rowing Championships in Chungju, Korea, between 25 August and 1 September, the British women's pair of Helen Glover and Polly Swann capped off an unbeaten season with a world championship title. “After the London Olympics, there are definitely more Brits watching with expectation, which is a lot of pressure, but a huge amount of support comes with it,” said Glover. “I don't think that’s a bad thing, we have shown some good speed and put ourselves in front as the ‘ones to beat’.”
The British men's eight became world champions for the first time after a season that included disappointment at the final World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland, where they finished outside the medals. Will Satch, one of the successful eight, told rio2016.com: “As it was a post-Olympic year, I think Great Britain’s overall performance was very impressive. All our boats except two made the top 12, and all the boats made the A finals. The stats show that we are still a very strong nation and I think we’re capable of very promising things in the future. Rio 2016 is at the top of my priority list.”
The United States continued their dominance in the women's eight. Having won every world championship and Olympic Games since 2006, they were the only boat to set a world record at the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne.
Another star of 2013 was Australia’s Kim Crow. She started the season by winning the women's single sculls at the first World Rowing Cup, on home soil in Sydney. The 28-year-old went on to win every race she entered in 2013, culminating in her first world championship title.
The world championships in Korea showed that Asia is making great progress in rowing. The largest ever crowds saw the most nations ever to compete – 73 in total, including five for the first time.
Also setting records were New Zealand’s Eric Murray and Hamish Bond in the men's pair. At Chungju, the duo scored their 16th consecutive international win, breaking the record held by Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus. However, Karsten, who has competed in six Olympic Games and won medals at five, showed no signs of slowing down at 41 years old. She took bronze in the women's double sculls, along with Yuliya Bichyk.
The men’s double spawned the iconic photo of the championships when Norway’s Nils Jakob Hoff stood up in the boat and made a Viking salute to celebrate victory. Norway also secured the top place in the lightweight men’s double sculls.
The men's single sculls had early-round drama when Olympic and world champion, Mahé Drysdale of New Zealand was knocked out. Olympic silver medallist Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic topped off an unbeaten season with gold. In second place, Cuba scored their first ever world championship medal with Angel Fournier Rodriguez earning silver.
At the London 2012 Games, Great Britain made the most of home advantage, topping the medal table with four gold, two silver and three bronze. The haul began when Glover and Heather Stanning triumphed in the women’s pair. They were the first British women to win an Olympic rowing title and were also the first British athletes to win gold at the London 2012 Games, ending a nervous five-day wait.
Their success was followed by British victories in the women’s double sculls and women’s lightweight double sculls, while Great Britain’s men continued their dominance of the coxless fours, taking gold for the fourth consecutive Olympic Games.
Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins’ victory in the women’s doubles sculls was one of the most emotional success stories for the host nation, a tale of never giving up. Grainger, 36, came into the Games as one of Britain’s greatest rowers, but despite competing in Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, she had never managed to clinch a gold medal, taking three silvers.
Satch, who took bronze with George Nash in the pair, said: “Competing at an Olympics at home was extremely exciting and emotional. As I’ve developed it’s usually been the same old faces coming to watch – my coach, my mum, my dog – and all of a sudden you’re in a stadium of 80,000 people! It was an out of this world experience and I loved every second of it.”
New Zealand came second in the medal table, with three gold medals and two bronze. Drysdale – a five-times world champion – won gold in the men’s single sculls, while Eric Murray and Hamish Bond took top honours in the pair, breaking the world record along the way.
Germany, the only country to enter boats in all 14 classes, were third in the medal table with two golds and one silver,while Denmark, the Czech Republic, the United States, South Africa and Ukraine all claimed one gold medal each.
But one of the biggest stars of the London 2012 regatta did not win anything – apart from the hearts of the spectators who packed the stands at Eton Dorney. Nigeria’s Hamadou Djibo Issaka was roared home every time he raced, despite being well over a minute slower than the rest of the men’s single sculls field.
Special thanks to the International Rowing Federation (FISA) for their help with this article.