The Head of the River preview

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Crews preparing for the Head of the River. Photo: ITV.com

This weekend sees one of the biggest events in the British rowing calendar – The Head of the River Race. First raced in 1926 it was created by the legendary Steve Fairbairn to alleviate the boredom of winter training and give his charges something to aim for in the “off” season. Now it’s become a goal in itself. For oarsmen across Britain it’s the main focus for the winter season. It has also become symbolic as the end of winter and the start of the regatta season.

So who are the crews to watch this year….

 

Oxford Brookes

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Oxford Brookes

Brookes capitalised on the absence of the GB squad rowers last year to take their first ever headship. That marked the start of an outstanding season for Richard Spratley’s men which culminated in a win at Henley Royal Regatta. This year they’ve had some great races against both the Oxford and Cambridge Blue Boats and have dominated every head race they’ve raced in. Their crew for this year’s race has been strengthened with the addition of two former World Champions in Matt Tarrant and Joel Cassells along with a boat load of U23 internationals. They will be very, very strong contenders to retain the headship.

Such is the strength of the Brookes squad (very reminiscent of the University of London in its heyday of the late 70’s and early 80’s), that their 2nd VIII will be disappointed if they fail to take a top 5 spot. They are a “proper” student crew and will be odds on favourites to take the University pennant.

 

Leander

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Leander have two top boats taking aim at Brookes. Leander I (starting 2nd) is a boat full of their top sweep athletes, with Olympic champion Will Satch and fellow Olympian Stewart Innes. They are joined by a number of former U23 internationals and names that we could well see appearing in the GB squad during this Olympiad – the likes of Jacob Dawson and Matt Rossiter.

Leander II is an exciting-looking boat – it’s a “scullers” crew including a number of the British sculling team from Rio. John Collins and Jonno Walton from the M2X and Jack Beaumont & Pete Lambert from the M2X along with Will Fletcher from the LM2X. Also in the crew is GB international Nick Middleton and U23 international Frazier Christie. Starting 7th it’ll be fun to see whether the Leander Sweepers or Scullers take the bragging rights. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Scullers may get the better of the sweepers!

 

Molesey

Molesey

Molesey welcome back Olympic Champion, Moe Sbihi to their Head of the River crew. He’s joined by 2015 lightweight world champion Sam Scrimgeour. Also in the crew are Alistair Douglass and George Stewart who were the fastest U23 pair at last month’s GB trials.

 

Thames

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Thames have had a great couple of years, victory in the Thames Cup at Henley in 2015 was followed by a win in the Visitors Challenge Cup last year. At last year’s Head they finished a superb 3rd, their best result since 1961. This year’s boat contains just one member of their 2015 Thames Cup winning crew – James Palmer. They finished 3rd at this year’s Reading University Head, and will probably be favourites to retain the Vernon Trophy (for the fastest Tideway Club crew).

 

Imperial College

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Starting 5th are Imperial College. There top student boat includes four that won Champ 4X at the BUCS Head of the River earlier this month (Harry Uglow, Toby Heaton, Ollie Hines & Tristan Vouilloz). The rest of the crew (Alex Ball, Ed Bentley, Jon Edwards & Tiby Heaton) raced in the Champ 4- at BUCS but were disappointed with a 7th place. As an 8 they trailed in 3rd behind Edinburgh and UL. Imperial also have a non-Student boat racing. In this crew is former GB lightweight stalwart Adam Freeman-Pask. He’s joined by a number of guys who have made the long journey from the club next door – Thames! James Padmore, Anthony Lester and Nicholas Turnbull. Also in the crew is former U23 silver medallist Wilf Kimberley.

 

Edinburgh University

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Starting back in 16th are the BUCS Head champions Edinburgh. They include half of the U23 LM4X World Champion winning crew; Gavin Horsburgh and Matthew Curtis, these two were also part of the M4+ that won the Prince Albert Challenge Cup at Henley last year. Also in the crew is U23 silver medallist Calum Irvine and 2015 junior world champion Josh Armstrong.  The Scots are probably the best University crew in the country – apart from Oxford Brookes that is!

 

Newcastle University

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Starting one place ahead of Edinburgh are their perennial rivals, Newcastle.  They finished 4th at the BUCS Head and they have their share of international experience, Oliver Varley was a crewmate to Horsburgh and Curtis in the gold medal U23 LM4X. Also in the boat is U23 silver medallist James Rudkin along with U23 international Ollie Knight. Their battle with Edinburgh is going to be exciting.

 

University of London

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In the 1970’s and 80’s UL were the dominant force in European university rowing, they were rarely out of the top 3 at the Head of the River. Those glory days are now over, but this year’s crew has already produced some strong results. They are starting 8th as the first Intermediate 1 crew. So far this season they’ve produced a strong 2nd to Edinburgh at the BUCS Head and were 4th at the Hammersmith Head. Their crew contains three old Abingdonians (which I always like to see being an OA myself!) Whilst they don’t quite have some of the international pedigree of Edinburgh or Newcastle, they have shown excellent speed and will be pushing Edinburgh and the Brookes 2nd 8 for the University pennant.

 

Whilst the Head of the River is the highlight of the winter season for British crews, it also attracts a large number of crews from overseas. This year no fewer than 36 overseas crews have entered from 9 different countries – Germany (15 crews), Ireland (7 crews), Switzerland (7 crews) Portugal (2 crews) and 1 from Norway, France, Italy, Poland and the USA.

The pick of the overseas crews are probably Bayer Leverkusen of Germany.  Their crew includes double Olympic medallist, Max Reinelt at 7 along with fellow senior internationals Hannes Heppner and Max Bandel.

Another crew to watch out for include UL Tyrian (start number 109) including Olympic champion Paul Bennett at 6.

 

So, who will win….my money is on Brookes to retain the Headship with the two Leander crews in hot pursuit (with the Scullers boat getting the better of the Sweepers). One of the big questions is whether Brookes 2nd 8 can win the University pennant ahead of Edinburgh, UL and Imperial. I think the Scots will just pip them.

So, my top 5 is:

Oxford Brookes I

Leander II

Leander I

Edinburgh

Oxford Brookes II

All we have to do now is pray to the weather gods to play nice!

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

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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   

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

 

Man flu.jpeg

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

tokyo-2020

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!