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Britain’s rowers top the table in the Savoie

Posted by rowingvoice on September 8, 2015

This was the piece I was asked to submit to Daily Telegraph Sport on Sunday 6th September 2015, for publication in Monday 7th September’s edition.  500 words were commissioned, along with as usual the results, but unusually a medal table and a list of the crews which had qualified for Rio (all of which I submitted).  The commission was made at about 3pm UK time, which was easily late enough for the desk to have a clear picture of which other news stories were coming in and which might need more space.

I have no idea why the piece was truncated so badly and why the other items were unused.  It’s a little depressing….


Britain’s best oarsmen beat Germany again in a battle of wills yesterday which simultaneously handed them a third successive world eights title, Olympic qualification and the top spot on the rowing medal table at the Olympiad’s most important competition so far.  The sorely-tested duo of Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley were sixth, but safely in the zone for Rio, and the women’s eight along with three B-finalist crews also successfully booked their slots for Brazil.

On the glittering turquoise waters of Lake Aiguebelette, the British men’s eight weathered repeated assaults from Germany and briefly New Zealand but with composed expertise kept their bows in front to finish with gold by 0.18 seconds.  Less than two feet, but equivalent to a mile compared with the 0.08 second margin in Lucerne.

“Our plan pretty much went spot on, but it was relentless pressure from all the other crews around us,” said George Nash.  “But it seemed like we had limitless ‘go’, every question asked of us we answered straight away, all this nervous energy being released right down the track, which was amazing.”

“That is definitely the tightest most difficult race I have ever been in,” said cox Phelan Hill.  “It was so close, we needed to have a blinder in that race,” added Pete Reed.  “Absolutely flat out from the first ten strokes and then no settling, we had to sprint.  There’s no weakness in the boat at all, I’m so proud to be part of it.”

They had to finish in the top five to make the important qualification cut for the Rio Olympics, but completing a hat-trick of eights victories to add to the three previous men’s medals, consolidated Britain’s status as the top men’s sweep nation.  “We were put together for a mission, which was to qualify, but we were always going for gold,” said Moe Sbihi.  “After 1500 metres I was sure we would win it,” said their coach Jürgen Grobler.

Katherine Grainger and Vicky Thornley had already qualified for next year, and put in a gutsy performance which saw them lying in medal contention for the women’s doubles until their energy gave out.  “I think we raced well, but in the last 250 metres, it felt like we ran out of steam,” said Thornley afterwards.  The women’s eight were similarly brave, and were only a second outside the medals, but having reached their most important target, a top-five finish to guarantee tickets to the Olympics.  They have been much more consistent at this regatta, a good omen for next year.

Fifteen medals from 24 boats is an extraordinary haul, with six in Olympic and four in Paralympic events, and more athletes to come into the selection frame.  The only boats not yet qualified for Rio are the women’s quad and single, who will have a chance next summer.  It would be too much to expect the results from the 2016 Olympics to match those of a home Games, but GB Rowing has made a substantial start to its Rio campaign.

Rachel Quarrell

Aiguebelette-le-lac, Savoie, France


What went wrong?  I now know that Jean-Christophe Rolland had been on BBC TV sounding what some read as alarmist about the chance of rowing being kicked out of the Olympics.  [Carefully hiding the confidence in it staying he had shown me when I interviewed him for Row360 about precisely the same subject, and which Matt Smith had backed up again a week ago in France.]

If I’d known that was going on TV – which my editors may well have been watching – then I would have included that issue in the piece.  They love a scare story.

Should I have bigged up Olympic champions Alex Gregory and Pete Reed in the men’s eight, as if they (á la Greg Searle 2012) were somehow the heroes of the crew?  After all, the Heather Stanning/Helen Glover piece I wrote the day before went straight up, and if you look at the Teleg rowing index you’d be forgiven for thinking they are the only two international rowers who count.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re great, but we can’t let the media go back to the days when we had to start any rowing report with the words ‘Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent’ (even on days when they weren’t racing – yes really….).  I didn’t want to pretend two men pulled the eight along when all nine are superb – but perhaps that didn’t help.  The media can perfectly well cover big teams when it wants to but just can’t be bothered in a sport like rowing.

