Lindsay Jennerich, Sheryl Preston, Katya Herman and Tracy Cameron, lightweight Canadian Quad
Just to get the record straight: in Canada, the Henley is the Henley and that refers only to the version happening now in St. Catharines, Ontario. Never mind that UK variant in July, AKA the "other" Henley. (and more than 100 years older, but who's counting, eh?)
There is a different kind of charm at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. As it sprawls across the first week of August with categories to match all ages and talents, it also sprawls across Henley Island with campsites and trailers. No dresses, seersucker suits, or Steward's enclosures - just some ripstop nylon and an air mattress, a boat, an oar, and some kit, and you have loads of opportunity in a week.
What you come for at Canadian Henley is lots of racing - heats, semis and finals with lanes full of athletes from all over the Northeast, gathered for a summer crescendo. It seems when the college and scholastic kids scatter after their spring racing season ends, they find a new home at a local rowing club and get to work. If you look carefully at a Junior Eight from a Philly club, for instance, it is common to see sort of identifying accessory from a handful of different teams that normally compete against one another. The best seem to come for the extra work, so racing is fast and intense here.
The course is one of the finest in the World really, for viewing and rowing. The course was dredged in 1998 for the 1999 World Championships, and it was stated then: it won't need to be dredged again in our lifetime. This FISA course will host PanAm Games in 2015, but has no other elite races on its calendar now, unless you count FISA Masters which rolls into the site early September 2010. You can see the races from both the launch site, as well as the huge grandstands which abut the town of St. Catharines.
I learned that 600 volunteer shirts were printed up for this 2010 Canadian Henley, and they all were placed on backs only to have more made to meet demand. There is such a huge number of helpers around the course that will do anything, pleasantly, to make the rowing experience at Henley a positive one. And with such a formidable schedule of races, they were essential. The Canley schedule starts on Tuesday and concludes on Sunday, giving rowers multiple opportunities to test their mettle over the week, and giving coaches a lot of regatta bang for their buck.
Ironically, some of the most intense racing has come from exhibition races this year. Regatta organizers, looking for that International flavor, invited National teams to bridge the longer World Cup to World Championships period (normally about 7 weeks, in 2010 it will be almost double that) with some races in St. Catharines. The US team has not picked its athletes yet for the World Champs, and the Canadians have trials yet to come as well, so racing was a good way to test and challenge athletes. Most exhibition races were North American scuffles, with three boats each from the Canucks and the Yanks.
One of the most exciting examples of a exhibition race gone flat-out was the Women's Quad, which mixed open and lightweight boats. In the first 750, it looked like it was going to be Canada's vastly experienced and open weight quad of Jane Rumball, Romina Stefancic, Peggy DeVos and Emily Cameron who would take the field. They had a fast first 500, and certainly knew how this regatta game is played. At about 1000 meters, though, a different picture was developing. The US quad of Katherine Robinson, Jeanette Daley, Michelle Sechser and Jillian Austin was pulling out from lane 4, and with them, the Canadian lightweights of Tracy Cameron, Katya Herman, Sheryl Preston and Lindsay Jennerich.
"I remember looking out and seeing that we were third and thinking, well, this is going to be how it will go down; we are a lightweight quad racing against heavyweight quads, this is kind of what could be expected...but we just stuck to our race plan and kept working at it," said Lindsay Jennerich, bow and the youngster of the Canadian boat at 28 years old.
"And I took a look a bit later and was really motivated by the fact that we had moved on the other boats," she recalled. This was without an intentional move or call, but she let the girls in her boat know they were moving, and says that it raised the energy.) "It was also really exciting to see the US crew right there, because it was clear that if they did something right, they were going to get ahead, and if we did something right we were going to get ahead," says Jennerich.
'It was one of those really dynamic races...technically we stayed on our race plan, but we used the other crews for inspiration," she concludes. "Once we hit the red buoys with 250 to go I was just calling 'ups.'" It was those "ups" that gave the lightweights the win, as the US crew just wasn't getting their blades in the water to match Canada. Their time was the fastest ever for the light crew. Yes, they had a slight tail wind, but of course there is even more motivation in that news for the women. The Canadian teams are taking a week off, then back to London Training Center to prepare for team time trials, with Al Morrow back at the helm for the Canadian women.
