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Archive for April, 2014

Regatta Radio needs YOU!

Posted by rowingvoice on April 25, 2014

Today’s blog is the result of an email I had through this week, from the chairman of Regatta Radio, Pete McConnell.  It was news to me, but he’s had to organise a fundraising dinner for the temporary radio station, which broadcasts every year at Henley Royal Regatta, covering racing, features, vox pop interviews, music and generally bringing the regatta alive through FM and online radio, for all those who can’t be there (and some who can but are stuck one end of the bank).  It’s been going eight years so far and is universally acknowledged to be a great addition to the regatta, but it is an independent venture and can’t keep going without public help.  This year it might not be able to happen.

Regatta Radio started in the summer of 2006, and was an instant hit, with people in scores of countries tuning in.  That year we heard from Australian boat clubs with crews in finals, who had rigged up an internet connection at their boathouse, and held midnight parties so that people could hear the live commentary of their crews racing for glorious Henley trophies.  We also heard from the 2005 GBR W4x, who were training at Caversham for the defence of their title, and who managed to get what had been expected to be a 4-mile radius radio signal, at the national team centre – they rang in to request songs, and promised to bake cakes for the DJs.

Rowers and spectators dropped into the Regatta Radio caravans in the Leander car-park as they were on the way home, to big up their clubs and celebrate victories, and many shops in Henley itself put Regatta Radio on over their speakers, instead of the usual loop tapes, so that those out shopping could keep up with what was happening on the river.  I’ve been involved since ’06 and it’s been a privilege and a pleasure every year.

Over the years Henley Royal Regatta has supported the radio station with incredible access, allowing the commentary system to be improved.  HRR still provides ‘trad’ commentary, the type which doesn’t interfere with conversations in the Stewards’ Enclosure, but RR has the official blessing to offer a racier, more detailed coverage which can be heard by anyone with a smartphone and earpiece, or willing to stump up a fiver for the excellent-value RR ear-radios which have become fashion accessories as important as a blazer or programme.


So why is RR at a risky financial point?  The first few years were OK, but the recession bit hard and though it has just about proved possible to keep going with sponsorship, the continuation of austerity has made this kind of enterprise pretty expensive.  RR raises money from some local sponsorship, advertising, and the sale of the radios, but there are huge costs to be met.  The equipment and licence to broadcast at high quality are not cheap, and if you want the smooth continuous commentary which has become its usual standard, that adds more to the bill.  For those who don’t have experience raising sponsorship, one problem is that it often evaporates as the sponsoring company raises its profile, so it’s a continual battle to line up more and Henley’s 10-days rowing focus isn’t the easiest prospect to sell to larger national companies.  There are good reasons why HRR itself does not simply foot the bill:  trust me that all such apparently easy options have been fully explored by the inventive and well-connected RR team.

This year, if the fundraising dinner does not raise enough to fill the gap, it is likely that Regatta Radio will not be able to broadcast at all.  It would be a terrible shame if the ninth year came to nothing, and since a dead year will reduce potential for future income, it would almost certainly spell the end of a great addition to Henley Royal Regatta.

So what can you do?  Well, if you have a few pennies to spare, buy a ticket to the Regatta Radio dinner on 1st May and donate generously in the silent auction.  It should be a sparkling occasion:  sadly I can’t go (I only just heard about it and am already busy that night) but if I could, I would, because the Regatta Radio crowd are a great bunch and know how to party.


Other ways you can help include pointing potential advertisers their way or suggesting them to potential sponsors.  Contact Pete McConnell on for either of those.  As someone who has been involved in sponsorship before, I would plead:  don’t just give RR names of possible sponsoring companies.  If you know someone in the company, find out first if they would even be interested, and then if the answer is yes, you can introduce Pete to them directly.  Cold-calling for sponsorship has a very low success rate:  it is introductions, and knowledge about what a company might be looking for, which work better.  By the way, there is nothing to stop companies based overseas advertising on Regatta Radio:  the fact that there have been listeners in 144 countries, all over the rowing world, makes it an ideal advertising medium for those selling rowing products.

Got a little cash but can’t go to the dinner, or live overseas?  Keen to help?  What about a direct donation?  This is my idea, not Pete’s, but I’m sure he would be incredibly grateful and not a penny would be wasted.  And if RR 2014 does end up going ahead, you can listen to this summer’s commentary knowing you have contributed towards having commentators right up the course, and will have added hugely to the pleasure of crews and supporters from all over the world.

