Rowing: Great chance for Czech at champs

This is the second of a series of articles by Alistair McMurran on the World Rowing Championships, which will be held at Lake Karapiro from October 31 to November 7.

Mirka Knapkova has always been the bridesmaid at world championships but her fortunes could change at Lake Karapiro.

Knapkova (30), who wants to win her first world championship women's single sculls, has given herself every chance to acclimatise to New Zealand conditions by arriving early.

The Czech was the first overseas rower to arrive in New Zealand and will have had a month's training by the time the championships start.

The early arrival could give her the edge in the women's single sculls.

Knapkova trained at Lake Karapiro for two weeks before moving to Lake Rotoiti, about one hour from Karapiro.

She arrived separately from the rest of the Czech team, which includes men's single-sculler Ondrej Synek, who comes to the championships unbeaten this season.

Knapkova won the world under-23 title in 2002 but the senior women's title has always eluded her.

She was runner-up to Ekaterina Karsten in 2005 and 2006, dropped to fourth in 2007 and was third last year.

Karsten (38), the only rower from Belarus at the championships, is the favourite for the title.

She won the first of her six world titles in 1997 and has a set of Olympic medals: gold from Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000, silver from Athens in 2004 and bronze from Beijing in 2008.

She won her sixth world title last year and wants to make it seven at Lake Karapiro.

In 1996, she became a national hero when she was the first athlete to win an Olympic medal for the newly independent state of Belarus. She was not especially interested in sports as a child but at the age of 15 was urged by her gymnastic coach to take up rowing.

Her school had received a letter from the Minsk School of Rowing to scout tall, healthy girls for the republic's rowing team.

She became a state-sponsored athlete and moved from her home town in rural Osetcheno to Minsk.

On this season's form, the two European scullers should dispute the title.

Karsten won the European title in Portugal last month in 7min 24.63sec from Knapkova, 7min 25.90sec.

Emma Twigg (Hawkes Bay) is New Zealand's best medal prospect in the event after finishing fourth in Poland last year.

Coached by Dick Tonks, Twigg knows Lake Karapiro intimately, as it is her training ground.

Other podium contenders include the world under-23 medallists: Donata Vistartaite (Lithuania) first; Kaisa Pajusalu (Estonia) second; and Lindsay Meyer (US) third.

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