Double Olympic champ Helen Glover makes stunning return at European Rowing Champs

Five years after clinching her second Olympic title in Rio, 34-year-old Glover won European gold in Italy along with Polly Swann.

By Ken Browne

Helen Glover has made a winning return to competitive rowing at the 2021 European Championships after almost five years away, claiming first place with Polly Swann in the women's pair on Sunday 11 April in Italy.

Glover and Swann held off a late surge from the Romanian duo of Adriana Ailincai and Iuliana Buhus, the British boat clocking 7:02.73 to Romania's 7:03.02.

“It’s been a long winter but just to come out with Helen to race feels pretty epic. I don’t think we expected to win,” Rio silver medallist Swann said after the race on Sunday.

Glover has two Olympic gold medals, is a three-time world champion and has three children under the age of three: at 34 she is aiming to become the first ever ever mother to make a British rowing team at the Olympics.

And this was the her first international competition since winning her second Olympic gold alongside Heather Stanning in the women’s pair at the Rio 2016 Games.

"It's nice to be back" - Helen Glover

“It's nice to be back and get the first race of the season, and the first race in five years, done and set a marker for ourselves," Glover said on Friday after she and Swann had booked their place in the final.

The British pair outpaced Greece’s Christina Bourmpou and Maria Kyridou to make the Sunday showpiece.

"It felt very comfortable on the start line," continued Glover.

"I was expecting to feel a bit more nervy but, thanks to the foundation we've built through our training, I knew enough about myself before we started the race and it felt like a nice place to be.”

Sinkovic brothers back on top

Croatia's favourite rowing bros Martin and Valent Sinkovic won an incredible fifth European title, the Rio 2016 double sculls champions put in a dominant performance to prove they're back on top.

Speaking after the race, Valent Sinkovic said:

“Our race went really well, we expected to lead but not by that much in the middle of the race. We were confident and we felt good. At the end of the race we didn’t want to go too high in stroke rate as we knew that it was enough to win.”

While there was a poignant moment for Italy's Giuseppe Vicino who finished in second:

“My grandma died 3 weeks ago from COVID. this medal is for my grandma.”

GB stun Germany in men's eight

Elsewhere there was a shock in the men's eight as Great Britain handed the Germans their first loss in eight years, and even more surprisingly, the German team didn't even finish on the podium.

The result was:

🥇 Great Britain - 5:30.86

🥈 Romania - 5:31.42

🥉 Netherlands - 5:32.25

An elated Mohamed Sbihi from the GB team later said: "We never really want to give away what was our ambition. That was a good performance today, good enough to take gold."

While Romania's Adrian Munteanu was already shifting the focus to the Olympic qualifying regatta in Lucerne, which will be held from 15 to 17 May 2021 in Switzerland.

“It is the most important race so far for us because we are in front of Germany and close to Great Britain," explained Munteanu, "this result gives us a lot of hope for the Olympic qualifying regatta. Now we go back home in Romania to train before Lucerne.”

"We need bigger biceps"

Meanwhile Rio silver medallist Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy topped the charts in the men's lightweight double sculls, the Irish duo was back together again after O'Donovan took a year out to focus on his medical studies.

The duo won the 2019 world champs together and were back in the water again showing their class in Varese, winning with more than a second and a half margin over their German rivals. 

"It was a decent race," O'Donovan said afterwards, "it’s good to be back. I was off last season so Fintan raced in the single last year.

"Fintan is just dragging me along in the double. We need bigger biceps. We’re gonna work on some curls which will see us through to the end of the summer.”

Paul's brother Gary raced in the men's lightweight single sculls finishing just off the podium in fourth, that race was won by Hungary's Peter Galambos.

Read more about Ireland's battle to be in the boat here.