Rachel Quarrell.


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Three champions for two seats in a boat

Posted by rowingvoice on April 19, 2014

This is the full text of an article commissioned by the Daily Telegraph, my usual rowing-publication masters.  It was finally published on Saturday 19th April 2014 here and in the print paper.  What went in was fine, but they did cut out some of the more interesting quotes, probably for space reasons, so here is the original in full.


Britain’s top oarswomen are known for turning the water gold, but now a red-hot battle is developing for selection.  Sparks will fly at the Redgrave-Pinsent Rowing Lake at Caversham this weekend during final trials, where Olympic champion Heather Stanning has pushed her way back into the top of the team in a bare five months.

Six weeks after Heather Stanning and Helen Glover spectacular start to Team GB’s gold rush at the London Olympics, a partnership with Grainger-like potential was split up when Stanning returned to her Army career for a tour of duty in Afghanistan.  It was never going to be a permanent break, Stanning having already signed up to return this year and aim to row in the Rio Olympics.  But a spanner was thrown in the works by the talented 25-year-old Polly Swann, who formed an equally unbeatable partnership with Glover during 2013 while Stanning was away.

Swann had missed out on her Olympic debut in the eight at London due to a back injury.  So she was new to the senior team yet fitted seamlessly into the pair last summer, even moving like Stanning while she rowed.  One of the trickiest boats to master, the coxless pair demands brilliance from both rowers, and the incredible luck of finding a new partner for Glover who could continue the success was not lost on Paul Thompson, the women’s and lightweights chief coach.

But it also posed him a a serious problem.  When Stanning returned to the UK last November, he had three oarswomen for two seats.  Two stroke-women, each unbeaten for a whole year with Glover at bow, each physiologically and technically impressive.  True, Stanning had two world silver medals before 2012, and had won the more prestigious Olympics.  But despite ergometer training fitted in around her Army work at Basra, she wasn’t ready.

“She was boot-fit but not boat-fit”, said Thompson.  “She was not at her best – though on the water she still had a fantastic feel for the boat and rhythm.”  Swann, by comparison, had a whole year of water training under her belt.  At the start of February Thompson had been clear, the incumbent Swann had first dibs on the place in the top boat.

“Helen and Polly are a world champion pair, that was our starting point”, he said.  “We couldn’t have a plan until [Heather] was back and in front of us, and she needed to find her feet.”  He held winter meetings with all three, making it clear the big task was to make the pair fast enough to beat the world again – whoever was in it – and that Stanning would have to show him something special quickly to suggest a change.  “Whoever wants to be in the best pair in the world, they need to be in the best pair in Britain.”

He knew he had to work fast, and to test other combinations as well.  “What we didn’t want was Polly looking over her shoulder every stroke, Helen trying to think she’s making the decision between this one and that one, and Heather looking for an opportunity,” he said.  Floods delayed full testing, but during March Stanning’s results suddenly became impressive.  “I wouldn’t call it a surprise, but she certainly developed quickly”, says Thompson.  “Training popped up some interesting results, and you have to go with the evidence.”

Other sweep oarswomen were raising their game too.  As a result, on Saturday morning Stanning and Glover will trial against Swann paired with Jess Eddie, a 5-year incumbent of the women’s eight with which she won world bronze in 2007 and 2011.  “It’s still completely open to see where this gets to”, said Thompson on Thursday.  “Maybe Polly and Jess are a faster combination.  I’m expecting a cracker of a race.”  On paper it’s clear he expects the Olympic champions to have the edge, but if Swann and Eddie can prove him wrong, it will make for a neat selection dilemma.

Thompson, like any canny coach, won’t let a single race decide his team:  further testing may be required and the whole winter’s evidence looked at.  Whoever loses out on the pair will strengthen the eight, which is his next big project.  The women’s eight has been tantalisingly close to the podium for eight years, and won bronze twice.  To have a chance in Rio they need to be winning medals more reliably, and Thompson’s pair’s contest might just help them do that.

Meanwhile equally fiery racing will be seen between the lightweight women, where Thompson points to Charlotte Taylor from Putney Town impressing behind the likely leaders Imogen Walsh and Olympic champion Kat Copeland.  A talented group of lightweight men race in singles, as do the openweight men, where the rivalry is renewed between Alan Campbell and Charles Cousins, and added to with Boat Race winning stroke Constantine Louloudis.

