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Russia’s Rio situation in FISA – part 2: annihilation

Posted by rowingvoice on July 26, 2016

Tuesday 26th July 2016, 7pm, and the bomb landed.  FISA’s second stage announcement exploded the Russian Olympic team and left it in smithereens, with only six rowers and a maximum of one crew at the Games.

We’d call it decimation, if it weren’t for the fact that the Roman’s practice was to execute only one in 10 men, not 22 out of 28.

Once again FISA’s determined thoroughness left us reading their announcement long after working hours, when most IF blazerati would have left for home hours before.  This time, though, there was to be no small-scale chipping away at the Russian entry as had happened on Monday night.  In one fell swoop 17 rowers and both coxes were removed from the Olympic entry list, on the grounds that, although they (to quote FISA directly) “are not at all considered to have participated in doping” they “do not meet the conditions established by the IOC in their decision of 24 July 2016 for participation in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.”

What this means is that, despite a total of 547 negative tests conducted on Russian Olympic-crew rowers since 2011, not enough of them were done by independent non-Russian testers at the right intervals to be sufficiently certain the athletes are clean.  It is probable, given FISA’s mention again of the discredited Moscow Laboratory, that too many of the most important tests, particularly out-of-competition ones which catch EPO use, were analysed there.   The list of removals was also supervised by an independent arbiter from CAS to ensure no unconscious FISA bias.  The news was greeted with delight by rowers on social media, hailing FISA as an example to the IOC and other sports.

The entire women’s team is considered compromised.  Only six Russian ‘FISA-cleared’ rowers were left after the vicious cull, having presumably been tested enough by non-Russian bodies to satisfy FISA and the IOC.  Aleksandr Chaukin is the lone lightweight left from the Russian LM4-, so unless he’s going to join an openweight crew, he won’t be off to Rio.  Georgy Efremenko was by July 2016 in the men’s four, and four others — Artem Kosov, Nikita Morgachev, Vladislav Ryabcev and Anton Zarutskiy in the men’s eight after 2015-16 reshuffles.  One can guess that these men, probably cursing their luck at being picked randomly by WADA or by doping testers at previous world cups and champs, are now cheering that they have enough negatives on their non-RUSADA record to be considered clean.  But the only crew such a Russian squad could possibly form from their entered events would be an M4-.

So, with immediate effect and clearly not worrying about a CAS appeal which is likely to come, FISA had removed the RUS W8+, M8+, LM4- and LW2x from the Rio entries and offered places in the M8+ and LW2x to Italy, W8+ to delighted Australia, and LM4- to Greece.  All these crews competed at the Lucerne final qualification regatta (either as FOQR crews or European Continental FOQR crews) and were the next in line after crews already going under tripartite or standard decisions.  There must surely be some scurrying around to get lightweights down to size and shells of the right type on the Lagoa:  as commentator Martin Cross tweeted on Tuesday afternoon before FISA’s bombshell, the Russians race Filippis so the Italians might well just borrow their boats (New Zealand’s mens quad has already been seen out in Rio in the shell of the Russian crew they replaced in June, apparently).

The remaining question is about the Russian M4-.  With only five openweight oarsmen available, it’s Russia’s only current option and FISA have not yet heard from them whether they wish to race it.  The replacement rules might also intervene, since only Efremenko was entered in the crew and technically no more than 50% can change for non-medical reasons after the Olympic entry deadline of 18th July, although FISA might choose to waive that problem.  To save you looking it up, the next crew in line from Lucerne would be New Zealand.

Or RUS could choose to withdraw entirely, but at the very last minute before the regatta starts (or by not turning up) therefore robbing NZL of the chance to compete.

I was in touch with Russia’s head coach Mike Spracklen by email just after FISA’s announcement, though I am now fairly certain he had not at that stage heard the very latest news of his squad’s demolition.  He was already both shocked and sad, though he believes his rowers to be clean.  “My goal was not only to raise the standard of Russian rowing but to show the athletes and the coaches that with good training they could be successful without use of drugs,” he said.  “We are still pondering, wondering what the IOC will hit us with next.”  I wonder if tonight’s decision will be too much for his optimism.

Update – after another email conversation with Mike Spracklen on Wednesday 27th July morning, I can confirm that when he gave the quote above, he had not heard about FISA’s second decision.  He further said to me, “Life here has been hectic, fraught with uncertainty.  Communication here in the Russian team is almost non-existent which may be because I do not speak the language, but also because we do not have qualified management.  I understand [FISA’s] motives but it is hard on the innocent athletes who worked hard and were not using drugs.”  Spracklen is known to have the services of an interpreter through whom he speaks to the Russian athletes, other coaches, management, medics and support staff. 

 

Rachel Quarrell.

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

Russia’s Rio situation in FISA – part 1

Posted by rowingvoice on July 26, 2016

My recent post for those not on FB: 

 

This won’t be short, but a summary and a few thoughts about FISA’s statement released late on Mon 25th July http://www.worldrowing.com/news/first-stage-fisa-executive-committee-decision-related-ioc-decision-russian-participation-rio-2016

Context: RUS qualified M8+, M4-, LW2x and W8+ at the 2015 worlds, LM4- at the FOQR and also M4x (already disqualified and removed) also at the FOQR.
This entitles them under IOC/FISA rules to have max one M spare, one LM spare, and one W spare in Rio.

1. FISA have decided they can’t ban the whole RUS team in Rio, which I suspect probably means both OG and PG (the IPC is yet to make its own decision anyway), and which is likely due to a lack of sufficient violations to meet their own criteria for a full NF ban (which will not necessarily be the same as other sports).

