The Cancer Research UK Boat Races – The men’s race

CRUK BR

Following on from my preview of the Women’s Blue Boats it’s time to turn my attention to the men. Last year saw an excellent Light Blue crew break a run of three Oxford wins to record only their 6th win of the century. The question this year is with just 2 Blues returning from last year’s crew, can Cambridge repeat their win from 2016?

CUBC 16

Cambridge winning the 2016 Boat Race. Photo PA

Here is the seat by seat analysis….

 

Bow seat

Oxford

warr2

Name: William Warr

Nationality: British

Age: 25

Height: 195cm

Weight: 94.2kg

Warr has already won a Blue, albeit in Cambridge colours. He was part of the losing Light Blue boat in 2015. He’s raced for GB at U23 level, just missing a medal in the M4+ in 2014. He’s also raced in the Senior GB M8 at the EON Hanse Cup and won the Ladies Plate at Henley with what was, in effect, the GB 2nd 8. At the World University Championships he was part of the GB M8 that won gold in 2014. He has his sights firmly set on senior international honours and perhaps a place at the Tokyo Olympics, at the recent GB Senior trials he and crewmate Josh Bugajski finished 6th (7 seconds ahead of the best Cambridge pair).

 

Cambridge

Ben Ruble 7 CUBC

Name: Ben Ruble

Nationality: American

Age: 26

Height: 188cm

Weight: 87.3kg

Winning his third Blue, Ruble has a record so far of won one, lost one. A graduate of Wisconsin University he’s been a mainstay of the Cambridge boat throughout his three years. Last year’s 7 seat he’s now moved to the other end of the boat. Ruble was part of the top Goldie coxed 4 at the Head of the River Fours in November which won the elite 4+ division, beating the top Isis boat by a whopping 12 seconds (repeating the feat they achieved at the 2015 HOR4’s).

 

Verdict: this is an interesting battle between two former crewmates. Ruble is one of the most experienced Boat Race rowers in the Cambridge crew, but Warr is an athlete about to break into the big time. I’m calling this a narrow advantage to Oxford.

 

2 seat

Oxford

oleary

Name: Matt O’Leary

Nationality: American

Age: 26

Height: 180cm

Weight: 74.8kg

The shortest and lightest man in the race (he’s a full 17cm shorter and 26.4 kg lighter than team mate Olivier Siegelaar) O’Leary is nevertheless an experienced senior international oarsman. He made his international debut racing in the US U23 LM4X at the 2011 World Championships. He then made his senior debut in 2014 racing in the LM8 and the LM4X the following year. A Harvard graduate, he won the Lightweight Varsity 8’s at the IRA Championships and the Eastern Sprints and was co-captain in the 2012 boat that went undefeated all season.

 

Cambridge

Davidson.jpg

Name: Freddie Davidson

Nationality: British

Age: 18

Height: 188cm

Weight: 81.9kg

The youngest man in the race (he doesn’t turn 19 until the end of May) Davidson is one of the most exciting young oarsmen in Britain. No stranger to the Tideway, he learnt to row at St. Paul’s School and was a member of their outstanding 1st VIII that won the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley in 2015. He went on to make his international debut that year finishing 5th in the JM8 at the World Championships in Rio. The following year he was part of the top GB junior M4- that won a silver medal. He raced at the senior GB trials last month with Charlie Fisher finishing a strong 7th and was the top ranked U20 oarsman at Trials.  Expect to see him make his U23 debut this year and senior representative honours in the very near future.

 

Verdict: another very tight contest, but O’Leary’s greater international experience just gives Oxford the edge.

 

3 seat

Oxford

ollie-cook

Name: Oliver Cook

Nationality: British

Age: 26

Height: 194cm

Weight: 91.7kg

A graduate of the London School of Economics, Cook was the non-travelling spare for the GB Olympic team in 2016. He made his senior international debut in 2012 in the GB M8 that finished 5th at the European Championships. In 2013 he was again in the GB M8 that won gold at the World Cup in Eton and was a member of the Leander Club and Molesey composite that won the Ladies Plate at Henley Regatta and went on to finish 8th at the Lucerne World Cup. Last year he teamed up with Callum McBrierty and Henry Fieldman to win gold in the M2+ at the World Championships. He describes himself as the “perennial spare for the GB team” having been the spare throughout 2014-16. At the recent GB trials he paired with teammate (and former schoolmate) Vassilis Ragoussis finishing 10th (as an interesting little side note, at GB Trials Cook and Ragoussis raced as Isis whereas team mates Warr and Bugajski raced as Oxford University – this is because only those who have won a Blue can row as “Oxford University” otherwise it’s “Isis”).

 

Cambridge   

Letten.jpg            

Name: James Letten

Nationality: American

Age: 23

Height: 208cm

Weight: 106.4kg

Standing at 208cm, or 6ft 10in Letten becomes the tallest man ever to row in the Boat Race (beating by 1cm Olympic medallists Josh West and Paul Bennett). At 106.4kg he’s also the heaviest man in this year’s race. Letten is the 2nd Wisconsin graduate in the Light Blue boat and has been on the verge of breaking into the US U23 national team having been invited to final selection camps in the last two years. A “monster” on the erg, he is the current World Record holder in the 19-29 age bracket for the 10K. He also won the Indoor World Championships at the CRASH-B’s last year. If Cambridge coach Steve Trapmore has found a way of transferring that huge power into an effective boat mover (something Letten’s US coaches haven’t yet managed) then he could provide a massive engine to the Light Blue boat.

Verdict: despite his size and huge power, I’m giving this to the more experienced Ollie Cook of Oxford.

 

4 seat

Oxford

bugajski

Name: Josh Bugajski

Nationality: British

Age: 26

Height: 195cm

Weight: 99.3kg

Another returning Blue, Bugajski raced for Great Britain at the 2012 U23 World Championships. A graduate of Cardiff University, he’s represented Wales at the Home International Regatta, winning gold in the M1X in 2015. At the senior GB trials last month he partnered William Warr finishing an excellent 6th. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Welshman make his senior international debut in the near future.

 

Cambridge

Tracey.jpg

Name: Tim Tracey

Nationality: American

Age: 22

Height: 196cm

Weight: 97.4kg

A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Tracey made his international debut in 2015 as part of the US U23 M4- that finished just outside of the medals at the World Championships. At the Head of the River 4’s last year he was part of the 2nd Goldie Elite 4+ that finished 4th in the division and 24th overall. He learnt to row as a “plebe walk on” at Navy becoming team Captain for the 2015-16 year. In 2016 his Navy crew finished 10th at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships. In 2015 he was nominated for the USRowing Collegiate Athlete of the Year award.

 

Verdict: Tracey is a great oarsman and his international record is stronger than Bugajski, but the Welshman is in excellent form and his Tideway and Boat Race experience gives him the edge. Advantage Oxford.

 

5 seat

Oxford

siegelaar

Name: Olivier Siegelaar

Nationality: Dutch

Age: 30

Height: 197cm

Weight: 100kg

The oldest man in the race, Siegelaar is one of the most experienced oarsmen ever to row in the Boat Race. With three Olympic appearances to his credit he raced in the Dutch M8 at the Beijing, London and Rio Olympics culminating in an outstanding bronze medal in Rio. He made his senior international debut in 2007 in the M4X and then the M2X at the start of the 2008 season before moving to the M8 for the Olympics. A bronze medal in the M8 at the 2009 World Championships was followed by a 4th place in 2010, 6th in 2011 and a 5th place finish at the London Games. After a break in 2013 he returned to international competition in 2014 picking up a silver in the M4- at the Lucerne World Cup and 4th at the World Championships. In 2016 he won gold at both the first and second world cups before finishing with a superb bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with whom he won the IRA Championships in 2010.

 

Cambridge

malowany.jpg

Name: Aleksander Malowany

Nationality: Canadian

Age: 23

Height: 194cm

Weight: 94.4kg

A graduate of the University of Washington, Malowany was the Canadian School’s M1X champion in 2011. He made two appearances for Canada at the World Junior Championships, both in the JM4X finishing 24th in 2010 and 11th in 2011. Whist at Washington he won the Freshman Varsity 8’s at the IRA’s 2012 and followed that up with a win in the Temple Challenge Cup at Henley.  In his sophomore year he rowed in the UW 2nd Varsity winning both the PAC-12 and IRA Titles, a feat he repeated in his Junior year. In 2015 he rowed in the UW 4- at Henley that lost in the semi-finals of the Visitors Challenge Cup.

Verdict: advantage Oxford

 

6 seat

Oxford

disanto

Name: Michael DiSanto

Nationality: American

Age: 27

Height: 185cm

Weight: 89.9kg

This year’s Oxford President, DiSanto already has two Blue’s to his credit with wins in 2014 and 2015. He took time away from his studies in 2016 to row for the US national team racing in the 6 seat of the US M8 that finished 4th at the Rio Olympics. A Harvard graduate Di Santo had a highly successful rowing career making the Varsity 8 in his Sophmore year and winning the Ladies Plate at Henley. In 2011 he won the Eastern Sprints and finished 2nd at the IRA’s. He was made Captain in 2012 and rounded off his Harvard career with a bronze at the IRA’s. He made his International debut in 2011 finishing 6th in the M4- at the U23 World Championships. He won his first senior international vest in 2013 at the Lucerne World Cup before being selected for the M8 for the Rio Olympics.

 

Cambridge

Eble.jpg

Name: Patrick Eble

Nationality: American

Age: 22

Height: 193cm

Weight: 90.5kg

Eble started rowing in 2009 at the La sale High School in Pennsylvania. Whilst at High School he made two appearances for the US junior national team finishing 5th in the JM8 in both 2011 and 2012. After High School he went to Princeton and helped them win bronze at the IRA’s in 2015 (their first IRA medal since 2006). He followed this up with a 2nd bronze medal in 2016.

Verdict: A clear advantage for Oxford in this Harvard v Princeton battle.

 

7 seat

Oxford

j-cook

Name: Jamie Cook

Nationality: British

Age: 24

Height: 187cm

Weight: 84kg

Younger brother to Oliver, Jamie is a returning Blue having won in 2015 and lost in 2016. He raced for the GB U23 team between 2012-2104 making the A-Final in all three of his appearances. He made his one and only (so far) senior appearance in 2013 at the Eton World Cup racing as the 2nd GB M2- finishing a superb 5th. In 2012 he won the Prince Albert Challenge Cup at Henley with the University of London and also won silver at the world University Championships that year. One of three Old Abingdonian’s in the Oxford crew, Cook won World Rowing’s Parmigiani Spirit Award in 2013.

