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The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Archive for July, 2014

Poll: would YOU be willing to pay something for online rowing coverage?

Posted by rowingvoice on July 29, 2014

Something new happened last weekend.  The RowingVoice twitter account was taken over – without me there – by another tweeter.  Don’t worry, it was all legit:  Oxford Brookes steersman Rory Copus asked if he could help with my coverage of the under-23 worlds in Varese, and ended up keeping @RowingVoice going all by himself, since I could not get to Italy.

Rory did a brilliant job, much appreciated by parents and friends, and is a fascinating guy (see later) but that’s not what this blog is about.  I’m writing because the reason I could not go to Varese was that I simply could not justify the cost. (Rory was already planning to be there all week, so it cost him nothing to get involved.)

So I’m asking the question in this poll, below:  when would YOU be willing to contribute to help create the kind of rowing coverage I offer?  (You might want to read the rest of the blog before you add your vote.)

 

Regattas nowadays frequently cost close to £500 a time for journalists to attend, and from this year’s under-23 world champs I will have earned the stunning total of £45 after the Telegraph has paid me.  Before tax.  It wouldn’t have been any more, even if I’d attended and tried to drum up extra work.  It doesn’t make sense to go, not when I’m trying to fit in family commitments, admin for my ‘real’ job, and a proper holiday.  Don’t get me wrong, I love being at regattas, but I have to make my time away earn me a living.  I already lose money on the world champs and only just make a miniscule profit on the world cups:  I can’t pretend that I can afford to go to several other overseas regattas every year purely for fun.

Yet — and Rory proved this last week in spades — having independent journalists at a regatta, offering a different slant from the sanitised efforts of WorldRowing and GB Rowing, is pretty darned popular.  There are things we can and do say which the official channels would never go near.  I’d do it much more if it could be worth my while.

Even better, if I had a way of earning enough money to cover the costs, I’d hire keen young rowers like Rory to come and help for my busiest days at the biggest championships, so that we could keep the tweets flowing properly while I’m busy interviewing coaches and medallists and writing articles for the Telegraph.  I already do this with great success at Henley Royal Regatta, where for the last few years the excellent tweet-merchant Zoe de Toledo has kindly joined me in the press box (without pay) whenever she has had time between outings with her own crew – a godsend particularly on the last two days, when I have masses to do and can’t be at the finish line for every race.

I’d LOVE to do this kind of proper coverage more often.  I just can’t see how to make it break even.

Now, it should be possible.  There are easy ways to gather hundreds of small online donations nowadays, and maybe (just maybe) the support is out there after all.  But my efforts at asking people to buy rowing coverage before haven’t been successful.  Whether I don’t ask the right way, or whether readers of my non-Telegraph work don’t ever think it worth paying for, I can’t tell.  I sometimes think it’s partly an attitude that it must be possible to get enough reportage and information for free, so that nobody needs to pay.  Perhaps that is true in practice, but my argument would be that not all online coverage is the same, and that sometimes it’s worth contributing a little to get the right sort of coverage.

Hence this blog, and this poll.  If you haven’t already, please whizz back up to the top of the page and give me your answer. Any further comments, either tweet to @RowingVoice, or email to me at rq@rowingservice.com.  I’ll admit, I’m a pessimist about this type of problem.  I don’t expect much reaction to this blog post, nor much positive support for the idea.  But if enough people say they would indeed donate to create a proper budget, to help the RowingVoice cover more events properly by tweet and blog, then I promise to give it a real go.

 Rachel Quarrell.

 

Rory Copus in The Poseidon Adventure, 2005

Rory Copus, former junior and U23 M8+ cox for GBR, now steering for Oxford Brookes and anyone else who will have him, has a semi-secret past as a child actor.  I haven’t seen it myself, but his premier role is probably as Dylan Clarke, young son of the protagonists, in the 2005 TV movie remake of The Poseidon Adventure.  

Here’s the picture to prove it, and there are plenty more embarrassing ones online if you do a spot of googling.

Sorry Rory!

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Hot times in the Cold War

Posted by rowingvoice on July 13, 2014

Lucerne, 11 July 2014 | Christopher Dodd

Lost in reminiscences — the historical guru of rowing journalism takes us back 40 years to the early days of international championships on the famous ‘Lake of the Gods’

montanaWatching the rain fall on the Rotsee at Lucerne’s final round of the World Cup 2014, I recall my first visit here forty years ago. The occasion was the 1974 World Championships, which turned out to be a riveting face-off in the sporting rivalry between the two sides of the Iron Curtain and – although we didn’t realise it at the time – the seminal moment in the return of Britain to the medal podium after years in the Doldrums.

