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Nereus smash Temple record by nine seconds – Telegraph Saturday 4 July 2015

Posted by rowingvoice on July 4, 2015

Most of this one made it in, barring the last couple of sentences.   Again not online.

 

History was made at Henley Royal Regatta yesterday when Dutch students Nereus obliterated the Temple Challenge Cup record, taking a staggering nine full seconds off it while beating Oxford Brookes University by a mere six feet in one of the regatta’s most competitive events.  Rowing records usually fall by a second or two, but a combination of a light tail-wind and zero stream put both crews well inside the previous mark as they battled along the Enclosures, filmed by a drone camera capturing stunning footage of Friday’s races.  No UK eights now survive in the Temple, after University of London lost to Cornell’s lightweights.

Five other crews set or broke records yesterday, including Nereus’ Prince Albert coxed four, and Sydney’s Visitors’ coxless four.  South Africa’s reigning Olympic and world lightweight champions James Thompson and John Smith equalled a formerly heavyweight Barrier record for the Double Sculls, while Glasgow Academy rowed through to beat Sydney’s junior scullers in a course record for the Fawley Cup, taking one second off the time equalled a few hours before by Sir William Borlase.

The national minute’s silence was held at noon, when thousands of spectators stood to remember the victims of the Tunisian shootings.  Single sculler Genevieve Bailhache-Graham was still trailing Olympic and Henley champion Mirka Knapkova as noon struck, and composedly sculled over the line in complete silence before bowing her head in her boat.

Princeton and Sport Imperial were forced to make last minute crew-changes as a result of injury, which in Imperial’s case turned into a nightmare situation.  Lacking their usual substitutes, who are away in Germany, Imperial were forced to draft in Fred Vystavel, a full member currently studying in Princeton and racing in their Ladies Plate B crew, when their usual five-man Geordie Macleod woke up with back pain.   However, a complaint was made that Vystavel as a junior varsity oarsman was ineligible to race in the lower-standard Thames event, a point upheld by the Stewards.  Sport Imperial could not race, and the decision handed their opposition, the impressive University Barge Club from Philadelphia, a very easy day paddling over.

Princeton’s B-crew stroke man, former junior international Julian Goldman, had to race the 2112-metre course twice, the Princeton Ladies’ Plate ‘A’ crew stroke also out for medical reasons.  Goldman’s B crew were flat out unsuccessfully trying to get on terms with Leander in the morning, before Goldman stroked the A-crew against undisputed US champions Washington six hours later.  The Princeton Tigers manfully held the Huskies level to halfway, but could not quite match their power.  A mishap was narrowly avoided when an umpire’s launch, which had accidentally entered the course while the crews were mid-race, backed rapidly off again in front of a full grandstand of spectators.

A different accident beset Düsseldorf’s Ladies’ Plate crew, who clipped the course-edge booms soon after the start, ending any chance of beating Yale’s varsity eight.  “It wasn’t the cox’s fault, we were caught by a current,” said the stroke.  “He usually steers very straight.”

The Princess Elizabeth schoolboy eights started to get interesting as Eton College lost by a length to Gonzaga High School, the Americans managing to match Eton’s pushes to stay ahead.  That puts Gonzaga up against Westminster, who beat Andover by a similarly narrow margin, while St Paul’s and Radley race the other semi-final.

Today the British national eight is in action against Australia, an unknown quantity as they have not raced yet this season.

Rachel Quarrell.

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Posted in british club scene, GB team, general, Henley, history, international, Olympics, regattas, women | Leave a Comment »

Steering mishaps at Henley Regatta – Telegraph Friday 3 July 2015

Posted by rowingvoice on July 4, 2015

This is the piece I had in the Friday Telegraph, again not online (see earlier posts).

 

The Red Arrows flew across Henley Royal Regatta in dramatic fashion before lunchtime yesterday, but the roar of jet engines did not faze the junior scullers of Pangbourne College, who were racing Y Quad Cities at the time.  The result, a two-thirds of a length win to Pangbourne, was one of a handful of close races on the second day of the regatta.

A gusting cross-wind threw several steersmen off their game, their errors being caught on camera for everyone to see in this first year of live online streaming.  The worst culprits were Ruderverein Münster, whose Visitors’ Cup coxless four veered sharply across the course as soon as they started, colliding with Harvard University’s ‘A’ crew and stopping the race.  Steering was little better on the restart, Münster being repeatedly warned until Harvard, who had calmly rowed straight on, put in a push at Remenham which brought them through the erratic Germans and to a clear-water win.  Later on in the same event Eton Vikings and Griffen hit the wooden course-edge booms at Temple Island, allowing Yale University to row away.