Junior world champion Jess Leyden joins the women’s singles group, and the world champion men’s eight are split into four pairs to meet the challenge from several ambitious but less experienced oarsmen.


Rachel Quarrell, Telegraph rowing correspondent


Copyright Rachel Quarrell 2014.  All rights reserved.

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Cambridge tip up by Juckett

Posted by rowingvoice on April 7, 2014

160th Boat Race, Putney to Mortlake 2014

Words:  Christopher Dodd

Pictures:  Hamish Roots, Light Over Water Photography 


Oxford march to victory around the final bend of the Championship Course

Oxford march to victory around the final bend of the Championship Course

Oxford’s 11-length victory in the 160th Boat Race from Harrods Depository to Mortlake was executed in fine style and by the biggest margin since Cambridge’s 13 lengths in 1973. Barely one of those lengths was gained between the start of the four and a quarter mile course at Putney and the point where things went tips-up for the Light Blues.

Cambridge, underdogs to a more powerful, more experienced and well-drilled Oxford, left the stakeboat in good and swift order and put their bows ahead. Oxford, who won the toss and chose the Surrey station, had taken the lead by a foot or two level with Thames RC, but at Barn Elms Cambridge were three seats ahead. Oxford came back swiftly, and at the mile post the crews could not be separated. Meanwhile, umpire Richard Phelps was busy with his flag from the off, warning each crew at least four times before the Black Buoy was reached and more after.

There was little help or hindrance from either a sluggish tide or light wind, making the Surrey bend less of an advantage, and the question as Oxford made a push after the mile post was whether Cambridge had ignited too much fuel too early. It was then that the answer became irrelevant.

Just after Oxford’s Laurence Harvey had responded to a warning by Phelps and moved his bow a shade toward Surrey, the blade of his No 7 man, the Kiwi Sam O’Connor, touched Luke Juckett’s in Cambridge No 2 seat as he was on the recovery. Juckett’s blade hit the catch on the feather, so to speak, and suddenly the hapless American’s back was arched over the side of the boat in a plume of spray, dragged by his crabbing oar. Given the surprise and the torture of the event, he made a quick recovery, helped by bow man Mike Thorp who grabbed Juckett’s oar handle and handed it back to him. The reporter next to me in the press launch had already written ‘Done and Dusted’ in her notebook and put her pen down.

Juckett lost five or six strokes, Thorp lost a couple, and 3-man Ivo Dawkins’s rhythm was upset by the antics behind him. By the time all eight Light Blues were together again, Oxford had a couple of lengths of clear water, Harvey could go where he wished, and stroke Constantine Louloudis settled to a cracking demo of good rowing all the way to the line. The race reminded 31-year-old President and Canadian Olympian Malcolm Howard why he loved rowing.

Umpire Phelps said that going into Harrods he was happy with the position of the coxes, when the Cambridge bow twitched towards Oxford and he warned Cambridge just before the contact. ‘The contact was slight, but the effect was great,’ he said. Cambridge appealed on the grounds that at the point of touch, Oxford were not on their proper station. ‘My perspective was that Oxford were on the proper station,’ Phelps said. ‘I advised their president to go and congratulate Oxford, which is what he did. It was a very tragic incident, but that’s the Boat Race.’

Luke Juckett’s dolphin impression may well go into Boat Race lore and language. But reflect on this. Fate could have dealt the Juckett to O’Connor and make his blade flip as a result of the touch of the tips. It’s a lesson in the virtue of trying to avoid touching blades in any circumstance. But on the day Oxford were, no question, worthy winners and fine exponents of the art of rowing. 2014 is the last year that Boat Race men will have the Tideway to themselves.

Next year the Newton-sponsored women’s race joins the BNY Mellon guys on the Championship Course. The result of this year’s 69th women’s race at Henley of a 4 length win by Oxford over 2000 metres does not bode well for the transfer of the race to the Tideway. Rowing conditions at Henley were calm and near perfect. The margin translates into 12 to 15 lengths on the 4 ¼ miles of the Tideway. It should have left both clubs – certainly Cambridge, and certainly the sponsors — sucking their lips.

It is, of course, too much to expect every P to M to be a nail-biter, as we have just seen. But the welcome to female Blues competing on the Tideway will be eased greatly if they can produce worthy encounters from the start. The world – including sponsors and the BBC – will be watching keenly for signs of the women’s race to become as gripping as the men’s has been of late.