It was 11 pm on a black Tuesday night and raining cats and dogs as Jim Railton and I were dropped at the door of the Montana. We correspondents of the Times and the Guardian respectively, had a bargain package holiday at this starred hotel, perched on a steep hillside above the Vierwaldstättersee. Before checking in, we were pleasantly surprised to find a cold collation laid for us in Henrietta’s bar, where huge arched windows looked across lake and mountains when weather permitted, and whose reputation as a classy watering hole extended through western Europe.

Things began as they were to continue. The Irish team management arrived at midnight when our hostess Henrietta, stylishly groomed and gracious cocktail shaker, lowered the lights, set up a record player behind the bar and cajoled her drinking friends to dance. Soon Swiss couples were jiving, albeit self-consciously, Jim was at the piano and a couple of policemen, a dentist and a barrister-at-law were in fine voice rendering Gaelic and republican songs.

As the sky faintly lightened it gradually became apparent that the windows looked over a sheer drop. Henrietta chose this moment to perform her party trick. She pushed up both sash windows and stepped out of one into the abyss. Then she reappeared through the other window, having swung herself from one to the other on the rope that controlled the window shades.

Soon Jim and I were dissuading barrister Donal Hamilton, God rest his soul, from having a go himself. I learned later that Henrietta once missed her hold and broke a limb.

It was 6 am when I saw my room for the first time. Sun was breaking through the cloud lighting snow on the peaks across the lake. The women’s finals began at 10 am later that morning. Welcome to Lucerne.

 

Man falls off trolley

Two battles were raging in international rowing in the 1970s. One was the struggle for gold medals between the DDR (East Germany) and the Soviet Union. The other was attempts to get amongst the medals by ‘Western’ nations. One such came from Britain in the men’s eights. Head coach Bob Janousek formed a crew by invitation only in October 1973 to mount an assault on the Montreal Olympics three years hence. Lucerne 1974 was its first championship event, and it was well placed to qualify for the final until disaster struck in the semi-final.

The boat was moving smoothly into second place after 500 metres when cox Pat Sweeney sensed something was not quite right. Hugh Matheson in the 5 seat watched in horror as the wheel nut on the seat in front worked itself loose.

About five strokes after the nut came off, Tim Crooks drove in a catch but flew off his seat onto the runners. He pulled his oar in across the boat. The seat was twisted at a crazy angle and held rigidly by the alloy hooks underneath.

He remembers hearing someone shouting ‘Stop! Stop! Tim’s slide’s gone’.

But they didn’t stop.

‘I thumped the seat and got it under my arse, but it was scraping terribly. I got back on and we soon got back to full speed. The whole thing probably took about ten seconds, but of course for me it was in slow motion.’

Cox Sweeney calmly called for a long push to the finish line. ‘During this time, the boat never dropped its rhythm, never fell off balance,’ he says. ‘We dropped from second to last and we had about 800m to go.’

The British crew clocked the fastest final quarter (1:27.80 – and remember, this is 40 years ago in completely different equipment) and finished third, secure for the final.

 

Crackle and gust

Lucerne - and the Rotsee - from PilatusThe Rotsee is a deep green finger lake hidden at the back of the town by steep wooded banks. It gets its name from the reddish weed that grows in it. The water is usually flat, although Lucerne is prone to zigzag lightning, crackling thunder and sudden gusts. Cows graze near the lake. Wal Yallop of the 1974 British eight told me: ‘If I was rowing all right I could hear the cowbells, if I was too stressed I wouldn’t hear them.’ He didn’t hear them during that semi-final.

The town of Lucerne is overseen by the brooding peak of Pilatus that plays hide and seek behind billowing clouds. The place has hardly changed in 40 years. It hoards tourists. It has towers and belfries, pointy roofs and dormers; turrets and ramparts; bridges decorated by old masters, walls graffiti’d in the middle ages; conical spires and shutters; bells and bell towers; balconies and banners, fountains and flowers; steep alleys and quiet corners; paddle steamers and trolleys; the icy draught of the rolling Reuss river, and the tall story factory at the Pickwick pub.

It has museums for Wagner and transport and Picasso; a glacier garden and the Lion of Lucerne hewn into rock; art museums and a stunning concert hall, and a great panorama depicts the rout of the French at the hands of the Prussians;

But vanished are the jazz music shop, the antiquarian bookstore, the old map shop, the English bookstore and the proper junk shops that I used to know. Overpriced designer labels, under-priced clothing outlets, Swatch shops, shoe and furniture emporiums and tourist tat have swamped them all.

