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More silence over Grobler book

Posted by rowingvoice on September 16, 2018

A briefing from Hammer Smith:

Browsing in a fine bookshop the other day, my attention was caught by a biography of Jurgen Grobler, Britain’s stunningly successful chief men’s rowing coach, published by HarperCollins in July. I had seen a few references to ‘More Power’ in the media, but couldn’t recall a mention in British Rowing’s official Rowing+Regatta magazine, the latest 64-page edition of which had just popped through my letter box.

If I was writing a diary for the magazine as I did during its Regatta imprint, I would be posing the question as to why the official publication of Grobler’s employer should banish a book that tells his story of coaching eight crews to Olympic gold (and more to World gold) after an equally outstanding career in East Germany.

I would be asking why the editor of Rowing+Regatta dropped the idea of an extract prior to publication, which I understand she wished to do?

I would be asking why a book by two well-qualified authors [Hugh Matheson and Christopher Dodd] that has received critical praise and records British rowing’s climb to the top of the world should be shunned by the governing body – especially as the story has continued this week at the World Championships in Plovdiv, where Grobler is coaching the GB eight half way through the Tokyo Olympiad.

I would be asking who is the gatekeeper at British Rowing; who is the puppeteer pulling the strings?

Surely something for BR’s new chairman, Mark Davies, to investigate?

Hammer Smith, UK 2018

Plovdiv update:  the silence over the book at the world championships has been near-total, with many international coaches appearing not to know it exists, and of course no sign of it on the tables of the WorldRowing merchandise stalls run by New Wave under licence from FISA.  Grobler himself has repeatedly said he hasn’t read the book, nor the Times newspaper piece which rather selectively extracted the most sensational parts, but apparently friends of his have told him about both.

 

Some More Power review extracts:

But it is the human side at which Grobler has proved masterly – for instance, in managing the huge talents of Steve Redgrave through the vicissitudes of colitis in 1992 and type two diabetes in 1997, afflictions that would have seen an immediate end to his career had he been in the East German system. Grobler, by so many accounts in this book, is fundamentally honest with his rowers, hugely loyal, but also practical and at all times unsentimental.

– Mike Rowbottom, Inside the Games

 

We see a man who one imagines is capable of playing multiple chess games at once. His attention to detail runs to deciding who rooms together at training camps. In the words of Andy Triggs Hodge, It’s a genius at work.

– Tim Koch in Hear The Boat Sing

 

Describing the interaction between many well-known names and institutions, this is essentially a history of the development of modern rowing from a gritty but haphazard amateur pastime into today’s professional medal-making machine. A machine hand-built from almost nothing but with considerable influence from Jurgen Grobler’s hands on the steering wires.

– Neil Pickford, Amazon

 

Enjoyable read, well researched and written, particularly valuable for bringing to life the period of rowing history either side of the well-documented Redgrave/Pinsent era. It gave me a new sympathy for the pressures Grobler must have faced working within the GDR system and of the unavoidable personal compromises that he would have had to make in order to protect his family.

– G Braham, Amazon

 

Grobler may eventually decide to tell his story in his own words. In the meantime, however, this richly knowledgeable account does an excellent job on his behalf.

– Mike Rowbottom, Inside the Games

 

It is a splendid achievement by the authors, Hugh Matheson and Christ Dodd, the literary equivalent of the pairing of Redgrave and Pinsent or Bond and Murray – More Power to their elbows!

– Tim Koch in Hear The Boat Sing

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Posted in GB team, general, Hammer Smith, history, international, Olympics, regattas | Leave a Comment »

Wind, fairness and precedents wind up the nations in Plovdiv

Posted by rowingvoice on September 13, 2018

Dateline:  Thursday 13 September 2018

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

I was up until stupid o’clock on Wednesday night writing for the Telegraph (see a heavily edited piece here) and Row360 (see an explanation of what, who and when here) but they are more factual articles, so here’s a sprinkling of personal opinion with a bit more nerd-detail.  Those who haven’t got their heads around the 12th September 2018 fairness issue might like to read the Row360 article first.

At the time when racing was suspended on Wednesday I was bewildered. The serious lack of communication with the independent media nowadays (we are hardly ever given information proactively any more) meant that there was huge confusion about the reason, particularly once the announcement of suspension “until further notice” had gone out. Even allowing for the sheltered nature of the press tribune, the wind was so average that it couldn’t seem possible that the Fairness Commission (FC) would be unable to find a solution to the issue of wind dramatically favouring lanes 5 and 6. With all the weapons at their disposal – reorder lane draws, shift lanes over, delay until the wind direction stabilises later – they’ve not had an insoluble problem in the eighteen years I’ve been regularly covering international events. So it must be lightning, I reasoned — there was an ominous cloud gathering behind the start and thunderstorms had been predicted, indeed were being discussed by members of the FISA communications team who were clearly as much in the dark as us.

But no, the reason was solely fairness, and as it turned out the reason for suspending indefinitely then cancelling was that it became clear the wind was varying far too much and too quickly to offer any chance of being able to rejig lanes fast enough for fair racing.

Here are FISA’s FC measurements as logged from the anemometers (wind meters) after the end of racing:

I cut off the headers snapping pictures of the data quickly, but think the left-hand graph is from the anemometer above lane 6 on the bridge, where the FC members were discussing the problem during racing, and the right is from a different anemometer clearly showing that wind varied across the course. WS = wind speed, T = temperature, and I think TR (which goes to -100 below zero) is something to do with the difference between speeds of signals of the transducers in the anemometer, which provides a check on either wind speed or direction.  The main thing to notice is the wildly jumping wind numbers after 3pm.