Tom Watson (left) and Storm Uru share a moment of celebration in the Oxford bow

Tom Watson (left) and Storm Uru share a moment of celebration in the Oxford bow


BOAT RACE TIMES 2014 (Oxford first)

Mile: both crews 3-47

Hammersmith Bridge: 6-48; 6-56

Chiswick Steps: 10-59; 11-15

Barnes Bridge: 15-18; 15-46

Finish: 18-36; 19-08



Isis double the joy for a record Oxford combined margin

The Dark Blues’ reserves Isis made it a double act on Sunday, defeating Goldie by thirteen lengths in the Oxford understudies’ fourth victory running, despite a late change of stroke in the last few weeks when Tom Watson was swapped for Chris Fairweather in the Blue Boat.

Umpired by Simon Harris, the reserves’ race saw Isis take a few seats lead as the two crews stormed down the Putney line of moored boats, and clear water by the Milepost, before they romped away to a commanding win despite Goldie’s best efforts. The combined margin for Oxford of 24 lengths is their biggest ever for two crews, given that it’s Oxford’s largest Blue Boat win since 1898 (verdict then given as ‘easily’) and the Isis-Goldie race has only been in existence since 1965.


Isis beat Goldie by 13 lengths, unofficial winning time 18-39 (will be updated when official times available).

Rowing Voice staff

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‘I would never want to race against a Bowden crew’ – Oxford President

Posted by rowingvoice on April 6, 2014

Putney Sunday 6 April 2014

Christopher Dodd

When asked by a Canadian television crew at Putney why the Boat Race was such a big deal, I struggled with the usual clichés. There was no other popular sport when it started; Londoners took the Oxbridge toffs’ race to heart, and for reasons unknown the romance and the irrational support has grown into a worldwide TV audience; the Boat Race is two flies walking up a wall, easy to understand and easy to bet on; it quickly established a reputation for fairness.

Then there are key aspects for sporting and rowing types. Pioneering amateur status rules, developing rules of racing; introducing eight-oared boats to the Championship Course from Putney to Mortlake already used for professional sculling races; extending rowing from a professional sport to an amateur one; the challenge of a long side-by-side race on a big river with a strong tide.

For these reasons and more, the Boat Race retains its magic as the crews prepare for their 160th match. On the face of it, it remains a private affair for the Oxbridge intelligentsia, if no longer for toffs. But if you deconstruct Oxford and Cambridge 2014 into what brought them together, you find a variety of routes from the roots of rowing. The race that gives the sport of rowing – to say nothing of a couple of rare academic piles – an enormous publicity bonanza each year now contains traces and influences that stem from far beyond a bunch of college lads boarding a boat on the Isis or the Cam for a jaunt to London.

The statistics of the 160th are as follows: Oxford have seven postgraduates, five internationals, four Blues, three Olympic medallists, three Canadians, three who rowed for Harvard, two Kiwis, two Brits and one American. Cambridge have seven postgraduates, four Americans, two Blues, two Brits, two who rowed for Wisconsin, one German and an Aussie. Both coxswains are British. The difference, you will see, is that Oxford’s higher pedigree on the world scene points to success on Sunday (but remember that when Matthew Pinsent returned from the Olympics to lead Oxford in the 1993 Boat Race, his crew bowed to a humbler Cambridge). It’s a victory for Oxford’s recruiting sergeant. ‘If this continues, we can’t compete,’ said an Old Light Blue this week.

From inception to this side of the Second World War, Blues came from English private schools or learned their craft at the universities, with a trickle of American and Commonwealth oarsmen. The Boat Race bred internationals, while today it is as much a repository for internationals, even Olympic champions. Two-way traffic now involves North America as much as Britain, and there is almost annual input from European countries and Down Under. Its demography reflects changing patterns in higher education as well as the sport of rowing.

It is also a heady mix of influences, personified in Malcolm Howard, Oxford’s 31-year-old president, who is studying clinical medicine at Oriel. Howard hails from the paradise of Victoria on Vancouver Island, learning to row at Brentwood School in British Columbia. He embarked on an incredible rowing journey when his studies took him to Harvard and the Charles River, going afloat under the legendary Harry Parker, 50 years coach of the Crimsons. He also found himself on Elk Lake, near his home town, where the legendary British coach Mike Spracklen was in charge of Canada’s heavyweight men. Now he is on the Tideway under Sean Bowden, coach to the Dark Blues who has built an outstanding record in the Boat Race.