In 1974, the weather gods unleashed their full portfolio on this stunning theatre. Chatting over coffee with Canadian coach Al Morrow in Hudson’s tent while the gods watered the Rotsee in 2014, I find that 1974 was also Al’s first visit to Lucerne. He was rowing in a four that finished eighth, Canada’s best result in that period. The memories flood back. Ireland’s great hope was the sculler Sean Drea who was taken ill on the first day and was whisked to hospital. He was allowed out only to race and was door-stopped day and night by David Faiers who wrote reams of will-he-won’t-he-and-what’s-really-wrong stories for the Irish Independent. Drea didn’t fulfil hopes on that occasion.

Lucerne 1974 was not one of prestigious Leander’s best moments, either. The Henley club enjoyed the sponsorship of Pimm’s who arranged a reception in Henrietta’s bar at the Montana, where else? As a resident I gatecrashed it, taking my friend Rolf, a wild-looking philosopher who drove the Dutch bus-cum-boat transport and went everywhere in bare feet. This practice caused a major talks with the hotel management. Meanwhile a drunken be-blazered Leander heavy ricketed through a glass door, smashing it and a glass table, if I recall correctly.

 

‘Now the East, give me ten…’

There were jitters aboard the British Karlisch shell before the final of men’s eights, after the drama of the semi. ‘As usual, we were dumped at the start, but we were clean and hit a good rhythm’ says cox Sweeney. They were last at 500 metres, but a burn after 750 metres took them through West Germany. Tim Crooks was totally focussed, and Wal was hearing cow bells.

‘Sweeney started talking us through the crews,’ Matheson says. ‘It was a splendid sensation because he’d say, Now we’re going to get the Russians, give me ten… Now we’re going etc. He talked us through the field until only the Americans were left.’

Mike Vespoli, the future boat builder who was on board the American eight, says that ‘the British were sort of lying in wait. Well, from our position in the boat, there was not a way in hell they were going to catch us.’

‘Coming through the 1500 mark,’ Sweeney says, ‘we were moving past the East and closing on the Russians. With 300 metres to go we had taken Russia. There was just the US and NZ left. I wasn’t thinking medals, just racing to win. I was pretty sure we had New Zealand with 200 metres to go, and we were still closing on the US, but we ran out of course.’

They had beaten the East Germans and the Soviet Union, pipped the New Zealanders and closed on the Americans. It was a sensational result, not only for Bob Janousek’s men, but also for Al Rosenberg’s Americans and Rusty Robertson’s Kiwis. American oarsman Al Shealy summarised the achievement as one that dreams are made of. ‘The greasiness of that boat, combined with the almost absolute symmetry of body movement within the crew, made for an unforgettable experience.’

From the press stand watching six eights closely bunched was as thrilling as it was seismic. The Americans, British and Kiwis had kept East Germany and the Soviet Union out of the medals in the premier event.

Of six women’s gold medals, four went to East Germany and one each to USSR and Romania. Eastern bloc countries won fifteen of the 18 medals, and 15 of the available 24 men’s open medals went to the eastern bloc. East Germany won six of the golds and the USSR the seventh. The West Germans had two bronzes. In the double sculls, Alf and Frank Hansen of Norway won silver and Chris Baillieu and Mike Hart of Britain bronze. The American sculler Jim Dietz took the silver medal in the singles.

74%20final

Teardrops as the band plays on

The 1974 World Championships ended with a flourish when the Swiss police, calculating that too many athletes were partying in the huge tent by the boat racks beside the Rotsee, attempted to break it up by throwing canisters of tear gas into the marquee. The band played on, and the sensible beat a retreat. For Jim and I, time to return to the Montana in the pure air above the big lake for a libation in Henrietta’s bar.

Forty years on, the medals in the eights final of the World Cup include a British boat coached by a former East German and a Russian crew coached by a Brit. I have seen hundreds of races on the Rotsee and dozens of crews made or laid since 1974, but the World Championship eights final of 1974 still rings a cowbell.

And I’ve been in dozens of hotels, bars and restaurants in Lucerne, but the Montana remains special. The bar there is no longer named after Henrietta, who departed for the Montana in the Sky some years ago, but it has hardly changed. The windows open to a sublime view, the furniture is comfy, the service graceful with a clink of ice, and the piano beckons. On Thursday evenings, the best jazz band in Switzerland makes music there to rock the mountains.

 

The full story of Britain’s eight 1974 is told in Christopher Dodd’s Pieces of Eight, published by the River & Rowing Museum (www.rrm.co.uk).

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Hammer Smith – up to no good in Lucerne

Posted by rowingvoice on July 13, 2014

Sunday 13 July 2014

Oswald drops a mal mot

_Q7T1365The International Rowing Federation staged a massive banquet at the Palace Hotel, Lucerne on 12 July to invest the Aussie oarsome Drew Ginn with the Keller Medal and to bid farewell to their president, Denis Oswald (right), after nearly a quarter of a century in the chair.

