Australia’s Para-Rowers have delivered two gold medal winning performances on the final day of competition at World Rowing Cup 1 in Belgrade (SRB).
Triple Paralympic Silver Medallist Erik Horrie OAM won Gold in the PR1 Men’s Single Sculls, while Four Time Paralympian Kat Ross partnered with Tokyo Paralympian Simon Albury to win Gold in the PR2 Mixed Double Sculls.
Horrie was the stand-out athlete in Friday’s test race, but Sunday’s Final was a different story with Great Britain’s Benjamin Pritchard – fifth in this boat class at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games – out to upset Horrie’s day.
Pritchard had a flying start through the first 200 metres and made Horrie work for the lead. The two tussled through the first half of the course with very little separating them as they passed the 1000 metre mark.
Horrie held onto a narrow lead and the two continued to go stroke for stroke before Horrie lifted his intensity in response to a challenge from Pritchard in the final moments of the race. Horrie ultimately pulled away to achieve clear water between himself and Pritchard’s boat and he crossed the finish line with a winning 4.02 second margin.
A fortnight ago, Horrie’s performance at the Gavirate International Para-Rowing Regatta failed to meet his expectations and he was determined to put that outing in his rear-view mirror.
“I’m happy with the process that JB (coach Jason Baker) and myself have been working on, a bit of a change seems to be working and taking us in the right direction,” Horrie said.
“It was an excellent race (today),” Horrie said. “Ben got out of the gate quick, he’s an unbelievable rower, especially with Callum (GB rower Callum Russell) now, the new blood in town, he’s certainly rowing well too,” he said.
Ross and Albury were also grinners on the final day of competition, convincing in their win over Mexico in their Final of the PR2 Mix2x.
The Aussie duo quickly established a clear water lead over their competitors and at the 500 metre mark they had opened up a 12 second advantage which they continued to build on through the remainder of the race.
The pair were pleased to reunite at this regatta as it marks the first time they have competed together internationally since Tokyo.
“It’s been a great start to the season. We’ve got a bit of work to do but we’re on the right path,” Ross said.
“We decided to take it a little bit different and have a smooth start out of the blocks. It wasn’t as quick as we would have liked but it was smooth and got us up and moving and we sat on a great pace. It was great fun,” she said.
Australia’s PR3 Mixed Coxed Four, consisting of crew members Al Viney, Jess Gallagher, Nicholas Neales and Tom Birtwhistle finished second to Great Britain in the A Final of the Mixed Coxed Four.
The crew are in Belgrade without regular cox Teesaan Koo who was unable to make the trip due to COVID. Alex Wenyon from Great Britain was given World Rowing approval to cox the Aussie crew to allow the PR3 Mix4+ competition between Australia and Great Britain to go ahead.
The Paralympic Champions Great Britain were hot favourites to take the Gold but they faced an early challenge from Australia who held contact through the 500 metre mark. It was at this point that Team GB began to pull away and they finished the race convincing winners.
World Rowing Cup debutant Neales competed in in both the Mix4+ and Men’s Pair and he reflected on his regatta experience post-race.
“It’s been a big weekend for me with five back-to-back races across the Pair and the Four,” Neales said.
“It’s pretty rare for the Paras to line up against the best crews in the world in the Open Men’s, and the Open Women’s for the Girls. And great to be out there against GB in the Four today, the current Paralympic Champions, they’re the best in the world so there’s no one else you’d want to race against,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Viney capped off a busy weekend of racing by backing up for the B Final of the Women’s Pair with Alex Vuillermin. The Aussies racing out of lane five faced two crews from China as well as crews from the Czech Republic and Denmark and finished fifth in a time of 8:03:11.
Para-Rowing Head Coach Gordon Marcks said it had been a successful regatta for Australia.
“The standout is everyone’s capacity to be consistent and to drive things forward and to perform at their best, race after race. It’s tempered their capacity for the following races this season,” Marcks said.
“We’re learning a lot as we go and it puts us in good stead for the following regattas that are coming up in the international season.
“Our PR3 Men’s and Women’s Pairs had the challenge of racing in the able-bodied Open’s Pairs and that challenge was a result of there being insufficient entries in the Para races. We’re really grateful to be able to have that racing experience amongst some of the best rowers in the world and I think it served them well and it gave them excellent racing experience,” he said.
With the exception of Horrie who will remain in Europe to contest World Rowing Cup 2, the Para-Rowing Team will now return to Australia to prepare for the World Rowing Championships to be held in Racice (CZE) from 18-25 September.
Visit the World Rowing Website to view results from the regatta.
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