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Archive for July, 2013

Brice takes 299th Doggett’s

Posted by rowingvoice on July 12, 2013

Coat and Badge, 12 July; Chelsea

One hopes that next year’s 300th Doggett’s will provide as good a race as the 299th on 12 July when Henry McCarthy, son of previous winner Simon, challenged Nathaniel Brice, a captain with City Cruises who was third last year, all the way. Brice reached Chelsea by an official three lengths ahead of McCarthy, but to my eye it was a bit more. Hard to tell, though, while following in a launch on a balmy day with a slack tide, or any kind of day for that matter, but it’s an honourable result for winner and loser in a race of more than five miles.

Brice had a flying start – he went on the ‘g’ of ‘Go” smartly a fraction before the umpire, newly instated Master of the Watermen’s Company Bobbie Prentice, dropped his flag. Brice (Poplar) in light blue, Stuart Coleman (Poplar) in green and McCarthy (Poplar) in red were the early leaders, bunched together and clashing their sculls almost before they cleared the shadow of London Bridge.

Dominic Couglin (Medway Towns) caught a crab early on and was dropped by the umpire soon after the first bridge. Samuel Metcalf (London RC) made a strong challenge in the early stages, despite having only apparently started rowing four months ago. McCarthy and Charlie Maynard (orange, Poplar) took the inside Surrey bend at Waterloo, which did them a power of good in emerging in the centre of the river before Hungerford and Charing Cross bridges. At Lambeth Bridge Brice and McCarthy were duelling a substantial way ahead of Maynard and Coleman, while Metcalf faded and was dropped at Lambeth Bridge.

McCarthy harassed Brice all the way from there and looked as if he was going to catch him two or three times. But the 299th Doggett’s was Brice’s, in 25 minutes 57 seconds (2.5 minutes off the record) on a slack tide. No other times were taken.

The long deceased actor-manager surely rejoiceth from the wings of the Drury Lane Theatre. Next year sees the 300th anniversary of the oldest continuous sporting event in Britain, and long may it continue thereafter.

Christopher Dodd

Thomas Doggett was an actor and eventual theatre manager who relied heavily on the London watermen to taxi him around in the 17th and 18th centuries.  He founded the race in 1715, originally ‘a rowing wager for the best six young apprentice watermen in their first year of freedom’  and left money in his will for it to be continued.  Nowadays apprentice watermen are permitted to race again in their second and third years, since entry numbers have declined. 

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Wheels of tragedy

Posted by rowingvoice on July 8, 2013

Christopher Dodd

Sadly, cycling continues to take its toll of rowers. Toby Wallace, who rowed for Cambridge in the 1988 and 1988 Boat races, was mown down and killed by a truck on the A30 near Summercourt on Tuesday 2 July while undertaking a charity cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats for the Kirsten Scott Memorial Trust. Also killed on the first day of the ride was his Aberdeen Asset Management colleague Andrew McMenigall.

The charity that they were riding for was set up in memory of an Aberdeen colleague who lost her battle with cancer in October 2011. The driver of the lorry was arrested by Devon and Cornwall Police on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving and bailed until October.

Wallace was a senior relationship manager for the company, based in Philadelphia. He joined Aberdeen immediately after graduating in geography at Jesus College, Cambridge, in 2000.

His coach at Cambridge, Robin Williams, sent me this tribute: ‘Some people in life draw energy from those around them while others give it. They are ‘radiators’ and everyone wants to stand next to them to feel their warmth, energy and positivity. Toby was most definitely one of those people. In the years he rowed at Cambridge I never saw him in a bad mood. Not once. Always cheerful, always giving his considerable efforts to the crew and the club.

‘Toby was one of those individuals you uncover now and again who are perfect for rowing and you get in a boat as quickly as possible. He learned to row from scratch at Cambridge. He trialled for the CUBC in his second year, secured a seat in the Goldie crew and won the Goldie-Isis race. The following year he won his seat in the Blue Boat and won that too. In the 1999 crew he sat at bow – all 6ft 7ins of him, and did a superb job in a brilliant crew which became the benchmark for later generations. He went on to row for Great Britain and could clearly make a success of anything he turned to in sport or in life. A true natural talent.

It is sad in the extreme that the world has lost him and in such tragic circumstances. It is hard to find the words to express his loss.’

In 2012 Wallace joined an eight-man crew that rowed across the Atlantic to raise money for the Kirsten Scott Trust.

Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen, said: ‘I knew both Andrew and Toby well. They were dedicated and popular members of our senior team. The fact that they died in such tragic circumstances while trying to help others less fortunate tells you much about their selflessness and humanity. This is a terrible time for the company. More importantly our thoughts are with the families of Andrew and Toby.’


On a more cheerful note, I see that Jimmy Tomkins has been sworn in to the IOC’s athletes commission. The Aussie veteran of the Oarsome Foursome who competed at six Olympics and won three gold medals, was elected last year at London 2012. ‘It is a very exciting and proud day for me becoming a member of the IOC and representing athletes worldwide,’ he said. ‘I’m really looking forward to contributing to the ongoing success of the Games and ensuring the Olympic movement is a beacon for society.’

