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Will just misses out on world medal

August 22nd, 2014

WILL and his Great Britain eight bravely battled to a highly creditable fourth at the World Junior Rowing Championships as near sinking conditions hit their medal hopes.

A brutal headwind, which turned the six-lane Hamburg course into a sea, added a full two minutes to the normal 2,000m race time in Sunday’s final.

And with lanes four to six most sheltered from the elements, producing a podium finish from lane one was always going to be a big ask for the Monmouth School rower’s crew.

Indeed, aware of the unfair conditions, the organisers stacked everything against a GB medal by reversing Sunday’s lane order to put heat winners Germany and Holland in the most protected lanes five and six, while 18-year-old Will’s boat as sixth and final qualifiers were relegated to the worst lane.

In their opening five-boat heat on Thursday, last year’s Head Boy Will at stroke had driven his crew from last at half way to overhaul France and Serbia by the 1500m mark.

But they couldn’t quite catch Holland and Italy, finishing a length off the second automatic qualifying slot, with Serbia half a length back and the French a length down.

That meant GB had to race the six-boat repechage for the last two slots in the medal race off against France, Serbia, the US, Russia and Austria, having beaten them all on the clock in the heats after setting the fourth quickest time in the opening round behind the Dutch, Italy and heat one winners Germany.

But it looked like a tall order as a slow start saw GB trailing in fifth at the 500m mark a full length down on pacesetters France and 2/3L behind second-placed America.

Will, who lives in Monmouth and was part of Monmouth School’s Championship-winning coxed four at this year’s UK National Schools’ Regatta, had pushed his crew back past Russia into fourth by half way.

But GB were still 2/3L off a coveted final place as Serbia overhauled the US to challenge the French.

Setting the rhythm, the River Wye rower kept the pressure on in the third quarter to catch America right on the 1500m mark and move third with 500m to race, but GB still had 1/2L to make up on the Serbs in second.

It was do or die now, as Will lifted the rating through the roof and GB inched back on the east Europeans with every stroke with the finish line fast approaching.

And they finally cracked them just 10 strokes from the line to grab that precious final qualifying position by half a second in five minutes 54.31 seconds with France in first 1/3L ahead, America fourth, Russia fifth and Austria sixth.

Ahead of receiving his A-Level results this week, Will then faced the test of his young sporting life in the six-boat medal race off, in a bid to match the school’s former world junior champions, Richard Rogers (1991) and Tom Lucy (2006).

The terrible conditions and lane changes did GB no favours, but despite the disadvantage, Will took the GB eight off as if their lives depended on it, hitting the first 500m mark in third 2/3L behind leaders Germany and just two feet behind the Dutch.

But as the crews hit rougher water and waves began to break over riggers and into the boat, GB suddenly found themselves in a battle for survival against the elements, as the two leaders motored away and Italy moved into a clear third, surging past the Brits to go 3/4L ahead in third by half way.

By the 1500m mark, there were effectively two separate races, with just over a length covering Germany, Holland and Italy in gold to bronze and a similar distance covering GB, Spain and France in fourth to sixth in the less favoured lanes, more than 2L behind.

And in the final run in, with water flying everywhere, the distances grew, with nearly 20 seconds finally covering the field on the line as winners Germany took a full seven minutes 39 seconds to cover the 2,000m distance, some 40 seconds behind the usual winning time for the single sculls, let alone nearly two minutes slower than GB’s opening heat time.

Holland took silver 1L back with Italy in bronze another 1 1/4L down, while Will’s boat placed fourth 11 seconds further back, 1L up on France and Spain in fifth and sixth who were split by just two hundreds of a second.

Finishing fourth a place off the medal podium was doubly disappointing given the unfair nature of the conditions, but was still a highly creditable result by Will and his crew, which matched the result of Monmouth School rower Ben Curtis on the Athens Olympic course in 2003, when similar conditions saw the race cut to a 1,000m sprint.

Things could have been different if the crew had qualified directly through their heat. But as the sixth and final qualifiers, when the weather worsened, it proved an ill wind that blew their medal hopes off course.

School coach Robin Fletcher said: “Will has had a fantastic career with us at Monmouth School rowing club and has demonstrated to our younger members of the club that competing at the highest level is achievable.” He also went on to say: ” Will has been a superb talisman of the club and worked incredibly hard to gain these rewards, he is an athlete of the highest standard and I hope this is just the start of an exciting rowing career, we wish him the best of luck.”


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