Not content to let the scullers have all of the sweep-rowing glory, a second "Great Eight" of some of the best women's pairs in the world took to the course at HOCR to give the single scullers a run for their money.
Comprising the eight were two-time Olympic pairs champion Heather Stanning from the GB, partnering with Jess Eddie (from the GB women's eight, in place of Helen Glover, Stanning's nominal partner), USA's Grace Luczak and Felice Mueller, NZ's Genevieve Behrent and Sonia Scown, and South Africa's Kate Christowitz and Lee-Ann Persse, with Jill Carlson coxing. The crew represented NYAC.
row2k caught up with the crew shortly before their race in the Women's Championship Eights, where they finished second, just behind the Sculling Great Eight.
row2k: how did this project come about?
Luczak: It actually was a pretty funny story. We were at the Olympic Village in the cafeteria after Gevvie won her silver medal. We were talking about how she was going to Head of the Charles and putting together the sculling eight, so we brainstormed together, and Head of the Charles was down to do a sweep eight. So it was our opportunity, and here we are on this windy day to make it happen!
row2k: How has it been matching up four pairs in an eight?
Luczak: Well, we've gone out for three rows, so we're hoping it'll really solidify on our fourth row. But it's been really fun. We just kind of threw the lineup together, and then everyone in a pair knows how to match someone, but at least 50% of us are ready to lead!
row2k: In an eight like this, where you have four pairs, who gets to decide how you all row?
Stanning: Grace kind of said, Heather, double Olympic champion, unbeaten. You must be stern pair. It's a different kettle of fish. It's interesting there, four pairs getting together and deciding where we all sit.
row2k: How did that work out? Was it sort of by fiat, or is Grace in charge?
Stanning: It just kind of happens. We all just sat down and ended up in one place, and it worked all right, so we kept it like that. (eds note: the crew ended up rowing GB, stern pair, USA 5 & 6, South Africa 3 & 4, and NZ in bow pair)
row2k: How long did it take for you guys to sort of gel together and match up and start to move the big boat?
Eddie: Well, I'm the only person that raced an eight in Rio, so it feels a little bit different, rowing with all the pairs rowers, but they're very, very good at what they do, so we might start gelling halfway down this course.
Stanning: Ask us that question at the end of the race. [Laughs] That's the real test. We have a super cox who knows the river well, so that's important.
Luczak: It's only been three practices, but just like any boat, and I think that a lot of us haven't rowed in a while, too, so it's that big progressive curve. Every single row, you get exponentially more together. We're really trying to capitalize on that. The steepness of the curve for this row... [Laughs] So, hopefully it'll come together.
row2k: Did you guys talk about any kind of goals, or is this all just to get together in a big boat and have a blast?
Luczak: The goal was definitely to get together in a big boat and have fun. It's so interesting, because we all compete against each other throughout the year, and this is one of our opportunities to really get to know each other, and it was really great that Head of the Charles did this, put all this together. So, we're really thankful, but when you race, you're trying to go fast, so we're going to try to go fast.
row2k: All things considered, would you rather row this course in a pair or in an eight?
Eddie: It's pretty windy to row in a pair. I think we might end up going twice the distance in a pair without realizing. An eight's a good one, having the coxswain steer us.
Stanning: It's just really fun to go and row with all the other countries and stuff, and I've rowed a little bit before. I've done this regatta a few times, but to come down the South Africans and the rest of the girls and the American pairs and getting to know them this week and have a good time, meet so many friends up here, and make new friends. It's an amazing event.
Eddie: To row with people we compete against quite often is the fun part, so I think we enjoy that.
row2k: Will this start to become a little bit of a tradition?
Stanning: If we keep being invited back, maybe. Put the word out. We are free every October!