Aussie rowing's Rio ambitions 'on track'

By Melissa Woods

Australia's rowing team are confident about their medal prospects at the Rio Olympics despite qualifying their smallest contingent since 1992.

Australia's men's eight will be missing from the Olympic start line for the first time since 1948 after failing to make the top two in the final qualification regatta in Switzerland on Wednesday.

The race, always the last of the Olympic program, is considered the blue-riband event with Australia winning six medals.

The women's eight also fell short at the "Regatta of Death" in Lucerne as did the women's lightweight double.

Only single sculler Rhys Grant secured a final Olympic berth, joining the seven boats that qualified through last year's world championships.

That means Australia will only send eight boats with 20 rowers, compared to the 13 boats and 46 rowers they sent to London four years ago.

The last time only eight crews qualified was at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Rowing Australia officials will be hoping that history repeats itself with the "Oarsome Foursome" in the men's four and the men's double scull bringing back gold from Spain.

Despite the large contingent in London, Australia failed to win a gold medal, claiming three silvers and a bronze medal.

Australian Olympic rowing team leader Jaime Fernandez, who was part of the men's eight at Barcelona, Atlanta and the silver medal-winning Sydney crew, said the team's medal prospects hadn't changed despite the small size of the squad.

He said the team's success would be measured by podium performances.

"We had seven boats qualify last year and a couple of those medalled and several were close so I think the primary goal and mission for the team hasn't changed," Fernandez said.

"Those who will he attending Rio we believe all have strong medal outcomes - what colour and how many is to be determined.

"Qualifying the other boats would have just added to that opportunity."

Rowing Australia is planning to change its elite program post-Olympics and set up two national training centres, split by gender with one in Canberra and the other to be determined.

He said Australia may also consider targeting events rather than trying to qualify in all races.

But for now Fernandez said he didn't believe the rowers in Lucerne could have done any more.

The men's eight finished fourth with the powerhouse United States crew taking line honours and Poland second.

The women placed third with Romania first home ahead of the Netherlands while the lightweight women missed the final.

Grant had to place in the top three in the men's single scull to book a Rio berth.

The West Australian got off to a sluggish start to sit fourth early on but surged home to finish second behind Belgium's Hannes Obreno.

"All the crews had really good races," Fernandez said.

"Talking to some of the athletes afterwards they all said, `We've done everything we can'.

"We need to celebrate the effort and endeavour. I don't think there was anything they did poorly execution-wise."