A few thoughts on last weekend’s racing

First off an apology for the extended silence since my last blog, things have been extremely busy on the work front. I’ve also been heavily involved in the run-up to the Head of the River Fours. I’m the Press Officer and I’ve been assisting with checking the entries and so on, it’s amazing the amount of work that goes into putting on a big event like this. I’m also the Press Officer for the Henley Boat Races and there are a lot of exciting plans afoot to develop these races in light of the move of the Women’s Blue Boat and Reserves races to the Tideway in 2015. I can’t say too much at the moment but there are definitely plans afoot!

Anyway, I just wanted to put virtual pen to paper to talk about the racing that took place on either side of the Atlantic last weekend. In Boston there was the 50th Head of the Charles Regatta, and in the UK it was the Senior British Championships.
First of all…the Head of the Charles. I’ve yet to attend this event in person, but it is probably top of my rowing “bucket list”. For the 50th race the organisers had attracted possibly the finest line up in the men’s champ 8’s in history. It offered an opportunity too answer the question…who is better, sweep or scullers? Hamish Bond had created a fearsome line-up of sweep oarsmen, including Conlin McCabe, Josh Dunkley-Smith, Richard Schmidt, Olivier Seigelaar, Henrik Rummel, Francesco Fossi and Jacob Barsoe. Up against these “Super Sweepers” were the “Super Scullers”, a who’s who of world class competitors, the Sinkovic brothers, Mahe Drysdale, Ondrej Synek, Roel Braas, Olaf Tufte, John Graves and Julien Bahain. In the end it was the scullers who came out on top by just 3 seconds. What is particularly impressive is that all of the scullers had already raced on the Saturday (in the Champ 1X and Champ 2X) and they had definitely less time in the boat together than had the sweepers.
But, at the end of the day it’s fantastic that boats of this type can be put together. There was also an “All-Star” lightweight M8 that finished 16th and a women’s “Super Scullers” 8 that handed the USA a very rare defeat by the not insignificant margin of nearly 20 seconds.
I can think of no other sport (with the exception of perhaps the Barbarians Rugby Union club) where international competitors come together to race together in this way. Yes, some can argue it’s a bit of a gimmick, but at this stage of the season, and at an event like the HOCR it just seems right.
The only disappointment was the absence of the GB internationals. when I first heard rumours of the “Super sweep” 8 back in the summer at Henley I talked to the guys from the GB M4- and they were all really keen to be involved. as it turns out Alex Gregory had been asked but, as with the rest of the squad he was required to race in Nottingham at the British Championships. One year it would be brilliant to see the GB team take a full strength team to the Charles and perhaps enter their own “Super Sweep” and “Super Scullers” 8’s. C’mon Dave, Jurgen, make it happen!!

A few other performances to talk about from Boston. I was very impressed with Sam Meijer winning the Youth 1X by nearly 40 seconds. With a win in the Pairs Head already this season he is definitely a name for the future. He’ll be racing at the Head of the River Fours on the 1st November in a very interesting Imperial/Westminster quad along with three senior internationals, Barnabe Delarze and Nico Stahlberg from Switzerland and GB’s Sam Scrimgeour. It’ll be really interesting to see how they get on (just as an aside I’ll be writing a full preview of the HOR4’s sometime next week….watch this space).
I was also really impressed with Harvard in the men’s Champ 8’s (with a crew containing no fewer than 5 Australians!) they defeated the US national team by just 2/10ths of a second to claim 3rd. I was also impressed with the Oxford women’s crew finishing 4th in the Champ 8’s over a minute faster than Cambridge (although the Dark Blues were their strongest line-up whereas the Light Blues were missing some key personnel).
I cannot leave the Head of the Charles without talking about the Molesey masters crews. In the Women’s Masters event the only member of the current GB squad got to race. Katherine Grainger competed in her first race since returning to full-time training with the GB squad and she and her crew mates of former GB Olympians not only won the 40+ category but smashed the course record in the progress. On the Men’s side Molesey entered 2 Leg-ends crews, one in the 40+ event and one in the 50+. It was the crew in the 50+ event that got most of the publicity seeing the competitive return of Sirs Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent (their first competitive race together since the Olympic final in 2000). The rest of the crew were no slouches either with the likes of Martin Cross, Richard Stanhope and Ian McNuff. some “forthright” steering from Garry Herbert saw them pinged with a minute and a quarter’s worth of penalties although this was later reduced to just 15 seconds….I can just imagine the deputation to the referees office as the two fearsome knights of the realm bore down on them Ha!) In the end the tasted the bitter taste of defeat finishing 5th. But, the younger Molesey crew had more success and ended up 2nd with a crew that included Jonny Searle, Bobby Thatcher, Alex Partridge and Guy Pooley.
A final shout out to Tom Carter of Upper Thames for picking up 3rd in the Masters 1X.
All in all a fabulous event…from what I’ve heard it’s extremely well organised and has a great atmosphere and with a live results service as well as live streaming it offers a great service for those of us who can’t be there in person.

