The high-wind advisory posted for Boston by the National Weather Service on Saturday definitely had a few folks spooked (on the 20th anniversary of the "100 Year Storm" in 1996 that wiped out the whole regatta, to boot), but by sunrise it was clear that, while a little uncomfortable, the Charles would definitely be rowable/raceable.
The 52nd HOCR spun its share of tales again this year, so without further ado, we'll run 'em on down for you!
UW, with No Dub, Gets the Dub
As they have, uncannily, since 2008, the University of Washington men took the win in the Men's Champ Eight in an Olympic year, same as 2008 and 2012. Starting from bow number 6, the Huskies caught both of the elite eights that started directly ahead of them, picking off the GB Olympic All-stars from Leander in the first mile, and passing the sculling 'Great Eight' just after the Eliot Bridge.
"There was just a lot of energy and it's hard to sort of remember too much about it, to be honest," said UW sophomore Ben Davison after the race. "I think we just hit our rhythm and just started going. We didn't come in here with too much of an expectation, we just wanted to come out and have our best race."
Cal, Harvard, Yale, BU and Princeton rounded out the top six finishers. With collegiate crews making up nine of the top 10 finishers, this particular field is likely one of the deepest collegiate, non-national team or elite crew fields in recent memory.
A few observers noted that Washington was racing in plain white jerseys, without the customary purple "W"; according to Washington coach Mike Callahan, he'd made the decision to "make them earn it."
"This was about our culture, and getting back to our roots as a program," said Callahan. "We have 100 years of tradition, and I wanted the guys to relearn some of the things that have made Washington, and our program, a special place." Callahan noted that the athletes returned to training earlier this fall, and have been doing Sunday practices; with the win at HOCR, the early motivation definitely seems to have paid off.
On the women's side, the Sculling Great Eight also picked off the two crews starting ahead of them, Princeton and Virginia, to cruise to a solid win ahead of the so called 'Sweep Great Eight,' made up of the GB, USA, NZ and South Africa women's Olympic pairs.
As you can read in our interview with Great Eight stroke (and Champ Singles winner) Gevvie Stone here, this edition of the women's Great Eight marks the probable 'end of the line' for a handful of great women's scullers of the past 8-10 years. A heckuva way to go out, for sure.
Yale finished third, just two seconds off the Sweep Great Eight, to claim the medals for the top collegiate crew in the women's Champ Eight. As on the men's side, nine of the top 11 crews in the event were collegiate boats, with both Yale and Michigan putting two crews amongst the top 11, whew.
A crew of USA Rio Olympians captured the Men's Champ Fours event, with Cal-Berkeley taking the collegiate title. In the Women's Champ Fours, Denmark apparently picked up on the vogue of making lineups out of pairs, boating their Olympic bronze medal-winning pair alongside their national Junior Women's pair, and taking the win by 40 seconds ahead of Brown.
With 442 youth entries across 10 events, the Head of the Charles is secretly a youth regatta masquerading as an all-comers event. The Youth Men's and Women's Fours and Eights events all field the maximum amount of entries, at 85 crews (!) each, so it's no wonder you get that sense. In a lot of ways, regatta observers also experience some of the great joys (and anguish) in our sport via the younger rowers, and there's something great about that.
The age of the competitors isn't a barrier to some great performances either; a quick glance at the results would seem to indicate that, at least in the eights, the top Youth crews can match the speed of the collegiate events.
Oakland Strokes and Saugatuck took the wins in the Men's and Women's Youth Eights, respectively, with commanding rows; no small feat in a field of 85 crews. "We started off a little bit shaky in the first half, because of the conditions, but I think as we went through the second half of the power house stretch and did the turns, we found our rhythm and just cruised," said Oakland six-seat Nikita Lilichenko.
For the Saugatuck athletes, who started first, it was simply a question of holding the field off. "When we were coming through Eliot, I just told them, 'look up. You got medals right there. If you want it, take it.'," said Saugatuck coxswain Charlotte Powers. "That's pretty much it, they did it."
Three Rivers out of Pittsburgh took the Women's Youth Four. "We really set high expectations for ourselves," said two seat Sophie Winbush. "We were aiming for medal, and then as we went through the race, we started to realize that we could win."
"At the finish, the gap to the boats ahead of us was really small, and I just knew from that point," added coxswain Annika Christensen.