 

Cambridge

Tredell.jpg

Name: Lance Tredell

Nationality: British

Age: 28

Height: 194cm

Weight: 94.3kg

The 2nd returning Blue from last year’s winning crew, Tredell has a host of international honours to his credit. Unlike many of the other rowers in the race Tredell didn’t race at Junior or U23 level, instead he made his international debut in the senior team in 2012 racing the the GB M8 at the European Championships. In 2013 he raced for Great Britain at both the 1st and 2nd World Cups winning gold in Sydney. He was a member of the Leander Club/Molesey composite that won the Ladies Plate at Henley in 2013. He stroked the Cambridge Elite 4+ to victory at the Head of the River 4’s last year.

Verdict: this is really tight between two of GB’s most talented young rowers. I’m going to give it, just, to Cambridge.

 

Stroke seat

Oxford

ragoussis

Name: Vassilis Ragoussis

Nationality: British

Age: 24

Height: 194cm

Weight: 86.6kg

Vas is one of three Abingdon School alumni named in the Oxford boat (along with the Cook brothers). Whilst at Abingdon he was part of the outstanding crew that won the “Triple” (the School’s Head, The National Schools Regatta and the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley). He raced for GB as a junior in 2011 finishing 10th in the JM4-.  After leaving school he went on to study at Boston University in America, winning bronze in the Junior Varsity event at the Eastern Sprints. In 2013 he won his 2nd Henley medal taking the Thames Cup with the Griffen Boat Club (the Abingdon School Alumni).  He has his eyes set on senior international honours and raced with Ollie Cook at the GB Trials in February finishing 10th.

 

Cambridge

Meek.jpg

Name: Henry Meek

Nationality: Australian

Age: 24

Height: 193cm

Weight: 95.4kg

Aussie Meek is the 2nd Washington Huskie in the Cambridge boat.  He started rowing at Geelong Grammar school and was a member of the Banks Rowing Club and Melbourne University crew that won the Fawley Challenge Cup at Henley in 2010. He followed this up with a win in the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley the following year as part of the Upper Yarra Rowing Club Crew (under the guidance of Alex Henshilwood).  In his Freshman year at Washington he won his third straight Henley medal taking victory in the Temple Challenge Cup. His Freshman crew also won the PAC-12 and IRA Championships. In his Junior year he raced in the 1st Varsity 8 that won both the Pac-12 and IRA’s and beat the Polish national team in the semi-finals of the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley before losing to the World Champion British crew in the final. In his senior year he won his 4th IRA title. He’s made one appearance for the Australian national team, taking silver in the U23 M8 in 2014 (in a crew made up entirely of US based athletes). He was part of the winning Head of the River 4’s crew in November, although spent time out of the boat earlier this year due to a back injury.

Verdict: Advantage Cambridge – Meek is an outstanding oarsman and was part of an outstanding Washington Huskies crew.

 

Cox

Oxford

collier

Name: Sam Collier

Nationality: British

Age: 21

Height: 172cm

Weight: 55kg

Collier coxed Isis in 2015 and was the Blue Boat cox in 2016. A Hampton School old boy, Collier coxed the GB Junior M4+ at the World Championships in 2013.

 

Cambridge

ramambason.jpg

Name: Hugo Ramambason

Nationality: British

Age: 20

Height: 175cm

Weight: 58kg

The third Westminster School Alumni to cox in this year’s race (both coxes in the Women’s race after from Westminster. Ramambason wins his first Blue having coxed Goldie in both 2015 (where is was up against his opposite number Sam Collier) and again in 2016. Collier’s Isis got the better of his crew in 2015 and he’ll be desperate to get his own back.

Verdict: As a returning Blue (albeit a losing one) the advantage goes to Collier of Oxford.

 

So those are the crews, here are a few little stats…..

Crew weight averages: Oxford 90.2kg Cambridge 93.4kg

Crew height averages: Oxford 190.9cm Cambridge 194.4kg

Crew average age: Oxford 25 Cambridge 23

Nationalities: Oxford 3 (6 GB, 2 USA, 1 NED) Cambridge 4 (USA 4, GB 3, CAN 1, AUS 1)

Excluding the coxswains, there is only one Undergraduate in the race (Freddie Davidson of Cambridge).

There are more Americans in the race than were in the top three Varsity crews at the IRA Championships in 2016

6 of the Cambridge crew and 3 from Oxford were educated at American Universities.

Olivier Siegelaar of the Netherlands becomes the first triple Olympian to compete in the men’s race.

 

So who’s going to win?  The build-up to the race has been fascinating. Cambridge definitely fared better when the two squads met at the Head of the River Fours with their top coxed boat beating the top Oxford boat. Both crews have raced Oxford Brookes, winners of the Head of the River and Temple Challenge Cup last year. In the two pieces against Cambridge the honours were even in the first but in the 2nd the Light Blues struggled in the rough water and went down by 2 lengths. Against Oxford it was Brookes who struggled in the rough allowing the Dark Blues to win the first piece comfortably. In the 2nd it was much closer with Oxford leading by ¾ length coming into the final stretch and just managing to hold off a late Brookes surge to win by a few seats. So, advantage Oxford. Cambridge raced Leander on home water in Ely a few weeks ago but there’s not been much information coming out from Ely about how it went. Oxford raced Leander this weekend dispatching them quite comfortably. Cambridge’s final fixture was against a strong (albeit scratch) Italian National squad boat containing all the top Italian oarsmen (including world and Olympic medallists). The first piece resulted in a narrow win for the visitors. The 2nd piece looked like it was going to be another close race until the Italians hit rough water and their lack of fitness began to tell allowing Cambridge to take 3 lengths off them in 90 seconds. This would have been a big morale booster for Steve Trapmore’s men, the Italians were a class outfit.

But, after all of the pre-race fixtures it’s definitely the Dark Blues who have emerged the stronger, although if I’m going to be critical I don’t think Bowden has quite gotten the best out of what is, on paper, an outstanding crew. But there’s still a few weeks to go to race day and Oxford have shown that they handle rough water well and have a huge amount of power. Cambridge’s fortunes have been a bit more mixed, and Trapmore will be under pressure to deliver a strong performance. With a record of 2 wins and 4 losses in his 6 years in charge, another defeat may see calls for changes in personnel. In my seat by seat comparison I have it 7-2 in the Dark Blues favour. Unfortunately for the Light Blues I’m going to go for a Dark Blue win by at least 3 lengths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cancer Research UK Boat Races – Women’s race preview

CRUK BR

This year is the 90th anniversary of the first Oxford v Cambridge Women’s Boat Race and April 2nd sees its 3rd running since its move to the Tideway course in 2015. Oxford have been the dominant force since that move. Their crew in 2015 was truly outstanding, led by triple Olympic medallist, Caryn Davies they were a crew of international standard. In 2016 Oxford were again a more dominant crew and coped much better in the torrid conditions.

cambridge-sink.jpg

Cambridge almost swamping in 2016. Photo: The Independent

So, will Oxford make it a hat-trick of wins in 2017, or will Cambridge record their first Tideway victory?

Let’s take a look at the two crews:

 

Bow:

Oxford

Flo Pickles.jpg

Name: Flo Pickles

Nationality: British

Age: 20

Weight: 60kg

Height: 169cm

A graduate of the Gloucester Hartpury College’s “Start” programme (a joint initiative between GB Rowing and Gloucester Rowing Club) Pickles is an outstanding talent. A double Henley winner she won bronze at the Junior World Championships in 2014 and has raced at the U23 World Championships for the past 2 years. More renowned for sculling than sweep (she won bronze in the W1X at the 2016 European University Championships) she has been out of the boat earlier in the year through injury and her return has definitely strengthened the boat.

 

Cambridge

Ashton Brown

Name: Ashton Brown

Nationality: Australian/Canadian

Age: 28

Weight: 82kg

Height: 173cm

The heaviest rower in the race is perhaps an odd choice for the bow seat, but Brown is one of the most experienced athletes in the race. This year’s Cambridge President, she is set to win her third Blue and, and after two successive losses will be desperate to make it “third time lucky”.  The 28 year old is reading for a PhD in education having already studied at the University of Ottawa and Princeton University. She represented Canada at the 2009 and 2010 U23 World Championships, winning a bronze medal in 2010. Whilst at Princeton she won gold in the NCAA championships and Head of the Charles.

Verdict: a slight advantage to Cambridge, but it’s close.

 

2 seat

Oxford

Alice Roberts.jpg

Name: Alice Roberts

Nationality: British

Age: 19

Weight: 67.5kg

Height: 169cm

Alice Roberts learnt to row whilst at Cheney School in Oxford. The state school only started rowing in 2011 in partnership with Falcon Rowing Club. Coached by former Olympian Peter Haining the school has quickly gained a reputation for producing some outstanding talent. In 2012 a 14 year old Roberts is quoted in an Oxford Times article saying “I never thought I would have been able to become a rower – it always seemed too expensive. But now it has me hooked”. The youngest rower in the women’s race she is definitely another rower with a bright future ahead of her and she becomes the first athlete from Cheney Falcons to win a Blue.

 

Cambridge

Imogen Grant.jpg

Name: Imogen Grant

Nationality: British

Age: 21

Weight: 58.2kg

Height: 168cm

The shortest and lightest member of the Cambridge crew (she’s 1cm shorter than cox Matthew Holland!), Grant is, nevertheless an extremely talented oarswoman She only started rowing when she went up to Cambridge and quickly progressed through the development squad. In 2016 she was part of the Blondie crew that won the Reserves race by 3 lengths and also raced in the Lightweight Blue Boat. The 21 year old also won gold and silver medals at the 2016 British University Championships and medals at both the 2015 and 2016 European University Rowing Championships. In 2016 she was also part of the Cambridge University LW2- that won the Parkside Trophy at Henley Women’s Regatta.

Verdict: Despite giving away 9kg’s to her opposite number, this is advantage Cambridge.

 

3 seat

Oxford

esselstein.jpg

Name: Rebecca Esselstein

Nationality: American

Age: 24

Weight: 70.8kg

Height: 170cm

A Rhodes Scholar from the United States Air Force Academy reading for a DPhil in Astrophysics, Esselstein is a relative novice when it comes to rowing. Whilst at the USAF Academy she was more renowned as a runner posting some of the best 800m and 1500m times in the Academy’s history. She only started rowing when she came up to Oxford, but her undoubted athletic prowess has seen her win her seat in the Blue Boat.

