It’s time for the first big head of the river of the new season, the Fullers Head of the River Fours. Some of you may (or may not) know that I’m on the committee for this event (I’m the Press Officer) so before I go any further I should say that the views in this preview are my own, and do not represent the thoughts or opinions of the committee, organisers, volunteers or sponsors of the Fullers Head of the River Fours.
Right, now that’s out of the way here are my thoughts on the events…
Men’s Elite Quads
Last year saw one of the best quads ever to take to the water…Alan Campbell, Aleksander Aleksandrov, Ondrej Synek and Valent Sinkovic racing as Tideway Scullers. This year there is no such “Super Quad” to defend the title. Instead Campbell joins top quality club-mates Mike Lawrence, Nick Marriott and Stuart Heap. I think it’s fair to say that they will have their work cut out to defend their title given the crew that’s starting directly behind them. That crew are Leander 1 with half of the GB world silver medal winning quad – Pete Lambert & Charlie Cousins joined by the 2014 GB M2X of Jonno Walton and John Collins. This is a very exciting combination and is my pick to take the headship. But, behind the top Leander crew it could get very interesting. The Leander 2nd quad contains the rising stars Jack Beaumont and Angus Groom (bronze medalists from this year’s U23 worlds) along with 2013 U23 international Stewart Innes and 2013 Ladies Plate winner Nick Middleton. They might not be able to match their number 1 boat but they will certainly be chasing them hard.
One of the most intriguing entries is the Imperial/Westminster composite starting 8th. This boat has Swiss U23 world champions Nico Stahlberg and Barnabe Delarze along with senior lightweight world bronze medalist, Sam Scrimgeour and the outstanding young talent, Sam Meijer, fresh from his wins at the Head of the Charles and the Armada Cup. The battle between the Leander 2nd boat and the Imperial/Westminster combo is going to be fascinating and either of these crews could bag the 2nd spot.
Elsewhere in the elite quads there are a scattering of international athletes. Stroking the London RC boat starting 4th is Mark Aldred from the GB LM4- and Namibia’s Ray Poulter stroking the Bristol/Monmouth/Rehoboth composite starting 6th.
But I think Leander are the clear favourites for the headship and will be desperate to reclaim the crown following their disappointing performance last year.
Leander 1 for the win with Leander 2 in 2nd just ahead of the Imperial/Westminster composite.
Elite Lightweight Quads
6 crews. This looks to be a good competitive field. Leander lead the field starting 16th with a crew that includes Jamie Kirkwood from the GB LM2X and U23 internationals Sam Mottram and Charlie Waite-Roberts. The fourth member of the crew is world junior silver medalist, Steve Parsonage. This looks an exciting young crew, but they will be chased hard by Imperial starting directly behind them. IC have Wilf Kimberley (who partnered Charlie Waite-Roberts to an U23 LM2- silver medal this year) and Tim Richards, who also won a silver at this year’s U23’s as part of the LM4-.
But, the biggest challenge may well come from the crew starting 18th, Tideway Scullers/Nottingham composite. This is an all-Irish affair with current senior internationals Mark O’Donovan and Niall Kenny, who raced the LM2- at this year’s worlds, joined by former international Anthony English and TSS stalwart Nathan O’Reilly.
Elsewhere look out for the UEL/Curlew/Poplar composite starting 19th with French senior international Alexandre Pilat at bow.
This is going to be a close one to call…I think Leander will take the win with Imperial and TSS too close to split.
Elite coxless fours
A relatively small field of just 8 crews – including an armada of 5 Oxford Brookes crews. Leander have two highly experienced crews with the lightweights leading off the division (start no.22) racing as Leander V. This crew contains four senior lightweight internationals, Chris Bartley, Jonno Clegg, Will Fletcher and Richard Chambers. The heavyweights (starting 25th) have world champion Matt Gotrel and world silver medalist, Alan Sinclair. They are joined by U23 international Sam Arnot and GB trialist Adam Neill.
The top Oxford Brookes crew (start no.23) is stroked by world champion Matt Tarrant. He’s backed up by world silver medalist Scott Durant and Scott’s twin brother, Mason, and U23 international Tim Grant.