The shock result of the day was a victory for Boston College High School over the Canadian schoolboy champions Shawnigan Lake, who led at first but were soon rowed through by the Americans.  Other comfortable winners in the Princess Elizabeth Cup were Radley and Westminster, while there were verdicts of less than a length for US crews Gonzaga and Phillips Andover.  Eton were pushed relatively hard by Salisbury School, who had lost two crucial oarsmen who had to start their naval cadet training.

Another upset came in the Thames Cup, where Thames Club ‘B’, having put out selected crew Tideway Scullers the day before, defeated a new crew from 2014 champion club Upper Thames by a length.  Today the London club meet Leander’s Star and Arrow journeymen, who managed to cling on for a half-length win against a spirited assault from Agecroft.  In the bottom half of the event lurk Americans University Barge Club, who posted a Barrier time only three seconds off the record, albeit in the best conditions of the day.

The Temple student eights are shaping up for some hefty fights today, as holders Oxford Brookes meet perennial Dutch rivals Nereus in the top half of the draw, and Princeton’s third varsity eight meet Lyon in the other half.  Headington and Y Quad Cities won the opening heats of the expanded Diamond Jubilee junior women’s quads.

Today the senior women’s events begin, and the internationals join the small-boat events, including European champions Matt Langridge and James Foad in the Goblets pairs.  The high-quality Ladies’ Plate event for elite eights also starts, featuring an east-west match-up between Princeton’s Tigers and the Huskies from University of Washington.

Rachel Quarrell

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Heat takes heavy toll on Henley spectators – Telegraph Thursday 2 July 2015

Posted by rowingvoice on July 2, 2015

My piece as submitted to the Daily Telegraph, which went into today’s print edition but not online.  They tweaked the starting paragraph a little, arguably for the better.

Spectators sweltered at Henley Royal Regatta yesterday, as temperatures by mid-afternoon became hotter than both Barcelona and Cairo, and ten spectators collapsed in the burning sun after lunch.  The traditional heatwave announcement “Gentlemen may remove their jackets” had been made before noon, but by late afternoon six spectators had needed intravenous fluids to rehydrate and cool down, the medical team took an emergency loan of one of the physiotherapy couches, and the enclosures had run short on chilled champagne.

Despite long periods spent waiting in the full glare of the sun before the start, no rowers collapsed on the water, and only two needed to have minor first aid treatment after their races.  The worse accidents were to their equipment, members of two different schoolboy eights finding the spoon at the end of their Wintech-made oars suddenly dropping off as they rowed along, a phenomenon put down to the glue melting in the heat.

Canford School were the first victims, losing a spoon just before their morning race against Latymer Upper, which was then postponed, Latymer winning later on.  Three hours later the stroke of King’s School Canterbury found his spoon dropping off while his crew was already trailing British national champions Westminster School by two lengths.

A tougher problem faced several crews who have been trying to transport their boats to Henley from the continent this week and found themselves blocked by the strikes.  Those with delayed trailers included the Canadian women’s eight, who race Imperial on Friday, and Ratsgymnasium Osnabrück, who had to borrow the boat intended for Shrewsbury’s alumni crew to do a row-past on Saturday, but still managed to beat London Oratory by three lengths.

The new YouTube streaming coverage was a huge success, the regatta’s website receiving more hits in one day than in the whole of last year.  It gave ring-side seats to thousands watching the most exciting race, in which Upper Thames’ Wyfold Cup coxless four was rowed through by the better-steering Tyne Amateur just before the line, for a verdict of two feet.  A roster of top rowing commentators broadcast from Sir Steve Redgrave’s office at the regatta headquarters beside Henley bridge, and a catamaran zoomed beside the first minute of each race.

At the start of the day Thames Rowing Club had four crews in the club eights.  By the evening this was down to two, but not for want of trying.  Drawn against the more powerful Kingston, Thames ‘D’ manfully held them to a canvas (six feet) gap, until they caught a lump of water two-thirds of the way up the course and Kingston pulled away.   Kent School’s American juniors, pushed into the adult eights as a result of two boys having their nineteenth birthday during June, managed to overturn Newcastle University’s second eight, while Liverpool rowed through University College London.

The junior men of Y Quad Cities, an American club from the Mississippi making its first appearance at an overseas competition, rowed through early leaders Kingston in the Fawley quads event.  Their junior women, who are US national champions, race on Friday.

