British rowing bounces back with four golds in European Championships

Glorious history placed a weighty burden on the shoulders of the UK’s rowers at the Tokyo Olympics. A measly return of one silver and bronze was as good as sinking without a trace. Tough questions were asked, and a refit undertaken. Four golds on a single sunny morning at the European Championships in Munich on Saturday provided a potent, if still incomplete, answer to whether the ship has been rapidly righted.

For Louise Kingsley, British Rowing’s new performance director, cycling along the riverbank for a close inspection as the regatta resounded to her squad’s victories, this is a promising foundation in the rebuild. There were enough fourth places in Japan that marginal gains might be transformative.

Triumphs in rapid succession in the women’s fours and quadruple sculls and the men’s fours and eights suggested promotion from within for the former coach has nudged the sport forward.

“There’s more structure,” said Rebecca Shorten, among a fours crew also made up of Heidi Long, Sam Redgrave and Rowan McKellar that extracted a modest revenge by holding off Ireland, almost 12 months after supremacy was reversed in a narrow chase for Olympic bronze.

“We’ve got a lot more people in place. Whereas in the year before the Olympics, it was a lot of people stepping in. It’s just nice to have someone that’s got a goal. There’s one shot, one commitment. That’s been really good. Everyone’s really bought into it.”

A string of second bests were inflicted upon the Netherlands. The women’s quad sculls pack of Jess Leyden, Lola Anderson, Georgina Brayshaw and Lucy Glover were brutally dominant, clear of the Dutch by more than three seconds. Four seconds was the margin of victory for the men’s eights while the fours won by two seconds, leading early and finishing strong.

These were markers laid down, not just for next month’s world championships in the Czech Republic, but for Paris in 2024.

“We are a fresh crew of young guys who have never been to an Olympic Games,” said Sam Nunn, fours champion with Will Stewart, Matt Aldridge and Freddie Davidson. “These are massively important to find out about the pressure of a major championships, performing on multiple days and stepping up through the rounds. We managed to pull together as a crew and buy into collectively achieving something as a crew.”

There were British silvers in the men’s and women’s pairs and a bronze for Ben Pritchard in the PR1 men’s single sculls.

There was silver for the British women in the gymnastics team event with Alice Kinsella, Georgia-Mae Fenton, Ondine Achampong, Jennifer Gadirova and Jessica Gadirova scoring a total of 161.164pts to seal second behind Italy with Germany in third.

After Olympic bronze last summer, the feelgood factor remains intact. “I feel like we always just try and start new and we start a clean slate,” Jessica Gadirova said. “We just do our job and do the best we can. I think this makes us more confident.”

Atop an artificial hilltop constructed on the rubble of buildings destroyed in the second world war, Kieran Reilly fed off a festival atmosphere on Saturday night to earn silver in the men’s freestyle BMX. A 720-degree double tailwhip propelled the 21-year-old Geordie toward the podium as France’s Anthony Jeanjean retained his title.

“It’s not something that so many people do in a competition,” Reilly said. “I haven’t done it that many times because it’s pretty high-risk. So I’m stoked to get that one done.” In the velodrome, Pfeiffer Georgi earned silver in the women’s elimination race behind Belgium’s Lotte Kopecky.

In Rome, the British women defended their 4x100m freestyle relay title at the European Swimming Championships with the quartet of Lucy Hope, Anna Hopkin, Medi Harris and Freya Anderson surging clear of Sweden and the Netherlands to win in 3min 36.47sec.

“This is a relay that we are really focusing on going into Paris,” said Hopkin. “We’ve put together really good relays throughout the year, and to come out at the end of it with a gold at the European Champs and defend our title, it puts us in a really good position.”

The 18-year-old Freya Colbert claimed bronze in the 400m individual medley, Luke Greenbank did likewise in the men’s 200m backstroke, while Tom Dean was seventh in the men’s 100m freestyle final as the brilliant 17-year-old Romanian David Popovici captured the world record with a time of 46.86sec.