The guest list was stiff with Olympic movement blazerati including Jacques Rogge, former IOC president, and big cheeses from the Association of Olympic Summer Sports, the Paralympic Games and the like. New FISA president Jean-Christophe Rolland (far right) paid tribute to his predecessor and Matt Smith, the executive director (below, leaning away), presented Denis with a secretly compiled scrapbook of his life and times.

_Q7T1491Unfortunate, then, that in his otherwise chivalric reply, Denis revealed that he had had close discussions with Rolland before the election that elevated the Frenchman into office. FISA council members Trish Smith and John Boultbee, the unsuccessful candidates in the presidential election, were not amused.

This blip apart, the succession from Oswald to Rolland is sweetness and light compared with the poisonous days of Denis’s succession to Thomi Keller in 1989. Oswald had been secretary of FISA for 15 years on a promise, he claimed, that Keller would make way for him as president.

At the 1989 congress Keller, at the end of what Oswald hoped would be his final four-year term, was re-elected for another year, causing a bitter spat. Keller, a popular and charismatic leader, died suddenly a few months later, and Oswald was propelled into office. For some time he had to live with the whiff of treachery within the FISA hierarchy.


Musical coaches

The coaching merry-go-round continues to whizz on its jolly way, and the idea that you have to coach your own country is long gone.  So the Lucerne finals are serving up a British men’s eight coached by a German, a Russian men’s eight coached by a Brit who used to coach Canada, an Irish women’s sculler coached by a former Danish lightweight champion, and a Kiwi men’s pair coached by an Australian.  Meanwhile the Swiss are advertising for a new head coach and two peripatetic Aussies have moved again – Brian Richardson (ex-CAN coach) is heading up the Danish team, and talent ID guru Peter Shakespear, having rattled the AUS and GBR systems into shape, has hoofed it off to Canada.


Royal flush

One topic at Belgrade in May was the fistful of titles collected by Brits Alex Gregory and Helen Glover, who became, at that point, reigning Olympic, world, European, national 1x and Henley champions.  Glover missed HRR since it doesn’t have a women’s pairs event, so no longer has a full set, but Gregory swapped from the Grand to the Stewards’ Challenge Cup, and has now added Lucerne champion to his list, which is unmatched by any other current rower in the world, though Mahe Drysdale is very close.


Ginn’s honest tonic

_Q7T1284Drew Ginn, the amiable Aussie with three Olympic golds and a silver, brought his family to the Palace for his Keller Medal investiture, rowing’s top award named after the above-mentioned Thomi.

He gave a graceful speech in which he questioned why he, an individual, should be given this honour when all his success was achieved in crew boats, notably the Awesome Foursome and the pair with Jimmy Tomkins. Tomkins was awarded the Keller Medal when he retired in 2010.

Hammer Smith can confirm that boating-area rumours Ginn was considering a return to racing for Rio are emphatically not true.


The power of eight

Chat continues to swirl about the plans for a GreaterEight (only sweep oarsmen need apply), being created by Kiwi star Hamish Bond to challenge the scullers’ GreatVIII at this year’s Head of the Charles.  Apparently several national team coaches aren’t too happy about their best sweep oarsmen running away to Boston USA in the middle of October, but they are planning to do it anyway.  A reliable source says the top scullers are insisting that Hamish is only allowed to ask one sweep oarsman from each country – just as they do.  Who’s Bondy going to pick:  himself or Eric Murray?


Flippin’ ‘eck!

When the protocol chaps were announcing medals for Antarctica and Greenland in their rehearsal of award ceremonies at the World Cup on the Rotsee, a Slovenian sculler flipped at practice in the middle of the lake, right opposite the ceremonial pontoon. While the hapless lightweight disentangled himself from his boat and prepared to tow it to the shore, the rehearsal continued awarding medals to Greenland.

No rescue launch in sight, the swimmer struggled towards the pontoon with his boat. A couple of protocols helpfully grasped his oars and lifted the boat from the water, leaving the sodden sculler to climb out under his own steam. Nice to see the Rotsee has its priorities right.


Marlow to Moscow mentioned in dispatches

The only coach mentioned on World Rowing’s preview of World Cup III is Mike Spracklen – late of Marlow, Leander, Oxford, India, GB, USA, Canada etc. Now he’s coaching the Russian eight. His last employer, Rowing Canada, posted a complaint to FISA through performance director Peter Cookson suggesting that there were other deserving cases worth a mention at such a star studded regatta.


Overheard

“We waste all winter in singles” — a member of the GB lightweight men’s four, shortly after coming in third behind the Kiwis (who also scull quite a bit) and the Danes (who don’t).


COPYRIGHT HAMMER SMITH ESQ, 2014.  HERR SMITH MAY POST FURTHER UPDATES IF HE HEARS ANYTHING ELSE OF INTEREST.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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