There were few steering disasters despite a cross-wind which at times became strong gusts, but one pair of Wyfold coxless fours found it tricky, Henley and Oslo clashing in neutral water early on and having to restart for an eventual Norwegian win.

Today thunderstorms threaten the racing programme, which must be suspended if lightning approaches.  At least thunder might scare the waterfowl:  at one stage three different boats had to be pressed into service to herd flocks of forty or more geese away from the race course.

Rachel Quarrell.

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Revamped Henley enters the digital age – Telegraph Wednesday 1 July 2015

Posted by rowingvoice on July 1, 2015

This is the piece I filed for publication in today’s Telegraph – it was mostly used (barring the last three paragraphs of competition preview) in the print paper today.  Not online because according to the editors, rowing’s not interesting enough to enough people.

If you disagree with the above statement, then like this post, or reblog it, or favourite/retweet my Twitter link……

HRR GOES DIGITAL

A bumper crop of 526 crews entered Henley Royal Regatta, which starts tomorrow, in celebration of two major changes to the event.  Olympic rowing legend Sir Steve Redgrave has taken over from Mike Sweeney as chairman of the illustrious event, and for the first time this year those who can’t reach the regatta will be able to watch racing live on the internet and the BBC.

Henley Royal has been televised before, with the BBC last taking live footage in 1968, and ITV some highlights in 1976, but limitations in technology made the expense too high.  Since then the problems had been considered insuperable, but a team led by Stewards Neil Chugani, Sarah Winckless and Sir Matthew Pinsent has developed a system of 10 cameras and modern streaming technology which will broadcast all racing live.  It will be streamed on a dedicated YouTube channel throughout the regatta, with a highlights programme added each evening.  On Sunday the finals will be broadcast live on BBC Online and via the red button.

The rowers this year come from 18 countries and include a record American entry of 59 crews.  Amongst the titans defending 2014 titles are scullers Mirka Knapkova and Mahe Drysdale, while the British team has entries in all seven of the open events.  They are headlined by the GB men’s eight, who have now been joined by Constantine Louloudis after his final exams, and are starting their charge towards winning a third world championship title running.  Matched against Australia on Saturday, the Brits are expected to reach Sunday’s final against Olympic champions Germany, whom they beat by 0.3 seconds in Varese 10 days ago.

Wednesday opens the racing with the big-boat events for clubs, students and schoolboys.  Most of the strongest US student eights are in the Ladies’ Plate, which begins later in the week, so Temple Cup holders Oxford Brookes are up against a slew of lightweight American crews, along with French students Lyon, and in the same quarter of the draw, the ever-dangerous Dutchmen Nereus.

The Thames Challenge Cup for club eights lacks last year’s winners Frankfurt, but has two German entries and top clubs from three continents, including Australians Mercantile and British high performers Sport Imperial.  Thames Rowing Club itself managed to qualify no fewer than four eights for the event, and its lead crew has its best chance of a victory for many years.

The two junior events starting on the first day are the Princess Elizabeth schoolboy eights and the Fawley quads.  National Schools eights winners Westminster have last year winners Eton and Americans Phillips Academy in their half of the draw, while runners-up St Paul’s have been landed with the hardest race of the day, a battle against Abingdon, who were four places behind them at National Schools, and later on could face Canadian champions Shawnigan Lake.  The top crews in the Fawley do not start until Thursday.

Rachel Quarrell.

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React to online print coverage or lose it

Posted by rowingvoice on July 1, 2015

View from the press boxSitting in the press box at Henley Royal (glorious day, nice sharp breeze to offset the hot sun) and I’m asked the question “why wasn’t your Telegraph coverage from this morning’s paper put online?”  The short answer is ‘lack of reaction’ and if you do nothing else after reading this blog, please go online and like/favourite/retweet/comment on something in the national press to do with a minor sport, ideally rowing.  Doesn’t matter which paper, doesn’t matter whether it’s favourable or rude, but do it if you want the papers to continue being interested in the non-lucrative sports, because they’re rapidly dying out.

 

One problem with the difficult issue of print newspapers is that they’re still trying to work out how to keep a business model going in a world where nobody wants to pay anyone to publish written coverage.  Advertising simply won’t ever pay for everything, yet when people are asked, they do want to retain newspaper-style reporting.  However, the same readers who will shell out £50-odd per month for Sky TV and broadband, who will buy bells and whistles for their racing bikes, triathlon suits, and download apps and music tracks for 99p a time, jib at paying either online or offline to read what a sports (or indeed news or politics) commentator has written about something they follow unless it’s one of those sports where there is loads of money slushing about.

