The party for North American crews started early at Henley. Of the six eight-oared races here, three were contested with US crews, while the Remenham Cup was battled and won by the Western Rowing Club of Canada over the German Olympic Eight (more on this to follow).
In the Temple, it was Brown Bears JVs with a few years of rowing experience and a spring season that got better with every race, matched against the IRA-sweeping Washington Frosh. Coach Luke McGee was coaching the U23s squad, which left Huskies Head Coach Mike Callahan to pull things together for the Henley. He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself, and sees his young frosh as the ones who set the standard.
"It is really the freshman coach is so important to the program, he teaches the ethos, the work ethic, the style of rowing, how to race," Callahan said. "Definitely have to the give credit to Luke, and since he's been with the program 5 years, his frosh have become the varsity (who have done so well this year.)"
"We take each year a little differently (in terms of conditioning), but we have a base program we build on," says Callahan. He says he expects these freshman here to be competing with some of the guys who just won the IRAs for their seat. Adds Callahan about his opposition in the last two days, "we really feel we couldn't make any mistakes, with the Harvard lights being a really savvy crew and the Brown JVs having so much experience." These Frosh didn't appear to make many mistakes.
Washington five-seat Steven Podwojski said, "we're almost doubling our season with all the racing we have had at Henley." He (and other members of the crew) mentioned how their location in Northwest part of the US isolates them bit, but also provides a great deal of uninterrupted training, "building the machine" he explains. "This week it really developed our crew racing against really good crews," he adds.
Alex Perkins, stroke of the freshman eight, met Luke McGee when he was at Henley with the Youth National Championship Kent School crew for the Princess Elizabeth Challenge last year. Perkins never wanted to atttend another university, and this time at Henley, he is part of winning the Temple Challenge Cup for his institution. His Kent School team fell in the finals last year, but had a good run from Wednesday-Saturday. The conditions here were not a big surprise to the crew that trains in rough water in Seattle. And during the race today, with the four days of racing preceeding, "you feel when it is on, and it was definitely on today," he says.
"We did one-minute of power for Coach Luke," he adds. After leading the race by a length and a half, the crew shot past the grandstand and extended the distance to 3 lengths.
Said coxswain Lisa Caldwell of her first International regatta, "well, it was easier because my stern three had been here before," she says of Perkins from the US, and Meek and Bowyer from Australia and England.
The Remenham Challenge was the only race where an actual Olympic boat was represented. The Dortmond Rowing Center, Germany, is the women's eight set for London 2012. They were upset by a development team from Canada, Western Rowing Club made up of U23 graduates, a former Olympic athlete, and a new coxswain. Western went out at close to a 49 to start, and drove down the island at a high rate, establishing a good lead. The words from the announcer "Western Rowing Club Canada is leading by one length..." just after the start seemed to surprise spectators, but that control of the race continued. Said Coach Powell, "We suspected we would be able to get our nose out there... we never want to row a race defensively," he explains.
After the win, as the crew gathered in the boat tent bay, when asked if she needed to do a cool down on the erg Sarah Bonikowsky, the oldest of the crew who is retiring after this race, raised her arms and said, "I'm never erging again!!" But she was happy to have won on Canada Day after such a great race.
Kerry Maher, stroke and former University of Virginia athlete said of the crew's powerful start, "It is one of the things we have working on, mental advantage, and we were really fired up at the start. We have been training our reaction time at the start, then powering it up from there," adds Maher. "We have been training really hard," says three-seat Jodi Schuurman, "in winter on the ergs and in pairs," she explained about their preparation before getting together as a crew in April ready to race. Most of the team will be taking some down time this summer; three will be touring Europe, and seven-seat Jen Martins will be returning to dental school in September. Congrats to a very cheerful crew.
The hottest race of the day was the Ladies Plate match between Harvard University Varsity and Leander Club. Apparently before the race, Leander Club did a bit of taunting about the fourteen world championship medals represented in their boat. The Leander crew proceded to lead up to the mile marker, by as much as a length, but without Harvard losing contact. Past that, Harvard started to reel in the Leander crew, and then saved the best for last, building speed and taking seats though not quite surpassing Leander. At the progress boards, just 50 meters from the finish, Harvard was still three seats down. A few monstrous strokes later, in their shell named Kraken (for the legendary sea monster), and they passed Leander. The British crew was pulled down by the serpent.
"We knew they would be fast at the start," said 5-seat Matthew Edstein. "Harry (Parker) said that if we were within 2-3 seconds at the mile marker we could win it... he was right!" He said he felt every bit of the 39-40 rating they were at. Edstein will be returning to his home city of Sydney, Australia to attend law school.
After winning the race by just one foot, the Crimson boat told the Leander guys what they could do with their medals, and celebrated freely. This did not sit well with the Leander crew, an they protested, but it was dismissed.
When asked about whether his guys row that high (39-40) during a race, Harry Parker summarized, "when they have to." Parker was arguably the most excited of the crew, congratulating each member and beaming after the photo-finish win, the closest of finals day.
The final US race of the day, the Grand, pitted Brown University Bears against the California Rowing Club crew. Brown had the advantage of unity, a good season and consistent coaching while the CRC had big men, many who had been at the eights camp with US Men's Eight Coach Mike Teti and then had raced in pairs trials, but had been together for less than a week.
Who could win? With American crew parents lining the shores, they guessing, predicting, and analyzing was taking place. The California Rowing Club took an early lead, but Brown "repeatedly attacked," said cox Alex Olijnyk.
The CRC crew had a plan to get out in front, as yesterday. Stroke Brendan Shald and his pair partner for the past year Brad Bertoldo (7-seat today) worked well together. Said Shald, "We are a throw-together boat, put together on the fly, but many of us have rowed this race. It came down to the start, each race we got a little better, we did 46-48 hard strokes, with a base rate of 36-38 depending on the conditions." Shald won the Temple with his Cal Bears years ago.
"The plan was pretty consistent," said bow man Andrew Gallagher. "We felt our size would be an asset." Gallagher, with Shald, are the two biggest guys on the crew. "It makes a Brandan and Andrew sandwich," he jokes. "We just had to lay back into the wind and use size to our advantage." Gallagher stroked the Wisco Eight last year as a starboard, and credits Coach Chris Clark with motivating him to that seat, as well as his seat here at Henley. "He cut me sophomore year." he explains.
Three-seat of the California boat Derek Johnson was in the 2006 St. Ignatius Crew that won the Princess Elizabeth Challenge, graduated from Yale in 2011, and raced in in the winning 2012 Pan Am Eight. "At the Barrier, Brown kicked it up, and came within a couple seats of us," he explains of today's race. "We expected a good fight, but as a crew we have a lot of experience," and each challenge Brown executed, California was able to respond, keeping the rating a beat or two higher, and kicking it up to 40 to finish one and a quarter length ahead of Brown. It wasn't a cakewalk in the least, though; CRC five seat Ryan Monaghan was utterly tapped out after the race: couldn’t row it in, carry the boat up, derig, and even needed a hand up to get off the docks, whew.
Good racing today! The press tent is closed rapidly at end of racing, I really hope I got everyone's words here. Coaches and athletes were fantastic to speak to, really appreciate it, congrats to all.