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Sitting on the Tideway fence

Posted by rowingvoice on April 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Quarrell.

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

Britain’s rowers top the table in the Savoie

Posted by rowingvoice on September 8, 2015

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Quarrell

Aiguebelette-le-lac, Savoie, France


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

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

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

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

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

RQ.

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

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 »

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.

Posted in GB team, Henley, international, regattas, women | Leave a Comment »

Handcycling champion Morris wins rowing silver

Posted by rowingvoice on June 24, 2014

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Rachel Morris, Liudmila Vauchok and Natalia Bolshakova

Former Paralympic hand-cycling champion Rachel Morris announced her transfer to para-rowing on Saturday with a silver medal in her first international arms-only sculling final, in Aiguebelette.  She passed world champion and record-holder Natalia Bolshakova in the last three strokes to clinch second behind Belarussian Liudmila Vauchok.

“It’s a really different feeling racing something so short, but it’s fantastic,” Morris said.  “I was aware of the others, but wasn’t going to let them through unless I had to.”

A few minutes later, Tom Aggar pulled off his own success, snatching gold from his long-time rival Russian Alexey Chuvashev with a shoulder-bending sprint in the last few strokes.  The two have been swapping places for the last four years, and this was an impressive performance in a tight race from the Briton.

“I did a really good time-trial a couple of days back so knew I was in quite good shape, I managed to stick close, and then had enough left to pull through,” Aggar said.  “She’s impressive, she’s come a long way in six months,” he said of Morris, whom he clearly enjoys training with, but admitted she can beat him on the hand-cycle at the moment.  New recruit to the para-rowing coxed four Grace Clough celebrated her 23rd birthday with a gold medal.

Earlier in the day, fifteen other crews joined the para-rowers in the finals to give several medal chances for Sunday.  There were heat wins for the senior women’s pair, lightweight women’s double and men’s four, as well as the men’s quad, with Helen Glover and Heather Stanning rowing imperiously and only 4 seconds off the world best time.  Ellie Piggott and Charlotte Taylor qualified for the final as a second lightweight double, and under-23 men’s double scullers Angus Groom and Jack Beaumont performed beautifully to win the C-final despite being the youngest and least experienced in the race.

The men’s eight were outclassed in a very tough heat, but managed a better race to qualify for the final from the repechage, as did the lightweight men’s four.  Lightweight scullers Will Fletcher and Jamie Kirkwood missed the final by 0.14 seconds and then overbalanced their shell after the finish line, receiving a dunking in the azure-blue lake.

Rachel Quarrell.

This article was originally commissioned by the Sunday Telegraph.

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

GB team for Europeans announced

Posted by rowingvoice on May 14, 2014

BnlpkQoCEAAYb4PCREW LISTS (Includes club, home town, date of birth)
GB Rowing Team for the 2014 European Championships,
Belgrade, 30 May – 1 June.

OPEN

WOMEN

Pair

Helen Glover (Minerva Bath RC/Penzance/17.06.1986)
Polly Swann (Leander Club/Edinburgh/15.06.1988)
Coaches: Paul Thompson & Robin Williams

Eight (8 from 9 rowers + cox)

Rosamund Bradbury (Leander Club/Banstead/17.12.1988)
Olivia Carnegie-Brown (Oxford Brookes Univ BC/Oxford/28.03.1991)
Jessica Eddie (London RC/Durham/07.10.1984)
Donna Etiebet (Sport Imperial BC/London/29.04.1986)
Katie Greves (Leander Club/Oxford/02.09.1982)
Zoe Lee (Imperial College BC/Richmond, N. Yorks/15.12.1985)
Caragh McMurty (Reading Univ BC/Southampton/22.08.1991)
Louisa Reeve (Leander Club/London/16.05.1984)
Monica Relph (Leander Club/Cambridge/15.01.1988)
Zoe de Toledo (cox) (Leander Club/London/17.07.1987)
Coach: James Harris

Double scull

Frances Houghton (Leander Club/Oxford/19.09.1980)
Victoria Thornley (Leander Club/Wrexham/30.11.1987)
Coaches: Paul Thompson & Robin Williams