I lobbed an impossible question at Howard – how did these three compare? ‘I can only put it this way,’ he says. ‘I would never want to race against a Parker crew, or a Spracklen crew, or a Bowden crew. I’m glad I have never come up against one.’

Three different programmes, three different legends. ‘Harry taught me how to race. Mike taught me how to train. Sean refined the way I row,’ Howard says.

Parker’s programme encompassed multi-lane regattas like the Eastern Sprints and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships, the one-on-one 4-mile Harvard-Yale race, and trips to the English Henley. He put eight after eight of mixed ability on the Charles River and coaxed his men into sorting out for themselves how to race. Harry had a reputation for secrecy, a man of few words. But he was not secretive, Howard insists. He was a man you wanted to listen to, and you can guarantee anyone to whom he spoke would listen. ‘When Harvard bought the boat that we Canadians used to win the Olympics in Beijing and named it Michael Howard, Harry urged everyone at the naming ceremony to remember that there were seven others in the boat to win the medal,’ Howard says.

Seven years with Spracklen and the Canadian team taught him fitness and preparation. Where Parker spent half a century in one boathouse, Spracklen has been round the world, coaching Oxford in the Boat Race and medal winners on the international circuit in Britain, the US, Canada and now Russia. ‘Everything in a Spracklen crew is thought through. He has a reputation for mind games. If you didn’t agree with something he said, the reply was always ‘trust me’, and he was invariably right,’ Howard says. ‘The last thing you want from Mike is to be ignored.’

Spracklen is a crew coach through and through. His strength is not in running squads or teams, but in looking after people who believe in him, who want to be coached by him. On his DVD on motivation, Spracklen says that everyone has a point where they back off, so his job is create an environment where the goal is to retard that point. One of his weapons is poetry. ‘It’s quite something to be quoted a poem before you go out to race at the Olympics,’ Howard says.

Bowden began his coaching career at Thames RC and came to prominence with the now defunct Nottinghamshire County Rowing Association where he was responsible for more than 30 international medals. For several years NCRA coaches – Bowden and John Wilson with Harry Mahon – coached Cambridge and turned the Light Blues into winners. Howard stroked Bowden’s Dark Blue crew to victory in the 2013 race. Bowden is another coach that Howard has no wish to encounter as an opponent. ‘He is meticulous in every respect. Everything is thought through.’ Together with peaking on the day, attention to detail is a key for Boat Race coaches, given that their pool of talent is restricted to who is actually a full-time student at the university to which the club is attached.

This exposé may serve to reiterate the Boat Race’s significant place in the sport of rowing, but it doesn’t add up to a certain Oxford victory. Cambridge weigh more and have plenty of clout even if they are lighter on international experience. But it’s what happens on the Tideway that counts.


COMING SOON: Christopher Dodd’s Bonnie Brave Boat Rowers, the heroes, seers and songsters of the Tyne, published by

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1877 Dead Heat – In Defence of Honest John

Posted by rowingvoice on April 6, 2014

Mortlake, 6 April 2014


Richard Phelps is the man in charge of the 2014 Boat Race, umpiring the match for the first time. Phelps is a Cambridge Blue and a member of the famous family of watermen who competed professionally, holding the record for the most winners of Doggett’s Coat and Badge, builders of boats, boatmen to amateurs and earning their living on the Tideway.

One of Richard’s ancesters was ‘Honest John’ Phelps, the finishing judge of the race until his reign ended with the dead heat of 1877. The race was close to Barnes, with Oxford establishing a small lead until the bow man’s oar fractured beneath the leather sleeve. Cambridge caught up lost ground and Phelps, in a skiff with his eye on the notional finish line – there was no post in those days, was unable to separate them. He later visited the chambers of the race umpire – himself on a steamer behind the crews – to announce the verdict of a dead heat.

What happened after that was that ‘Honest John’ lost the job he had held for several years and was vilified by a series of accusations of being drunk, lying in bushes and unfit for purpose. Maurice Phelps has done much to clear his ancestor’s name in his book The Phelps Dynasty, and now Tim Koch of the blog Hear The Boat Sing has made a documentary which sets out to complete the job.

‘Oxford won, Cambridge too, the 1877 Boat Race and the vilification of John Phelps, a continuing injustice’ looks at all the available evidence and produces irrefutable arguments that, far from being legless and blind at 8.30 on the morning of 24 March 1877, Honest John was a sober, cultured and moral waterman, and that his verdict was, near as dammit, correct.



Christopher Dodd


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