 

Cambridge

lambe.jpg

Name: Claire Lambe

Nationality: Irish

Age: 26

Weight: 64.8kg

Height: 178cm

The complete opposite of her Dark Blue opponent in terms of rowing experience, Lambe is the most experienced rower in the race. Lambe has been racing at senior international level since 2010 and in 2016 she competed in the LW2X at the Rio Olympics finishing 6th with her partner Sinead Lynch. A graduate of University College Dublin she also made the final of the World University Championships in 2012.

Verdict: Advantage Cambridge

 

4 seat

Oxford

te water naude.jpg

Name: Rebecca te Water Naude

Nationality: British

Age: 20

Weight: 67.2kg

Height: 182cm

The tallest member of the Oxford crew, Wales’s Rebecca te Water Naude is another relative newcomer to rowing having only taken up the sport in 2014. But her talent was quickly spotted by the Welsh Rowing Academy in Cardiff and she was put on their fast track development scheme. She just missed out on a place in the Blue Boat last year and raced in the losing Osiris boat.

 

Cambridge

dawson.jpg

Name: Anna Dawson

Nationality: New Zealander

Age: 26

Weight: 78.6kg

Height: 180cm

One of six U23 internationals in the Cambridge Blue Boat, New Zealand’s Anna Daswon is another outstanding athlete. Winner of a gold medal at the World Junior Championships in 2008 she followed this up with a silver medal in the W8 at the 2011 U23 World Championships. A Psychology graduate from Stanford University she raced in their Varsity 8, and in 2014 was in the crew that won the PAC-12 Championships and in the same year was voted the PAC-12 female athlete of the year. In 2012 she won gold in the W4X at the New Zealand National Championships and narrowly missed out on selection for the 2012 Olympics.

Verdict: Advantage Cambridge

 

5 seat

Oxford

austin.jpg

Name: Harriet Austin

Nationality: New Zealander

Age: 28

Weight: 76.5kg

Height: 178cm

The most experienced member of the Oxford crew, Austin made her senior international debut in 2008 as part of the New Zealand W8 at the Munich World Cup and just missed qualifying for the Beijing Olympics.  In 2009 she switched to the quad winning bronze at both the Munich and Lucerne World Cups and took 7th at the World Championships. In the 2010 season she raced in three different boat classes, finishing 8th in the W4X at the first World Cup, 12th in the W1X at the 3rd World Cup and 8th in the W8 at the World Championships. In 2015 she was named as part of the Central Regional Performance Centre squad in New Zealand but has come to Oxford for the 2017 season to read for an MBA at Christ Church. Once completed she could well be back in the mix for a seat in the New Zealand squad for the Tokyo Olympics.

 

Cambridge

Hill.jpg

Name: Holly Hill

Nationality: British

Age: 23

Weight: 75.1kg

Height: 183cm

Hill was part of the losing 2015 Blue Boat and after taking a year out of her studies in 2016 to focus on her rowing, she’s back for her 2nd Blue. She’s one of the most talented young women rowers in Britain. She made her international debut in 2015 winning bronze in the W4- at the U23 World Championships and last season she went one better as part of the British U23 W8. She has her sights firmly set on representing Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics and is part of the British High Performance squad. At the GB National trials last month she finished 2nd with teammate Melissa Wilson in the W2- losing out by less than 1 second over 5Kto a Leander Club pair containing Olympic silver medallist Karen Bennett. I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t make her senior international debut in the very near future.

Verdict: A draw!

 

6 seat

Oxford

laverack.jpg

Name: Chloe Laverack

Nationality: American

Age: 24

Weight: 75.3kg

Height: 177cm

Laverack took up rowing at Northeastern University as a “walk on” and progressed from the 3rd to 1st Varsity boats in her 3 years at Northeastern. In her freshman year she finished 3rd at the Eastern sprints. As part of the 1st Varsity crew in 2015 she raced at the Eastern Sprints and won the CAA Championships. At the NCAA Championships they finished 1st in the D Final (19th out of 22). She has a strong connection with Oxford, her uncle Bill Lang, was a winning Oxford Blue in 1983 and 1984.

 

Cambridge

white.jpg

Name: Alice White

Nationality: British

Age: 24

Weight: 76.3kg

Height: 176cm

Born and educated in Hamilton, New Zealand, White raced for the Kiwis at the 2011 Junior World Championships taking a bronze medal in the JW4-. She then studied at UCLA and rowed in the Bruins Varsity 8 throughout her 4 years of study.  She switched to racing for GB in 2015 and was part of the U23 W8 that won bronze at the World Championships. At the recent GB Trials, she and partner Lucy Pike, finished 8th . She’s another athlete that will be looking to gain senior international honours in the near future, and has eyes on a place at the 2020 Olympics.

Verdict: Advantage Cambridge

 

7 seat

Oxford

cameron.jpg

Name: Emily Cameron

Nationality: Canadian

Age: 34

Weight: 76kg

Height: 165cm

The oldest rower in the race, she has a wealth of international experience to her name. She made her senior debut in 2010 racing to an 8th place in the W4X at the World Championships. In 2011 she took a 13th place in the W2X. 2013 saw her best ever result when she was part of the W4X that took silver at the World Championships in Chungju. In 2014 the same quartet finished 6th. A graduate of the University of Toronto, she’s at Mansfield College reading for a Masters in Public Policy.

 

Cambridge

goudet.jpg

Name: Myriam Goudet

Nationality: French

Age: 28

Weight: 79.5kg

Height: 183cm

One of three returning Blues, Goudet is a highly experienced international athlete. She has progressed through the French national team, starting with the juniors in 2005 and 2006, finishing 5th in the JW8 in ’06. She then moved up to the U23 team in 2007 finishing 7th in the W4X and then 4th in the W4- in 2009. She made her senior debut the same year finishing 6th in the W8 at the European Championships. At the same event the following year she was part of the W8 that finished 8th. In 2012 she was part of the French W4X that tried to qualify for the London Olympics, just missing out in 3rd place. She knows the Tideway extremely well, not only as a returning Blue, but as a graduate of Imperial College. Whilst at IC she won Elite 2X at Henley Women’s Regatta and then bronze in the W4- at the World University Championships.

Verdict: a very narrow win for Oxford

 

Stroke seat

Oxford

hebert.jpg

Name: Jenna Herbert

Nationality: American

Age: 23

Weight: 67.1kg

Height: 165cm

The 2nd Rhodes Scholar in the Oxford boat, Hebert is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.  She spent four years as part of the Penn Quakers Varsity 8 and helped them to their best ever finish at the Ivy League Championships and was awarded the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Academic performer of the Year.  In 2013 she made her international debut, finishing 5th in the LW4X at the U23 World Championships.

 

Cambridge

Melissa Wilson.jpg

Name: Melissa Wilson

Nationality: British

Age: 23

Weight: 77.1kg

Height: 178cm

Wilson already has three (losing) Blues to her name and will be desperate to make it 4th time lucky! Along with crewmate Holly Hill, she finished 2nd at the recent GB National trials and will be looking to establish herself as a regular in the senior GB team.  She competed for the GB U23 team twice, winning silver in the W8 in 2014 and a bronze in 2015. Also in 2015 she and Holly Hill won gold in the U23 division at the Essen International Regatta.  In 2016 she was part of the Leander Club/Reading Rowing Club composite that won the Princess Grace Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta. Like her crewmate, Holly Hill, I expect Wilson to become a regular in the senior GB team and could well feature at the Tokyo Olympics

Verdict: advantage Cambridge

 

Cox

Oxford

Shearer.jpg

Name: Eleanor Shearer

Nationality: British

Age: 21

Weight: 48kg

Height: 155cm

Shearer is no stranger to the Tideway, the former Westminster school pupil grew up coxing on the championship course and since going up to Oxford coxed the University Lightweights at the Head of the River and the Head of the River Fours.

 

Cambridge

Holland.jpg

Name: Matt Holland

Nationality: British

Age: 19

Weight: 51.3kg

Height: 169cm

Another old Westminsterian, Holland coxed the outstanding school 1st VIII in 2015-16. Under his guidance the school won the school’s Head of the River and the National School’s Regatta twice and were finalists in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley in 2015. In 2014 he coxed the Imperial College W8 at the Women’s Head of the River and competed for GB in the Anglo-French match in 2014.

Verdict: advantage Cambridge.

 

Those are the crews, so who will win? I’ve put Cambridge ahead in 7 of the 9 seats and their performances so far this season have shown that coach, Rob Baker, has put together an outstanding boat, possibly the finest Cambridge crew for a number of years. In recent fixtures Oxford had a good battle with Oxford Brookes, having to come from behind on both occasions to win. Whilst Cambridge haven’t had a match race against Brookes, they both competed at the recent Women’s Head of the River with the Light Blues finishing 38 seconds ahead of Brookes. At the Reading University Head of the River Oxford were the fastest women’s crew, 13 seconds faster than Brookes. I think it’s clear from the pedigree of the crew and their performances so far this season that Cambridge will be favourites on April 2nd. I’m picking a Light Blue win by 3 lengths.

The Women’s 8’s Head of The River

WEHORR

Photo: wehorr.org

 

This weekend sees the 77th running of the Women’s Head of the River…possibly the biggest women only sporting event in the world. 321 crews are in the draw, that’s more than 2500 athletes racing the 4.5 mile course from Chiswick to Putney.

At the top end of the field this was looking to be a three-way battle between Leander, Cambridge and a 7 club composite. Unfortunately it looks as though the squad composite – which had included Olympic silver medallist Zoe Lee – has scratched.  But, there are plenty of other Olympians slated to compete. Leander (starting no.51) look to be the favourites with Olympic silver medallists Vicky Thornley and Karen Bennett along with 2016 W4- World Champions Holly Nixon, Fiona Gammond and Holly Norton.

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Photo: The Boat Race Company Ltd

Cambridge University will be using this race as a major test for their prospective Blue Boat. They have had an excellent build up so far this season, winning the Quintin Head of the River and dominating all their match races so far. They start in 4th and will be chasing Oxford Brookes University. The Brookes crew features Olympic silver medallist Olivia Carnegie-Brown

Starting Head are Imperial College, they will be followed by Molesey – winners of Senior 8’s Hammersmith Head (and the fastest women’s crew).  UL will also be looking for a strong finish, their crew includes U23 silver medallist Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne. UL won the BUCS head and Elite 8’s at Hammersmith Head.

