In the middle of the week I really didn’t think that the Head of the River would go ahead today, with winds forecasted to be gusting over 50mph it looked like the weather gremlins would strike for the 3rd successive year. But, miracle of miracles the race was run, albeit in very challenging conditions. But I so pleased for the competitors and the organising committee that all the boats started and all the boats finished.
So, as for the race itself it’s not too surprising that Leander 1 took the title, and in a pretty fast time. The crew were not too inconvenienced by the loss of Pete Reed to a back niggle and the eventual line-up was:
Phelan Hill (cox)
They took the title in a time of 17:02, 16 seconds ahead of Molesey. The fact that Molesey took 2nd is quite an achievement given they were mostly a scratch crew, as you can see from the names below, such was the injury crisis at Molesey that they drafted in a couple of seasoned Dutch internationals:
Henry Fieldman (cox)
Some people may argue that if they had injuries in the top boat then they should have promoted up club guys to fill the seats rather than draft in the Dutch. But this would’ve severely impacted the other Molesey crews and there is certainly a precedent at the Head for this type of “All-Star” crew (Tideway Scullers?) Both Phil Congdon and Fred Gill were slated to be in the boat but had to withdraw through injury.
But, the big absentee from the Molesey boat is Andy Hodge. I spoke to Andy this evening (Sunday) and the news for any fan of GB rowing is very sad. He’s been struggling all year with a recurrence of the glandular fever he suffered from a couple of years ago. The upshot of this is that he hasn’t done any sort of training since Christmas. The prognosis is that it will take him quite a while to recover from this bout of illness and then he would have to get back to some sort of fitness in order to challenge for a seat. The upshot is that Andy will not be appearing in a GB vest this year.
Whilst this is very disappointing news for all us armchair fans, he’s taken the opportunity while he’s been off to spend time with his family and enjoy all the delights of being a dad. He’s also taken the opportunity to have a long, hard look at what he’s doing and what he wants to do in the future.
There is a high degree of frustration that the current GB system does not allow athletes to maximise their earning potential. There is no opportunity for athletes to negotiate any sort of personal or boat specific sponsorship which would help create a secure financial basis for family life. This has led Andy to question his motivation in returning to the GB team. He’s 36 and has a young family to consider and provide for. Some of the financial opportunities that were, perhaps, available when he joined the team, are no longer open and that is something he finds very frustrating. Now, no-one gets into rowing with the aim of becoming rich, but what Andy feels is that for the team to retain its senior athletes they have to provide an opportunity for those athletes to exploit whatever earning potential they may have as world and Olympic medallists. That is something that the structure of the GB Rowing Team, in its current iteration, does not provide.
To me, he’s got nothing left to prove, he’s got two Olympic gold medals, four world championship golds and three world championship silvers. “It’s time” he said, “to think of my family” and develop a career that will give his family the security and lifestyle that he wants to be able to provide. Unfortunately, as it stands at the moment, this is unlikely to be as a rower for Great Britain. At the moment it remains to be seen if and when Andy will be back in a boat, fingers crossed it’ll be for Rio. My gut feel is that, sadly, we shan’t be seeing Andy racing for GB again. If that is really the case then I wish all good health and success in whichever direction he chooses to take, but I’m really sad we won’t get to see he bossing the stroke seat of the GB M4- . Good luck Andy, and good health.
Moving on, (this blog is meant to be about the Head after all), another impressive performance was that of Oxford Brookes, especially that of the Brookes 2nd VIII (their “real” student boat) which finished in 4th just 1 second behind the Brookes 1st boat (containing their national team oarsmen). Brookes went on to get 4 crews in the top 25 a strength in depth only bettered by Leander who managed five in the top 20. The most impressive performance from the Pink Palace came from the Leander 3 crew (which I believe is the basis of their Ladies Plate 8) which defeated the Leander no.2 boat, their “Super Scullers” boat made up of current member of the GB squad sculling squad.
Another impressive performance was that of Thames who finished a superb 9th and won the Vernon Trophy (awarded to the fastest Tideway crew) for the first time since 1961. Thames must be considered one of the hot favourites to win their namesake trophy at Henley this year (having come so close in 2014). If they manage it then the Remenham Club will be rocking on Henley Sunday!
Now that’s the Head season done and dusted, it’s time for the proper side-by-side racing to begin…it’s only 93 days till the start of Henley!