Australian rowers qualify 14 boats for Beijing

Australia’s rowers have qualified all 14 boat classes for the Olympics for the first time as the three remaining crews secured their place at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Poznan, Poland.

With all 14 crews now qualified for the Olympics, the rowing section of the Australian Olympic Team will be the largest with 48 athletes.

Pippa Savage was the first to book her place at Beijing after winning a close final in the Women’s Single Scull.

Savage came from second place with 500m to go to win the final in a time of 7:58.33 three seconds ahead of rowers from Italy and Serbia. All three crews will qualify for the Olympic Games.

Savage executed her race plan at the start and moved to a one second lead after the first 500m before slipping back to second place over the middle stages of the race. She was never in danger of missing out on a berth in Beijing however with the top three rowers well clear of the field.

Savage could not contain her excitement after the race.

“The whole morning has been exciting, especially seeing the boys win despite having a reserve in the boat”, Savage said. “I had a good start but the Serbian girl really put the pressure on and led most of the way.”

“The last 500 metres I was going for it pretty hard but didn’t feel as though I was moving anywhere. I think it is now more relief than anything.”

The Women’s Double Scull crew of Sonia Mills and Catriona Sens were the second Australian crew to advance to the Olympics after finishing second in the final.

Mills and Sens sat in behind the fast starting French after 500m before overtaking them and moving a boat length clear of the Ukranian crew at the halfway mark.

With both crews safely ahead of the field in the last part of the race, Ukraine came over the top of Australia to win in a time of 7:18.98, with Mills and Sens crossing the line in 7:22.03.

Sens says it was an amazing feeling.

"I don't think it has quite sunk in yet, everyone is buzzing", Sens said. “It is just great being part of such an exciting regatta and I am so happy to be in a boat with Sonia."

"We now have about 50 days to go before Beijing and it is nice to know we can go there to win something. We had everything to lose here but have come through."

Mills meanwhile said the last 500m was nerve wracking.

“The last 500 metres was so tough and I was hurting”, Mills said. “We had worked so hard during the middle 1000m and set ourselves up for a good finish.”

“Even though we didn’t win, we qualified the boat and that is what we came here to do.”

The Men’s Four stormed to victory despite the setback of losing Matt Ryan before the race. Ryan was forced to withdraw shortly before the race through sickness and was replaced by Terrence Alfred (NSW) in the bow seat.

Alfred joined Francis Hegerty, Cameron McKenzie – McHarg and James Marburg to win in a time of 6:05.85. They moved a length clear after only 750m and continued to move clear of China in second place.

The Australian’s crossed the line two seconds clear of the Chinese with both crews moving forward to Beijing.

Francis Hegerty said that the late withdrawal of Matt Ryan was a tough challenge to overcome.

“It was a bit unsettling this morning when we knew Matt was out but we are lucky to have such a great replacement in T (Terrence Alfred)”, Hegerty said. “We still were aware of the job we had come to do and we put our mark on the race in the first 500m and never looked back.”

Rowing Australia CEO Andrew Dee says that is a significant achievement.

“To go to the final regatta and qualify three more crews is a tremendous result and all the crews should be congratulated”, Dee said.

“They have placed in an enormous effort and it will be great to see 48 athletes nominated to the Australian Olympic Committee next week.”

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