The Philadelphia Challenge Cup, also known as the Gold Cup, will be contested on Saturday, October 24 during a break in the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta. Gold Cup honorary chairman Sir Steven Redgrave will be in attendance to oversee the event and give out the awards, which are not trivial by any means: prize money of $10,000 will be awarded to the Champion; $5,000 for second place, $2,500 for third place and $1,000 for fourth place. A Gold Cup medal will be given to each winner.
History of the Gold Cup
The year is 1920. John B. Kelly Sr. (Vesper Rowing Club) wins the first Olympic Gold Medal in rowing for the United States at the VII Olympiad in Brussels, Belgium. Inspired by America's achievement and growing interest in a sport dominated by European, Canadian and Australian athletes, Philadelphia's own Schuylkill Navy raises $2,500 and commissions Bailey, Banks & Biddle jewelers to design a trophy befitting Kelly's tremendous achievement. An eighteen-inch, 14 karat solid-gold cup, engraved with Kelly's name, is presented to Kelly in recognition of his victory as undisputed world champion in the sport of single scull rowing. It was called the Philadelphia Challenge Cup.
Now fast forward forty years. It's the early 1960s. The United States is at the height of the Cold War. In 1962, Vyacheslav Ivanov (Soviet Union) wins the Gold Cup by defeating challenger Seymour Cromwell (Riverside – United States) on the Schuylkill River. Ivanov goes on to win his third Olympic gold at the 1964 Tokyo Games. In 1966, Don Spero (NYAC – United States) becomes the U.S. Champion in Single Sculls and wins the World Rowing Single Sculls Championship in Bled, Yugoslavia defeating Ivanov. His name is the last inscribed on the Gold Cup. Then mysteriously, the trophy disappears.
In 1966, Joan Scholl a U.S. Rowing Judge-Referee from California and former Vesper Boat Club member is back in Philadelphia to visit her husband's family. Downtown on an errand, she sees an antique store at Eighth and Sansom Streets. Joan goes in and tells the clerk she collects rowing medals and asks if they have any. The clerk responds that they don't have any medals but do have an old rowing trophy she might be interested in – it was the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, missing for 30 years. The antique shop had acquired the Gold Cup in an estate sale more than 20 years earlier.
The Schuylkill Navy attempted to get the Philadelphia Challenge Cup back through the courts, but was unsuccessful and the Gold Cup remained in the possession of I. Switt Antiques until a private group of rowing enthusiasts purchased the cup and brought the exciting competition back to its rightful place – the Schuylkill River.
The Gold Challenge Cup Foundation was created by the late Herb Lotman, prominent businessman and philanthropist. Board members include Jim Barker, legendary sculling coach, competitor, and inductee of the U.S. Rowing Hall of Fame; William McNabb, Vanguard Chairman/CEO and former Dartmouth College oarsman; Scot A. Fisher, physician, and former Princeton University oarsman, Charles Murray, former member of the U.S. national rowing team and technology executive; and Rebecca Katz, executive at Vanguard, and masters rower with Whitemarsh Boat Club in Conshohocken.
In spring of 2011, the Gold Cup event returned, with the expansion of the competition to women. Iztok Cop [Eye-zock Chop] (Slovenia) and Mirka Knapkova [Meer-ka Ka-nap-kova](Czech Republic) claimed victory, and both went on to earn medals in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
This Gold Cup challenge is particularly amazing. In partnership with the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, the course will be converted from the Head of the Schuylkill's 2.5 miles long head race course to a "sprint" race, approximately 750 meters in length. The race will take place in the middle four lanes of the Schuylkill River and prize money of $10,000 will be awarded to the Champion.
Past Gold Cup Winners
1920 John B. Kelly (Vesper – United States)
1922 Walter M. Hoover (Duluth Boat Club – United States)
1923 W.E. Garrett Gilmore (Bachelors Barge – United States)
1924 Paul V. Costello (Vesper – United States)
1924 Jack Beresford (England)
1925 Jack Beresford (England)
1928 H.R. Pearce (Australia)
1935 Charles A. Campbell (Canada)
1936 Gustav Schaefer (Germany)
1940 Joseph W. Burk (Penn A.C.R.A. – United States)
1948 Mervyn Wood (Australia)
1950 Mervyn Wood (Australia)
1952 Jurij Tjukalov (Soviet Union)
1956 Vyacheslav Ivanov (Soviet Union)
1958 Vyacheslav Ivanov (Soviet Union)
1960 Vyacheslav Ivanov (Soviet Union)
1962 Vyacheslav Ivanov (Soviet Union)
1964 Vyacheslav Ivanov (Soviet Union)
1966 Don Spero (NYAC – United States)
2011 Mirka Knapkova (Czech Republic), Iztok Cop (Slovenia)
2014 To be determined!
The 2014 Competitors
Elite men's race
Lane 1: Yohann Rigogne USA: Yohann is the local connection to the Gold Cup, since the original cup has ties to VESPER club, where Yohann now trains. Yohann began his rowing career at age 15, and became a national junior and under 23 champion for his home country of France. He then moved to the States and became a coach, putting his own aspirations on the backburner. This year, Yohann returned to the world scene much earlier than he anticipated, with a strong showing at the US National Selection regatta and a 25th place at his first world competition, the World Rowing Championships in Amsterdam. He says he's about a year ahead of where he had expected to be—he had not had his sights on Amsterdam. Yohann knows the river better than any of the others -- will his home field advantage pay off in today's race?
