Trying to find a comfortable home for a resurrected rowing tradition that attracted international single scullers to race on the Schuylkill River for annual world bragging rights has not been easy for the foundation that brought the Gold Cup Challenge back to life.
The race, which was first run in 1920 - and begun again after the actual Gold Cup trophy was discovered in a back room of a Philadelphia antique shop where it sat lost for some 50-years - has had trouble finding a host event venue and a time of its own.
Read a row2k story on the finding of the Cup.
Held in 2011 for the time since the trophy was found, and returned to world prominence with a new program that included women and offered cash prizes for the winners, the event was staged during a break in the Dad Vail Regatta.
But, the Gold Cup race was not held the following two years, in part because getting international athletes to commit to racing in the spring was difficult. International athletes are more focused on their training cycles, and performing well at World Cup and their individual federation selection events, than traveling to Philadelphia for a single spring race.
"In the spring, it is really hard for athletes to handle that with World Cups and their federation selection procedure for their seats, so it was hard to host something in the spring," said Elle Carolan of the Gold Challenge Cup Foundation.
Determined to keep the event running, while also highlighting and supporting sculling in the US, organizers opted to shorten the distance to 750-meters and partner with Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, which hosted the racing during a mid-day break on the Saturday of the weekend schedule.
But like it was in 2011, the Gold Cup was an event jammed into the workings of an existing regatta, which was has proven difficult for most everyone involved, and included setting a buoyed course during what amounted to an extended lunch break for an event that was running two-full days of jammed packed head races.
Add into that the potential for weather-inflicted problems, as happened last year, and well, complications happen.
Germany's Oliver Zeidler trailing Damir Martin of Croatia
Complications like being locked into racing in conditions that can end up being less than fair, and having little to no room move the schedule into a more favorable time slot - like one with less wind, a more manageable current, and not when hundreds of crews of all levels and ages are already jammed onto the venue, waiting to launch, warmup and race.
This year, that will all be different.
In what is being called a "trial year" the Philadelphia Gold Challenge Cup Foundation announced Wednesday that the Gold Cup, and the accompanying concluding event of US Lotman Challenge, will be moved to Camden, New Jersey, and held on the Cooper River.
"After five successful years partnering with the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, we made the decision to separate our 2019 Gold Cup Challenge and final leg of the Lotman Challenge from the HOSR," said Scot Fisher, of the Gold Challenge Club Foundation.
"This gives singular focus to our mission to bring the best oarsmen and oarswomen from around the world while also educating the public, and youth in particular, about the positive, empowering nature of sculling. We certainly look forward to working with the HOSR in our areas of mutual interest," Fisher said.
"We are proud of what the Gold Cup and Lotman Challenge have accomplished and could not have done this without the help of the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta on and off the water," said Bill McNabb Chairman of the Gold Challenge Cup Foundation. "We are equally excited to be running a stand-alone event for world class athletes on the Cooper River this October."
The event will continue to be run on the same weekend as the Head of the Schuylkill, but give race organizers the ability to run the racing on a venue dedicated just to the Gold Cup and Lotman races.
Staging sprint races on the Schuylkill in 2018
Continuing to Expand
During an interview ahead of the announcement, Carolan explained that the thinking behind moving to the Cooper was as much about expanding and increasing involvement in the event, as it was to break away from an already existing and busy venue. With the Cooper River being located just across the Delaware River, moving the race to Camden also allowed organizers to hold to the Gold Cup's Philadelphia tradition.
The Gold Cup sprint event was not run in 2017. But the Lotman Challenge, which was in its inaugural year, was included as part of the championship singles. Both events were included in the 2018 HOSR program as sprint events.
Felice Mueller holding up her award from the 2017 Lotman Challenge
"We did the Gold Cup, then, once we got comfortable with that, we also decided to add another step with the Lotman Challenge," said Carolan. "We've had two years under our belt with that, and we've continued to tweak that format and that model.
"But then the question became, what's the next step, and how can we continue to grow this to not only be supporting the elite international athletes, and the up and coming US athletes, but how can we expand our mission?"
For this year, "expanding the mission" will be about racing on a dedicated venue that allows as much control of the schedule and weather concerns as is possible, and build on athlete, community, and fan experience.
Athletes who came to race in past years have participated in community outreach trips to schools and sports organizations, as well as being taken on tours of Philadelphia historic sites and city events. Those programs will continue in Philadelphia, but will begin to include the same experiences in Camden County, New Jersey.
"Since we are going into Camden, we are going to be continuing our community outreach in Philadelphia. But Camden is just over the river, and is kind of a sister city and we are hoping to also do the youth and community outreach in Camden."
Plans for this year include increasing the world-wide audience through live streaming, and having the athletes launch and finish in front of the Camden County Boat House to bring spectators on the venue closer to the racing and the athletes.
"The athletes will launch out of South Jersey Rowing Club at the boathouse. That will also serve as the finish line, and I think that it will be pretty neat that the spectators can actually see the athletes launching and finishing. So, we get to share a little bit more of their story," Carolan said.
2018 Women's winner Hannah Osborne of New Zealand
In addition to moving the event, the Gold Cup cash purse has been increased. Winners will receive $15,000. Second place earns an award of $7,500, third place winners get $3,500, and fourth places finishers will take home $1,500.
There are no plans to hold the Gold Cup Triple Challenge in 2019. That three-stage event was offered for the first time in 2018, and included a $50,000 single cash award if an athlete won championship in the singles events at Henley Royal Regatta, World Championships, and the Gold Cup.
That event will be offered again in 2020, and will include the Olympics in place of the World Championship segment of the three races.
The Lotman Challenge cash awards were also increased, and the format tweaked to recognize the 2020 Olympic cycle and US Trials. Details for those changes can be found here.
While this is being touted as a trial year, there are current discussions to expand the race to include high school and adaptive athletes to the program in future years, which could ultimately mean a permanent separation from the Head of the Schuylkill.
"As we are thinking about all of that, we also have to consider that (being in the Head of the Schuylkill) we are in the middle of a regatta and there is only a certain amount of time that they could give us to fit things in safely and fairly," Carolan said.
"We just realized we needed somewhere where we could be the full event, and get comfortable with that, and then try in subsequent years if it works out to really expand our offering, build going towards exclusivity, and then kind of keep on progressing and supporting the fastest domestic elites with the Lotman Challenge and then going to the pinnacle of the sport with the Gold Cup."