One of the best rowing rivalries going gets off to another round on Saturday, as the reigning world champion Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic and New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale, 2012 London Olympic gold medalist. Synek has had Drysdale’s number since London, capturing three straight world titles from 2013 to 2015. With Drysdale taking the silver medal in each of the last two years, he’s definitely not out of the picture.
Other contenders are Cuba’s Angel Fournier Rodriguez and Belgium’s Hannes Obreno. Obreno, who only qualified for the Rio Games at the Final Olympic Qualifying Regatta in May managed to upset Drysdale at the Henley Royal Regatta in London in July, and has established himself as a dark-horse threat for a medal.
The U.S. did not qualify for this event in 2016.
Two-time world champion Kim Brennan of Australia headlines the field, but she will see fierce challenges from New Zealand’s Emma Twigg, the 2014 world champion, Team USA’s Gevvie Stone, and the Czech Republic’s Mirka Knapkova, who won gold at London 2012.
Strong performances this summer have propelled Stone, who is coached by her father, Gregg Stone, into the medal picture. Stone, who is making her second Olympic trip after finishing seventh in London, finished second to Brennan at the Rowing World Cup regatta in Lucerne in May.
Even as fierce rivals, friendship reigns among the competitors.
Also figuring in the women’s single are a number of athletes who did their collegiate rowing in the U.S., including Bermuda’s Shelley Pearson (Harvard-Radcliffe), Nigeria’s Chierika Ukogu (Stanford) and Bahamas' Emily Morley (Ithaca College).
The New Zealand pair of Eric Murray and Hamish Bond have not lost a race in any competition since 2009, and come into the Rio Games as overwhelming favorites to repeat their gold-medal performance from London 2012.
Behind Murray and Bond, Stewart Innes and Alan Sinclair of Great Britain and the Netherlands’ Mitchel Steenman and Roel Braas will look to contend for the podium.
The U.S. entry of Nareg Guregian and Anders Weiss were the last crew to be named to the U.S. Olympic rowing team, and have an outside shot at making the medal final.
The New Zealand combination of Zoe Stevenson and Eve McFarlane come to Rio on a hot streak, winning two consecutive world championships in this event in 2014 and 2015. Other medal contenders are Greece, with 19-year-old sensation (and indoor rowing world-record holder) Sofia Asoumanaki aboard, Germany, and Poland.
The U.S. entry of 2008 Beijing Olympian Ellen Tomek and Meghan O’Leary have been steady finalists at the world championships since 2013, and are considered an outside shot for the podium.
The dominating Croatian duo of brothers Valent and Martin Sinkovic will be tough to beat in Rio, having reeled off two straight world titles since 2013. Strongest contenders to join them on the podium are the New Zealand combination of Chris Harris and Robbie Manson, as well as the new Norway combination of Kjetil Borch and Olaf Tufte. Borch won a world title in this event in 2013, and Tufte is competing at his sixth Olympics, earning gold medals in the men’s single sculls at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.
The U.S. did not qualify for the men’s double sculls in 2016.
Traditionally one of the most unpredictable events, the lightweight men’s four will see a number of evenly matched crews vying for spots on the podium. New Zealand arrives as the favorite in Rio, having defeated the reigning world champions Switzerland in May. Perennials Denmark, France and Great Britain could all figure in the medals picture.
The U.S. entry of Anthony Fahden, Robin Prendes, Edward King and Tyler Nase captured the first World Rowing Cup medal in this event for the U.S. since 2003 in April, and are outside contenders for a spot in the final.
Another event that is too close to call is the men’s quad, with the reigning world champions from Germany rumbling through a bumpy pre-Olympic racing season in 2016. On in-season form, Australia appears to be the favorite, but will be expecting tough challenges from a field of contenders including Switzerland, Poland, and Canada.
The U.S. did not qualify for the men’s quadruple sculls in 2016.
Poland enters Rio as the favorite after capturing gold at the World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland in May. Germany, a traditional power in the event, will also figure strongly, having won world titles in 2013 and 2014.
The U.S. is a dark horse candidate for a medal in Rio, after upsetting the heavily favored Germans at the 2015 world championships. Adrienne Martelli and Megan Kalmoe return from the U.S. quad that captured the first-ever Olympic medal for the U.S. in this event at London 2012, and are joined by newcomers Grace Latz and Tracy Eisser. Eisser and Kalmoe were members of the crew that won in 2015.