This week sees a veritable festival of top class rowing events, both indoor and outdoor.
Kicking off the fun is the National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships. Organised by London Youth Rowing, the event at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre, is the World’s largest indoor rowing event with over 2500 young people aged from 11 to 18. The event draws competitors from outside of the “traditional” rowing schools and clubs, over 60% of competitors are from a minority ethnic background and the organisers specifically cater for competitors with sensory, learning and physical disabilities. As it says on the website “The event really does draw in those young people that would not normally get the opportunity to race at a national event”.
Next up, on Saturday, is the biggest women only sporting event in the world (I think), certainly the biggest women’s rowing race in the world – The women’s Eights Head of the River.
This sees 319 crews (over 2800 athletes) race over the 4 ½ mile Championship course from Mortlake to Putney. One of the most interesting battles amongst the 319 crews will be between Leander Club (starting 1st) at the Cambridge Blue Boat (starting immediately behind them). Despite some illnesses and injuries, Leander have an impressive line-up which includes three members of the GB W8 (Fi Gammond, Karen Bennett & Holly Norton) along with senior internationals Rowan McKellar, Emily Carmichael and Hattie Taylor.
Starting in 3rd are Imperial College – this looks to be a formidable crew with three Rio Olympic medallists – Great Britain’s Dr Zoe Lee and Melanie Wilson from the silver medal W8 and Kiwi Rebecca Scown who took silver in the W2-. Starting 4th is the University of London, they also have an impressive line-up, with half of the GB U23 W8 that finished 6th last year (Alessandra French, Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne, Georgia Statham & Isobel Powell) and U23 international Oonagh Cousins. Also in the crew are senior internationals Sara Parfett and Matilda Horn. A stronger line-up than that was well beaten by the Cambridge Blue Boat last month.
Starting in 5th are Molesey, with a crew that includes Irish international Claire McKeown and senior GB international Rebecca Girling. 6th are Oxford Brookes who lost narrowly to their neighbours Oxford University in a pre-Boat Race fixture last month. Staring 7th are the Cambridge reserves, Blondie, with Cambridge President Daphne Martschenko at 7 and senior German international, Anne Beenken at 5.Chasing Cambridge will be Edinburgh University who finished 2nd to UL at the recent BUCS Head of the River, their crew incudes U23 World Champion Lucy Glover. Starting no.9 is the first overseas crew, the juniors of CUS Milano of Italy, including junior internationals Laura Pagnoncelli, Nadine Agymang Heard (who turns 16 on Tuesday) and Vittoria Tonolli. Rounding out the top 10 are the Tideway Scullers School.
The men get their turn to race on Sunday. For the first time in a long time the men’s head actually has fewer entries than the women’s, 313 crews are slated to start the race on Sunday morning. Last year Oxford Brookes took the headship for the first time in the club’s history and they will be strong favourites to retain the title. They are coming off wins against both the Oxford and Cambridge Blue Boats (something they’ve never achieved before). The crew is being further strengthened with the addition of some of their GB squad members like Matt Tarrant (although he quipped that given how well Brookes have been going recently he would “try not to slow them down”).
Chasing Brookes will be Leander Club. Normally the Pink Palace would start as clear favourites for the Head as the GB squad members return for one of the few opportunities to race in their club colours. However illness and injuries have blighted their preparations and the originally posted crews are being changed significantly. Leander were already without the services of Olympic champions Pete Reed and Will Satch and at the time of writing no formal announcement has been made about who will be racing in Leander colours.
Starting in 3rd place will be Thames, they lost narrowly to Isis last weekend. Brookes’ strength in depth is demonstrated by the fact they have 4 crews starting in the top 20, the Brookes 2nd 8 (starting 4th) will be strengthened by guys from the 1st 8 stepping down to make way for the GB Squad guys, so another top 5 or even top 3 finish is not impossible. Molesey (starting 6th) can usually call upon their own big guns from the GB squad, no more so than Mo Sbihi, but it remains to be seen if he is included in the crew. This race always attracts a good entry from overseas, although the 20 foreign entries this year is significantly lower than in previous years. Pick of the foreign entries are Stuttgarter 1899 from Germany (starting 22nd) and CVK Praha of the Czech Republic (starting 41st).
The racing doesn’t stop at the end of the weekend though, on Monday it’s time for the juniors to race the Championship course at the Schools Head of the River.
This has 356 8’s 4+’s and Quads racing from Mortlake to Putney. Junior Rowing News have done their usual comprehensive preview (they’re lads and lasses after my own heart!) So I won’t dwell too much on the entries, but among the boys 8’s it’ll be a major surprise is St Paul’s don’t take their first win since 2014. In the girls 8’s it’ll be another showdown between Headington and Henley – a rivalry that seems to have dominated junior girls rowing in this country for a number of years. In the boys quads Maidenhead look to be the form crew with Latymer Upper the ones to watch in the girls quads.
As if that wasn’t enough there’s yet more racing to be had on Tuesday with the “Oarsport Junior Sculling Head” otherwise known as “The Scullery”.
This takes a slightly different format to other Head races, held on the Olympic course at Eton Dorney, it is 2x 1800m time trials, with the winner being the crew to post the fastest combined time. Many of the crews racing at the schools Head are also racing at the Scullery (indeed there may even be a few hardy fools that are racing the senior 8’s head, the Schools Head and the Scullery!)
The fact that these four on-water events are running on consecutive days is due mainly to the foibles of the tides, but it’s a really interesting experiment and has created, albeit unintentionally, a festival of rowing to mark the end of winter training.
Now we just have to hope that the weather gods play nice!