So that’s what was happening in the US. Meanwhile in the UK we had the Senior British Championships. This was the 2nd year it has taken place in this revised format and I wrote at length last year about the first regatta. The GB squad have a “three-line-whip” to race at the event and not all of the them appreciate it. After last year’s championships Pete Reed was especially critical (see his blog for details). This year, whilst Pete has been relatively quiet on the matter, Andy Hodge has been vocal in his dislike of the regatta. He tweeted that it was the David Tanner Fun Regatta. Now, I’ve spoken to other members of the squad and they aren’t as dismissive of the event as Pete and Andy have been. A number of them have said they love the opportunity to race and represent their clubs (which I’m sure is true of Pete and Andy as well). But, the fundamental problem the organisers face is timing. Anyone trying to organise a major 2K, 6 lane regatta in the UK in mid-October is taking a huge gamble with the weather. As it turned out this year the weather-gods did not favour the organisers. Very strong winds made racing on the Sunday impossible and required lanes to be re-drawn for Saturday’s racing. This was a great shame as the fundamental structure of the championships is good. Semi’s are seeded based on the results of a time trial and medals are awarded to the fastest crews in each category (regardless of the final they are racing in). What is missing for me is the incentive for the true club athlete to compete. At the moment there are events for open, U23 and student. But nothing for the club oarsmen and women. I would like to see an additional category of “Club” included (similar to the NZ National Championships). The criteria for this would be similar to that used by the Head of the River Fours:

With the exception of coxswains, no rower who has competed at a senior level for their Country (World cup, Senior World Championships or Olympics) in either sweep or sculling during the two years prior to the race, will be allowed to enter any status other than Elite, regardless of whether they are entered in the same discipline or not.”

This would enable clubs to compete with crews made up of high quality club athletes and give them the opportunity to come away as British Club Champions rather than all the silverware going to crews made up of national squad members. Interestingly the chairman of the championships, Jim Harlow, responded to a twitter conversation which included myself and Andy Hodge asking for people to contact him via the e mail on the Championship website with ideas on how to improve the regatta in the future. I will certainly be taking him up on the offer and it’s a great response from the committee to seek feedback from the rowing community.
As to the results at the weekend (what there were of them), no great surprises. Oxford’s top boat came 2nd and it’ll be fascinating to see them go up against Cambridge’s top boat (which came 2nd at the HOCR) at the HOR4’s). Molesey’s top boat looked pretty imperious and Brookes looked as dominant as ever in the student 8’s.
What was really positive about the weekend was that it was streamed live and made use of the excellent commentary team from Regatta Radio 😉 It was just a pity they had so little to commentate on.
I’m positive that these championships are a good idea and it’s vital that the best oarsmen and women in the country compete, but the problems of fitting it in the calendar and providing events for those below the national team level need to be addressed to ensure the long-term future of the British Championships….time will tell.

that’s it for today, my apologies if it’s been a bit rambling….As mentioned earlier, I’ll post one of my usual previews of the Head of the River 4’s early next week and if you’re racing at that event good luck and if you win I hope to see you at the Chiswick Brewery on the 27th!

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2 thoughts on “A few thoughts on last weekend’s racing

  1. Jon Blunt

    Good report fatsculler. Head of Charles looks really impressive, why is Britchamps same weekend? OUWBC did well, but I see they have Caryn Davies, USA VIII gold medal fame and looking at both boat race womens squads there is a fair smattering of more senior athletes for what I bet is a single year at Uni Doesn’t feel right. Womens Boat Race will just become an off-the-water race to recruit one year wonders in order to win. Of course Newton, who has really been great, will never allow it, but as in US why not have womens Varsity rowing restricted to undergrads, or perhaps set at U23. Keep with the spirit of student rowing, real students not rowing tourists.

    Reply

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