Quadruple scull

Beth Rodford (Gloucester RC/Gloucester/28.12.1982)
Lucinda Gooderham (Leander Club/Norfolk/09.06.1984)
Victoria Meyer-Laker (Leander Club/Premnay/18.03.1988)
Kristina Stiller (Tees RC/Yarm/23.06.1987)
Coach: Nick Strange

OPEN

MEN

Pair

Alan Sinclair (Leander Club/Inverness/16.10.1985)
Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell (Univ of London BC/Durham/13.04.1988)
Coach: Rob Dauncey

Four

Alex Gregory (Leander Club/Wormington/11.03.1984)
Mohamed Sbihi (Molesey BC/Surbiton/27.03.1988)
George Nash (Molesey BC/Guildford/10.02.1989)
Andrew Triggs Hodge (Molesey BC/Hebden, N. Yorks/03.03.1979)
Coach: Jurgen Grobler

Eight

Phil Congdon (Molesey BC/Bury St Edmunds/06.06.1989)
Oliver Cook (Univ of London BC/Windsor/05.06.1990)
Scott Durant (Oxford Brookes Univ BC/Lancaster/12.02.1988)
James Foad (Molesey BC/Southampton/20.03.1987)
Matthew Gotrel (Leander Club/Chipping Campden/01.03.1989)
Matt Langridge (Leander Club/Northwich/20.05.1983)
Pete Reed (Leander Club/Nailsworth, Glos/27.07.1981)
Will Satch (Leander Club/Henley-on-Thames/09.06.1989)
Matthew Tarrant (Oxford Brookes Univ BC/Shepperton/11.07.1990)
Phelan Hill (cox) (Leander Club/Bedford/21.07.1979)
Coach: Christian Felkel

Single scull

Alan Campbell (Tideway Scullers School/Coleraine/09.05.1983)
Coach: John West

Double scull

John Collins (Leander Club/Twickenham/24.01.1989)
Jonathan Walton (Leander Club/Leicester/06.10.1990)
Coach: Mark Banks

Quadruple scull

Graeme Thomas (Agecroft RC/Preston/08.11.1988)
Sam Townsend (Reading Univ BC/Reading/26.11.1985)
Charles Cousins (Leander Club/Willingham/13.12.1988)
Peter Lambert (Leander Club/Henley-on-Thames/03.12.1986)
Coach: Paul Stannard

LIGHTWEIGHT

WOMEN

Single scull

Charlotte Taylor (Putney Town RC/Bedford/14.08.1985)
Coach: Tom Evens

Double scull

Imogen Walsh (London RC/Inverness/17.01.1984)
Kat Copeland (Tees RC/Ashington/01.12.1990)
Coach: Paul Reedy

LIGHTWEIGHT

MEN

Pair

Jonathan Clegg (Leander Club/Maidenhead/14.07.1989)
Sam Scrimgeour (Imperial College BC/Forfar/28.01.1988)
Coach: Rob Morgan

Four

Mark Aldred (London RC/London/18.04.1987)
Peter Chambers (Oxford Brookes Univ BC/Coleraine/14.03.1990)
Richard Chambers (Leander Club/Coleraine/10.06.1985)
Chris Bartley (Leander Club/Chester/02.02.1984)
Coach: Rob Morgan

Single scull

Adam Freeman-Pask (Reading Univ BC/Windsor/19.06.1985)
Coach: Darren Whiter

Double scull

William Fletcher (Leander Club/Chester-le-Street/24.12.1989)
Jamie Kirkwood (Leander Club/Creswell/30.08.1989)
Coach: Darren Whiter

Posted in GB team, international, Olympics, women | Leave a Comment »

Three champions for two seats in a boat

Posted by rowingvoice on April 19, 2014

This is the full text of an article commissioned by the Daily Telegraph, my usual rowing-publication masters.  It was finally published on Saturday 19th April 2014 here and in the print paper.  What went in was fine, but they did cut out some of the more interesting quotes, probably for space reasons, so here is the original in full.

 

Britain’s top oarswomen are known for turning the water gold, but now a red-hot battle is developing for selection.  Sparks will fly at the Redgrave-Pinsent Rowing Lake at Caversham this weekend during final trials, where Olympic champion Heather Stanning has pushed her way back into the top of the team in a bare five months.

