The Rio 2016 Paralympic para-rowing regatta opened with heats in the four boat classes. Racing on the same course as the Rio Olympic Rowing Regatta, the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, the athletes enjoyed virtually flat water with just a hint of a cross wind and cloudy and wet skies.
New Paralympic Best Times were set as well as one World Best Time as para-rowers aimed to finish first for a direct path to the final.
Para Women’s Single Sculls (ASW1x) – Heats
The first place in each of the two heats would get to go directly to the final on Sunday and in Heat One the reigning World Champion, Moran Samuel of Israel got away the quickest with Lili Wang of China in hot pursuit. Then Wang got the edge over Samuel and held it to the end. Using a 35 stroke rate pace Wang became the qualifier by less than half a second. Wang’s time of 5:21.04 was a new Paralympic Best Time.
The 2015 silver medallist Rachel Morris of Great Britain had the quickest start in Heat Two. It was such a good start that she had more than a boat length lead within the first 250m of the race. Brazil’s Claudia Santos was the closest challenger. By the half way point Morris, who won gold at World Rowing Cup III in June this year, had an open water lead. The race then turned into a procession with Morris crossing the line easily in first. Morris, who holds the current World Best Time, finished over ten seconds slower than Wang.
Qualifiers: CHN, GBR
Para Men’s Single Sculls (ASM1x) – Heats
Roman Polianskyi of Ukraine was the first to show in Heat One. Polianskyi was chosen for these Games over Igor Bondar who won at World Rowing Cup III in June. Polianskyi was second. By the middle of the race Polianskyi had a solid lead over Cheng Huang of China who is the reigning Paralympic Champion. Polianskyi continued to extend his lead and at the line he had set an new Paralympic Best Time. The new time is 4:44.70.
The reigning World Champion, Erik Horrie of Australia led the way in Heat Two. Horrie has been the most consistent leader of this boat class in recent years and he comes to Rio with a silver medal from the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The 2008 Paralympic Champion, Tom Aggar of Great Britain was in second and chasing hard. These two boats when through the middle of the race with Horrie just ahead of Aggar and both far ahead of the rest of the field. Horrie crossed the line in first, just a second slower than Polianskyi in heat one. Horrie goes directly to Sunday’s final.
Qualifiers: UKR, AUS
Para Mixed Double Sculls (TAMix2x) – Heats
Winners of World Rowing Cup III, Perle Bouge and Stephane Tardieu of France are one of the most long term and consistent duos in para-rowing. They led Heat One at the start staying just ahead of a very strong tussle going on between Brazil and the Netherlands. This tussle remained through the middle of the race and with Brazil’s Josiane Lima and Michel Pessanha in the mix, it really got the crowd going. Bouge and Tardieu hung on to the lead and even managed to get a slight edge over the chasing competition.
Right from the start Lauren Rowles and Laurence Whiteley of Great Britain stamped their name on Heat Two. This pushed the reigning World Champions, Australia, into third with China following in second. Rowles and Whiteley finished second at last year’s World Rowing Championships and they used this race to move away from their competition through the middle of the race. But then China, Australia and Ukraine all started coming back on the leading Frence. At the line Rowles and Whiteley had held on to first with the push from the chasing crews earning them a new Paralympic Best Time and a new World Best Time. The broke the old record (from London) by two seconds setting the new standard at 3:52.16. The duo also gets to go directly to the final.
Qualifiers: FRA, GBR
Para Mixed Coxed Four (LTAMix4+) – Heats
Sitting in the middle lane of Heat One was the World and Paralympic Champions, Great Britain. It was not a big surprise, then, to see the British take off with the quickest start and then break away from the rest of the field. This saw the crews of China, Australia, South Africa and Italy all reasonably equal through the middle of the race before China was able to get an edge. The Chinese edge helped them move closer to Great Britain, but the British were too fast to be caught. Great Britain had qualified directly for the final on Sunday.
Leading from start to finish in Heat Two was the United States. This crew managed to break away at the start and stay ahead leaving Canada and Ukraine in a close first-half battle. Then Canada managed to shake off Ukraine, but they were never able to catch the United States. Canada won gold at World Rowing Cup III in June and they will be disappointed to be going through the repechage. At the finish the United States had recorded the fastest qualifying time.
Qualifiers: GBR, USA