Ryan Demaine’s Headington School have been the dominant force in junior women’s 8’s for nearly a decade. At the Reading University Head they finished less than 1 second behind Oxford Brookes and could well improve on their 8th place starting position.

There are 7 overseas crews racing with the pick being the young Italians from CUS Milano (start number 6), they will be looking to defend their overseas pennant against 2 Swiss and 4 German crews.

Competition in the Intermediate category will be particularly fierce with 165 entries (competing for Club, Provincial Club, Medium & Small Club and University pennants). The Club pennant will be a good battle between Tideway rivals Thames and Tideway Scullers with the Provincial Club looking to be a fight between Cantabrigian (winners of the Head of the Nene) and Agecroft.

Hopefully the weather gods will play nice, the forecast is looking good with light winds, cloud and temperatures in the low teens….it should be a great day’s racing.

 

The battle of Oxford

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Oxford University v Oxford Brookes in 2016. Photo: OBUBC

As part of their preparations for the 2017 University Boat Race, Oxford take on their neighbours, Oxford Brookes University, on Sunday over the Championship course in London. To those of us who follow the machinations of the Boat Race, this has the makings (on paper at least) to be one of the most eagerly awaited contests for years. Brookes are the fastest University crew in the country at the moment (and possibly one of the fastest in Europe). A few weeks ago they raced the provisional Cambridge Blue Boat and won one of the pieces comfortably (the other being declared a draw).

The Brookes crew contains eight of the crew that won the Temple Challenge Cup last year and all but stroke man James Stanhope have won representative honours for Great Britain at U23 level (and in the case of bowman Jamie Copus, senior level). They are a well-established and well drilled crew, and will give Oxford a really stern test.

So, who’s been named in the Dark Blue boat (not in seat order);

 

Vassilis Ragoussis

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Nationality: British

Age: 24

Height: 194cm

Weight: 87kg

Vas is one of three Abingdon School alumni named in the Oxford boat. He raced for GB as a junior and went on to study at Boston University in America winning bronze in the Junior Varsity event at the Eastern Sprints. In 2013 he won the Thames Cup at Henley with the Griffen Boat Club.

 

Oliver Cook

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Nationality: British

Age: 26

Height: 194cm

Weight: 94kg

Another Abingdon School old boy, Cook was the non-travelling spare for the GB Olympic team in 2016. Last year he teamed up with Callum McBrierty and Henry Fieldman to win gold in the M2+ at the World Championships. He describes himself as the “perennial spare for the GB team”. Once his Oxford days are over he should be able to cement himself a permanent spot on the national team.

 

Jamie Cook

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Nationality: British

Age: 24

Height: 187cm

Weight: 84kg

Younger brother to Oliver and the third Abingdon alumni, Jamie is a returning Blue having won in 2015 and lost in 2016. He raced for the GB U23 team between 2012-2104 and in 2013 made his senior debut at the Eton World Cup. In 2012 he won the Prince Albert Challenge Cup at Henley with the University of London.

 

Josh Bugajski

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Nationality: British

Age: 26

Height: 195cm

Weight: 96kg

Another returning Blue, Bugajski raced for Great Britain at the 2012 U23 World Championships. A graduate of Cardiff University, he’s represented Wales at the Home International Regatta, winning gold in the M1X in 2015.

 

Michael DiSanto

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Nationality: American

Age: 27

Height: 185cm

Weight: 88kg

This year’s Oxford President, DiSanto already has two Blue’s to his credit with wins in 2014 and 2015. He took time away from his studies in 2016 to row for the US national team racing in the 6 seat of the US M8 at the Rio Olympics.

 

Olivier Siegelaar

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Nationality: Dutch

Age: 30

Height: 197cm

Weight: 100kg

The 2nd Rio Olympian in the Oxford crew, Siegelaar rowed in the Dutch M8 that took bronze. For Siegelaar Rio was his 3rd Olympics – making him one of the most experienced athletes ever to race for Oxford. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with whom he won the IRA Championships in 2012. He’s also the oldest, tallest and heaviest man in the Oxford boat.

 

William Warr

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Nationality: British

Age: 25

Height: 195cm

Weight: 92kg

Warr has already won a Blue, albeit in Cambridge colours. He was part of the losing Light Blue boat in 2015. He’s raced for GB at U23 level, just missing a medal in the M4+ in 2014. He’s also raced in the Senior GB M8 at the EON Hanse Cup and won the Ladies Plate at Henley with what was, in effect, the GB 2nd 8 (although I got told off for calling it that when I was commentating for Regatta Radio 😉 )

 

Matthew O’Leary

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Nationality: American

Age: 26

Height: 180cm

Weight: 78kg

The 2nd American in the crew, O’Leary is an experienced senior international having raced for the USA in the LM8 in 2014 and the LM4X in 2015. Whilst at Harvard he won the Lightweight Varsity 8’s at the IRA Championships and was co-captain in the 2012 boat that went undefeated all season.

 

Sam Collier (cox)

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Nationality: British

Age: 21

Height: 172cm

Weight: 55kg

Collier coxed Isis in 2015 and was the Blue Boat cox in 2015. A Hampton School old boy, Collier coxed the GB Junior M4+ at the World Championships in 2013.

 

So that’s the provisional Blue Boat. It’s a very impressive line-up, possibly the strongest Oxford crew since 2013 (which included the likes of Stan Louloudis, Malcolm Howard, Karl Hudspith, Sam O’Connor and Paul Bennett). It’s a testament to the strength of the Oxford crew that two of last year’s Blue Boat (James White and Jorgen Tveit) miss out. Also missing out are 2015 Lightweight world Champion Claas Mertens and Washington Huskies alumni Dusan Milovanovic.

The race v Brookes should be an epic. Oxford look to have a huge amount of experience and firepower whereas Brookes are a well-established and very talented unit. If I have to call the result, I’m going to go with a Dark Blue win by a length or so. It’s going to be good!

GB Trials preview and thoughts on the FISA Congress

 

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First of all let me apologise for being a bit quiet on this blog for a while, as I’ve mentioned before (and if anyone who follows me on twitter will know) I’ve been unwell for the last few months. Fortunately I’m now almost (but not quite) completely well again, so I thought I would dive back into the fray as there’s quite a lot going on in the rowing world at the moment. In Britain this weekend sees the 3rd Winter assessment (and the first to include returning Olympians) and in Tokyo the FISA Extraordinary Congress will vote on the future of rowing at the Olympics.

Right,lets have a look at the GB trials….

As mentioned above, the trials are the first of the new Olympiad to include returning Rio Olympians. Here’s a quick look at which of the athletes have retired, who’s carrying on and who’s taking a break.

Campbell

M1X: Alan Campbell. After 4 Olympic Games and a senior career spanning 12 years, the 33 year old Northern Irishman has officially hung up his sculls.

 

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M2-: Alan Sinclair and Stewart Innes. Both are carrying on although Sinclair is absent from this weekend’s racing. Innes is in a pair at the trials with 2015 M2+ World Champion Matt Tarrant.

 

GB M2X

M2X: John Collins and Jonny Walton. These two have been the GB M2X for the past couple of years and both are racing at the trials. It’ll be interesting to see if they continue their partnership in 2017.

 

M4-: Alex Gregory, George Nash, Moe Sbihi, Stan Louloudis. GB’s flagship boat from the Rio Olympics, returning the 5th consecutive gold medal in this event. But, only one of the crew is racing this weekend. George Nash was the first of the crew to retire and has gone off to utilise his Cambridge degree in engineering and will be working as an R&D Engineer for Kineterol Ltd. Alex Gregory was the next to hang up his oars after winning his 2nd Olympic Gold medal.  Stan Louloudis has yet to formally announce his intentions, the former Oxford University President went travelling after the Rio Olympics and is currently listed among the “undecided” camp. A lot of people (me included) will hope Stan continues to Tokyo but I wouldn’t be surprised if he calls it a day, he’s achieved all he set out to do and has been quoted as saying he didn’t want “to be defined as a rower”. The fourth member of the crew is Moe Sbihi. Mo made it clear fairly soon after Rio that he would be carrying on and will be the backbone of the new-look GB squad.

Mo_Alex

Alex Gregory (left) and Moe Sbihi on the start line in Rio

 

M4X: Jack Beaumont, Angus Groom, Sam Townsend, Pete Lambert. Of this crew only Sam Townsend has retired – taking up the position of Master in Charge of Rowing at Radley College. Beaumont and Lambert are racing this weekend with Groom absent. The GB sculling team is very open this season and it’s going to be very interesting to see who fills which seat.

 

M8: Phelan Hill, Will Satch, Matt Langridge, Paul Bennett, Pete Reed, Matt Gotrel, Andy Hodge, Tom Ransley, Scott Durant.

Hodge

Andy T Hodge, retiring after winning his 3rd Olympic gold medal

This boat has, not unsurprisingly, seen a few retires. Most notable among them is Andy Hodge, with 3 Olympic gold medals and 4 World titles to his name it was no surprise he’d had enough. Andy’s also been quite vocal about the difficulties faced by senior members of the squad being able to support their families on the funding given, and the hurdles put in front of them to augment these earnings. Andy is now working as a consultant in water management. His long-time rowing partner, Pete Reed on the other hand has committed to Tokyo, with the permission of his employers in the Royal Navy. Pete’s not competing at the trials as he continues his rehabilitation following hip surgery. Both Paul Bennett and Matt Gotrel have decided to take a break from rowing but may yet return in 2018 to compete for seats at Tokyo. Matt Langridge and cox Phelan Hill have also retired (although no official announcement has been made). Hill returns to his job at the Treasury and Langridge is, I believe, training to be a pilot. Strokeman Will Satch is carrying on and is racing in a pair with Moe Sbihi at trials.

 

LM2X: Richard Chambers and Will Fletcher. Chambers quit soon after the Rio Olympics, a stalwart of the GB Lightweight team for 10 years he leaves with an Olympic Silver medal and 2 World Titles to his name. He’s now assistant coach for the Cambridge University Boat Race squad. His partner in Rio, Will Fletcher, is back for more and will be looking to lay down a marker as the number 1 lightweight sculler.

 

LM4-: Pete Chambers, Mark Aldred, Jonno Clegg, Chris Bartley.  So far only Chris Bartley has officially retired (after a decade in the senior squad). But, only Pete Chambers is competing at this weekend’s trials. With the future of lightweight sweep rowing so undecided it wouldn’t be too surprising to see a number of official retirement announcements in the coming weeks.

