By Tom Degun

Lake_Bled_preview_19-08-11August 19 - The top rowers have started congregating in Bled in Slovenia for the pinnacle of the season with the 2011 World Rowing Championships set to get underway later this month.

The competition, which is the most prestigious annual event in the sport, has attracted a record 68 nations and more than 1,200 athletes while the Championships take on extra significance this year with London 2012 Olympic qualification on offer as the action takes place from August 28 to September 4.

The 14 Olympic events on the programme in Bled will offer varying numbers of qualifying spots for London 2012 with the men's single sculls set to be the most hotly-contested race with 36 countries represented.

However, the lightweight men's double sculls is not far behind with 34 nations entered.

Great Britain comes to Bled as top medal contenders in a number of events with Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins (pictured) huge favourites for victory in the women's double sculls as they look to continue on a two-year winning streak.

Britain is also placing big expectations on their men's four and lightweight men's four to bring home gold.

New Zealand will also be strong contenders in Bled as they look strong in the men's and women's single sculls and men's and women's pairs.

They also look good in the women's single as Emma Twigg heads to the event on the back of a win at the final stage of the 2011 Samsung World Rowing Cup regatta of the season, while in the men's event, Kiwi Mahe Drysdale will be up against reigning World Champion Ondrej Synek of the Czech Republic with Norway, Sweden, Great Britain and Germany all medal prospects.

The New Zealand duo of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray continue to dominate in the men's pairs having won nine consecutive races over the past three years and will again face their arch rivals Peter Reed and Andrew Triggs-Hodge of Britain who they seem to have the edge over.

Germany also come into to Bled in top form after topping the points table at the conclusion of the three Samsung World Rowing Cup regattas this year.

The Germans are showing huge strength in the men's eight and also in the men's and women's quadruple sculls.

Elsewhere, the United States are likely to keep top spot in the women's eight having dominated the event in recent years, while for host country Slovenia, their top medal prospect lies in Iztok Cop and Luka Spik.

Cop and Spik, the Sydney 2000 Olympic gold medallists, will race in the men's double sculls with the hope of returning to their former glory days in front of a home crowd.

Lake Bled has hosted the World Rowing Championships in 1966, 1979 and 1989 and was host to the first stage of the 2010 World Rowing Cup.

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