Australia’s men’s eight are adamant they can go up a gear against the world’s best in France next week to qualify for the Rio Olympics.
The rowing world championships start at Lake Aiguebelette on Sunday when 11 Aussie crews will be aiming to book their places in Brazil.
The eights face arguably the toughest task, with only the top-five crews – as opposed to 11 for many of the other boat classes – gaining automatic qualification for next year’s Games.
If the eight fail to seal their Rio spot, there’s no guarantee Rowing Australia will send them to any of the other wildcard regattas.
On top of this, their build-up to the world titles took a hit when Alex Lloyd came off his bike during a training ride in Italy only four weeks ago, a broken collarbone forcing his withdrawal and a crew shuffle.
Josh Dunkley-Smith was taken out of the eight to replace Lloyd in the coxless four.
The entire Australian rowing team was shaken up by Lloyd’s crash, which also caused deep facial cuts, but eventually galvanised them, according to veteran oarsman James Chapman.
“We were devastated for him. To happen to one of your mates close to a big meet – it’s definitely rattling,” said Chapman, a London Olympics silver medallist.
“It could have happened to any one of us. But we had to come closer together, press on and get the job done.
Kit Cunningham-Reid pipped Josh Hicks to the new seat in the eight.
“Both guys didn’t miss a beat,” Chapman said.
“We’ve gelled well now and had some very fast sessions. As a crew, we’ve been really tight for close to five months now.”
The eight will need to lift a notch to guarantee they are in the top tier and in good shape to grab a Rio slot.
Although they finished fifth at the recent World Cup regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, the highly rated eights of the United States and Russia weren’t competing.
Great Britain, Germany, New Zealand and the Netherlands posted the best times over the European season and are favoured to be scrapping for medals too.
The heats for the mens eight start on Monday, with the final set down for next Sunday.