 

Glover & Stanning

Helen Glover and Heather Stanning of Great Britain

W2-: Helen Glover & Heather Stanning. Major Stanning announced she was returning to her Army duties fairly quickly after the Olympics. Helen Glover, World Rowing’s no.1 rower of 2016, is taking a break. She married TV presenter and Naturalist Steve Backshall and has spent the past few months in Japan and Australia making a film for  BBC World. Whilst in Japan she did do some rowing, getting out in a eight with a local club. She’s said in interview that she’s not yet decided on her future in the sport but has given strong indications that she doesn’t quite feel finished just yet. She’s expressed an interest in the W1X and if she does return it’ll be a fascinating contest to see her and Vicky Thornley battling it out for supremacy.

 

W2X: Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley. With 5 Olympics medals and a Damehood to her name Dr Katherine Grainger has still not officially announced her retirement from the sport.  It’s highly unlikely the 41 year old will make another comeback, especially after the emotionally draining 2016 season, but until she officially says “that’s it” we can’t completely rule it out! Thornley, on the hand, has committed to Tokyo. She’s racing at the Trials and will expect to be GB’s no.1 sculler. As such she may have some say over which boat she races in. We could well see a showdown between her and Glover for the W1X (or how about a Glover/Thornley W2X….now that would be interesting!)

 

W8: Zoe De Toledo, Zoe Lee, Karen Bennett, Olivia Carnegie-Brown, Jess Eddie, Polly Swann, Fran Houghton, Melanie Wilson, Katie Greves.

Only one member of this crew, Karen Bennett, is racing at the GB Trials this weekend. She was due to partner Zoe Lee but Zoe has withdrawn due to illness.  Fran Houghton has stepped down after an astonishing career in the British Team which included racing at five Olympic Games, winning 3 silver medals and 4 World Titles. Personally I’m a little disappointed that despite all her success, she’s yet to receive any form of Honour…not even an MBE. In my opinion no-one in the British team, male or female, typifies the phrase “for services to rowing” more than Fran. Maybe now she’s retired she might get the recognition she deserves.

Polly Swann has decided to take a break from rowing as she competes her medical degree but has indicated her intention to try for Tokyo. Katie Greves has retired after a career spanning 15 years and Olivia Carnegie-Brown has taken up an internship at Ernst & Young. Cox Zoe De Toldeo, Jess Eddie and Melanie Wilson have also retired although not yet formally announced their decision.

 

LW2X: Kat Copeland and Charlotte Taylor.  Both Copeland and Taylor (now racing as Charlotte Booth having married after Rio) are racing at the GB trials. After a bitterly disappointing 2016 they will be looking to retain their seats in the LW2X and re-establish themselves as one of the best crews in the world.

 

So that’s the state of play of the returning Olympians, but who to watch at the trials….

Competitors face a 5K time trial in singles or pairs on the waters of the River Witham in Boston, Lincolnshire

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Competitors at the recent GB Junior Trials on the River Witham in Boston

M1X

34 scullers. Among the senior athletes it’s going to be a showdown between Jack Beaumont, Pete Lambert, John Collins and Jonny Walton. Watch out also for Leander Club captain Nick Middleton. Among the younger scullers the ones to watch are last year’s U23 M4X; Rowan Law, Harry Glenister, Harry Leask and Andrew Joel and also Welshman Tom Barras – fifth in the U23 M1X last year. Cambridge University President, Lance Tredell, is also racing in the M1X.

Edit: Jack Beaumont has just withdrawn from this weekend’s trials due to a hamstring injury.

M2-

31 pairs. Moe Sbihi and Will Satch will be looking to win, and win well. What’ll be interesting this season is what boat these two find themselves in. With the Kiwis taking a break from the M2- the field has suddenly opened up and the switch of the Olympic M2X champion Sinkovic brothers from Croatia to the M2- makes it one of the events to watch this year. My gut instinct is these two will eventually find a seat in the M4- at Tokyo but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them have at least one season in a smaller boat. The biggest challenge to the Sbihi/Satch combo will be Stewart Innes and Matt Tarrant. Innes was 4th in this boat class in Rio and Tarrant won gold in the coxed pair in 2015. I expect these two pairs to be well clear of the rest of the field. “Best of the Rest” may well be the young crew of Callum McBrierty and Jacob Dawson. McBrierty won the M2+ world title this year and was sub in the M4- in Lucerne. Dawson is in his first year in the senior squad after an extremely successful career at the University of Washington – I could well see Dawson becoming the first US educated man to win a senior international vest for GB. Oxford University also have a couple of strong boats racing with senior international William Warr racing with Josh Bugajski and 2016 World Champion Ollie Cook racing with Vassillis Ragoussis. Watch out also for the fleet of Oxford Brookes boats especially Morgan Bolding and Michael Glover.

LM1X

40 scullers. Pete Chambers will be starting as favourite, especially after it appears Will Fletcher has withdrawn. Chasing Chambers will be 2015 world LM2- champion Sam Scrimgeour of Molesey Boat Club along with three of the 2016 LM4X – Charlie Waite-Roberts, Zak Lee-Green and Jamie Copus (the 4th member of that crew, Jamie Kirkwood has retired and is now working as Assistant Coach with the Oxford University Women’s Boat Race crew). The U23 version were world champions last year, and all four of the crew (Hugo Coussens, Oliver Varley, Matthew Curtis and Gavin Horsburgh) are racing at trials.

At this point it’s worth discussing what may happen with the lightweights. It’s looking highly likely that the LM4- will be dropped from the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020 (more below). This raises the question of what will GB do? Will they continue to run a lightweight sweep programme if it’s no longer part of the Olympics. With funding always an issue I can see an argument that says “why spend money on boats that won’t feature at the Olympics, or aren’t a development boat for the Olympics”. I would not be surprised to see GB (and other big rowing nations) drop out of lightweight sweep racing.

W2-

15 pairs. As mentioned above, the only returning Rio Olympian is Karen Bennett. She’s partnered by Leander club-mate Katherine Douglas. They will have their work cut-out against Fiona Gammond and Holly Norton both of whom were in the gold medal W4- last season. Another boat to watch out for is the Southampton Coalporters/Agecroft combo of Caragh McMurtry and Rebecca Chin. McMurtry last raced for GB in the W8 at the 2014 World Championships and Chin won a silver medal in the W4- in 2015. Cambridge University have three boats entered with the pick possibly being the Holly Hill and Melissa Wilson pairing. These two were in the U23 W4- that won bronze in 2015. Also in the U23 W4- from 2015 was Sam Courty of Bath University, she’s joined by former Oxford President Anastasia Chitty (herself an U23 medallist from 2014). The final crew to mention is the Molesey Club pairing of Katie Bartlett and Ruth Whyman – both of whom raced in the U23 W8 that won a silver medal in 2014.

 

W1X

40 scullers. As mentioned above, Vicky Thornley will be expecting to come out on top and continue her status as GB’s no.1 women’s sculler. Behind her though it should be a good fight. U23 W2X World Champion Jess Leyden raced in the W4X last season narrowly missing qualification for the Olympic Games. Holly Nixon of Leander club has swapped one oar for two having been part of the World Championship winning W4- last year. Another talented young oarswoman swapping from sweep to scull is Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne of the University of London. The 20 year old was a member of the silver medal winning W8 at last year’s U23 World Championships. Watch out too for Bethany Bryan, the 23 year old from the Leander Club will be looking to win her first senior vest this season having won a bronze medal at U23 level in 2015

LW1X

29 scullers. Kat Copeland and Charlotte Booth (nee Taylor) will expect to be well ahead of the rest of the field, especially after their disappointing 2016 season. If Copeland and Booth had a disappointing 2016 the same definitely can’t be said for three of their rivals – Ellie Piggott, Brianna Stubbs and Emily Craig won gold in the LW4X at the 2016 World Championships (the 4th member of the crew, Imogen Walsh, is currently working to develop rowing in the Maldives). The pressure in the lightweight women’s team for the coveted seats in the double is going to be extreme.

 

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Delegates at the FISA Extraordinary Congress in Tokyo

So that’s a look at trials…but 6000 miles away the future of rowing at the Olympics is being discussed at the FISA Extraordinary Congress.  The biggest single issue they are voting on is which events to recommend to the IOC for inclusion at the Tokyo Olympics. I’ve written at length on the two options available, but basically it’s between dropping the LM4- in favour of the W4- or dropping the M4- in favour of the LW4-. The first is the preferred option of the FISA Council and the latter has been proposed by a group of nations including China, Ireland, Switzerland, Canada and Australia. Today was devoted to the discussions of the proposals. FISA President Jean-Christophe Rolland opened the debate saying that when

discussions [started] with the IOC for the 2020 programme, the starting point was: zero lightweights”.

FISA’s challenge therefore was to do what they could to preserve lightweight rowing in some shape or form at the Olympics. The chances of the alternative proposal were dealt a blow when one of the original proponents, Canada, withdrew their support;

 “We are withdrawing our individual proposal. We looked at a number of factors. We feel there’s no appetite with IOC to increase the number of Olympic events. Universality argument we haven’t seen the data. When you look at participation over the last 2 decades, in lightweight rowing it is dominated by big rowing nations. I think with that the FISA council proposal is the one we support”.

Morten Espersen (currently Irish High Performance Director – although he has resigned from this post a couple of weeks ago) argued that the removal of the LM4- will mean an number of countries would suffer and called on “all countries that have not won medals yet, should vote for the alternative proposal.” He was also critical of FISA President J-C Rolland saying he shouldn’t have claimed that to vote for the alternative proposal was “irresponsible”.

Other nations took a more pragmatic approach, Germany stated that we shouldn’t “decide what is good for rowing as a rower but…what the IOC thinks is good for the Olympics”. The South Africans said that despite winning gold in the LM4- in London “we’ve elected the FISA leadership and have to support them”.  Annamarie Phelps, representing GB, tried to move this away from a discussion about lightweight rowing and instead focussed on rowing’s need to be flexible and innovative and “cannot risk….asking the IOC to do something we know they don’t wish to do”.

But perhaps the most important voice of the day came from Denis Oswald:

Two years ago the Olympic Programme commission had decided to eliminate lightweights, and thanks to the work of Jean-Christophe and Matt [Smith], they have managed to keep the doubles, based on their contribution to universality. We cannot afford to lose them. I like the alternative proposal and if I was the one to decide I would choose it, but I do not decide. And it is just not realistic, and not possible, unfortunately. The FISA Council has done its best to keep the principle of lightweight rowing, to keep our events and our quota. The Council proposal is the only one that has a realistic chance of being accepted by the IOC Executive Board”.