Should I have done a “We beat the Germans, shades of 1966” lead into the article?  I wasn’t far off, but I didn’t spend words on comparing it directly to football, which was perhaps a mistake.  But I don’t get 500 words to talk about one result, I get 500 words to try and show how the whole team is doing.  In that sense it’s a very different job from that which either James Cracknell or Matt Pinsent fulfill if they give the Telegraph or Times a personal piece.  

In the end, it’s not really about these ‘reasons’.  They are convenient excuses for why a national paper did not cover online the world championships of an Olympic sport at which the nation is successful, and why it slashed my report.  In the end the editor on the day didn’t want to give rowing a big run, nor a picture to go with the article.  And the online team didn’t think it merited online inclusion.  And as I said in my previous blog piece, those making these decisions just don’t think we care enough, because (until yesterday) there has been so little reaction about rowing and many other ‘minor’ sports.

RQ.

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Posted in GB team, general, history, international, Olympics, regattas, women | 3 Comments »

How YOU can affect online rowing coverage

Posted by rowingvoice on September 6, 2015

I wrote the bulk of this in late August 2014, during the rowing world championships.  Didn’t post it up, thinking it was too whiny.   But then what it said came completely true….  Read the first section from 2014, then read to the bottom.


September 2014

Rowing is in serious danger of being dropped even further down the list of which sports matter in Britain (and most of the world), and you can do something about it.

Somebody’s going to have to — in fact a lot of people are going to have to — or else we will become an idiosyncratic corner of the sporting world, fit only for Boat Race jokes and Olympic tolerance every four years, on a par with synchronised swimming and Greco-Roman wrestling.  Yes, really, I mean it.  If you don’t get how serious this is and what a golden opportunity we have to change things for the better, please keep reading.

It’s a long blog, this one.

Tough, it needs to be.

First, a digression.  Five years ago the situation was different.  Sports importance in the media was based largely on what the ad-men told the editors and producers the likely revenue was.  Advertising revenue was linked heavily to leisure spend.  The sports which won were those in which spectators tend to spend a lot of money — on tickets, travel to events, equipment and memberships to play the same sport in their free time, clothing and branded merchandise.  Multiply this by spectator numbers (mostly TV), and you’ve got a decent measure of what media gurus take to matter.

So football, a sport in which even a very averagely keen fan might well buy a replica shirt and travel to several live matches every year, as well as kick a ball about in his or her local club, and which probably three-quarters of the UK population wants to watch on TV regularly, was and still is top of the heap.  Behind that come ‘major’ sports with similar levels of interest/participation/buying, but lower numbers — golf, rugby, cricket, horse-racing, tennis, motor-racing and lately cycling.

Then you start to get into what the papers consider to be ‘minor sports’ territory.  Not a huge following in national terms, not much merchandise, not really lucrative in marketing terms, rarely on TV.  Rowing has long been one of these, and it has had a bigger profile than most for two reasons — the annual televised Boat Race, and the national-treasure status of Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent who are genuine household names.

Despite this, in a world where no media now tries to cover everything, and stories are picked either for shock value or because they involve an ‘important’ sport, rowing has been low in the pecking order.  As newspapers went through the Noughties depression, they mostly ditched minor sports people didn’t seem to care about.  Redgrave and then Pinsent retired, and it’s much harder for most other rowers to build a big profile in their shadow.  Since it made no difference to reaction or readership whether they bothered to carry a report on the semi-finals of a world cup regatta, editors mostly stopped doing so.  The Indy, Guardian, Observer, Mail, Express, Evening Standard and many others stopped almost completely, putting in only a few lead-rower features except in Olympic year (when the rules briefly change and reporting racing becomes sexy again for about a month and a half.)

It’s really hard to move up this ranking.  I believe that nothing will ever rival football in the UK, partly for historical reasons.   Athletics, through a combination of increased TV coverage and canny marketing of personalities as brands (think Jess Ennis, Mo Farah) has moved up into the major sports group.   Team Sky singlehandedly shifted cycling from ‘minor’ to ‘major’, aided by the Chris Hoy Effect on the track and the overlap of Bradley Wiggins’ road and track careers, but even that fades at non-seasonal times.  Without someone spending millions on major events, most sports will stay minor and then the question is, are they top of the minor league (eg equestrianism, boxing) or bottom?

