The Tideway Scullers School is based by the Boat Race finish-line, downstream of Chiswick Bridge. Formed just over 50 years ago, TSS is well established as one of the top UK clubs for scullers, and boasts a number of past and present GB internationals amongst its membership, including the GB single sculler Alan Campbell.
New Zealander Mahe Drysdale has been a Scullers member for several years, and even spent a winter living at the clubhouse and training on the Tideway with Campbell. In 2006 they got a quad together with Slovenian Iztok Cop and ex-GB lwt Mike Hennessy for the Head of the River Fours, looking to overturn Leander Club's domination of the race. They succeeded and have retained the title ever since, Hennessy being replaced by TSS head coach Tom Gale for the 2008 race, last November.
Following their success in a quad over the famous Championship Course, Campbell and coach Bill Barry, started to look at putting together an eight of top international scullers for the Head of the River Race to mark the 50th anniversary of TSS entering the event (founded by Steve Fairbairn in 1926 it remains the main UK head race for men's eights). With the good grace of the international rowing federations involved, the line-up for the crew impressively shaped up as the top seven finishing scullers in the Beijing Olympics, along with fellow Olympian Iztok Cop. The crew is coxed by Ali Williams, a long time TSS member, who now teaches at Harvard and flew in especially for the week running up to the race.
The Head of the River Race takes place this Saturday and most of the crew arrived in London on Sunday, albeit with a late change of line up, Lassi Karonnen being replaced by Swiss sculler Andre Vonarburg, after Karonnen injured himself while cross-country skiing.
I'm assured they've all left their egos and coaches at home and are really enjoying themselves, as well as getting in some quality training. That said, turning eight scullers (even ones at the top of their game) into a fully functioning sweep eight is not without its issues, especially when some members of the crew have better command of English that others.
"The first time we went out it was all over the place" commented Campbell "we eventually settled on 'stop' and 'go' as the main commands."
The week is turning into a mini-training camp for the internationals and the crew managed to fit in five outings before Wednesday afternoon's fixture against the Cambridge Blue Boat, and as you might expect of oarsmen of this calibre, they have been getting visibly better with every session on the water.
Pat Lockley, the OUBC boatman has been watching the crew with interest over the last few days:
"When they first showed up they were rowing like a bunch of scullers - nothing at the back end. We thought 'maybe this Super8 isn't quite so super', but every time they go out they look more and more like sweep rowers, and they're only going to get better.
Cambridge, still missing their 5 man Tom Ransley due to back problems, were keen to learn from their race last Friday, against a Leander crew made up of GB internationals, when their length lead was overturned coming up to Hammersmith in rough water. As a result both pieces in the TSS fixture were raced from Putney Bridge to Hammersmith Bridge.
Olaf Tufte, calling on behalf of the TSS crew won the toss, and chose Middlesex for the first race, however they weren't quite ready for the light blues' powerful start and, as Cambridge shot ahead to an early lead, they struggled to match the pace despite having the inside of the first bend. By the end of the Fulham wall, Cambridge had increased their lead to a length. The TSS crew were unable to close the gap and looked none too pleased after the finish.
The crews then paddled back to Putney for take two, swapping stations for the second race. This time Scullers were more than prepared for CUBC's start and although the light blues again took an early lead, it was much less than in the first race. TSS, showing gritty determination to revenge their earlier defeat, were rating higher than their opposition and, with the bit between their teeth, proceeded to row through the Cambridge crew around the outside of the first bend. With TSS a length ahead by Harrods and the finish line at the bridge in sight, Cambridge upped their rate in an attempt to claw back some of the difference, but Scullers were having none of it, holding on to their lead to win by a length.
Altogether an excellent couple of pieces from which both crews will have taken away some valuable lessons. If Scullers keep improving at the same rate, they seem very likely to overturn Leander for the ead position on Saturday, whilst Cambridge appear both strong and technically very slick. Although CUBC remains the weaker of the two university crews on paper, they look set to give Oxford a good run for their money on the 29th, and Tom Ransley should be back in his seat tomorrow.
Tideway Scullers School crew lineup:
B -Tim Mayens (BEL)
2 - Andre Vonarburg (SWI)
3 - Alan Campbell (GBR)
4 - Marcel Hacker (GER)
5 - Mahe Drysdale (NZL)
6 - Olaf Tufte (NOR)
7 - Ondrej Synek (CZE)
S - Iztok Cop (SLO)
C - Ali Williams (GBR)
B - Rob Weitemeyer
2 - Henry Pelly
3 - George Nash
4 - Peter Marsland
5 - Deaglan McEachern
6 - Hardy Cubasch
7 - Ryan Monaghan
Stroke - Silas Stafford
Cox - Rebecca Dowbiggin