Radley College out of the UK took first in the Men's Youth Fours.
For the Youth scullers, who included some of the regatta's youngest (and smallest) competitors, the conditions were challenging, but not insurmountable. In the Youth Doubles, wins were notched by Narragansett on the boy’s side, and Y-Quad Cities. "Going into the race, we were looking at maybe top three, perhaps," said Narragansett bow seat Toby Satterthwaite. "I can't say I thought I would win. Just a couple years ago, I used to come to the Head of the Charles when I wasn't rower yet, so winning it is pretty crazy."
Caroline Sharis of Y-Quad Cities can rightfully be said to have owned the double this year, winning Youth Nationals, Junior Worlds and the Head of the Charles in 2016. Though she raced the first half of the year with a different partner, the now-graduated Emily Delleman, Sharis hasn't missed a beat, although she was very quick to credit her new partner Annie Phillips for the success.
"There were some pretty difficult sections in the headwind, but I thought we handled it pretty well," said Sharis. "Annie did a great job bowing for her first time at the Charles. It was just really fantastic, and I really enjoy rowing with her."
Nick Everett of Brockville, Ontario took the Men's Youth Singles, while Eliza Kallfelz of Narragansett repeated her win in the event from 2015. Kallfelz was much-travelled this past year, competing at the World Championships in Rotterdam in both the JW1x and the U23 W2x (with her sister, Emily), and took a more relaxed approach to the Head of the Charles this year.
"I was doing it for fun, this year, I took some time off right after Worlds, and I've been cross training and not rowing that much," said Kallfelz. "I'm a little relieved to win, because I wasn't sure how in shape I was. I'm just happy that I had a pretty good race."
Much to the delight of people who learned to row in Europe, or anyone who has ever coached Middle School crew, the HOCR debuted Youth Coxed Quads as an event this year, and both the results and the participation were encouraging signs that sculling is continuing to grow broadly at the Youth level. Don Rowing Club took the Women's Youth Coxed Quad, while the Marlow Rowing Club of the UK simply added a coxswain to their Henley Royal Regatta crew from the past summer and took the win.
As we noted in our Youth feature yesterday, the weather didn't seem to dent anyone's fun this weekend either.
The Western Ontario collegiate rowing team showed up to the 52nd Head of the Charles with a purpose, taking the Men's Lightweight Eight by just over a second from Cornell, with the Western women also capturing the Women's Lightweight Four.
"Goal-setting is a really big part of our program, and in January we decided this is a goal that we wanted to go after," said Western lightweight men's coxswain Ali Zimmerman. "This entire group stayed in London, Ontario, where we train all summer, and we won the Row Ontario championships, Canadian Henley, and then this. We've actually been unbeaten since we hit the water last spring!"
For Zimmerman, teamwork is one of the things that made Western's success possible.
"We train before school, and we're on the lake at 5:45 every single day. It gets really cold really fast, so it's a short season. You kind of have to stick together and work together to make it work."
The Radcliffe women took the Women's Lightweight Eight for the first time since 2012, just ahead of local rivals BU, while NYAC took the Men's Lightweight Four five seconds ahead of the Yale lights.
Giving it the Old College Try
The Wesleyan women followed up a very successful spring 2016 campaign by winning the Women's Collegiate Eight event, less than a second ahead of Ithaca.
"Everyone is so competitive and so close, in that top ten it's anyone's game," said stroke Ava Miller-Lewis. "We just practiced for that feeling, what it's going to feel like when we're all alone, pushing yourself when there's no one to watch."
"This is the first HOCR win for Wesleyan," added five-seat Annalee Holmdahl. "There are so many alums here who have been part of the growth of our team, so for everyone, it's just really exciting."
The Dutch university crew Laga took the Men's Collegiate eights, and treated the awards ceremony to the full Dutch experience, complete with blazers and a full-voiced rendition of their boat club fight song, well played!
Florida ruled the Collegiate Fours events, with FIT taking the Men's race, and Barry University picking up right where they left off, following up their NCAA DII Women's National Championship season with a win in the Women's Collegiate Fours.
Masters & Club Singles
As with the Youth scullers, the conditions tested the Masters and Club singles all the way down the course today. In the Men's Club Single, 18 year-old Leon Chambers of RowAmerica Rye got himself to the front of the pack and the win from bow number 22, while Rebecca Ann Soja from Potomac similarly stormed to the front from bow #23, winning the Women's Club Single by almost a minute.
