Tokyo Bay provides stunning setting for 2020 rowing test event

The Sea Forest Waterway, a rare saltwater international regatta course, proved a huge hit at the World Rowing Junior Championships, a test event for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, concluding in fine style in the Japanese capital on Sunday. 

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The planet’s best young rowers gave the watching world a taste of what to expect at next year’s Olympic Games, with five days of dramatic racing on a brand-new regatta course in Tokyo. While the weather varied from the wild and windy to hot, humid and calm on the final day, the exciting Sea Forest Waterway – completed in May this year – remained one of the stars of the show.

The venue was built by sectioning off a shipping channel between two newly developed islands in the iconic Tokyo Bay. Dams on either side of the eight-lane buoyed course provided all the protection needed, with strong winds buffeting rowers throughout the first four days.

“We are very proud to have this excellent new rowing course,” World Rowing Federation President Jean-Christophe Rolland said in Tokyo. “The installations and fittings are remarkable. I would like to recognise the significant investment in this project.”

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Fans gathered to watch the 550-plus rowers, who were representing 50 nations, in the recently constructed 2,000-seat grandstand and at vantage points along the course. And they were rewarded with some high-quality racing.

Germany gave further notice of their strength across the age groups and both genders. The European powerhouses, who won three gold medals at the 2018 senior World Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, picked up five titles in Tokyo. Victory over the USA and Great Britain in a tight race in the men’s eight was one of the highlights of the weekend.

China, which won the women’s eight and the women’s four, finished second in the medal table with Italy, gold medal winners in the women’s coxed four, third, thanks to a final haul of seven medals. The USA, one of only two nations – along with Germany – to send boats in all 14 classes (split equally between the men and women), finished with a relatively disappointing haul of one silver and a bronze.

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Australia’s triumphant Hamish Henriques, who won a dominant gold in the men’s double sculls with partner Harrison Fox, perhaps best summed up the thoughts of many of the teenage competitors when he said: “We’ve (been) training for the last two years to try and achieve this, so it’s a really special moment. The dream would now be to represent Australia both at under-23 level and then ultimately at the senior level.”

But it was not all about winning at the Sea Forest Waterway, with rowers from Algeria, Kiribati, Panama and Cyprus giving Tokyo residents an early indication of the truly cosmopolitan flavour the Olympic Games will bring in less than 12 months’ time.