By Philip Barker
As test events go, the 2006 world rowing championships on Dorney Lake, Eton, were a success.
It was the first world event at a designated 2012 Olympic venue since London won the bid and Denis Oswald, the president of world rowing (FISA), was delighted. “I have a feeling that Eton has set a new standard for the world championships. Everything here has been thought through very carefully.”
He’s a good man to please, because Oswald is also chairman of the IOC co-ordination commission which keeps tabs on everything the 2012 London organising committee does in the build up to a Games.
There had been whispers that the Eton course was unsuitable for an Olympic regatta but as Locog chief Lord Sebastian Coe observed: “Every one of our venues has to be signed off by the international federation and FISA were probably as satisfied as anyone.”
These were the first rowing world championships staged in Britain since 1986 and they attracted 40,000 spectators over the eight days of competition.
A spectacular opening ceremony with a parade of historic boats heralded week of world-class competition with more than 60 nations taking part, including Egypt’ lightweight women’s double scullers Ola Ahmed and Manal Hassan, complete with hejab. They didn’t win any medals but they’d crossed oars with their federation just to get there.
The inspiration to improve came when they had pictures taken with Sir Matt and Sir Steve. The latter was back in a boat again, 10 years after that famous “shoot me” speech at Lake Lanier. This time it was strictly for fun – and Redgrave’s eight were beaten by a team from the volunteers.
The Union flag flew proudly for Zac Purchase, lightweght single sculler, and for the four, Steve Williams, Alex Partridge, Andy Hodge and Peter Reed, who extended their winning streak to 24 races, but the women’s quad, which had been so hopeful of retaining their title, had to settle for silver.
Press facilities were positioned on the “Island”. TV, radio and press seats were all equipped with a monitor to follow the racing, and an online championship news service full of news stories, previews, reviews and flash quotes with all medal winners and many more besides. This material was also available on web pages. In all, 330 journalists from across the world covered the racing.
Perhaps the most significant development was the emergence of the Chinese, who in 15-year-old Fan Xuefei had the youngest ever world champion rower when she won gold in the lightweight women’s quad.
“We are pleased with the overall performance of the Chinese team, and we aim to do even better at the Beijing Olympics,” Xu Gaohang, the team manager, said.
“We are learning a great deal by being here at the World Championships and we hope that we will be able to achieve the same high standards of organisation at the Beijing Olympics.” Expect to hear their anthem become very familiar at the Olympic regatta in Beijing.