So, at the time of writing voting hasn’t yet taken place, but it looks a foregone conclusion that the FISA Council proposal will be adopted and the LM4- will be replaced by the W4-. But, it’s important to stress that this doesn’t automatically mean that all 14 events will be raced at Tokyo. FISA will make a proposal to the IOC about which events they would like included, but it’s up to the IOC Executive Board, in consultation with both FISA and the Olympic Programme Commission, to make the final decision. It’s still possible that they may decide to drop all lightweight events from the Tokyo 2020 programme. There is also a concern that losing the LM4- will be the “this end of the wedge” the light doubles may survive to the Tokyo Olympics but may not make it to 2024. As mentioned above, the removal of the LM4- from the Olympic programme also poses a significant risk to the future of lightweight sweep rowing. It would be highly unlikely that the major rowing nations (who’s funding is totally geared towards the Olympics) would continue to divert funds into a non-Olympic boat class. Personally I think by 2019 at the latest lightweight racing at World Cup and World Championship level will be restricted to sculling events. Lightweight sweep died on February 1th 2017….RIP.

 

Edit: Saturday 11th February

Votes were cast earlier today and the result was closer than I expected. The FISA Council proposal to replace the LM4- with the W4- was accepted by 94 votes to 67. This will now be presented to the IOC Executive Board for a final decision in July. Fingers crossed the IOC accept the proposal in full and rowing keeps 14 events in the programme for Tokyo 2020. Needless to say the decision has resulted in a lot of disappointment from the rowing world, but as I mention above, it was the most pragmatic decision FISA could have made and should protect the light doubles (at least for this Olympic cycle).

A couple of other interesting changes approved by Congress is the increase in the distance for Para-rowing from 1000m to 2000m. On the face of it this makes excellent sense and should make organisation simpler. It also makes sense for a boat like the LTAMix4+ and TAMix2X. My only small worry is for the two 1X para events. When the races were held over 1K they would take around 5;30mins for the men and 7 mins for the women (so not too dissimilar from some of the able-bodied events). But, with the distance doubled I have a worry that the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) may be reluctant to have races that could last anything up to 18-20 minutes. Hopefully I’m worrying over nothing as the ASM1X and ASW1X are great events, but you never can tell.

The other significant change approved at the Congress this weekend was the decision to remove the restriction that said coxes had to be the same gender as their crew. Thus men may cox a women’s 8 and vice versa. I wonder who’ll be the first to apply the rule. In GB with both Phelan Hill and Zoe De Toledo stepping down from their coxswain’s duties, selection will become very, very interesting….

Thoughts on Henley and Tokyo

 

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First of all let me start off with an apology that I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog for the last few months. Anyone who follows me on twitter (@fatsculler) will know I’ve had a few health issues recently. Fortunately I’m on the mend although it’s going to be a long and slow process of recovery.

Anyway, there’s been quite a bit going on in the last week or so, so I thought it was high time I “got back on the horse” and wrote a bit. There are three things to talk about in this blog;

  1. New events at Henley Royal Regatta
  2. Proposals for rowing at the Tokyo Olympics
  3. UK Sport funding for the Tokyo Olympiad

 

Big changes for Henley Royal Regatta

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Earlier this week a press release landed in my inbox that took me by surprise. Henley Royal Regatta announced four new Stewards and three….THREE new events. This was unprecedented (as far as I can tell) for the Regatta. Not only was this more new events to be introduced at any one time they are all for women. For the 2017 Regatta the Stewards, led by Chairman of the Regatta Sir Steve Redgrave, have introduced the following:

Women’s Fours

Women’s Pairs

Women’s Double Sculls

These are effectively “Open” events aimed at senior International crews. The Women’s Fours has the same qualification criteria as the Remenham Challenge Cup (for women’s 8’s) “Open to eligible members of any club established at least one year before the closing date for entries). The Women’s pairs and Double Sculls have slightly different wording to the entry criteria aligned with the rules for the Princess Grace Challenge Cup (for W1X): “Open to eligible members of any club established at least one year before the closing date for entries, subject to the following: No crew shall compete in this event unless, at the date of entry, it is at least of British Rowing Senior status, or equivalent standard, in rowing.”

So, the upshot of this is that for the first time in its history Henley Royal Regatta has an equal number of open events for men and women. Hopefully this will make the Regatta even more attractive to national teams to compete in between the 2nd and 3rd World Cups. It should be fascinating to see even more world class women’s rowing and sculling on the Thames. I would imagine that this will also make the Regatta more attractive to broadcasters like BT Sport to establish regular coverage of the Regatta. It does, however, remain to be seen what impact this move has on Henley Women’s Regatta. Given that the Chairman, Miriam Luke, has just been elected as a Steward of Henley Royal I would think the interests of the Women’s Regatta are being ably addressed. These new events may indeed help the Women’s Regatta. Whilst the date of HWR usually clashes with the 2nd World Cup (meaning they don’t tend to attract a large number of senior international entries), the fact there is now three more Women’s events at the Royal may attract some top US University and national U23 crews to race at both the Women’s Regatta and the Royal. We shall see, So far there’s no word on how many places will be available in each of the new events, or if any of the current events will have their number of places reduced to accommodate the three new women’s events. But my expectation is that for the first year at least it’ll probably be limited to 8 crews and have no impact on the current events.

Whilst this is excellent news for the Regatta I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that there is still no event for club standard men’s quads. To me this is the one glaring omission in the regatta programme. The introduction of a club quad would allow a clear development path from the Fawley (Junior Men’s Quads), to the club quad then to the Prince of Wales (Intermediate quads) and then the Queen Mother (Open Quads). Currently there is too big a jump from the Fawley to the Prince of Wales to offer a pathway to any but the very talented (guys like Jack Beaumont). How would this event be squeezed into the programme? Well, I said it before, and received quite a lot of criticism for it but I’ll say it again…..I’d be happy to see the Britannia Challenge Cup for Club coxed fours be changed to a club quad event. I think the coxed four is a bit of a dead-end event, yes it’s raced a lot at the lower levels of club rowing and it’s a great boat to help rowers develop. But, should it be a key event at one of the most prestigious Regattas in the world? I don’t think so. Sacrifice the M4+ in favour of the M4X. I’d even go as far as suggest the Prince Albert (for student M4+ be changed to a M4X as well!)

Time will tell, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see even more radical changes to the 2018 Henley Royal Regatta….put a bet on 2017 being the last time the Britannia Challenge Cup is competed for by coxed fours…..

 

Rowing at the Tokyo Olympiad

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Also this week FISA announced the final two proposals for changes to the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020. The delegates at the Extraordinary Congress in February 2017 will have to decide between two options:

  1. Replace the LM4- with the W4- This is the proposal from the FISA Council
  2. Replace the M4- with the LW4- This is the proposal supported by Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Switzerland

The decision will be down to an absolute majority.

So, what does this mean? Fundamentally the FISA delegates are deciding the future of Lightweight Sweep rowing. If they accept option 1 then there will be no lightweight sweep rowing at the Olympics. Without the Olympics as a showground it’s likely that lightweight sweep at a World Championship level will wither and ultimately die. Some would say this is no bad thing, lightweight rowing is a “failed experiment”. Part of the problem for the LM4- is actually they’ve gotten too damn fast. The best of the LM4- are now competitive with all but the very best heavyweight men’s fours. To the average viewer there isn’t enough to differentiate between the lightweight and heavyweight fours. The other major consideration to be factored in is the attitude of the IOC. They have gone on record a number of times to voice their dislike of weight-restricted events (outside of combat sports and weightlifting).  If FISA propose a 14 event programme with 10 open-weight and 4 lightweight events there is the very real possibility that the IOC will reject the 4 lightweight events and rowing will be left with just 10 events at Tokyo. Make no mistake, if a lightweight event gets rejected it won’t be replaced by another open weight event.  The other thing I find slightly odd about the 2nd proposal is it champions an event (the LW4-) that hasn’t even been raced at World Championship level since 1996. I understand why the LW4- has been suggested as it gives parity with the lightweight men’s version, but it does feel a bit like clutching at straws. What will be crucial come the voting in February, is the attitude of some of the “big” Eastern European nations, the likes of Romania, Belarus and Ukraine – countries who have a very strong tradition of open weight women’s sweep rowing but next to nothing for lightweights.  There is also the fact that option 1 is the preferred choice of the FISA Council, a lot of nations would be reluctant to vote against their governing council’s preferred option. So, as sad as it may seem to a lot of people, I think Messer’s Gyr, Niepmann, Schuerch & Tramer of Switzerland will be the last ever Olympic LM4- Champions. Let’s just hope that the IOC (who are the ultimate arbiters of what is and isn’t included in the Olympic Rowing Programme) agree to retain the LM2X and LW2X…although I fear they won’t.

 

UK Sport funding for the Tokyo Olympiad.

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Also announced this week is the funding provided by UK Sport for each of the Olympic sports for the Tokyo Olympiad. The headlines make good reading for GB Rowing’s Performance Director, Sir David Tanner. Rowing once again is the best funded of all the Olympic sports receiving a total of £32,111,157 for the four year cycle. But behind the headlines this is actually a reduction of £511K versus the Rio Olympiad. This is despite rowing officially missing its medal target in Rio of 6 medals. Its fortunate for British Rowing that the quality of the medals were better than expected, 3 golds and 2 silvers beats 6 bronzes every day of the week. I don’t think it’s stretching the point to suggest that the silver medal won by Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley saved GB’s bacon. Theirs was an unexpected medal, whereas more “expected” medals (the M4X, M2- and lightweights) missed out.

Other “headline” sports have fared worse. Cycling, often seen as GB’s “Olympic Medal Factory”, has seen its funding cut by £4.2m (14%) v Rio. The argument put forward for the cut to Cycling is that the sport has significant opportunities to generate income itself from sponsorship so needs less from the public purse. It’s somewhat surprising that British Rowing is still hasn’t had a title sponsor since Siemens pulled out after the London Olympics. Given the success of British rowers at London and Rio it does seem odd that a major sponsor isn’t on board. The biggest winner in the funding round is Shooting. They have seen their funding increased by 78% v Rio to just over £7m, given the Shooting team comprises 11 athletes that equates to nearly £640K per athlete (compared to Rowing with 100 funded athletes @£321K per athlete). The biggest loser is Badminton which loses all of its funding, despite meeting its medal target at Rio. The argument put forward is that the funding is based on medal potential at Tokyo, not performance at Rio. This is pretty soul-destroying to the Badminton squad as it basically says that UK Sport do not believe they can win any medals in Tokyo. The Rio medallists have taken to social media to express their shock and disgust at the cutting of funding and the fact this may mean the end of their careers. I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of this, an appeal will surely be winging its way to UK Sport.