Lane 2: Mahe Drysdale (Mah- hey Dry-sdale) New Zealand: Mahe is probably one of the most recognizable faces in rowing today, and some of that is due to his sheer height at 6'7" but more due to his accomplishments and tenure in the sport. Drysdale is the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the single sculls and also a five-time World Champion from 2005- 2011. This year, he won two world cup championships, besting Synek in some exciting races. He won the Diamond Sculls at Henley, and he is training for Rio in 2016. Drysdale placed fourth at Head of the Charles last weekend after hitting a buoy in the last third of the race. His sheer size and power gives him an advantage in this short form race, and he's gunning for gold.
Lane 3: Ondrej Synek (Ah-n-dre Sin-ick) This is Synek's second Gold Cup competition, as he came to Philadelphia in 2011 and came a close second. Although Drysdale took the gold in the last Olympics, Synek is the reigning world champion – a three-time world champion – and beat out his rival Mahe Drysdale in the 2014 World finals after dueling with Drysdale all season in the qualifying world cup races. Synek is a two-times silver Olympic medalist, in the 2008 Beijing game and 2012 London Games, and competed last weekend at The Charles in a double with Norweigan Olaf Tufte, placing third. Today we'll see if the Synek/Drysdale rivalry continues here in Philadelphia.
Lane 4: Kjetil Borch (Sheh-til Borsh –Sheh-til is usually not seen without his doubles partner Nils Jakob Hoff, but today goes it solo. Kjetil and Hoff have competed for years and took the World Cup title in 2013 in the double, and have their sites on competing in the next Olympics. Kjetil is an accomplished single sculler here in the states, winning the Head of the Charles in 2013 and setting a new course record – one that was broken this year by lightweight sculler Andy Campbell of Boston. Kjetil came in second, still a very strong showing. Kjetil may surprise us all today with a win, as he has very powerful starts and that could give him a leg up on the others.
Elite women's race
Lane 1: Gevvie Stone (Jev-vee Stone) USA – rows out of Boston and just won the single sculls in the Head of The Charles last weekend, and stroked the winning "Great Eight" that included all three of her Gold Cup challengers in the boat with her. Last year, Stone balanced her rigorous rowing regimen with her M.D. studies at Tufts University, and finished second in the championship women's singles. At the 50th running of the regatta last Saturday, the Massachusetts native would not be denied as she claimed her fifth title, winning the race in 18:39.89.
Gevvie finished seventh in the single sculls at the 2012 London Olympics, nineth in this year's World Rowing championships, and has her eyes set on Rio in 2016. In fact, she has postponed her medical residency until 2017. Gevvie cites her parents, Gregg and Lisa Stone, themselves elite and Olympic rowers, as her greatest influence.
Lane 2: Miroslava Knapkova From the Czech Republic, Miroslava Knapkova (Meer-row-slava Kuh-nap-cove-ah) otherwise known as Mirka (Meer-ka) is the reigning gold medalist in the 1X from the 2012 London Olympics, and the reigning Gold Cup Champion for the women. She was the first woman to hold the Gold Cup title, since the competition had only been open to men before its disappearance in the 1960s. In fact, the Gold Cup competition may have set off her winning streak, because just after the 2011 Gold Cup she went to Bled, Slovenia, where she took the gold in the World Rowing Championships, and then competed in 2012 in London winning the gold.
Although her parents were both national champion rowers, Mirka didn't begin rowing until age 19. Before that, she was a competitive runner – middle and long distances.
Mirka, Kim Crow, and New Zealander Emma Twigg have battled it out all season in the World Championships, where gold eluded Mirka. That said, Mirka took the prestigious Princess Royal Challenge Cup at the Henley Regatta in 2014, and has her sights on defending her Gold Cup title.
Lane 3: Kim Crow, from Australia. Kim holds two Olympic medals from 2012's London games – a bronze in the single sculls, and a silver in the double sculls. She was the only rower to compete in two events – a bit of a risk, but one that paid off. And when she's not racking up medals, she's a lawyer – focusing on many things including sports law matters. Lawyering aside, she has had her heart set on winning Olympic gold since childhood. She is, however, one of the few rowers here that doesn't come from a family tradition of rowing. In fact, she has said her dad still doesn't know the difference between a double and pair, or quad and four!
Kim placed second in the World Championships in Amsterdam this year, just behind New Zealand's Emma Twigg. In 2013, however, she earned her first gold at the World Championships in Korea, inching out Emma. It may be a tight race with her and Knapkova today, as they have the top standings in the field.
Lane 4: Chantal Achterberg, Netherlands (Shan-tall Ak-ter-berg) has begun to move up the rankings with a silver medal in the 2014 European championships in the single. She competed in a quad in the World Rowing championships, and she has her Olympic bronze medal from sweeping in the Dutch eight – the only Dutch team to win a medal for The Netherlands at the London Olympics. Like others, rowing was not Chantal's first competitive sport – she was a junior champion swimmer in the Netherlands. But, after training in one city and swimming in another took its toll, she decided to stop swimming and pick up oars. Chantal holds a master's degree in Life Sciences and Technology, focusing on cell development, and has started a second masters in Human Movement Science. The discipline from sport certainly translates over to academics and careers for this group!