 

So, a few months ago the Telegraph sports desk had a policy change, and now they have tightened up the online edition so that it doesn’t have everything in.  It will only carry sports stories which are gauged to be of interest.  This makes for a tricky vicious circle for rowing:  they think nobody’s interested, so they won’t publish online, therefore robbing us of the chance to react and show we _are_ interested, therefore reducing the chance that rowing will in future be taken online, let alone in print.

 

I think I’ve had a couple of dozen pieces online this year for the Telegraph (see this link for most of them), and I can count the total number of comments for all of them combined on one hand.  Doesn’t matter whether they are complimentary or nasty, it’s the reaction which counts when editors are trying to work out what readers want to see.  Page views count for nothing.  Ignore the fact that rowing has been published, and you knock another nail into its nearly-complete coffin.  I’ve blogged about this before, but it doesn’t do any good.

 

Given that I’ve asked but it looks unlikely the Telegraph will put my morning piece up, I’m going to publish it next.  I’m going to tweet the link, and include the Telegraph twitter handle.  I hope someone reacts, because otherwise they will think we just don’t care.  We’re already down to minimal newspaper rowing coverage – we have to fight to keep the rest, or lose it.

 

Rachel.

Posted in british club scene, general, Henley | 2 Comments »

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.

fundraiser-rr14

Other ways you can help include pointing potential advertisers their way or suggesting them to potential sponsors.  Contact Pete McConnell on peter@regattaradio.co.uk 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.

Posted in british club scene, GB team, international, Olympics, regattas, women | Leave a Comment »

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. 

Posted in british club scene, general, history, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

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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Dawn at Henley Royal 2012

Posted by rowingvoice on June 27, 2012

The royal rowbarge Gloriana

Henley-on-Thames, Wednesday 27 June

Geese and Greenwich mean time

At 5.50 a.m. the sculler from El Salvador, Vargas Paloma, paddled gently downstream past the enclosure, her blue and white striped blades reflecting perfectly the striped façade of the boat tents.  The lawn was dewy in perfect mown lanes. It was warm and still under wafting light grey clouds, tinged with the salmon of sunrise. This is the best moment of the first day of HRR, before the crowds arrive and the racing starts. Then a tractor drove onto the lawn hauling a trailer stacked with deckchairs, and  the litter gatherers began to set them out.

The first launch of the day slides towards the start with umpire Smallbone and chairman Sweeney standing behind the driver and noting anything out of order. A radio message comes in to commentator Blandford-Baker that the quarter mile signal has nobody manning it for the first race. ‘We’ll have to wing it.’ Recorders Cadbury and Jabale fiddle around with their timepieces and the pro-formas they will fill in to report the details of the first race of 2012 Henley — a heat of the Thames Cup between  Greenwich’s Curlew Rowing Club A crew and, Sod’s Law of the Draw, Curlew Rowing Club B crew. Sweeney is suspicious that he has seen no Canada geese. A little further on, a meadow comes into view that is a mass of Canadian geese. They are being watched by the crew of a small catamaran armed with sliced loafs. The traffic lights telling the umpire that the course is clear are not working.

Precisely at 8.30 am, Smallbone begins the starting ritual for the two Curlews, having requested, firmly, an Eton crew to back off from the downstream end of the start pontoon.  The Eton shell is named Constantine Louloudis after the injured stroke of the GB national eight. A lone figure in the little stand overlooking the start is Charlie Wiggin, commentator for Regatta Radio. Are you ready, Go! says Smallbone, and off they set. The ‘A’ crew on Bucks streaks away and soon builds a commanding lead.

There is one occupied boat moored on the booms opposite the enclosures. The occupant is the likely lad Rodney Bewes, London RC’s most regular supporter, and he waves to the first umpire’s launch of the day.

There is a new results board in the style of a cricket scoreboard. Gone are the ropes that operated it like a dumb waiter, replaced by hinged doors displaying lengths and time like a conjurer’s magic box. The operatives have not mastered the hinges yet, and some confusion reigns.

One thing that’s different this year is the over-gilt presence of Gloriana, a million quid’s worth of a gilded 18-oar barge, a replica of a seventeenth century stretch limo that will get an outing in the lunch break on Sunday. Rumour has it that Mark Edward’s magnificent vessel has twin engines fitted to supplement oars. Were they engaged when Gloriana led the Diamond Jubilee pageant on the Thames?

Steward Topolski is wearing a new hat this year as he supervises activity round the boat tents. On Tuesday he was awarded the British Association of Rowing Journalists’ Journalist of the Year award for his commentaries on the BBC.

Christopher Dodd

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