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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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+
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+
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
Men’s Champ 8
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.
My picks…Leander in first, West End in 2nd and Cal in 3rd.
Women’s Champ 8
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….