Vesper's Shannon Kaplan came back after a year away from the Head of the Charles to win her fourth title in Boston, capturing the Women's Masters Single by almost a minute and half, while local favorite Andrew Hashaway of Riverside took the Men's Masters Single by a minute.
When asked about his strategy in the wind, Hashaway spoke for all masters rowers. "Just tap it along, don't try to muscle any of the strokes, and just keep the rating really high," said Hashaway. Asked by a friend about his plans after the regatta, Hashaway responded in kind. "I feel ready for about 'four by sleep' right about now."
The Adaptive & inclusion events at the HOCR have grown, and beyond providing an athletic opportunity for adaptive athletes, competing alongside Olympians on the biggest stage in the sport can't but be good for growing the sport.
And if you think the events aren't yet competitive, take another look: the closest margin over the 3-mile course this weekend was the 3/10s of a second difference between first and second in the Mixed Inclusion Double, with CRI's Matthew McLaughlin teamed with former US national team athlete and IndoRow founder Josh Crosby claiming the win.
Driven by the USA Paralympic Athletes, CRI fielded an adaptive rowing "Great Eight," made up of athletes who competed at the Paralympics in Rio this summer for the US, Great Britain and Australia, and promptly won the Directors Challenge Mixed Eights event.
Look for a row2k feature on adaptive rowing at the HOCR later this week.
Directors Challenge Events
Last but not least, the HOCR Director's Challenge events, which, in addition to providing the "ne'er weary" with yet one more three mile trip down the Charles, serve as the linchpin for the HOCR's Charity program, which raised over $70,000 this year.
Winning the Women's Quad was an entry from SoCal Scullers, anchored by Champs Singles runner-up and former USA National Team member Stesha Carle; the crew won by the proverbial mile.
In the Men's Event, the all-British Isles quartet of the O'Donovan brothers and the GB Olympic Men's Double of Jonny Walton and John Collins was upset by the all-Masters lineup of Mike Smith, Greg Benning, Russ Cone and Dan Gorriarian, who took the event on the strength of their handicap.
"Sometimes, it just pays to be old," said Smith after the race.
The Director's Challenge Mixed Double was won by local rower (and Men's Masters 2x champ) Sean Wolf, who made good on his pre-race promise to "let (Rio W8+ gold medalist) Lauren Schmetterling haul me down the course" for the win.
Thus, another very full weekend of racing in Boston comes to a close; we hope you've enjoyed our coverage!
Notes from the Course
- #bossinthequad is a thing now, apparently.
- The O'Donovan brothers have taken all the publicity since Rio in stride, noting that the publicity is good for the sport in their country and worldwide, so they have been happy to play along. They did spend a bit of time in New York City, and only after getting stopped on the streets by random (i.e.,, non-rowing) strangers were they a bit stunned to realize how far their renown had spread.
- From a US college coach: "Everybody keeps saying that the O'Donovans 'came out of nowhere,' but I was recruiting them when they were 16!"
- RBC rower Jeff Angle's ejector crab during Saturday's Masters Eights race took on a life of its own on social media; maybe lost in the story about Angle's exit was the fact that he got back into the boat quickly and finished the race, well done!
- Hardest last mile of the course had to be the one the Hingham Women's Youth Eight had, with a course buoy, including the buoy line and the weight, wrapped around the shaft of six-seats oar and then dragged all the way to the finish line, owww.
- Overheard on the banks: "She should use her legs," (said without irony)
- The wind made the going tricky on Sunday; while the race committee kept the full length course, the warm-up area was shortened to keep crews out of the worst of the water conditions in the basin. The whitecaps in the finish straightaway tho'!
- Folks take their visibility and steering really seriously on the Charles course; we saw one single that had mounted car mirrors on either side of the hull.
- When Marcus McElhenney took the tiller ropes dressed as Pikachu in the Director's Mixed 8, did he get the "Do not play while driving" warning?
- Crews came through Anderson into some of the better water of the course - but that was because it was a crosswind, and soon they were skidding wildly to starboard
- The headwinds do seem to help keep crashes slightly less cataclysmic; with crews going at markedly lower speeds, coxswains are able to avoid and extract themselves more effectively
- Finally, the downpours were not well received by the row2k camera gear, ouch