Head of The Charles – Preview

The “off” season has meant I’ve been a bit quiet on the old preview front, but that’s coming to an end with a bit of a bang! For those of you reading this in the UK there is the Senior British Championships taking place at Holme Pierrepont this weekend (and I’ll be writing a preview of that later). But, over in Boston Mass. there’s the small matter of the Head of The Charles – “The world’s largest two-day rowing event”.
Held over a 3 mile course the event attracts over 9000 competitors in 55 events with more than 300,000 spectators – it’s a huge landmark in the rowing calendar and should definitely be on every rowers “Bucket list” whether as a competitor or spectator….I know it’s on mine (“maybe next year” is my perennial refrain!).
But, needless to say I am not intending to write a preview on all 55 events (even I have to draw the line somewhere!) What I will do in this blog is preview the “open” events and also pick out some interesting entries to watch out for in some of the other events.

So…starting with the singles:

Men’s Championship 1X
31 scullers are competing for the crown, among them some of the biggest names in the sport. The biggest of them is the Olympic Champion; Mahe Drysdale (starting bow no.7 and racing for his club, West End). Mahe’s looking for his 3rd win in the event having won in 2005 and 2011. But, it’s not going to be straightforward for the Kiwi. He’s had a pretty miserable 2013 (as far as the rowing is concerned…its been pretty good otherwise!) He suffered from lack of preparation and injury at the World Championships only making the “C” Final (before withdrawing through injury). So the question is…what condition is the Olympic champion in? Will he be looking to make a statement following a poor World Championships? Or is he still on the upward curve in his fitness? I guess we’ll only know that at about 5.00pm on Saturday.
But, the main challenge will probably come from last year’s champion, Kjetil Borch of Norway. The world M2X champion caught everyone napping last year with a stunning performance (starting from almost the back of the field). Can he repeat the feat this year…starting from bow no.1 he’ll have a clear river ahead of him but the rest of the world chasing him! This includes his M2X partner, Nils Hoff (starting bow no.4). Between the two vikings are two local boys, Steve Whelpley and Tom Paradiso. Whelpley was the USA representative in the M1X at the World Championships finishing 13th and Tom Paradiso last raced internationally at the 2008 Olympics where he was 11th in the LM4-but he won the LM1X at the US nationals in 2012 and both he and Whelpley know this course well and had great results last year.
Starting bow no. 8 is the veteran Mike Sivigny. The 40 year old has won twice (2009 & 2010) with 2nd places in 2008 and 2011. He slipped a little last year finishing 10th, maybe age is catching up with him 🙂 But, no-one knows this course better than Sivigny so he may not repeat his win of 2010 but he should make the top 10.
Elsewhere look out for John Graves, who raced the M2X at the worlds and his partner Ben Dann (starting way down at No.27)
I have to make a prediction…so I’m going with the Viking Borch to repeat his victory.

Women’s Championship 1X
24 scullers. 2 big, big names in this event are Emma Twigg & Mirka Knapkova. The world silver & bronze medalists are starting 3rd and 5th and will both be expecting the victory. But they will have to get past the USA’s Gevvie Stone. Stone has won in 4 of the last 5 years (and was 2nd the year she didn’t win)….she is a real Head of the Charles specialist…but can she hold off Twigg & Knapkova? Starting in 2nd is the only woman to have beaten Stone on the Charles in the last 5 years, Ursula Grobler. The South African was 5th in the LW1X at the Worlds, she is also pretty adept on the Charles, but she may find the competition around her a little hot. Splitting Twigg and Knapkova is US lightweight Kathleen Bertko. She’s a Worlds silver medalist but will not relish being hounded by the Olympic champion!
Starting just outside the top 5 is GB’s Debbie Flood. The Leander Club captain has “retired” from the GB squad but is still a force to be reckoned with in a single scull.
Bow no. 8 is Bertko’s doubles partner from Chungju, Kristin Hedstrom the battle between these two will be fascinating and both could well get a top 5 finish.
my pick….It’s difficult to look beyond Stone making it 5/6 but Twigg may spoil the party.

