rowingvoice

The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Sitting on the Tideway fence

Posted by rowingvoice on April 2, 2017

It’s tempting to break with journalistic tradition when writing a Boat Race preview for real rowers, and refuse to make a proper prediction.  But in an apt game of two halves, as I write this looking west from Putney towards Fulham Football Ground on the morning of race day, I’m going to sit on the fence slightly for the men’s race but make an utterly unsurprising prediction about the women’s.

The 72nd Women’s Boat Race, going off first on the racecard later today, must be Cambridge’s to lose, something which has rarely been said in the last 16 years during which they have won only four races.  Oxford’s women are a decent crew, but Cambridge are superb, and it probably didn’t need the LIght Blues’ emphatic second place only four seconds behind Leander at the Women’s Head, to confirm it.  More importantly, the Molesey crew which came fifth at the Head, 45 seconds slower than Cambridge, raced honours even with Oxford only a week later in two half-course pieces.  Fixtures are not the Boat Race, and that was two weeks ago, but this is a powerful and experienced Cambridge crew who are a credit to women’s rowing.

During starts on Friday at the Fulham Wall, Oxford’s women were fractionally higher rating in their wind-up and settled a little later than Cambridge, but the Light Blues were at least a second quicker to the end of the Star and Garter building, regardless of station – raising the prospect that the Dark Blues may have to use up some serious energy staying with them over the first couple of minutes.  Oxford have shuffled their crew since the weigh-in, re-rigging from bow to stroke-side stroked to put Canadian international Emily Cameron in the hot seat.

Much has been made of how Westminster School will have a winner in the Women’s Boat Race regardless of the result, since both coxes hail from there.  They didn’t race each other at school – Ellie Shearer is a couple of years above Matthew Holland, and in fact only rowed at Westminster, starting proper coxing when she got to Oxford.  Oxford have no returning Blues and their president Isa von Loga had to retire injured from trialling this year, while Cambridge sees four returners including Myriam Goudet and President Ashton Brown, who will be spurred on by the swamping which marred last year’s event, as well as former Olympic lightweight Claire Lambe.

“For us this year there’s been a lot of rebuilding and a lot of new structures in place,” said their coach Ali Williams, “so it’s just trying to do what we can each day to bring the boat together.  It’s just a matter of trying to do the best we can on the day and see what the result ends up being.”  By contrast Cambridge coach Rob Baker has without a hint of bragging described his crew as the best that Cambridge has ever produced.

Given that relatively calm conditions may lend themselves to a fast race, there is every chance the Light Blues, who covered the Women’s Eights Head in 18-17, could match that in the opposite direction today which would bring down the official fastest Tideway time for the women’s race to within two minutes of the men’s record.  The outcome looks to be in Cambridge’s hands, but the chances are strong that her old university will win the first full Blues Boat Race umpired on the BBC by Sarah Winckless, making history as the first televised female umpire for the event.

On the men’s side it’s much harder to be certain.  Both crews have looked good all week, and there was little to choose between them during practice starts.  Cambridge drop their blades in more delicately and build the power during the stroke, while Oxford have Sean Bowden’s trademark hook-and-sweep, a more definitive start to the stroke.  Both techniques can work over a full course, and both look at home in the rather bumpy high-tide water their Boat Race will deliver, so race coxing and coolness under fire may matter more than normal.

Betting is firmly on the side of the Oxford men, perhaps due to them managing to beat Brookes a month ago, while OBUBC got the better of Cambridge in January.  It’s dubious how comparable that is, though – Boat Race crews accelerate in their preparation more than Head crews during the final two months, and when Cambridge are on form they are very fast.  Knowledgeable punters may also be taking into account the fact that Sean Bowden has not lost two Boat Races in a row (neither at Oxford nor at Cambridge), and he is never more dangerous than when coming back from a defeat.

In pedigree terms, Oxford have five returning blues and the two Olympians Olivier Siegelaar and Michael DiSanto, while Cambridge have only two returning Blues and no Olympians, but the slight advantage in weight and height.  They also have the knowledge that three former Blues are now sitting in Goldie, meaning the newcomers will have earned their seats.  For the likes of Freddie Davidson, the Light Blue 2-seat who at 18 is the youngest in the race, this is a serious vote of confidence.

Michael DiSanto, Oxford’s President, benefits from not having rowed in last year’s losing crew – he was away training for the Olympics in the US national team.  Of the 2016 loss to Cambridge he said “It’s not something we talk about too much – it’s a new crop of guys so we wouldn’t want to force that down the throat of the boat.  We had to find what unifies nine of us this year.”  “There’s a new sense of purpose for the race this year,” said his coach, Sean Bowden.

The press have been excited by the prospect of a serious rivalry given that Oxford’s bowman Will Warr rowed for Cambridge two years ago.  He will be only the third openweight man to have rowed in both side’s Blue Boats in the history of the race (there have been others in the women’s and lightweight crews), but the lack of communication with his old team-mates is more to do with focus on his own job than any real antipathy.  However, for those who love patterns, his two predecessors both moved from losses with Cambridge and then won with their new university, Oxford.

Back to the rowing, there is something about Oxford’s final few days of paddling which hints at hidden extra strengths, and suggests the smart money may not be wrong.  But in the end this year’s men’s Boat Race, which could be close for many minutes, may well come down to which has the weakest, rather than the strongest, link.

Rachel Quarrell.

Advertisements

Posted in Boat Race, history, women | Leave a Comment »

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.

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

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 »

Cambridge tip up by Juckett

Posted by rowingvoice on April 7, 2014

160th Boat Race, Putney to Mortlake 2014

Words:  Christopher Dodd

Pictures:  Hamish Roots, Light Over Water Photography 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BOAT RACE TIMES 2014 (Oxford first)

Mile: both crews 3-47

Hammersmith Bridge: 6-48; 6-56

Chiswick Steps: 10-59; 11-15

Barnes Bridge: 15-18; 15-46

Finish: 18-36; 19-08

 

 

Isis double the joy for a record Oxford combined margin

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

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

RESULTS

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

Rowing Voice staff

Posted in Boat Race, history, international, Olympics, women | 1 Comment »

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

Posted by rowingvoice on April 6, 2014

Putney Sunday 6 April 2014

Christopher Dodd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Posted in Boat Race, history, international, Olympics | Leave a Comment »

1877 Dead Heat – In Defence of Honest John

Posted by rowingvoice on April 6, 2014

Mortlake, 6 April 2014

 

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

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

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

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

http-//hear-the-boat-sing.blogspot.com

 

Christopher Dodd

 

Posted in Boat Race, history | 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.’

Read the rest of this entry »

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