With Carsten Hassing out of the picture and back as a Norwegian coach, Al Morrow, who had been working with the younger development squads, is again the Head Coach of Rowing Canada's (RCA's) women's team. He knows his stuff, or course, and is eager to get back to his leadership role. The 7-time Olympic Coach recommitted for at least two more years (to take the team to London 2012) and sees no end in sight for his coaching career. 'I'm only 60," he says, and with a young family (he has four children 14-20). "I balance two things: my family and rowing, and that is all I do."
"Carsten left for all the right reasons, but in his mind he was always Euro-centric,” Morrow said. “There was no moving him out or anything, we wanted him to stay around," says Morrow of Hassing's departure that returned Morrow to the head coaching spot in March of this year after coaching the team from 1989 to 2004.
Morrow says racing here at Canadian Henley is just plain fun for the rowers, a statement confirmed by many of the Canadian rowers gathered at a National team function Saturday night, and keeps the team busy and focused. "The women are very excited about this," he says.
"There is no discussion about 'this is going to take too long'" (to wait the longer term to get to New Zealand for Worlds in October),” Morrow said “For the women, the Olympics are so close and New Zealand is viewed as a 'cool' trip, so everyone is just really excited about the possibilities we have," he adds.
Morrow says that they are enjoying getting more from a team of experts that consult with team Canada on nutrition, strength, sports psychology and more during the longer break, including bringing back veteran strength coach Ed McNeely.
"We came home from World Cup III (Lucerne) and went right into a selection period,” Morrow said. “Normally we might not take that risk, but with the more time(until Worlds) we could take that time. We knew that Tom Terhaar's (US) women were only going to get better, and that the Dutch had a fast quad and an eight, so we knew we had to look at how we can get better too," he shares.
"We are experimenting with equipment (boats with Hugh Hudson and blade shapes with Chris Wilson at Concept 2)," he concludes on the blend of extra time for worlds and his own return as head coach: "We can really delve into some projects with the extra time... and coming back, I thought, 'why not go for it?'"
On Sunday the Canadian Women's Eight race in the Championship Eight with veteran (and 51 year old) coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie in the 9th seat, more from her and a conversation with Malcolm Howard still to come (Harvard Varsity Rower 2003-2005 undefeated, U23 rower for Canada and Olympic gold medal winner in the 2008 Men's Eight at Beijing and current 1x rower who will race in the Championship Single final Sunday).
The Canadian National team was enjoying their stay at the Henley,as many of them had their start at this very venue, and look forward to racing in front of their own. (Some said they hadn't raced on their home water for years, and Henley is really a Canadian rowing equivalent of Yankee Stadium, so play on!) But even at a social event for the team Saturday evening, they didn't loosen up too much. While coxswain Thompson-Willie waited for a Diet Coke at the bar she commented, "We are going out for the row soon." So much for unwinding.
There certainly was more racing than the elites that hit the water today; with so many categories it is hard to focus on each one, but the times, due to favorable conditions and good rowing, have been fast. The usual foibles still happened: a junior single flipping in the first 500 meters of a final, a race called back (these must be generous Canadian rules) after 400 meters for equipment breakage. This was new to row2k reporter, and some junior women's pairs had a longer afternoon of racing than they expected. All told, this race had all the qualities that make regattas the best place to be in the summer.
And the starting platform with somewhat menacing steel grid walkways? Turns out it is pretty comfortable for breaks when racing goes to 10 minute centers for finals. Go figure.
More from the Canadian National team and Sunday Finals tomorrow, gallery will post today! If you look at the pictures, you'll see familiar US Team athletes competing for their home clubs, such as Donny Simkin stroking a Penn AC eight, and Brett Sickler rowing for Michigan where she graduated and continues to coach - all pointing to the fact the US team is not really going by that name yet.