Starting one place behind Brookes is the 2nd of the Brookes fleet, this time it is their lightweights, with senior international Pete Chambers at 2 and U23 silver medalists Jamie Copus and Joel Cassels at bow and stroke. Sitting at three is 2012 junior medalist Callum Jones.
Hoping to spoil Leander’s and Brookes’ party are the sole Isis entry in this division. At bow is 2013 Blue and U23 silver medalist, Iain Mandale, he’s joined at 3 by the ex-Imperial College oarsman Henry Goodier and Isis oarsmen the Rev James Stephenson and James Mountain.
My pick…I reckon Brookes heavyweights will just sneak the win ahead of Leander heavyweights with the Pink Palace lighties in 3rd.
Elite coxed fours
20 crews…now it gets really interesting! Leander received a huge shock last year when their top crew were stuffed by both Oxford and Cambridge. They will be out for revenge this year. Their top boat is starting 3rd in the division (32nd overall) and are all world champions – Tom Ransley, Will Satch, Pete Reed, Alex Gregory and cox Phelan Hill – a pretty awesome line-up in anyone’s book. They are starting one place behind the no.1 Cambridge boat of Jasper Holst, Matt Jackson, Josh Hooper, Henry Hoffstot and cox Ian Middleton. With all due respect to the light blues they will be the rabbit to Leander’s greyhound I fear!
Leading the division are Isis (the 1st of four Isis boats in this division). They will be keen to repeat their victory of 2013 and are stroked by the Oxford President and reigning world Champion, Stan Louloudis. He’s backed up by returning Blues, Sam O’Connor and Mike di Santo with former UL U23 international James Cook, the “new boy” in the boat. They are coxed by former Harvard cox, William Hakim.
Chasing these two will be the top Molesey boat of Phil Congdon, James Foad, Mo Sbihi and George Nash (coxed by Henry Fieldman). The rivalry between Molesey and Leander is always great fun to watch, especially when it pits international crew-mates against each other.
Starting one place behind Molesey in 35th is the top University of London crew. They have also put together an impressive line-up with world champions Paul Bennett and Nathanial Reilly-O’Donnell joined by European bronze medalist Ollie Cook and GB trialist Richard Clarke (coxed by Rajaei Sharma). They will definitely be wanting to put one over on the Oxbridge boys and also give the Leander and Molesey boats a run for their money.
Isis will be hoping to show good strength in depth and have a number of crews with experienced senior and U23 internationals on board. The pick of these is probably Isis III with the US U23 medalist Morgan Gerlak joined by Blue Tom Swartz, Kiwi James O’Connor (Sam O’Connor’s younger brother I believe) and Will Geffen from the 2014 Isis crew.
There are a number of foreign crews in this division as well (race rules require all overseas entries to race Elite), this includes four Dutch crews from KSRV Njoord and one crew from California. The pick of the Dutch boats starts in 36th with international Stefan Broenink at 2. The California crew, racing as Marin, are a highly experienced veteran crew with a couple of ex-pat Brits along with a couple of native Californians, they are coxed by the inimitable Adrian Ellison. Whilst they will probably not challenge for the top 10 spots at the Head of the River Fours it’ll be a different matter on Sunday when they race in the Veterans 4’s head!
So who will come out on top….? It’s going to be a fascinating battle. Isis produced a fantastic row last year to win the division, but I think Leander will get the better of them this year. Leander for the win ahead of Molesey with Isis just ahead of UL.
Women’s Elite Quads
5 crews. I would suggest this will be a straight fight between Leander and Imperial. Leander lead off in 57th with a crew that contains three senior internationals, Vicky Thornley, Lucy Gooderham and Vicky Meyer-Laker. The fourth member of the crew is Jess Leyden, 4th at this year’s U23’s.
Starting one place behind them are Imperial College. They are stroked by world champion Emma Twigg (currently studying in the UK) and have Mel Wilson at bow. These two recently won the W2X at the senior British Championships and will be hoping to follow that up with a win on the Tideway. They are joined by GB squad member Zoe Lee and the London based Polish Olympic bronze medalist, Julia Michalska.
Behind these two the pick of the rest are probably Reading University with the U23 internationals Lucy Cruxton, Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne and Lottie Burgess on board.