Six weeks after Heather Stanning and Helen Glover spectacular start to Team GB’s gold rush at the London Olympics, a partnership with Grainger-like potential was split up when Stanning returned to her Army career for a tour of duty in Afghanistan.  It was never going to be a permanent break, Stanning having already signed up to return this year and aim to row in the Rio Olympics.  But a spanner was thrown in the works by the talented 25-year-old Polly Swann, who formed an equally unbeatable partnership with Glover during 2013 while Stanning was away.

Swann had missed out on her Olympic debut in the eight at London due to a back injury.  So she was new to the senior team yet fitted seamlessly into the pair last summer, even moving like Stanning while she rowed.  One of the trickiest boats to master, the coxless pair demands brilliance from both rowers, and the incredible luck of finding a new partner for Glover who could continue the success was not lost on Paul Thompson, the women’s and lightweights chief coach.

But it also posed him a a serious problem.  When Stanning returned to the UK last November, he had three oarswomen for two seats.  Two stroke-women, each unbeaten for a whole year with Glover at bow, each physiologically and technically impressive.  True, Stanning had two world silver medals before 2012, and had won the more prestigious Olympics.  But despite ergometer training fitted in around her Army work at Basra, she wasn’t ready.

“She was boot-fit but not boat-fit”, said Thompson.  “She was not at her best – though on the water she still had a fantastic feel for the boat and rhythm.”  Swann, by comparison, had a whole year of water training under her belt.  At the start of February Thompson had been clear, the incumbent Swann had first dibs on the place in the top boat.

“Helen and Polly are a world champion pair, that was our starting point”, he said.  “We couldn’t have a plan until [Heather] was back and in front of us, and she needed to find her feet.”  He held winter meetings with all three, making it clear the big task was to make the pair fast enough to beat the world again – whoever was in it – and that Stanning would have to show him something special quickly to suggest a change.  “Whoever wants to be in the best pair in the world, they need to be in the best pair in Britain.”

He knew he had to work fast, and to test other combinations as well.  “What we didn’t want was Polly looking over her shoulder every stroke, Helen trying to think she’s making the decision between this one and that one, and Heather looking for an opportunity,” he said.  Floods delayed full testing, but during March Stanning’s results suddenly became impressive.  “I wouldn’t call it a surprise, but she certainly developed quickly”, says Thompson.  “Training popped up some interesting results, and you have to go with the evidence.”

Other sweep oarswomen were raising their game too.  As a result, on Saturday morning Stanning and Glover will trial against Swann paired with Jess Eddie, a 5-year incumbent of the women’s eight with which she won world bronze in 2007 and 2011.  “It’s still completely open to see where this gets to”, said Thompson on Thursday.  “Maybe Polly and Jess are a faster combination.  I’m expecting a cracker of a race.”  On paper it’s clear he expects the Olympic champions to have the edge, but if Swann and Eddie can prove him wrong, it will make for a neat selection dilemma.

Thompson, like any canny coach, won’t let a single race decide his team:  further testing may be required and the whole winter’s evidence looked at.  Whoever loses out on the pair will strengthen the eight, which is his next big project.  The women’s eight has been tantalisingly close to the podium for eight years, and won bronze twice.  To have a chance in Rio they need to be winning medals more reliably, and Thompson’s pair’s contest might just help them do that.

Meanwhile equally fiery racing will be seen between the lightweight women, where Thompson points to Charlotte Taylor from Putney Town impressing behind the likely leaders Imogen Walsh and Olympic champion Kat Copeland.  A talented group of lightweight men race in singles, as do the openweight men, where the rivalry is renewed between Alan Campbell and Charles Cousins, and added to with Boat Race winning stroke Constantine Louloudis.

Junior world champion Jess Leyden joins the women’s singles group, and the world champion men’s eight are split into four pairs to meet the challenge from several ambitious but less experienced oarsmen.

 

Rachel Quarrell, Telegraph rowing correspondent

 

Copyright Rachel Quarrell 2014.  All rights reserved.

