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Chinese rowers seeking 1st Olympic gold since 2008

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-07-23 15:13
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Chen Yunxia of China, Zhang Ling of China, Lyu Yang of China and Cui Xiaotong of China react after competing and finishing first in their heat of Women's Quadruple Sculls in Tokyo, Japan, July 23, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

TOKYO - China hopes to win its first Olympic gold medal in rowing since 2008 when the Olympic regatta gets underway at Tokyo's Sea Forest Waterway on Friday.

The Chinese rowing team claimed their first-ever Olympic title at the 2008 Games on home soil, when Tang Bin, Jin Ziwei, Xi Aihua and Zhang Yangyang paddled from behind to edge Britain for gold in the women's quadruple sculls final. But China finished a distant fifth at London 2012 and dropped to sixth place at Rio 2016.

This time around, China pins medal hopes on the quartet of Cui Xiaotong, Lyu Yang, Zhang Ling and Chen Yunxia, who showed consistency during the Tokyo Olympic cycle and won all major events in 2019 including the World Championships. But they are expected to face challenges from the Netherlands, Poland, Germany and Britain.

Zhang Liang and Liu Zhiyu are also title hopefuls in the men's double sculls. They started to team up in early 2019 and snatched the first gold in men's open class at a World Championships. But rowers from Ireland, France and Britain are also strong contenders in this discipline.

China won a bronze in the women's eight at the 1988 Seoul Olympics but missed the Olympic rowing regatta in 2008. In May 2021, they booked a Tokyo 2020 berth by winning in the World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland. But the United States, which has won the event in the last three Olympic Games, is heavily favored to defend its title. Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia also stand a chance for a podium finish.

One thing worth noting is that an equal number of male and female rowers will compete at the Olympic Games for the first time following the introduction of the women's four. The boat class only featured once before at an Olympic Games - Barcelona 1992 - when Canada took the gold. Australia come into the regatta as world champions but will face a challenge from world silver medallists and 2021 European champions the Netherlands.

Australia's Lucy Stephan said the introduction of the event had strengthened women's sweep rowing, which is the discipline involving one oar per rower.

"There's a number of countries that don't have the athletes to put together a really high-quality eight, but they do have the athletes to put together a really amazing women's four, and that's really great for women's sweep," she said.

No winning crew from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games returns unchanged. Rio double sculls champions Valent Sinkovic and Martin Sinkovic of Croatia have switched to the men's pair in a bid to join a small group of rowers for both sculling (two oars) and sweep events. Wang Yuwei of China has switched from sculling (the women's quadruple sculls) to sweep (the women's eight) events. Her quadruple crewmate Jiang Yan has changed to a single sculler.

Other 2016 Olympic gold medallists including Helen Glover of Britain in the women's pair, Ilse Paulis of the Netherlands in the lightweight women's double sculls and Paul O'Donovan of Ireland in the lightweight men's double sculls will seek to defend their titles with new crewmates.

Tokyo Olympic Rowing regatta is slated from July 23 to 30. 

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