Men’s Championship 2X
19 crews. No real “big” names this year but the competition will still be very fierce (it always is). starting no.1 are Matt Miller and Sam Stitt. The US team members raced the quad at the Lucerne World Cup finishing 8th and were 2nd to the mighty Itzok Cop and Olaf Tufte last year. Chasing the American’s are the young Canadian lightweights, Dylan and Nick Harris. They, in turn, will be chased by fellow lightweights, the US’s Nick Trojan and Chris Meyer (B finalists at the World Championships and winners of the 2012 US nationals).
Starting in 4th are New Yorks Erik Limpitlaw and Ryan Ujazdowski. 36 year old Limpitlaw raced the LM2- at the World Championships way back in 2001. But, they are no strangers to this course, finishing 9th last year, and with the lack of “big” names will be hoping to at least maintain their starting position. 2 intriguing entries are from the Georgian and Mongolian national teams. The Georgians are more experienced with Lasha Khizanishvili and Kakha Kandelaki who raced at the European Championships last year. The Mongolians, Tuvshinzaya Gantulga and Dulguun Baasandavaa both study outside their homeland. Guntulga at The European College of the Liberal Arts in Berlin and Baasandavaa at Connecticut College.
My pick to win…it’ll be an epic battle between the heavyweight and lightweight US doubles with Miller & Stitt coming out on top.

Women’s Championship 2X
23 doubles. Clear favourites are the Dutch/Austrian combination Inge Janssen and Magdelena Lobnig (6th and 4th in the W1X at the World Championships). They are doubling up in the W8 (more on that later). They are being chased by the Canadian world silver medalist W4X from the World Championships split into doubles. These 3 doubles are likely to be well clear of the rest of the field, with ex-International lightweight Marika Page and Sarah Schwegman (bronze at the World Indoor championships) racing as Riverside chasing from a start position of 4.
My picks…The Canadians have the advantage of familiarity with each other, but Lobnig and Janssen are supremely talented scullers and it’s hard to not pick them for the win.

Men’s Championship 4+
20 crews. Stanford are the defending champions but have not listed their line-up on the HOCR website. But the crew is likely to include world championship bronze medalist Austin Hack. They are chased by the University of Washington with a powerful line-up including Serbian senior international Grega Domanjko, Brits Jack Shepherd and Ed Nainby-Luxmoore, both World Junior silver medalists (it’s a mark of the strength of the Huskies programme that athletes of this quality cannot make the varsity 8). Starting in 4th are the USA national boat, Niles Garratt, Alexander Karwoski, Peter Graves & Robert Munn. This is an experienced crew with Olympians and U23 world champions on board and it’ll be an epic battle between Stanford, UW and the USRowing crew.
My pick will be it’ll be a battle between the Huskies and Stanford with the US not far off….even though I don’t know the full Stanford line-up I’m going for them to retain the title.

Women’s Championship 4+
21 crews. There may be 21 crews involved, but this is all about USRowing v USRowing. Boat 1 contains 3/4 of the reigning world champion W4- (with the addition of 2012 U23 world champion Heidi Robbins). Boat 2 is even more illustrious (although only 3/4 athletes are named) The crew includes Olympic champions Zsuzsanna Francia and Esther Lofgren along with U23 world champion Kendall Schmidt and A N Other. I can’t honestly see any of the other University crews getting within 10 seconds of the National team boats (unless they get tangled up with each other).
My pick….I’m going to go with the regining W4- champions to get one over on the 2012 Olympians.

