The New Zealand crews have produced some strong performance on the first day of heats at the World Rowing Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

Five of the seven crews progressed directly to their quarterfinals or semifinals, leaving just two to race repechages on Tuesday.

Thomas Mackintosh was first up for the New Zealanders in the Men’s Single Sculls. He finished less than a second behind Dutchman Simon Van Dorp to progress straight to the quarterfinals. They rowed the fastest heat of the day with Van Dorp finishing in 6min 40.82sec. Mackintosh (6:41.58) consistently rated around three points lower than the Dutchman.

The third fastest time of the day was recorded by world champion Olli Zeidler from Germany, who won his heat in 6:44.10. Zeidler revealed on Instagram just a few days ago he had completed a 2K erg in 5:25.49, the fastest time ever published.

He posted that he hoped “to bring this powerful push into the boat within the next days here in Belgrade too.”

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Thomas Mackintosh racing his M1x heat at World Rowing Championships in Serbia. Photo: Art of Rowing. 

Olympic champion Emma Twigg also progressed straight to the quarterfinals after winning her heat.

Twigg led through every 500m to finish in 7:23.43.

It was the fourth fastest time of the day with the Netherlands’ Karolien Florijn (7:18.55), Australia’s Tara Rigney (7:21.90) and Germany’s Alexandra Foester (7:23.31) leading the way.


Emma twigg racing her W1x heat at the 2023 World Rowing Championships. Photo: Art of Rowing

Finn Hamill was up next in the 3rd heat of the Lightweight Men’s Single Sculls. Hamill signalled his huge promise with a silver medal in the event at the Under 23 World Championships in July.

He needed a top-four finish to qualify directly to the quarterfinals. Attention was also focused on Swiss Andri Struzina, who won gold in this event at World Cup III in July.

But the amazement came out of lane 5 where Iraq’s Mohammed Al-Khafaji went through the first 500m in 1:31.77. That’s quick. Heavyweight sculler Zeidler’s renowned for his quick first quarter and he went through that today in 1:34.79.

It turned out to be the fastest of the five heats with Struzina winning in 6:53.47. Al-Khafaji hung on for third to leave Hamill at the tail and now looking to the repechage to progress.


Finn Hamill racing his LM1x heat at the 2023 World Rowing Championships.  Photo: Art Of Rowing 

Rachael Kennedy will also need to go through the repechage after finishing fifth in her heat of the Women’s Lightweight Single Sculls.

Kennedy drew a quick heat that included the winner of this event at World Cup III, Sophia Luwis from the USA.

Luwis won in 7:42.04 with Swiss Elena Rol clocking 7:42.93 to go straight to the semifinals.

Ireland’s Siobhan McCrohan has been competing at world championships since 2007 and has just returned from a seven-year break from international competition. She’d previously had a five-year hiatus from the sport.

Now 36, she wound back the clock in heat four to finish second and go straight through to the semifinals.


Rachael Kennedy competing in the Women’s Lightweight Single Sculls heat at the 2023 World Rowing Championships. Photo: Art of Rowing.

There was a strong Irish presence in Chris Stockley and Matthew Dunham’s heat of the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls, as they took on the current world champions Paul O’Donovan and Fin McCarthy.

It was an encouraging performance from the New Zealanders who pushed the Irish all the way to finish just over four seconds behind in second place to qualify for the quarterfinals.

“We knew that the Irish would push really hard in the middle,” says Matt. “We just really worked off them and were like just not letting them get away too far. I felt like I still had some to go at the end too, like a decent amount still left in the tank so hopefully next time we'll just sort of up it just a little bit more through the middle and then even send it a little more at the end.”

It was their best start to a World Championship or World Cup regatta.

“I think it was just putting into practice what we had learned since World Cup III, and just all those small things, just sort of compounding to make an overall faster race. You could just see it in our rhythm, and just the easiness about the stroke, and nothing stressful out there for us, everything just going to plan, and [it] just ended up stacking up a lot faster than we thought we were going to, so it's a really positive place to be.”

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Chris Stockley and Matthew Dunham’s racing in the heat of the Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls at the 2023 World Rowing Championships. Photo: Art of Rowing. 

Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Phil Wilson and Ben Taylor have only been rowing together as a combination for just over a month but impressed in the Men’s Pair.

“It's always nice to get up right out the blocks and see what sort of speed you can hit,” says Phil. “We were going pretty quick at the start but unfortunately turned around and there were a couple of crews ahead of us, so it wasn't quite fast enough, but we'll definitely take that into account in the next couple of rounds.”

They were up against one of the form crews of the year in Andrin Gulich and Roman Roeoesli from Switzerland. They medalled at each of the three World Cups this year and led home the chasing New Zealand boat in 6:26.62, Wilson and Taylor just under four seconds behind.


Ben Taylor and Phil Wilson racing in the Men’s Pair at the 2023 Rowing World Championships. Photo: Art of Rowing. 

It’s also the first senior World Championship for Ben Mason, who has formed a strong combination with Robbie Manson in the Men’s Double Scull. They made the A-final in their first regatta at World Cup III and are on track for a repeat after lining up in heat five alongside the famous Sinkovic twins from Croatia.

It was a real opportunity to benchmark their progress in the past couple of months, with the Croatians claiming a silver at that regatta in July.

Mason and Manson sat behind the Croatians through the initial 1500m but finished fast to go directly to the quarterfinals.


Ben Mason with Robbie Manson in the Men’s Double Scull at the 2023 World Rowing Championships. Photo: Art of Rowing. 

These championships double as an Olympic qualifying event. The Lightweight Men’s and Women’s Single Sculls aren’t on the Olympic programme, so from that perspective, today was a good day setting out on the road to Paris.


Andy Hay

Andy Hay is a freelance producer, writer and rowing coach. He was cox of the world champion New Zealand eight of 1982 and '83. He is NZ Olympian #446.