Ok, digression over.  The recent change, and it’s come about mostly in the last 2 years, is the new way in which the print media, TV, radio and online-only sites are measuring interest in sports and thus how much coverage they should get.  Of course, it’s based on the internet because that is how the younger generations, the ones the advertisers are most interested in catching before their habits form, mostly engage with sports news now.  If you’re over 40, you probably won’t like it.  I’m afraid you have to deal with it — it’s not going to change.

Nowadays, simple online page-views are not enough:  not least because advertisers are now canny enough to know that people often flick ‘through’ pages and quickly on to something else.

Instead, what counts is reaction.

Anything.  Basically something which shows in measurable statistics that you have read the article, looked at the photograph, or watched the video.  This isn’t actually new – in the old days, coverage of a sport depended on how many Letters to the Editor it tended to provoke.  When I started at the Telegraph in 2002, a phone call was starting to have more impact.   Five years ago it became emails.  Times move on and now publicly visible internet reactions rule — probably because of the very fact that they can be seen by every reader, not just the editors.

It was announced at the Telegraph in mid-2014 that the success level of stories, ie whether they supported the DT’s aim to increase its readership, would from now on be based on what’s loosely called ‘social media reaction’.  This is a broad church.  It includes simply pressing ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ at the foot of an online article or video, or adding a comment, as well as more obvious SM methods such as retweeting on Twitter, sharing on Facebook or other hubs.

For newspapers, making a comment at the foot of the online version of the story is by far the best.  But it really doesn’t matter what the comment says, as long as it is not pure gobbledygook.  You can slag off the piece, the sport, or the author.  You can be positive, add something interesting related to the story, or just express your support of the sport or athlete.  Or you can say ‘good coverage’ while simultaneously whingeing about why the paper/news site/TV station doesn’t do more on this particular sport.  [Eg:  “Great Boat Race article, but why isn’t there anything online about the Head of the River?“]  It must be coherent, clearly written by a real person not a program, and show that you have fully read the piece.

Look at today’s sport in the online Telegraph – because it’s one I know tracks this information.  A piece (nearly any piece) on football gets published online, and within a day there are dozens, sometimes hundreds of reactions.  Dozens of comments, lots of +1 FB likes, retweets, the whole shebang.  Now compare this to minor sports, and you’ll see what I mean.  Often (including most rowing) they attract complete silence.  I finally received a decent level of likes and retweets for my 2014 world champs eights report (and two whole comments!), but the rest of my Amsterdam articles pretty much led to interaction in single digits, or zero.  People were reading the stories, but they were simply not reacting.  As far as the editors go, it might as well have been a mis-click.  The same is true of the Guardian and many other papers and sports news sites.

The Telegraph sport index is quite dynamic:  if a story is getting lots of reaction on its day of publication, it will first move onto the front webpage and eventually move higher.  (Football stories top the list on most UK pages because hundreds of people react to them.)  I am certain other websites are the same, even though the BBC and ITV sports news websites don’t yet show how many comments they’re getting.  They will soon.  They will already be counting them, you can be certain.


September 6th 2015, Aiguebelette

That’s what I wrote last year.  Then, in early summer 2015, the new Telegraph sport policy hit rowing.  Nothing from trials after the Boat Race fuss was over.  They put my European championships pieces online, then the final report from Varese, then blank again.  Nothing from Henley Royal Regatta despite amazing results and large numbers of column inches in the print paper.  Nothing from Lucerne at all.  Nothing on the team selection (by the way, all these got space in the paper), while the story of James Cracknell gallantly saving a man from drowning, which is not sports news, had prime position in the rowing index.  Nothing from Aiguebelette for day after day this week.  And then, suddenly, the Saturday Olympic-finals piece was published online last night.

So today, for the first time since May 2015, a Telegraph international rowing story has gone online.

If this is going to have ANY impact at all, lots of people need to react.  If they don’t, I suspect we will subside to a point where rowing in the Telegraph only gets online when feature articles about big stars are published.  News stories about racing will be ignored as they have been most of the summer.

