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Altschwager, Ayers on top of the world after Gold Medal row

Nikki Ayers and Jed Altschwager celebrate their World Championship crown. Photo: Vera Bucsu/Rowing Australia

By Rupert Guinness with the Australian Rowing Team in Belgrade

Nikki Ayers and Jed Altschwager reaffirmed their status as the crew to beat in the PR3 Mixed Double when they won Australia’s first Gold Medal in a challenging headwind at the World Rowing Championships in Belgrade on Friday.

The Australian duo’s win not only qualified the boat for the Paralympic Games in Paris next year. It also placed them in high reckoning to be Gold Medal favourites on the biggest stage of all.

These World Championships are crucial for all competing nations to qualify boats for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

In Friday’s Semi Finals, Erik Horrie OAM also qualified the PR1 Men’s Single Scull for the Paralympics; as did Tara Rigney with the Women’s Single Scull for the Olympic Games.

For Ayers and Altschwager, Paris was far away from their thoughts as they took in the joy of their Gold Medal triumph.

Their victory caps off a fabulous season that includes wins in World Cup III in Lucerne in July and World Cup II in Varese in June, where they also set a World Best time of 7:07.02 seconds.

On Friday, the tough conditions dismissed any hope of a World Best time. But nothing got in the way of them winning the A Final on the Ada Ciganlija Regatta Course in 8:07.07. Taking the Silver Medal was the United States in 8:15.22, followed by defending world champions France in 8:27.09.

Quote of the Day
“I feel somewhere between water and sky, and more a little bit in the sky – knocking on heaven’s door,” – elated Croatian sculler Damir Martin, the 2012, 2016 and 2021 Olympic medallist after qualifying the scull for the 2024 Paris Olympics with his third in the Single Sculls Semi Finals.


Fun Fact of the Day
Rowing coaches cover a lot of distance in a regatta week – and not just in cars and buses or on bikes in the ‘coaches’ peloton.’ They walk a lot … up and down the course, back and forth from the boating area to the team tent, or to and from the team hotel to the regatta course and back. Ask Canadian Laryssa Biesenthal, a two times Olympic medallist (1996 and 2000) and coach of the Australian Men’s Lightweight Double Scull and Men’s Pair. She walked 35,000 steps on Thursday, of the back of 30,000 a day previously.

“We knew it was going to be tricky conditions and rough, that you would need to stick to the basics,” Altschwager said. “We knew there was going to be some mistakes and errors, and not let that get ahead of us, just get on to the next stroke.

“Our first three strokes weren’t too pretty, but we got onto it, started to pull away and went from there.”

After a season of being so focused on performance, Ayers and Altschwager were able to finally savour their success.

“It’s one of – if not the most – proudest moments in my life,” Ayers said. “To share that with Jed, knowing both our families back home are supporting us – and our families have been on that journey with us late at night, watching us and yelling at that TV – it is a super proud moment to be Australian and wear the Green and Gold.

“Now the Gold World Champion’s medal (is) around our necks.”

Earlier, the Women’s Eight produced a magnificent row to pass Great Britain and win the Repechage and book their ticket for Sunday’s A Final. The boat is not yet qualified for the Olympics, but a top five in the A Final will do that. Saying that, the crew has their sights set on the chase for medals.

The crew of Hayley Verbunt (Cox), Bronwyn Cox, Molly Goodman, Jacqueline Swick, Georgie Rowe, Olympia Aldersey, Georgie Gleeson, Paige Barr and Lily Alton won their Repechage in 6:19.66, pipping Great Britain.

With the first four going into the A Final, the British finished second in 6:19.71; Canada was third in 6:24.08; Italy fourth in 6:29.97; Germany, fifth in 6:39.56; and China sixth 6:41.45.

“We still have a little bit to work on, but we did a really good job,” said Rowe, who crews in the Five seat. “We are really pumped for the final. We still have a job to do.

“We’ve still got to qualify [the boat for Olympics]. But we’re going out there with the ambitions to win a medal.”

In her Women’s Single Scull Semi Final, Tara Rigney, a Bronze Medallist at last year’s world titles, was in the lead for most of the race.

But she was passed in the final 250m by Kara Kohler of the United States. There was little between the first three, but the USA sculler won in 7:44.66, while Rigney was second in 7:46.42, and Viktorija Senkute of Lithuania third in 7:46.81.

The first three in both Semi Finals made Sunday’s A Final. From the first Semi Final were world champion Karolien Florijn who won, second placed Olympic Champion Emma Twigg of New Zealand and Bulgaria’s Desislava Angelova.

Rigney was relieved that she had qualified the Scull for the Olympics. “I’m absolutely stoked,” Rigney said. “Even if you are a four times world champion, a Semi Final in the qualifying (regatta) in the Olympic years is the most nerve-wracking thing … everyone wants to be in that A Final.”

In the PR1 Single Scull, Horrie was third in his Semi Final to make Sunday’s A Final and qualify the boat for Paris.

Great Britain’s Benjamin Pritchard won in 9:21.76. In second after passing Horrie was Germany’s Marcus Klemp in 9:26.86. Horrie, who was close to Pritchard for much of the race until dropping back in the last 500m, finished third in 9:33.73.

“Medals aren’t given out today,” said Horrie, 43 and a five-times world champion and triple Paralympic Silver Medallist.

Meanwhile, the Women’s Double Scull of Amanda Bateman and Laura Gourley missed out on a spot in the A Final in their Semi Final on Friday. They must now place in the top five in the B Final on Sunday to qualify the boat for the Olympics.

A top three in the Semi Final would have qualified the boat but the Australians placed fifth.

Day 6: Full Australian Results

PR3 Mixed Double Scull
Crew: Nikki Ayers, Jed Altschwager (Coach Chad King, Christine McLaren)
Result (A Final): 1. AUS 8:07.07; 2. USA 8:15.22; 3. FRA 8:27.09; 4. GBR 8:29.59; 5. GER 8:33.80; 6. BRA 8:43.74 

Men’s PR1 Single Scull
Sculler: Erik Horrie (Coach: Chad King)
Result (A-B SF): 1. GBR 9:21.76; 2. GER 9:26.86; 3. AUS 9:33.73; 4. UZB 9:35.51; 5. BRA 9:41.09; 6. POL 11.15.09
Qualifying: 1-3 to AF. Rest to BF

Women’s Single Scull
Sculler: Tara Rigney (Coach Ellen Randell)
Result (A-B SF): 1. USA 7:44.66; 2. AUS 7:46.42; 3. LTU 7:46.81; 4. AUT 7:54.45; 5. SUI 8:02.82; 6. AIN1 8:07.45
Qualifying: 1-3 to AF. Rest to BF

Women’s Double Scull
Crew: Amanda Bateman, Laura Gourley (Coach: Hally Chapman)
Result (A-B SF): 1. USA 7:01.76; 2. IRL 7:02.22; 3. FRA 7:06.03; 4. CHN 7:08.14; 5. AUS 7:12.88; 6. RSA 7:16.62
Qualifying: 1-3 to A-B F. Rest to BF

Women’s Eight
Crew: Hayley Verbunt (Cox), Lily Alton, Paige Barr, Georgie Gleeson, Olympia Aldersey, Georgina Rowe, Jacqueline Swick, Molly Goodman, Bronwyn Cox (Coach: John Keogh).
Result (Repechage): 1. AUS 6:19.66; 2. GBR 6:19.71; 3. CAN 6:24.08; 4. ITA 6:29.37; 5.GER 6:39.56; 6. CHN 6:41.45
Qualifying: 1-4 to AF. Rest to BF