For my money I think the IC crew will take the win ahead of Leander with the Reading University crew some way back.
Women’s Elite Lightweight Quads
Just 3 crews but they are of pretty high standard. Starting in 62nd are Wallingford with Gemma Hall, Ellie Piggott, Lizzie Polgreen and Brianna Stubbs (recently named as one of the BBC’s “100 women of 2014”). Hall was an U23 finalist this year and Piggott and Stubbs were both in the senior LW4X that raced at the World championships this year.
Starting one place behind them are the composite of UL/London/Molesey & Putney Town. This boat features some of the cream of GB lightweight women’s sculling with Ruth Walczak, Imogen Walsh & Charlotte Taylor all of whom competed at the senior world championships joined by U23 international Emily Craig.
The final crew in this event are the Dutch from KSRV Njoord. This is a crew of good club lightweights, but they may struggle to hang-on to the two British international crews.
My pick for the win…..the composite ahead of Wallingford with the Dutch some way back.
Women’s Elite Coxless Fours
Just two crews but they are pretty special. Starting 65th is the composite of Army/Minerva Bath/Oxford Brookes and London. The headliners in this crew are world and Olympic champions Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. They are joined by Jess Eddie from the GB women’s 8 and European silver medalist Olivia Carnegie-Brown. They are up against Leander with half of the GB women’s 8 – Ros Bradbury, Lou Reeve, Katie Greves and Polly Swann. It’s going to be an interesting contest between the two boats and there is always interest in the Polly Swann v Heather Stanning contest. At the British championships the composite (albeit with Zoe Lee instead of Carnegie-Brown) took the win (in both the W4- and W4X). But, the Fullers Head of the River Fours is a very different beast than a 2K 6 lane race. My gut instinct says go with any crew that contains Glover and Stanning and I think Saturday is no different, but it’s got the makings of a very good battle (and they could well surprise a few men’s coxless fours in the process!)
Women’s Elite Coxed Fours
6 entries. This is going to be a tantalising Oxford v Cambridge battle. It’s the first time the two universities will face each-other on the course they will be racing on in April. Cambridge start in 68th and have a crew of 4 returning Blues; Caroline Reid, Claire Watkins, Melanie Wilson and cox Rose Ostfeld along with US U23 international and Stanford graduate, Daphne Martschenko. Starting immediately behind Cambridge is the first of two Oxford crews. They have three returning blues, Alice Carrington-Windo, Anastasia Chitty and Amber De Vere. They are joined by 19 year olds Maddy Badcott and cox Jennifer Ehr.
The 2nd Oxford boat starts at the back of the field in 72nd. This is the more experienced of the two Oxford boats with the 3-time Olympic medallist Caryn Davies (the most experienced and decorated competitor in the whole race) She’s joined by returning Blues Nadine Graedel Iberg, and cox Erin Wysocki-Jones, Princeton graduate Emily Reynolds and former GB trialist Chris Heemskerk.
But, this division is not just about Oxford v Cambridge, there are also a couple of highly talented crews from Imperial and Leander. Imperial are leading off the division with a crew that includes senior GB international, Donna Etiebet along with U23 medalist Georgia Francis, former senior international Michelle Vezie. Leander are coxed by current GB Women’s 8 coxswain, Zoe De Toledo. She in charge of a crew that includes former U23 internationals Yasmin Tredell Katherine Douglas and Karen Bennett along with GB trialist Pippa Whittaker.
My pick for the win will be the 2nd Oxford boat (the one stroked by Carryn Davies) in fact I wouldn’t be surprised to see an Oxford 1-2.
So that’s it for the Elite events. I don’t really have the time to delve too deeply into the other events. For the Junior classes JuniorRowingnews have done some good in depth previews http://juniorrowingnews.com/ What I will say is that there are a few “big name” schools missing (Eton and Headington being the two most obvious) This may be because of the timing of the race, coming so close to half-term. But there are still big entries in both boys and girls junior quads.
Hopefully the weather will be kind. The current forecast is dry with a 9mph South westerly (gusting to 17mph) so it should all be OK. Enjoy the racing if you’re on the water, enjoy the beer when you’re not!