Funding is always an emotive issue, and with sales of tickets for the National Lottery declining UK Sport have a smaller pot to play with, they will be looking to sports to generate their own sources of income. In this respect rowing may come under increasing scrutiny if it fails to deliver strong performances during the next four years.

 

As always, if you think I’m talking rubbish please let me know in the comments section!

The 52nd Head of the Charles Regatta

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Next weekend in Boston (Massachusetts…not Lincolnshire) there is the “Ultimate two-day rowing competition”…The Head of the Charles. Over 11,000 athletes will race in 66 different events, ranging from Men’s 70+ singles all the way up to Championship 8’s. Many of the world’s top rowers will race the 3 miles from the Boston University DeWolfe Boathouse to the finish just before Northeastern University’s Henderson Boathouse.

Here’s how the main events stack up….

 

Men’s Champ 1X

27 scullers

Defending champion: Mahe Drysdale

Course record: 17:11.64 (Andrew Campbell 2014)

Drysdale is racing the Charles this year but not in the single (more on that later). In his absence last year’s runner-up, John Graves (Craftsbury Green Racing Project) starts bow number 1.  Graves was part of the US M4X that just missed out on qualifying for the Rio Olympics this year. He’ll be looking to make the most of his local knowledge over the tricky Charles course.

Starting bow number 2 is the Olympic silver medallist, Damir Martin (Veslacki klub Tresnjevka). Martin had an outstanding 2016 season and will surely start as favourite to take his first win on the Charles. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him overhaul Graves and cross the finish line first.

Bow no.3 belongs to the two-time winner Kjetil Borch (Horten Rokklub) The Norwegian won in 2012 and 2013 (breaking the course record in the process). He’s another athlete who’s had an outstanding 2016 season culminating in an Olympic bronze medal in the M2X with Olaf Tufte.

Starting in 4th is another Rio Olympian, Cuba’s Angel Fournier Rodriguez (Equipo Nacional de Cuba). He was due to race this event in 2015 but scratched. The Cubans huge power could make him a real threat over the 3 mile course.

Bow no.5 is one of the best scullers to come out of Mexico for a very long time, Juan Carlos Cabrera (Marina Nacional). Cabrera finished 8th in Rio (the best result by a Mexican M1X since Joaquin Gurza finished 7th in Barcelona).

A few other names to watch out for further down the start order are Benjamin Dann (Craftsbury Green racing Project – Bow #7) another of the 2016 US M4X, Michael Scmid (See-Club Luzurn – Bow #21) who raced in the Swiss LM2X in Rio, and finally Ruben Knab (A.S.R Nereus – Bow #26) a member of the Dutch national squad since 2011 and London 2012 finalist.

My pick for the win is Damir Martin with Kjetil Borch in 2nd and John Graves in 3rd.

 

Women’s Champ 1X

28 scullers

Defending champion: Gevvie Stone

Course record: 18:33.0 (Kathleen Bertko 2013)

It’s difficult to see anyone getting the better of Dr Gevvie Stone (Cambridge Boat Club). The Olympic silver medallist is aiming for a hat-trick of victories and her 7th in total (equalling the great Anne Marden). No-one knows the Charles better than Stone and it’ll be a significant upset if she doesn’t get win number 7.

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Defending champion Gevvie Stone

The field in the women’s 1X doesn’t have the spread of international competition that the men’s event has but it’s still a quality field. There are just 2 overseas entrants in the event, but they are both extremely talented athletes. Leading the international charge is Vicky Thornley (Leander Club – Bow #3). Thornley is the best sculler in Britain – and I would argue she’s possibly the best sculler in Europe at the moment – A silver medal in the W2X in Rio was one of the most outstanding achievements of the British team in Rio. I’ve been saying for a number of years that if Thornely focussed on the 1X (and received full support from GB Rowing to do so) she could become a real contender for the gold in Tokyo.

The 2nd overseas competitor is Lucy Spoors (Unaffiliated – Bow #17). The New Zealander was part of the W4X that narrowly missed qualification for the Rio Olympics.

But, despite there not being too many overseas competitors, the field is by no means weak. The top of the start order reads like a “Who’s Who” of US national team athletes.

Starting bow #2 is Lindsay Meyer (Vesper Boat Club) the US’s W1X representative at the 2010 World Championships and bronze medallist at last year’s HOCR and 5th in 2014.

In Bow #4 is the first of three of the Olympic champion W8 to be racing in the single, Lauren Schmetterling (US Training Center – Princeton). More familiar with sweep than sculling she’s still going to be a formidable opponent and finished 6th in this event back in 2012

The 2nd of the Olympic W8 racing this event is Ellie Logan (New York Athletic Club – Bow #5) Unlike Schmetterling, Logan does have form in the 1X. She’s a double Olympic Champion in the W8 but has also raced internationally in the W1X with World Cup medals and an A-Final appearance at the 2013 World Championships.

The 3rd Olympic gold medallist racing is Emily Regan (US Training Center – Princeton bow #6). The Michigan graduate has only ever lost one international race – coming 2nd in the W4- at the 2014 World Championships.

Starting bow #7 is Mary Jones (Unaffiliated), she finished 6th last year and raced for the USA in the LW1X at this year’s World Championships, just missing a medal.

Bow number 8 is another US National teamer, Victoria Opitz (US Training Center – Princeton) – she missed a spot on the US team in 2016 but was in the W8 that won the World Championships in 2015.

One place behind Opitz is Olivia Coffey (Unaffiliated). Coffey was a member of the W4X that won the World Championships in 2015 (although she missed selection for the Olympic boat).

My picks are: Gevvie Stone for a record-equalling 7th victory ahead of Vicky Thornley with Ellie Logan in bronze.

 

Men’s Champ 2X

25 crews

Defending champion: Potomac Boat Club (Will Cowles & Sam Stitt)

Course record: 15:40.5 (Croatia – Valent & Martin Sinkovic)

Champ doubles at the Charles are always great fun as there are plenty of unusual “All-Star” combinations and 2016 is no different. Cowles and Stitt are back to defend their title. They’ve both raced for the USA and Will Cowles missed qualifying for the Olympics with partner Stephen Whelpley. Stitt has won this title four times with three different partners. Starting immediately behind them are the Graves brothers, Tom and Peter. This pairing have won three times and posted a faster time than Cowles & Stitt in 2015 only to be denied victory by a 5 second penalty. These two pairings have been duelling on the Charles for years and it’s always good to watch.

But, behind these two HOCR veterans there’s some really exciting duos to take them on.

Starting bow #3 racing as Horten Rokklub are Mahe Drysdale and Olaf Tufte…2 giants of the rowing world. Tufte won the doubles at the Charles with Itzok Cop in 2012 but it’s great to see 2 legends in a boat together…..I can think of no other sport where rivals team up the way they do at the Charles. It’s one of the unique features of this great event.

Bow #4 sees another “All-Star” crew with Aussie James McRae teaming up with Canadian Julian Bahain racing as Club d’aviron de Boucherville. Both of these guys raced in Rio, with McRae winning silver in the M4X and Bahain finishing 8th.

Starting 5th is the first of 3 Leander club doubles. John Collins and Jonno Walton were the GB M2X at the Rio Olympics and as such must start as one of the favourites for the event (indeed they are the only established heavyweight double with Olympic experience.

Collins & Walton HRR

Leander Club’s John Collins and Jonno Walton.

The 2nd Leander double (bow #7) are Jack Beaumont and Pete Lambert. Both these guys raced in the GB M4X that finished 5th at the Rio Games (with Beaumont being a last minute substitute). This could well be the makings of a GB M2X for the Tokyo Olympiad and they’ll be keen to get one over their more established team mates.

The 3rd Leander double (bow #8) is actually a Leander and Imperial College composite, with lightweights Jonathan Clegg and Adam Freeman-Pask. Clegg raced in the GB LM4- in Rio and Freeman-Pask was a regular in the GB Lightweight squad until his retirement in 2014.

One of the most charismatic entries is that from Irish composite from Skibereen and University College Dublin (bow #6). Paul and Gary O’Donovan were one of the stars of the Rio regatta when they won silver in the LM2X and gave an interview that has gone into Olympic folklore….”pull like a dog” and “podium pants” have entered into the rowing lexicon! Behind the fun are two extremely talented racers. Paul followed up his Olympic silver with a gold in the LM1X at the World Championships. They could well give some of their heavyweight opponents a bit of a shock.

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The O’Donovan boys enjoying their time in Boston!

 

Another strong lightweight boat are starting #9 – Danske Studenters Rokklub – the 2012 Olympic champions Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist. They perhaps aren’t the force they once were, but they are still one of the most experienced doubles in the field.

My picks….I’m going to be a little bit partisan and go for a Leander 1,2 with Collins & Walton getting the better of Beaumont and Lambert with the Graves brothers taking 3rd.

 

Women’s Champ 2X

21 doubles

Defending champion: Orca/PRO composite (Chantal Achterberg & Inge Janssen

Course record: 17:27.5 (R.V Oude Tonge – Elisabeth Hogerwerf & Inge Janssen 2014)

Leading off in bow #1 are last year’s runners-up, Anne Lolk Thomsen and Juliane Rasmussen (Danske Studenters Roklub). The Danish lightweights were 9th in Rio but they will be acting as the hare to the “greyhounds” racing up behind them!

Favourites for the event must be Emma Twigg and Kimmy Brennan (bow #2 racing as HRRC/MUBC composite). It’s another amazing example of how the sport of rowing brings two fierce adversaries into the same boat, Twigg, the 2014 World champion and Brennan the 2015 World Champion and 2016 Olympic champion. Watching these two racing together could be one of the highlights of the regatta.

But, they aren’t the only all-star boat in the event. Starting bow #3 is another composite with Carling Zeeman and Jeanine Gmelin (racing as RCU/SRC). Gmelin finished 5th in Rio and Zeeman 10th.

Bow #4 is the Austrian-Irish combination of Magdalena Lobnig and Sanita Puspure, both of whom raced the W1X in Rio (Austrian Lobnig finished 6th and Irish woman Puspure a slightly disappointing 13th).

These three composites; Brennan/Twigg, Zeeman/Gmelin and Lobnig/Puspure represents 6 of the finest single scullers in the world, and to see them racing together is fabulous.