2. Confirmed recently to me by FISA Exec Director Matt Smith, the rowing rules are that 8 non-whereabouts doping violations have to happen within any given 12 months before a full national-team ban can be triggered (or 12 violations in 12 months even if some of them are only whereabouts misses). That isn’t currently the case hence no full ban, but see later. This, Article 12 of the FISA rules, was used in 2007-8 when RUS rowing last hit a doping fiasco.

3. The RUS M8+’s Ivan Balanchin is the only Rio RUS rower whose sample was in the positive group later manipulated by his lab or Minister of Sport, so he is the only one banned under that part of the IOC sanction. The IOC says “he may not be replaced” which I read to mean that he can’t be replaced on the squad, since there’s nothing to stop a M4- rower doubling up into his eights place under the rowing rules. It’s less clear whether a RUS spare (if they have already been accredited) could substitute for him.

4. It looks as if at the moment Balanchin’s violation cannot definitively be said to apply to the 2015 worlds, where he raced in and helped qualify the RUS M8+ for Rio. That might just be due to lack of time to deal with that aspect of the problem – FISA has not yet announced which of his results will be banned as a result of the McLaren report information (and it may need a lot more time to check data to be sure).

5. Under the no-presumption-of-innocence rule the IOC has instated against RUS, their W8+’s Anastasia Karabelshchikova and M4-‘s Ivan Podshivalov are ineligible for Rio since they were both done for doping in 2007-8 although they have now completed their bans.
Inside The Games has heard that they’ll appeal to CAS but my suspicion is that the IOC has this sewn up tightly enough that they won’t get far, particularly now the track and field ban has been upheld.

6. That reduces the RUS openweight teams to 7 women and 10 men (and a cox of each) plus potentially spares. LWs could substitute for the missing 8th W in the W8+, and men from the M4- could double into the M8+ (more likely than lightweights doubling up). I suspect we will hear more about the use or otherwise of spares on Tuesday.

7. FISA has also got together all the info on tests for the remaining RUS Rio athletes from 2011-16 and is re-checking it. Under the IOC ruling, they can (and I am sure will) ban any Russian who doesn’t have enough clear evidence that they’re doping-free from recent years. Under what you could call a “Lance Armstrong catch” the IOC says that lack of a positive test does not itself constitute proof of innocence, unless accompanied by sufficient (whatever that is) negative independently-run tests from outside the NF.

8. So, on Tuesday 26th we should at some point get information about those re-checked tests and which RUS athletes FISA feels are clean enough to go to Rio.

9. We have not yet had FISA’s views about replacement of whole crews – it had asked the IOC what the options were and it’s quite possible that it may be regarded as far too late to put other NF crews in if Russian ones are disqualified. Even the practical process of accreditation and boat transport/hire could get really tricky this late and it may not be in FISA’s hands.

10. At some point we may find that the frequency of violations within Russian rowing has reached the point where FISA can invoke its Article 12 full ban. If this is reached, I don’t doubt that FISA would ban Russia for a period of several years, quite possibly including the Tokyo Olympics: it’s been hardline before against drug-taking and in the same country.
Note that any violations in Rotterdam or the Paralympics could add to the tally as well as any samples from the last few years retested and now found to be positive (eg those initially tested by RUSADA).

Watch this space: there’s still a way to go.

 

Rachel Quarrell

Posted in international, Olympics, regattas | 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 »

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

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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.

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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!

Posted in GB team, general, Henley, 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 »

Year-off Olympians return to the top of the heap

Posted by rowingvoice on June 24, 2014

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Heather Stanning and Kat Copeland returned to their winning ways in Aiguebelette this weekend with confident gold-medal performances at the second world cup regatta.  The Olympic champions spearheaded the charge, in the women’s pairs and lightweight doubles, which saw Britain top of the medals table with six golds and 13 medals, including para-rowing.

Stanning, who was suffering from fatigue during the European championships three weeks ago, returned to her place in the women’s pair as if she had never left, claiming a majestic gold with Olympic partner Helen Glover.  Polly Swann, who had won the Europeans with Glover, anchored the women’s eight to a brilliant bronze medal later on in a nail-biting sprint.

Kat Copeland’s own win in the light doubles with Imogen Walsh was considerably more assured than their bronze medal result in Belgrade.  “I’ve never won a world cup before, only the Olympics,” said Copeland, with an echo of her 2012 glee.  Behind them, understudies Ellie PIggott and Charlotte Taylor were inspired to rush through Germany to claim silver.  With single sculler Ruth Walczak taking silver too, the entire lightweight women’s team finished as medallists and are oozing determination and focus.

If the women’s pair were majestic, the men’s four of Andy Triggs Hodge, George Nash, Moe Sbihi and Alex Gregory were clinical, accelerating to the line with space to spare ahead of Australia.  It was a superb weekend for the men’s sweep squad, who also won bronze in the pair and an excellent silver behind the USA in a revitalised eight.

Now the decision must be taken whether to mix the four into the eight again, as coach Jürgen Grobler hinted in May was an option, or to leave it as lead boat and develop the best possible eight behind it.  “We’ll say when we’re ready – the four are a great unit, but we have choices,” said performance director Sir David Tanner.  “I’m not saying we won’t [move the four into the eight]”, he added, “but I will say it’s on the no side of the radar now.”

Both crews are entered at Henley Royal Regatta in ten days time, and talent Constantine Louloudis, until now training in Oxford, is available to the squad again from this week now that his student term has ended.  Also performing at Henley will be the men’s quad, who surged to a powerful victory with increased confidence ahead of Olympic champions Germany.

Rachel Quarrell.

This article was originally commissioned by the Daily Telegraph.

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