“Every time we thought [the wind] was going down, it came back up again,” said Rosie Mayglothling, one of the three Fairness Commission members, explaining that they decided to completely cancel as soon as they realised how impossible it would be to predict anything. “And a lot of athletes had already been on the water a long time.” The wind was acting at odds to what had been predicted, especially since which lanes were affected was varying too much.

A side-bar to the team managers’ meeting was the sight of Svetlana Otzetova — FISA’s events doyenne, Bulgarian rowing icon and deeply connected to this course — telling Rosie Mayglothling of the Fairness Commission that they were using the wrong (non-local) weather forecasters and that the locals had predicted the problem. It’s easy to be wise after the fact, but FISA normally prides itself on its recruitment of really good weather expertise at every championships, and it’s a shame if the best aren’t currently involved.

The FISA Executive Committee (EC) has huge powers at a world championships, and for speed of operation at an event it takes charge of some other decisions which might normally be farmed out to a specialist commission. There is no appeal within FISA from the EC’s decisions (although countries have appealed to the overarching Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) at the Olympics a couple of times). The four federations who appealed the LM2x results (at a guess, Canada, Greece and two others) already knew that nothing would change when they entered the team managers’ meeting on Wednesday evening.

To those who think the FC was slow in reacting, in fact they sprang into action quicker than I have ever seen them do before. That is partly what tripped the situation up: within the first two races of the afternoon (109 and 110) the fairness commissioners had quickly decided racing was affected, and they shifted the lanes across to try and even out the disadvantage during the third LM2x quarterfinal (111) while they put in process the mechanism to halt racing and make a bigger change in lanes. The error came in doing this for race 113, but letting the WhatsApp message to the 62 team managers go out before race 112 had even started. It meant that six countries knew their quarterfinal, which would decide the top 12 crews this year and almost certainly impact on individuals’ funding, was definitely unfair at a point when it could have been postponed.

Was there an instinctive desire to let the whole of a set of quarterfinals take place before changing anything? That wasn’t addressed at the team managers’ meeting (and is easy to deny after the fact so I didn’t even bother asking) but there’s no doubt it was simpler to put all 24 LM2x into the exact same position. There’s overall fairness (was our race legit?) but there’s also fairness within your boat class, and both fret away at the minds of rowers and coaches. FISA go to great lengths to ensure that all rival crews have the same number of races, and if early suspension of activities had given the last two races a better chance of fairness, that would have increased the pressure to re-row the first two (with the knock-on effect that those competitors would have done an extra 2km race before the A/B semis on Thursday).

Nothing was easy for anyone yesterday. Both points of view are valid: the teams who feel they were robbed rightly point out that the decision will make it much harder for anyone to appeal a race on fairness grounds in future. Many will be discouraged from doing so even if the FC or EC are getting something badly wrong. That’s not a good outcome. But the Executive Committee’s concerns that if they did allow re-rows in this case they would be opening the door to an endless procession of re-row requests — perhaps even of Olympic finals — were also valid. Where would the line be drawn on how unfair it had to be to spark a re-row?

In the minds of some, the FC has been disenfranchised by being “overruled” but the FISA system is clear: the FC is there to inform the EC about the level of fairness during races, and to take prompt action if possible to improve fairness on the spot or delay racing until that can happen. But the one thing it cannot do is decide the outcome (eg a re-row or results standing) if unfairness is proven to have occurred. (And in fact the FC cannot restart racing after a suspension — that is done by the president of the umpire jury, though acting on their advice.) The EC made no bones about it: they totally agreed with the FC’s judgement of unfairness in the races which had already taken place, but saw greater reasons to disallow re-rows than to allow them in this situation.

Nobody wins here.

There is one lurking question to the Executive Committee which again I didn’t ask because it’s unanswerable and would not have drawn a reaction. It’s completely hypothetical, and any meaningful response FISA could give on the record would tie them to a future course they might regret. The question is this: “Had the unfair races happened in Linz 2019, with not just crew funding but Olympic selection at stake, would you have done the re-rows?”

Nobody can answer that at this point, but my gut feeling is that the Executive Committee might, faced with cutting several high pedigree crews out of any chance of qualifying automatically for Tokyo, have gone the other way. And probably insisted that this was for Olympic qualification reasons only, thus not a precedent for other regattas. Certainly the pressure on FISA would have been even bigger if it was 2019 and countries might have considered an appeal to CAS. We aren’t there, but FISA is going to have to consider that a possible scenario and work out what to do if it ever does happen.

Future options involving instant racing-suspension were mentioned on Wednesday, and sound interesting though FISA will have to work through the implications and possible unintended consequences. Another suggestion in the pipeline is athlete lane selection, trialled in May and still under consideration for the future, although all that does is shift the initial draw, and doesn’t change what happens when the FC decides wind has altered so much that a redraw is needed. Could we cope with having an athlete re-select at the start of an Olympic final? Does it make a difference when the real problem is a lack of parity between not only lanes but races?  Will those athletes with teams who can afford seriously good weather predictions do better?

There are no easy solutions which don’t create new difficulties, or which might, in shifting responsibility from officials to teams, put a burden of responsibility on crews and a drain on resources for the less well funded.  If that creates new inequality, we’re no better off.

Discuss……

 

Rachel Quarrell in Plovdiv

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

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 »

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

Posted by rowingvoice on July 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Quarrell.

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

Posted by rowingvoice on July 1, 2015

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

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

HRR GOES DIGITAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Quarrell.

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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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