Other pairings to highlight are the Swiss lightweights, Patricia Merz and Frederique Rol (Lausanne sport Aviron – Bow #6) who just missed qualifying for Rio. Also watch the Leander double of Vicky Meyer-Laker and Pam Relph (Bow #7) What’s particularly interesting about this double is Relph is a Paralympic gold medallist so it’s interesting to see her competing in an able-bodied boat class. Meyer-Laker is a regular in the GB squad as was a spare for Rio.

My picks…Brennan/Twigg for gold ahead of Zeeman/Gmelin in silver and Lobnig/Puspure in bronze.

 

Men’s Champ 4+

18 crews

Defending champion: Camp Randall Rowing Club

Course record: 15:34.4 (Princeton Training Centre 1997)

Winners of the last 3 years are Camp Randall from Wisconsin. They were listed in the draw but have confirmed that they will not be defending their title.

Starting bow #1 in the place of Camp Randall are Cambridge University. This is the first public appearance of members of the Light Blue 2017 Boat Race squad. They have a cosmopolitan line-up with Louis Margot, a former Swiss U23 international, Wisconsin alumni Ben Ruble, Princeton alumni Pat Eble and Brit Felix Newman. Their performance will give an early indication of the strength of the Light Blues for next year’s Boat Race.

Favourites for the event are probably the Princeton Training Centre crew starting bow #3. This boat contains half (Matt Miller and Charlie Cole) of the US Olympic M4- that finished 7th in Rio. They are joined by three of the US Olympic M8 (Alex Karwoski and Glenn Ochal and cox Sam Ojserkis). Frankly with a pedigree like this it’ll be a surprise if any other boat gets within 10 seconds of them.

Starting bow #4 are the Danish Rowing Federation. They have World LM2- silver medallists Jens Vilhelsen and Emil Espensen along with Jens Nielsen and Steffen Jensen from the 5th placed LM4X from the Rotterdam World Championships.

Behind the Danes are a crew from the outstanding University of California – Berkeley programme. Their top athletes will be in the Champ 8’s but the 4 are no slouches, with Brit Jack Goodsen-Kaye, American U23 internationals Kyle Flagg and Alex Wallis and Aussie U23 Jack Cleary.

As well as testing themselves against international opposition, Cal will also be keen to beat their domestic opposition, especially the Ivy-leaguers of Princeton, Harvard and Yale.

Other crews to watch out for are Lyon National Rowing Centre (Bow #13) a crew of French U23 internationals.

My picks…Princeton Training Centre in gold, Cal in silver and Cambridge in bronze.

 

Women’s Champ 4+

19 crews

Defending champions: US Rowing

Course record: 17:27.3 (London Training Center Canada 2003)

US Rowing crews have won this event for the last 3 years, but this year they haven’t entered. Only three international crews are in the draw, Denmark with bow #3, Don Rowing Club of Canada in bow #4 and Lyon National Rowing Center, France. The Danes are a mix of youth and experience. The youngsters are the 2016 JW2- silver medallists Frida Sanggaard Nielsen and Ida Petersen, the experience are the Olympic bronze medallists, Hedvig Rasmussen and Anne Andersen. The French (bow #11) are another mix of youth and experience. The most experienced member of the crew is Chloe Poumailloux, a member of the senior W4x that missed qualification for Rio. She’s joined by U23 international Diane Albrecht and juniors Alice Renaud and Anne-Elise Communal.

Bow #1 are the New York Athletic Club, this crew includes Nigeria’s first ever female Olympic rower, Chierika Ukogu, she’s joined by Michigan alumni Michelle Sosa, former Cambridge Blue and University of Illinois coach Sam Sosa and Boston College alumni Megan Carmody.

Starting bow #2 are Brown University, with half of the 2nd Varsity boat from the 2015-16 season.

My picks..Denmark in gold with INSA Lyon in silver and Brown in 3rd

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Weeks Bridge

Men’s Champ 8

26 crews

Defending champion: Yale

Course record: 13:58.9 (USRowing 1997)

This event is where the Head of the Charles gets really fun….the cream of US Collegiate crews up against some “All-Star” boats from across the world. This year is no different. The Charles sees a line-up of some of the best scullers and rowers in the world racing as West End Rowing Club (Mahe Drysdale’s home club) starting bow #4….how’s this for a line-up:

Bow: Julien Bahain (Canada) Olympic bronze medallist

2: Alan Campbell (GB) Olympic bronze medallist

3: James McRae (Australia) Olympic silver medallist

4: Angel Fournier Rodriguez (Cuba) World silver medallist

5: Olaf Tufte (Norway) double Olympic gold medallist

6: Mahe Drysdale (New Zealand) double Olympic gold medallist

7: Damir Martin (Croatia) Olympic silver medallist

Stroke: Eric Johannesen (Germany) Olympic gold medallist

Cox: Peter Wiersum (Netherlands)

But, they will have their work cut-out, starting one place behind them are Leander Club with some of Great Britain’s finest…

Bow: Matt Gotrel – Olympic gold medallist

2: Stewart Innes – 4th Olympic Games

3: Matt Langridge – Olympic gold medallist

4: Alan Sinclair – 4th Olympic Games

5: Tom Ransley – Olympic gold medallist

6: Will Satch – Olympic gold medallist

7: Will Fletcher – World silver medallist

8: Alex Gregory – double Olympic gold medallist

Cox: Phelan Hill – Olympic gold medallist

Starting ahead of these two outstanding boats are the crème of the US collegiate system. Starting Bow #1 are the defending champions, Yale. What’s interesting about this boat (from a British perspective) is that they have five British athletes on board – Charlie Elwes, Ollie Wynne-Griffith, Sholto Carnegie, Robert Hurn and freshman Tom Digby. They’ve already got victories under their belt this season with a win at the Head of the Housatonic. They will be relishing going up against some of the world’s greatest rowers.

Bow #2 is the University of California – Berkeley. The IRA champions have a very talented international line-up with two Austrians, a Dane, a Pole, a Serbian, a Dutchman, an American and a Canadian. The boat has four U23 World Champions and includes Poland’s Olympic M1X representative Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk.

Bow #3 are Harvard, they last won this event back in 2011 and this year’s boat includes a Brit, an Aussie, two South Africans and four Americans.

Washington are the most successful University in this event in recent years, with wins in 2008, 2010 and 2012. This year sees them start bow #6 and they have their own international line-up with a Brit, Serbian, Swiss, Dutch and four Americans

The Americans will be hoping “home field” advantage, (and perhaps a post-Olympic drop-off from some of the superstars) to take some scalps.

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Double Olympic gold medalist Alex Gregory, stroke of Leander’s Men’s Champ 8

My picks…Leander in first, West End in 2nd and Cal in 3rd.

 

Women’s Champ 8

33 crews

Defending champions: Cal Berkeley

Course record: 15:26.5 (USRowing  2007)

If the men’s Champ 8’s has an impressive line-up, the women’s event looks even better…it’s an “All-Star Scullers” v “All-Star Sweepers” v The USA’s finest.

The “All-Star Scullers” crew, racing as Cambridge Boat Club (Bow #4) is another who’s who of the world’s best scullers:

Gevvie Stone (USA) Rio Olympic silver medallist

Kim Brennan (AUS) Rio Olympic Champion

Emma Twigg (NZL) 2014 World Champion

Carling Zeeman (CAN) 10th W1X Rio Olympics

Jeannine Gmelin (SUI) 5th W1X Rio Olympics

Magdalena Lobnig (AUT) 6th W1X Rio Olympics

Mirka Knapkova (CZE) London Olympic Champion

Sanita Puspure (IRE) 13th W1X Rio Olympics

 

The “All-Star Sweepers” crew, starting one place behind the scullers, are racing as the New York Athletic Club. It’s fundamentally four of the top five W2- crews from the Rio Olympics;

Grace Luczak (USA) 4th in Rio

Felice Mueller (USA) 4th in Rio

Heather Stanning (GBR) Rio gold

Jess Eddie (GBR – subbing for Helen Glover) Rio silver

Rebecca Scown (NZL) Rio silver

Genevieve Behrent (NZL) Rio silver

Kate Christowitz (RSA) 5th in Rio

Lee-Ann Persse (RSA) 5th in Rio

Seeing these two superstar crews going head to head, and starting one after the other is going to be very exciting. But, it’s not just about these two boats. The other 31 crews are all University boats with only one from outside the USA (A.A.S.R Skoll from the Netherlands, bow #25). Unlike the men’s University squads, there are far fewer overseas students in the women’s programmes.  There will be three University crews starting ahead of the “Great 8’s”. Leading off in bow #1 is Brown, winners of Collegiate 8’s at the Head of the Housatonic earlier this month (their 3rd straight victory in the event).

In Bow #2 is the University of Virginia, bronze medallists last year this is their first public race of the season following a bronze medal at the NCAA Championships last season.

Bow #3 are Princeton, like Virginia they are making their season debut on the Charles. 4th last season they finished 6th at the NCAA championships and followed that with a trip to the UK and a win at Henley Women’s Regatta and a semi-final placing at Henley Royal.

Outside of the top five, the Dutch could be the dark horses of the event, among the crew they’ve got two Rio Olympians on board, Carline Bouw – silver medallist in the W4X, and Lies Rustenburg from the 6th placed Olympic W8. They may suffer from getting through traffic thanks to their low bow number.

My picks: New York (all-star sweepers) ahead of Cambridge (the scullers) with Brown the best of the rest.

 

Those are the top, Championship, events. But, there are some really interesting crews in some of the other classes as well. The Alumni eights always throw up some intriguing line ups. Washington Alumni (Bow #2) look to have one of the strongest boats with three Olympians on board (Robert Munn, Conlin McCabe and Ante Kusurin). Another Alumni crew to watch are the Cambridge University old-boys racing as Crabtree Boat Club (bow #13) They have Rio gold medallist George Nash in the 5 seat and senior Austrian international Alex Leichter. In the women’s Alumni event the University of Michigan Alumni lead off and they have four Olympians in the crew including gold medallist Amanda Elmore. Fat Cat (bow #4) have a crew full of senior and U23 internationals including World Champion Heidi Robbins.

 

Finally, as a Brit I want to give a shout out to the 40 British clubs, Universities and Schools that have made the trip across the Atlantic to fly the flag in Boston. Good luck to all (especially Upper Thames Rowing Club!)

The Head of the Charles should be on every rowers Bucket List….on year I’ll tick it off mine (if only as a spectator or commentator….my racing days are over)! Maybe in 2017….