The international season kicked off in fine style for Leander athletes last weekend, when the major events in Serbia and Belgium brought yet more gold medal success.
Twenty three of the club’s athletes returned with medals from the first World Cup regatta of the season, staged in Belgrade, where Great Britain topped the medal table with gold in eleven different events.
Leander’s Karen Bennett and Holly Norton confirmed their premier position in the women’s pairs after their win at GB trials. In Sunday’s final they faced a tough battle against two Dutch crews but led the race throughout to take their first gold medal of the season.
It was a similar story in the men’s event where Matt Rossiter and Jacob Dawson put out the home favourites, Nenad Bedik and Milos Vasic, to take first place by just over a length.
Olympic champion Will Satch was selected in the new-look GB men’s four with Molesey’s Moe Sbihi, and Mat Tarrant of Oxford Brookes. With Leander’s Callum McBrierty stepping in to the line-up in place of an injured Stewart Innes the crew overhauled Spain and the Netherlands in the second quarter, moving on to win, more than a second clear of the Dutch.
Leander’s fourth gold medal came in the lightweight men’s doubles where Will Fletcher partnered Peter Chambers of Oxford Brookes to take a one second win ahead of Poland and the Czech Republic. Ireland’s O’Donovan brothers, Gary and Paul, the Rio silver medallists, finished fourth.
2012 Olympic champion Kat Copeland and her Putney Town partner Charlotte Booth took silver behind the Polish crew who won the B final in Rio, while the second GB double, Maddie Arlett of Edinburgh University and Emily Craig of University of London, secured bronze.
Back in the single scull at international competition for the first time in three years Leander’s Vicky Thornley put in an impressive finishing burst to take the silver medal behind Rio finalist Jeannine Gmelin of Switzerland.
The final race of the regatta brought frustration for the GB men’s eight at the hands of Nereus, the Dutch student crew who were disqualified from the final of the Ladies’ Plate at last year’s Henley. The GB men, with Olympic champion Tom Ransley on board, led by just half a second through the middle of the course before the Netherlands pushed for the line, taking victory by 0.68 sec.
Meanwhile the Leander development academy were making their own mark in Belgium, where the large British entry at Ghent Regatta offered club crews the chance to test themselves against top-quality opposition at the start of the season.
When Edward Gleadowe, Barney Stentiford, Sam Twine, and George Rossiter won gold in men’s fours on Saturday, their win was matched by Ed Fisher, Jonathan Cameron, Jamie Kirkwood, and Charles Waite-Roberts in the quadruple sculls. Fisher them climbed in to his lightweight single to record another win the following day, when Saskia Devereux and Kesiah Roe also recorded gold in U23 women’s double sculls.
Olympic silver medallist Vicky Thornley is back in the single for the first World Cup regatta of the season in Belgrade, where 31 Leander athletes will form the lion’s share of the GB team.
Thornley is looking forward to contesting the boat in which she has won four successive GB Trials, and two world championships in Korea 2013 and Amsterdam the following year.
“After I’d won trials they’ve let me have a go in the single, at least for the first World Cup, to see how it goes” she said.
Her best world performance in this boat class was 7th place overall, four years ago in Korea, but much has changed since.
“I think I’ve moved on massively since then, but I’ve had a prolonged break since Rio so I’m not back to where I was for the Olympics. I feel like I’m in good place right now and I’ll be interested to see where I put myself for the first regatta” she said.
Meanwhile Will Satch takes his place in the new-look GB four, where the only surviving member of the Rio gold medal crew is Molesey’s Moe Sbihi, and where he will be joined by clubmate Stewart Innes, from the Olympic GB pair, and Oxford Brookes’ Mat Tarrant, the spare athlete in Rio.
After an emphatic victory at trials, Karen Bennett and Holly Norton take on the mantle of GB women’s pair left vacant by double Olympic champions Heather Stanning and Helen Glover.
The top four men’s scullers from trials – John Collins, Jonny Walton, Jack Beaumont and Tom Barras – come together in the all-Leander men’s quad, with Peter Lambert contesting the single, while last year’s U23 quad, unchanged from Rotterdam, also gets a run-out in the Serbian capital.
In the women’s quad Leander’s Beth Bryan and Holly Nixon take their places alongside World U23 champions Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne of Reading and Jess Leyden.
Leander’s Jacob Dawson and Matt Rossiter, who finished second to Satch and Sbihi at trials, join forces in the men’s pair, while Olympic champion Tom Ransley returns from injury to take his place in the men’s eight.
In the lightweight double sculls, Oxford Brookes’ Pete Chambers teams up with Leander’s Will Fletcher for the men’s event, while 2012 Olympic champion Kat Copeland is back in the boat with Putney Town’s Charlotte Booth for the women’s double.
Racing starts in Belgrade on Friday 5 May, with the finals two days later on Sunday 7 May.