Five Olympians. Four World Record attempts. Two new World Records. One Inspiration.
Australian Olympians Matt Ryan and Nick Purnell broke the 100km tandem and and Karsten Forsterling the 60 minutes world records on the Concept2 Indoor Rower over the weekend as part of Row For Sarah's "Sarah's Super Saturday" fundraising event in Melbourne on Saturday, 2 September.
In addition, fellow Olympian Joshua Dunkley-Smith moved up into the World's top three by setting a new Australian record over 2000m, while Olympian Sam Loch just missed his own one-minute world record set earlier this year.
The inaugural "Sarah's Super Saturday" event took place at Melbourne University Boat Club in honour of Australian three-time Olympian and London 2012 Olympic silver medallist Sarah Tait, who sadly lost her life age 33 in March 2016 after having been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2013 just before the birth of her second child. Set up as a fundraising campaign with the aim to raise awareness and financial support for Melbourne's Caritas Christie Hospice, where Sarah was until her passing, the event so far has raised over $30,000 with fundraising still ongoing.
Tait was the first Australian mother to win a medal at the Olympics and an inspiration for many rowers around the world. The mother of two children was known as one of the toughest rowers of her generation, which inspired event organisers to honour her memory by having a crack at four indoor rowing world records.
"Sarah was one of the toughest athletes I have ever come across and it took a while to come up with something that would do her name justice and that would honour such an inspirational person the right way. When we decided on the 100km, we were not sure if it was possible, but we thought we had to give it a crack. Our rowing mates then decided to join in with a couple of other distances, which made this such an amazing event," one of the initiators Matt Ryan said about his motivation to start the event.
"We've been blown away with the support, but to be honest we are not surprised as Sarah was such an inspiration to all of us. She touched so many and we are thrilled that it has been such a great event. Hopefully we can turn it in to an annual event," Ryan added.
Nick Purnell watches Matt Ryan on one of his World Record 100km erg shifts (photo Row For Sarah/Tristan Shipsides)
Swapping over every two minutes, Beijing 2008 silver medallist and dual Olympian Matt Ryan and London Olympian Nick Purnell completed the 100km tandem row in 5:30:45.2 beating the old world record of 5:38:22.6 set in 2014 by Italians Jonathan Bulfon and Daniele Panicucci by over seven minutes.
"Obviously there was some pain involved, but it was fun too, especially with the room full of supporters and doing it for such an important cause. It has been great to reach so many people around the globe and to do Sarah justice and raise so much money for the hospice, where she passed away," Nick Purnell said after finishing over five hours on the rowing ergometer and setting a new world record.
London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Karsten Forsterling broke the world record over 60 minutes in the 30-39 age group by completing 18287m. The 37-year old covered 28 metres more than New Zealand's George Bridgewater, who set the previous world record of 18259m in 2015.
In addition, London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Joshua Dunkley-Smith (28) set a new Australian record and a personal best of 5:38.6 over 2000m. This time sees him move into the top three fastest 2000m rowers in the world, missing the world record held by New Zealand's Olympic gold medallist Rob Waddell of 5:36.6 since 2008 by two seconds.
"My previous best was 5:39.7. So I made it a second and a bit under my PB, which I'm really happy about given my training this year and after a bit of a break post Rio. Obviously it's a little bit disappointing to be that little bit under the world record, but I'm making good progress and getting there. I certainly won't try to do it again today, but I'm in a pretty good place at the moment, so give it a couple of weeks and I'll see how I go next time," Dunkley-Smith laughed after the event.
Joshua Dunkley-Smith on way to 5:38.4 2k (photo Row For Sarah/Tristan Shipsides)
While Sarah was an Australian rower with fundraising proceeds going to an Australian cause, support as well as donations poured in from all over the world.
"Sarah knew a lot of people all over the world and a lot of people knew Sarah. Rowing is a really tightly knit family surpassing national borders and a lot of her international friends still call Bill (Sarah's husband) regularly to see how he's going. I think that's what rowing and world rowing is about and we all like to support each other," Dunkley-Smith said.
Super-Saturday was completed with dual-Olympian Sam Loch filling in short notice for Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Joshua Booth, who had to pull out of his 1000m world record attempt on the day due to illness. Loch focused on trying to break his own one-minute world record of 425m set earlier this year, but missed it by just 12m.
Sam Loch lower left
"Sarah's Super Saturday" took place at Melbourne University Boat Club and attracted a large crowd including numerous current and former Australian national team rowers and Olympians such as amongst others Oarsome Foursome's dual Olympic gold medallist Mike McKay, Beijing 2008 Olympic gold medallist David Crawshay as well as Sarah's Olympic silver medal winning pair partner Kate Hornsey.
Tait's husband and Olympic medal winning coach Bill Tait was moved by the success of the event and underlined the importance of the fundraiser: "Modern medical developments are improving outcomes for patients everyday. But some patients still face poor outcomes, and they and their support network of family and friends face significant challenges. Caritas Christie Hospice provides support for patients and their loved ones during this difficult time, aspiring to provide the best care and environment at such a precious time. Sarah's last few months in Caritas were filled with warmth, music and most importantly, family. Supporting the athletes in this fundraising challenge means supporting families as well as patients, at a time when they need it the most."
The fundraising campaign is ongoing and donations can be made via the GoFundMe page page here: https://www.gofundme.com/super-saturday
Follow www.facebook.com/rowforsarah for video and photo content of the event.
See the Joshua Dunkley-Smith 2000m Australian record video here.
See the current concept2 World Records with the new ones still to be added here: http://www.concept2.com.au/indoor-rowers/racing/records
Tait was the first Australian mother to win a medal at the Olympics