Tomkins wasn’t in Henley yesterday, but there were sightings of former Canadian men’s coach Mike Spracklen buying a round of Pimms for Russians, Alan Campbell’s former coach Bill Barry interviewing Brazilians rowing at American universities, and Bob Janousek, the former GB coach and boat builder who set British rowing back on the Olympic medal path in the 1970s.

The celebrity of the day was Dr Charles Eugster, the world’s oldest comepetitive oarsman. The 93-year-old is holder of 36 world masters golds, many of them in a double with Thames’s Pauline Rayner. His rowing began at St Paul’s School, continued at Thames and transferred to Zürich Ruderclub when he moved to Switzerland.

By the hand of a Steward, Race No 5 on Thursday: ‘Poplar led down the island as Taurus suffered from errotic steering. But Taurus found a stronger rhythm…’


Christopher Dodd’s book, Pieces of Eight, the story of Bob Janousek and his Olympians, is available at the RRM and HRR shops or by mail order from http://rrm.co.uk/visit/shop/pieces-of-eight

“Pieces of Eight is a fascinating book, full of drama and colour, essential reading for anyone interesting in rowing, sport in the 1970s or understanding what it takes to build world-class teams.” – Professor Tony Collins, Director of the International Centre for Sports History & Culture, De Montfort University

For information on Chris Dodd’s books, visit www.doddsworld.org

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Heat turns up for Daddy Oldfield

Posted by rowingvoice on July 3, 2013

Christopher Dodd at the first day of Henley

leanderflagSigns of the times in Henley: the recession has arrived on the town side of the river, with at least six shops boarded up within spitting distance of the Town Hall. Inflation has hit the regatta side, with Pimm’s at 10 quid a pint in the champagne bar, I hear. Flag at half mast at Leander Club to honour Harry Parker, Harvard’s coach of 50 years, who passed away last week. Gloriana moored outside the boat tent, the most gorgeous lady in town. Ran into Walter Hoover, son of the Walter Hoover who beat Jack Beresford Jr in the Diamonds in 1922 in a boat he designed himself. Crews from all over the country and many parts of the world and thousands of people without cares in the world, or so it seemed on a crowded first day of Henley. As the racing programme sorted 80 winners from 80 losers, it got me thinking about elitism, protest and rights.

The Aussie with two surnames, Trenton Oldfield, has found that the water he jumped into on Boat Race day 2012 is hotter than he first thought. The Home Office rejected his application for a spousal visa, declaring his presence in Britain ‘not conducive to the public good’. After living in the UK for 12 years he will be deported back to Australia, barring a successful appeal. His British wife Naik gave birth to their first child a few days later.

According to Decca Aitkenhead in the Guardian, Oldfield hadn’t worried about his immigration status when he dived into the Thames in front of the crews to protest about ‘elitism’ in Britain. ‘It was a peaceful protest, so immigration stuff didn’t seem relevant,’ he said. Nor was he worried when officials pulled him from the water into a police boat. ‘There was no feeling of threat – it was very smooth, not dramatic. People were joking and laughing, and the police were saying: “What was all that about then?”’

Ahem. From where I was sitting in the press launch, I didn’t notice that Oldfield was wearing rose-tinted goggles. I would say that he slightly misjudged the tone of the reception he received. I think a great deal of restraint was shown, especially on the umpire’s catamaran when the privately educated ex-rower from Sydney was yanked aboard. The smile on his face was not reciprecated.

The water began to boil for Oldfield later when the police upgraded his charge from a public order offence to public nuisance, an arcane common law carrying a maximum sentence of life. ‘That’s when we began to worry,’ said Trenton’s wife Naik.

Deportation, according to Oldfield in the Guardian interview, would set a precedent of undermining British people’s human rights. Asked what his protest achieved, he said: ‘I believe my thesis has been proven, that elitism leads to tyranny.’

The Home Secretary may decide that the six-month prison sentence, of which Oldfield served two in Wormwood Scrubs and has turned his experience into a book, was punishment enough for seditious disruption of a boat race. It’s hard to find sympathy for such an ill-thought out protest or such a crass life-endangering act.

But the issue of deportation certainly has a nasty taste on top of the question of what’s the point of time-serving in the Scrubs on the public purse. I find myself in agreement with Tobias Garnett, who wrote in the Guardian that, as someone who had rowed in the Boat Race before 2012, his main reaction was of anger at this act of sabotage, which cruelly robbed both crews of a fair resolution to this increasingly tight race and to their months of training.

But, he went on, ‘if the sabotage of the race was what I felt most viscerally, for Oldfield that was mere collateral. His real intention [having settled on elitism as his target] was to spark a debate.’ The Home Office’s decision to reject Oldfield’s application for a spousal visa leaves Garnett thinking his actions were indefensible, yet wanting to take him up on the invitation and defend him as he is swept into a much larger debate about the politicisation of legal sanctions.

‘To outsiders, the Boat Race may have looked like an over-hyped coin toss, but in reality it was not the best target for Oldfield to make his point…  The rowing event is completely free to the hundreds of thousands of people who come to watch it each year… The Boat Race is an amateur event; there is no prize beyond winning. It has minimal environmental impact, and means a lot to the Londoners who line the route every spring.’