If you want rowing through the winter on the Telegraph website, before the Olympic fracas kicks in, go and post a comment, share the article, or tweet the link.  Comments are best but any reaction is good.  I don’t care if you hate my writing, just react to it.

This is your chance to show the Telegraph sports editorship that rowing supporters DO care that their sport is covered properly.  If we could get 20-odd comments on this weekend’s piece, perhaps they will put more online.

It’s up to you.

Measurements of these social media and online interest stats takes place constantly, and is collated at every level: daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.  Comments, likes and retweets are still have some value, even if they are made several weeks later.

If you support rowing and want to see it have a higher profile in the UK, then go to an online newspaper article about the sport — recent or a while ago — and comment, or like, or retweet it.  Doesn’t matter which paper or magazine, but it DOES have to be the independent press – there’s no need to persuade bloggers, national federations or team publications to carry on covering the sport.  The difficult area is the press which doesn’t HAVE to cover rowing, the publications which cover other sports too and currently only choose rowing occasionally because they think it doesn’t have many supporters.

If you don’t want to join Twitter, Facebook or other social media yourself, then ask someone else to do it for you.  Athletes, you should be like-ing and sharing articles which mention your crew, routinely.  Hopefully so will your friends and relatives.  Say something, it doesn’t matter what.

Do it now.

Thank you.

Posted in Boat Race, GB team, general, international, Olympics, women | 16 Comments »

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.

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

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

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.

Posted in british club scene, general, Henley, regattas | Leave a Comment »

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 »

FISA racetracker audio for smartphones?

Posted by rowingvoice on August 24, 2014

***UPDATED – for instructions on the FStream app to hear live audio, see green section at the bottom.

So, I was asked by a couple of spectators to see if FISA could get audio commentary over the racetracker they run for live rowing events sorted so it can be heard on mobile phones. Not everyone is able to have computers running so they can listen (eg at work or away from proper wifi).
Here are the fruits of my conversation this morning with FISA representative Jillian O’Mara, who is the liaison for web and internet matters:

  • The old racetracker did not work (either race icons or audio) on mobile phones at all
  • The new website at least does have a version of the racetracker which works on smartphones.
  • But the audio does not work on smartphones, whatever the browser.  (Not sure it was particularly intended to.)
  • This is because it’s an .asx stream, which doesn’t apparently work on any smartphone browsers even if you paste the code into the URL box.
  • FISA does intend for it to work eventually, but in discussion with SwissTiming, who produce the audio stream, resulted in them all deciding that it was too big a risk to try and fix before the worlds, in case the whole system falls over.
  • I have recommended that FISA re-broadcast the live audio (from speaker output) via a digital radio app such as Mixlr, as I did, but it looks unlikely.  I am not willing to tie up my computer for the entire week doing it, so unless I can persuade someone to dedicate a separate computer to it, chances are not high.
  • I’ll do a bit of rebroadcasting, but not full time.  I will also keep looking for another robust enough way to make the current stream work on mobiles, ideally one not needing my involvement.
  • Nevertheless Jillian was emphatic that this problem is on FISA’s radar, and they do intend to get it sorted out eventually, if not this year.

So there you go.  No, and one day yes, but probably not now.

Rachel Quarrell.

UPDATE SUNDAY 23rd August:  there IS a fix for iDevices (iPad, iPod, iPhone).

a) Download FStream, a free app compatible with quite old iDevices and also new ones.

b) Open it, and click on Favourites.

c) Click “edit” and then “add new webradio”.

d) Paste in the FISA stream URL which is http://www.sportresult.com/federations/fisa/streaming/stream_audio_source.asx and give it a name.  You can leave Encoding blank.

e) Click “Done” and then hit the “Play” icon at the bottom of the screen, and select the FISA stream.

You will hear the FISA audio commentary when it is running, in perfect clarity.

I don’t know of a similar app for Android (the other smartphone which has trouble with .asx) but a search for apps might bring one up, so give it a try if that’s your platform.  Windows phones should be able to use their inbuilt players to do it easily, with the same URL above if the main FISA page doesn’t work.

Result!

Rachel.

Posted in general, international, regattas | Leave a Comment »

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).

Posted in GB team, general, history, international, regattas | 3 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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