Men’s Championship 8’s
32 crews. This event is always fascinating to watch. Whilst there’s no men’s “Great 8” this year there are some very strong, and very exciting crews to watch. Washington were awesome last year and well deserved the win. This year’s crew will be hoping for a repeat, but, the crew doesn’t look as strong as in 2012 with only 4 of last years crew returning. They may be pushed to hold off a strong Harvard and an even stronger looking Cal (containing 3 of the Serbian 2011 U23 World Champion 4-). But, it’s the crews immediately behind these three Varsity crews that look most exciting. Two Dutch, 2 French and an Aussie crew packed with Olympians and world champions.
Starting in 4th are Pole France. This boat has half of the 8 that came 6th in Chungju (Sebastien Lente, Benoit Brunet, Thibaut Verhoeven & Jean-Pierre Macquet) they are joined by the “superstars” of French sweep rowing; Olympic and World M2-silver medalists Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette with the final 2 seats being filled by world M2+ bronze medalists Laurent Cadot and Matthieu Moinaux (along with cox Benjamin Manceau).
Starting 2 places behind Pole France are the “official” French Rowing entry. This has the other half of the World Championships M8 (Julien Despres, Benjamin Lang, Matthieu Androdias, Benoit Demey) the other half of the crew are France’s top two scullers, Julien Bahain & Cedric Berrest along with U23 Valentin Onfroy and former U23 international Romain Delachaume.
The Dutch have also sent two crews packed with international experience. The top Dutch boat is likely to be OTC Amsterdam. This has the world champion M4- on board (Robert Leucken, Kaj Hendriks, Mechiel Versluis & Boaz Meylink)along with Olivier Siegelaar and Diederik Simon from the 5th place Olympic M8. The final seat is taken by Harold Langen who raced in the M8 at Lucerne.
The 2nd Dutch boat (starting bow no.5) is Skadi Rotterdam.This crew includes World bronze medalist Mitchel Steenman along Meindert Klem and Thijs Van Luijk from the worlds M4X and David Kuiper from the world championship M8. The other half of the crew are some talented young oarsmen, Reinier Spillenaar Bilgen and Jasper Tissen raced at the U23’s this year and Velzen and Der Leer won bronze at the World University Championships.
The Australians of Melbourne University have also brought a very strong and talented crew. Lead by Olympic silver medalist Will Lockwood, he’s joined by four other London Olympians (Josh Booth, Karsten Forsterling, Cameron McKenzie-Mcharg and James Marburg. The rest of the crew are all experienced U23 internationals (Sam Hookway, Michael Poulter & Harrison Casey).
But, for many spectators the favourites will be the USRowing boat. This contains 7 of the boat that won bronze at the World Championships and are joined by Olympic bronze medalist Charlie Cole. It’s hard to argue against a boat with such a pedigree. But (and it’s a big “but”) they are starting way down at no.26 (thanks to a disastrous performance last year). They will face the challenge of battling past slower boats on a course which is difficult enough to steer when it’s clear, let alone when trying to pass other crews. If they get a clear run they will be challenging for the win, but any sort of impediment and they could slip out of the top 3 or even top 5.
The other big Varsity crews will be hoping to get in the mix, particularly Northeastern and Yale but I don’t expect them to get in the top 5.
So who will win…? I think it’s going to be really, really close. If the US can get a clear run they will be favourites but the Aussies and the Dutch will be very close.
I’m going for OTC Amsterdam to win ahead of Melbourne with US Rowing 3rd.

Women’s Champ 8
A big entry of 39 crews, but it’s basically going to be a 2 (or maybe 3) horse race. The might of the USRowing world champion 8, starting no.1 it’ll take a very special crew to get close. But, there maybe such a crew racing as Cambridge Boat Club. it’s the women’s “Great 8” 5 of the W1X world championship finalists (just missing the World Champion Kim Crow) plus Lithuanian world W2X champion Donata Vistartaite and Kiwi W2- bronze medalists Kayla Pratt and Rebecca Scown. It’s a fearsome line-up, but will they be strong enough to get close to the World Champions? Hot on their heels will be the Canadians (racing as London Training Center) with 7 of the crew that took bronze in Chungju along with Olympic silver medalist Ashley Brzozowicz. I expect these three crews to be well clear of the pack with the University of Virginia hoping to emulate their performance from 2012 when they were the top student boat in the event in 3rd.
Other crews to highlight are two British entries, The 1927 Boat Club and Oxford University Women’s Boat Club. 1927 are the Oxbridge alumni (1927 refers to the first year the women’s Boat Race was held). The crew includes several former internationals, including 2011 world LW4X champion, Steph Cullen (hence why they have to race in the Champ rather than Alumni event!)
Oxford have mixed their boats up with one 8 entering the British Championships this weekend and the other travelling to Boston, but it’ll be interesting to see how the squad gets on on both sides of the Atlantic.
My pick for the win…it has to be the USA with a titanic battle for silver between Canada and the “Great 8”.

So that’s it for the “big” events…a few other crews to pick out…
The 40+ men’s 8 always attracts an interesting field. Molesey Boat Club are defending champions and have crossed the Atlantic with a similarly stellar line-up…Matthew Pinsent (4 Olympic golds and 10 World titles), Marc Weber (Olympic silver 1996), Bobby Thatcher (World silver medalist 1999), Dave Gillard (U23 world champion 1992), Alex Partridge (2012 Olympic bronze medalist), Ian McNuff (Bronze 1980 Olympics), Joe Michels (Oxford Blue) and Graham Smith (M4+ World Champion 2000).
But they may find the going tough this year with the crews lined up behind them all containing multi-medal winning athletes. Kennebacasis has the likes of Canadian Darren Barber (Olympic gold 1992), Kevin Light (Olympic gold 2008), Ben Storey (World gold LM2- 2000) and Jeff Lay (Olympic LM4- silver 1996). The list goes on….it’s going to be great to watch.

Finally I want to pick out a British entry in the Girls Youth 8. Headington School Oxford are the reigning British Schools champions and have sent 2 crews to race at the Charles. The top boat will pose a real challenge to the Americans, and this is one title that may be coming back to Britain!

That’s all from me. One year I will get over to Boston to watch (if not compete) at this fabulous event. Enjoy!

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