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

Cambridge tip up by Juckett

Posted by rowingvoice on April 7, 2014

160th Boat Race, Putney to Mortlake 2014

Words:  Christopher Dodd

Pictures:  Hamish Roots, Light Over Water Photography 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BOAT RACE TIMES 2014 (Oxford first)

Mile: both crews 3-47

Hammersmith Bridge: 6-48; 6-56

Chiswick Steps: 10-59; 11-15

Barnes Bridge: 15-18; 15-46

Finish: 18-36; 19-08

 

 

Isis double the joy for a record Oxford combined margin

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

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

RESULTS

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

Rowing Voice staff

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

Putting the W into the weigh-in

Posted by rowingvoice on March 6, 2013

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The men’s 2013 Blue Boats square up to each other on the Tideway shoals at Putney.

University Boat Races crew announcement and weigh-in

Blackfriars, Monday 4 March 2013

‘This is a time when, we argue, it is essential to be active and flexible; it is no time to be passive. Indeed, the risk warning that you see on investment products – that past performance is no guide to future performance – really does hold true.’

My text is taken from the financial market prospects for 2013 and beyond as seen by Newton, the global thematic investing company that is part of Bank of New York Mellon, sponsors of the women’s and men’s boat races respectively. If the analysts at Newton didn’t get the wisdom of past performance being no guide to future performance from the University Boat Race, then they might just as well have done. The men have been testing the maxim since 1829, and being active and flexible to peak on the day is an ingredient of a day in the office for Boat Race coaches, whether they are preparing crews to battle from Putney to Mortlake or belt down Henley Reach.

Such thoughts occurred at Monday’s weigh-in for the crews for the women’s race on March 24 at Henley and the men’s on March 31 at Putney. It was historic because the it was the first occasion that the men’s and women’s crews had weighed in together, the first move in the transfer of the women’s race to Boat Race Day on the Tideway in two years’ time.

The proceedings in the comfort of the Blackfriars HQ of Mellon and Newton began with the obligatory deep throated sound track under scenes of Boat race grunt and grind – ‘Time for the talking to stop! Time for the heart to start ticking! When eight become one! Human synergy in perfect motion! For this one moment, the time has come!

It was good to note that some of the footage belonged to Acer Nethercott’s crews, the philosopher, physicist and cox who steered Oxford to victory in both the men’s and women’s races in the course of his career, and who died of brain cancer this year at all too young an age.

When the fanfare and screen malarkey died down, there was Sir Matt Pinsent, umpire of the men’s race, to master the ceremonies in the chair. The crews sat facing each other, men on bar stools and women on chairs in front, as Matt called them up to the scales by seat.

Pounds were translated to stones, pounds and ounces on screens – so much more clinical than the old days when an old heavy would take the readings and laboriously do the conversion while everyone waited with baited breath while harbouring their own opinion about the maths. Matt didn’t have to do any sums, but he fell over himself a couple of times in the excitement of compering the first joint weigh-in by inadvertently inserting a ‘W’ when referring to OUBC and CUBC.

For the record, Cambridge’s women are heavier, averaging (excluding coxes) 11st 10oz to Oxford’s 10st 6lb 13oz; while the Oxford men are 14st 12lb 12oz to Cambridge’s 14st 6lb 14oz. There was a welcome absence of going for a record by drinking litres of water beforehand and rushing for the loos afterwards. Statistically heavier crews win more races, but don’t put money on it.

On grooming and sartorial matters, short hair is clearly in for men and long for women. They would all look great on the catwalk if they didn’t have to wear predictable shades of blue Lycra. Helena Morrisey, Newton’s chief executive, took the chic prize for a dark blue cardi worn over an elegant light blue print dress.

The Oxford women wore their hair up as if ready to step into the boat. The Cambridge women wore theirs down. This was not just to distinguish them from the enemy, but also to flaunt their locks over the left breast to cover up the accidental CUBC logo on their lovely Hackett tops. Where Matt kept inserting the W, Hackett unfortunately lost it.

The coaches, Christine Wilson (OUWBC), Rob Baker (CUWBC), Sean Bowden (OUBC) and Steve Trapmore (CUBC), predictably expressed their joy at the support of their sponsors and the preparedness of their crews. Once off the stage, Bowden admitted that the old tradition of clashing in side-by-side pieces with London University had been revived, and that Oxford may have bitten off more than they can chew when a German composite of current or ex-internationals turns up to race them on March 17.

Newton quotes the Chinese curse in its market prospects literature that also applies to boat races – ‘May you live in interesting times.’

The 2013 women's Blue Boats

The 2013 women’s Blue Boats

Christopher Dodd

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