The 2023 World Rowing Championships which was held in Belgrade, Serbia from 3 to 10 September brought together the strongest rowers of the World, with the first opportunity towards obtaining qualification spots for the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games on the line.
The Championships attracted nearly 1000 athletes from 74 delegations, who competed over eight days of racing in 27 boat classes. Of the Olympic boat classes the men’s single sculls stood out with the largest number of entries, coming from 48 nations. The women’s single sculls was well represented with 32 nations entered.
One of World Rowing’s objectives is to develop the sport around the world, enabling participation in international regattas for more member federations and getting more people on the water. 24 delegations out of the 74 came together as one big team representing the World Rowing Development Programme around events, which provides rowers and coaches from developing member federations with the chance to participate in top World Rowing events; living the dream of competing with the best of the world through the solidarity mechanism fostered by the different Organising Committees; and with the administrative, logistical, and technical support of World Rowing experts.
The development teams came from: Angola, Barbados, Benin, Cuba, Cyprus, Egypt, El Salvador, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Georgia, Kuwait, Latvia, Libya, Moldova, Palestine, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa (para), Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Ukraine (para), Uruguay, and Zimbabwe.
Although the Ukrainian Para Rowing team has a well-developed structure, due to the current war, this is the 2nd World Championships after the 2022 Championships in Racice, Czechia where the Ukrainian team is included and supported through the development programme. 14 rowers and coaches from the Ukraine Para rowing team came together and shared the experiences of smaller nations being part of the development programme.
Ukraine’s PR1 W1x, Anna Sheremet ranked 3rd, while Roman Polianskyi competing in the PR1 M1x ranked 1st ahead of Italy and Great Britain.
Both rowers have managed to save Ukraine a seat in the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.
Newcomers to the World Championships were Angola competing with two athletes, Emerson Costino in M1x and LW1x with 15 years old Conceicao Ngola making their debut in an international event with this magnitude and a dream to continue their development pathway for future events and for setting the stage for more rowers from Angola.
Barbados, Libya, Sudan, Togo also participated for the first time in the World Championships in M1x and W1x competitions.
PLE LM1x Amel Younis, BEN M1x Privel Hinkati, CIV M1x Riccardo Bouehi, CYP M1x Alexandros Zisimidis, URU M1x Bruno Cetraro Berriolo, and ZIM M1x Stephen Cox, were also part of the development programme for the World Championships in 2022 and are participating with more experience and a dream to qualify for Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games through the Continental Qualification Events, with the first continental qualifier for Africa around the corner and scheduled for October 2023 in Tunisia.
Encouraging young people is also the aim of Kuwait’s Alia Qali. The 39-year-old mother of three competed at the 2012 World Rowing Championships, and after an appearance at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in 2021 is back this year. She also trains overseas, living and working in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Para rowers from Latvia, South Africa and Tunisia also represented their MFs through the support of the development programme. There is still more to go when it comes to the talent identification, classification and training of para rowing athletes from development countries for the future, especially with the lack of sufficient para rowing boats as one of the obstacles that needs to be addressed to further promote para rowing and help development countries talent ID, classify and sustain a para rowing training programme.
The development programme in Belgrade was supported by six World Rowing experienced Development Coaches, Chrissa Biskitzi, Ella Willot, Mykolas Masilionis, Roger Barrow, Sizwe Ndlovu, and Vincent Tassery, who offered support to all the development crews under the guidance of World Rowing’s Head of Coaching Gianni Postiglione.
As part of the legacy programme and to give back to the Organising Committee and help educate and create more growth opportunities for local coaches, 4 local coaches from Serbia, Igor Lončar, Milica Vodogaz, Nenad Bedjik, and Stefan Leković, also supported the programme, helping the World Rowing Development Coaches with boats rigging and other logistical and training support required by the development crews. Additionally, to leave a legacy in Serbia and to help with aspiring young female crews, two female rowers from Serbia were included in the development programme, sharing the training, atmosphere and experience with the rowers from the other development countries.
A 2k ergometer test was organised for all the rowers included in the development programme one day after their last race of the competition. This is a testing protocol to support benchmarking the performance and athletic level of the rowers included in the development programme. The initiative is intended as an objective evaluation mechanism to help the further development of the rowers and offer constructive and learned feedback on the development pathway for them to continue their growth and improvement for better standings in future events.
The solidarity spirit was at its best with training gear donations from Great Britain, leading the way, followed by Norway and New Zealand, who donated brand new unisuits and t-shirts which were distributed to the rowers who were in Belgrade as part of the development programme. These initiatives are very generous and important to help the most in need and to show the amicable relations and friendships that exist within the rowing community.
The development teams often come together as strangers, but always leave as one family and some continue the relationship beyond the championships. It was an interesting competition, and we look forward to the new season with excitement and anticipation.