But when it bangs to rights, the principles of human rights should apply to everyone, says Garnett. ‘The Human Rights Act enshrines those principles in UK law, providing protection against the anger and changeability of public opinion, or a home secretary too prone to pander to its excesses. That we apply these principles equally to those with whom we fundamentally disagree, is the proof of our commitment to them.’

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Philosopher who kept the Crimsons on top

Posted by rowingvoice on July 2, 2013

Harry Parker, coach at Harvard for half a century, died peacefully on 25 June, aged 77. Christopher Dodd marks his passing

Harry Parker must rank as the most successful college coach of all time. His crews were undefeated in 22 of his 51 seasons as Harvard coach and won 43 of his 50 races against Yale. Parker also coached US crews six times in the Olympics, his eight winning silver in 1972 and his double a gold in 1984. His Olympic eight of 1980, forced to boycott the Moscow Games by President Carter’s government, came to Henley instead and won the Grand.

Parker’s introduction to a life of coaching, role-modelling, leadership and friendliness began at the University of Pennsylvania under another legend, Joe Burk. Both their lives wove in and out of Henley. Burk won the Diamonds twice before the Second World War and coached Penn, with Parker on board, to win the Grand in 1955. Parker was obligingly posted to Philadelphia for his service in the US Navy and sat in the single for three years. He had a go at the Diamonds in 1959, losing the final to Stuart Mackenzie, and finished fifth in the 1960 Olympics behind the great Soviet sculler Ivanov and the Pole Kocerka.

Harry Parker carrying his daughter Abigail on the back of his bike at Henley in 2002.

Harry Parker with daughter Abigail at Henley in 2002, the year his Harvard crews won the Ladies, the Temple and the Brit between them. Photograph: Peter Spurrier/Intersport Images

In 1961, aged 27, Parker was appointed freshman coach at Harvard, and was promoted to the varsity post two years later following the sudden death of Harvey Love. The philosophy graduate from Penn quickly became the personification of Harvard rowing, coaxing the Crimsons along a star-studded course of achievement and drama. A goodly mileage of this he observed from a bicycle saddle on the Henley  towpath.

Harvard crews have won 11 Henley events during Parker’s reign. Trips to Henley from Cambridge, Mass, do not occur lightly. You have to win the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championship or the Eastern Sprints to earn a shot at Henley, which explains why you can never write off a Harvard boat at HRR. Harry, a coach of few words, was a member of that rare school of coaches who command unquestioning respect from their charges. Dick Cashin, who rowed in Parker crews for Harvard and the US, told me that Harry’s the only man in rowing he trusts entirely: ‘If Parker says it’s going to rain on a fine day, bring a slicker.’ That was in at the boat tents in 1980, and countless Crimsons would endorse it.

At around the same time, Harry shared his approach to coaching with me in an interview at Harvard’s Newell boathouse.  ‘What I see at Harvard is the people who are in it, highly motivated and willing to work for it,’ he said. ‘Obviously the coach has some role in drawing that out… When you try to work people really hard it’s important to make sure that you’re getting the full benefit from that and not working with them too hard… Unfortunately, that’s not an easy thing to judge.’

You have to live with injustices, he said, when performance can be the only criterion. ‘Even for people who are motivated, there’s a pretty natural built-in resistance in the body to working hard. The coach has to help the oarsman overcome that. It’s probably not a good idea to trick them, because you can only get away with that so often.’

One of the enduring images of Harry was him stalking along the tow path to the Secretary’s office clutching the piece of driftwood that had attached itself to his eight’s fin in the final of the 1989 Ladies’ Plate, won against all the odds by the Notts County lightweights. He obtained a justifiable re-row on the grounds of interference by outside forces at his audience, only for his crew to be trounced three hours later by a Notts boat on fire. It was a devastating result for the Crimsons, but it was typical of Harry that he kept the piece of wood and loaned it to the River & Rowing Museum later for its Americans at Henley exhibition.

Harry’s true grit grimace, his physical hardness, was only one of his faces; he also broke frequently into a broad and twinkle-eyed smile. While keeping his distance from his charges, he wasn’t aloof. Another enduring Henley memory is Harry pedaling along the towpath with his little daughter Abigail on the back of the bike. Abigail is now at Radcliffe, and two days before her father died she switched on that smile by filling a vacant stroke seat in an eight at short notice for a 1980 Olympic team row-past on the Charles. Sure as crimson, you’ll find Harry with his bike in the Great Enclosure in the Sky.

Christopher Dodd


Christopher Dodd’s book, Pieces of Eight, the story of Bob Janousek and his Olympians, is available at the HRR shops or by mail order from http://rrm.co.uk/visit/shop/pieces-of-eight

“Pieces of Eight is a fascinating book, full of drama and colour, essential reading for anyone interesting in rowing, sport in the 1970s or understanding what it takes to build world-class teams.” – Professor Tony Collins, Director of the International Centre for Sports History & Culture, De Montfort University

For information on Chris Dodd’s books, visit www.doddsworld.org    

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