Racing started late on Sunday on Henley Island in St. Catharines for the final day, hopefully to give the volunteers some rest from their grueling schedule, not to mention the rowers, many of whom raced so many times this week their unis and leg muscles are needing special attention. Washing machines and massage therapists perhaps?
Because of the racing schedule, with finals starting earlier in the week (this is a well-established pattern/schedule, says Regatta Commissioner Bill Shenck, so that teams came plan entries), row2k's coverage started into the finals ticket. If you need to grab those results, check http://www.henleyregatta.ca/view/en/henley_results for the host organization's results page. With this huge schedule it is difficult to give a nod to every team that battled on Martindale Pond this week of the 128th Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, let it be known: row2k has seen many of the competitors line up multiple times over any given day, and it’s hats off for your hard work.
On Sunday's almost-all-finals program, the racing was tighter, the Island itself was noticeably vacated, and the stakes were "Henley Gold," a moniker which basically means--"this is a final, so 'bring it' because we don't give silver and bronze." Gold is distributed with a great flourish at the awards docks - this is one of those regattas that makes winners feel very special for their efforts.
Regatta Commissioner Shenck was disguised as a ferry driver all day. He says most of the problems/kinks at the regatta happen early in the week (Tuesday and Wednesday) so he is able to enjoy the regatta, and all his hard work leading into it, more as the week progresses. For Shenck that meant he was driving an enormous party barge filled with guests, reporters, volunteers and coaches throughout the weekend. Completely relaxed. There were more than 2400 rowers in the event, and 450 in the masters regatta on Sunday August 1st, and most of these athletes rowed more than twice, many in three events. This is relaxing apparently!
Racing started on Sunday with heats of the Championship Mens Eight. Wind was kicking up, with a sturdy tailwind on the races for most of the earlier events. When t tapered off later in the day with a touch of rain coming in (almost as if they timed it) in the final races of the day, no one seemed too concerned.
Penn AC had what appeared to be an exhaustive week: Martin Reschke and Chris DeFelice had won Henley Gold in the the Senior Pair, as well as the Senior 4- and Senior Eight. Now, after racing and winning in three boat classes during the week, they were lining up against arguably the best in the World, the Canadian Men's National team Eight from Lucerne (with one modification: Will Crothers, who is usually stroke of the four for RCA, was in 6 seat for an injured rower). Reschke and DeFelice will go home to Philly to rest for a few paddles before they ramp it up again for NSR III in two weeks. On their extensive racing this week, DeFelice comments: "It’s better then just being at the Schuylkill all week!"
Also in the mix: a stone soup of an Eight from the master craftsman at Craftsbury, Larry Gluckman, with the Senior Double Gold winners Peter and Tom Graves at opposite ends of the boat, brother John at 7 and a two-year Boat Race Goldie Crew rower at 5-seat, with on-the-spot-acquisition-coxswain Katie Apfelbaum driving. Vesper (Philly), Mendota's development teams, and a 'Rumspring SS" team completed the picture (no, I don't have any information on this crew, but they looked good, I am thinking dev camp). UPenn was a no-show to the line.
Penn AC had completed a successful run at USRowing Club Nationals in July, where they also won the men's point trophy and the overall point trophy with the entire Penn AC team and development camp kids, so they have been girded up by summer-long success at that boathouse row club.
In the Penn AC Championship Eight was all but one of the rowers who performed the race-a-rama during the week - they put a fresh rower in 7-seat as DeFelice moved to 5-seat. Note that the line-ups stated that Donny Simkin from Stanford was stroke, he was moved to 2-seat and stroke was Ryan Strauss. The boat represented college rowing programs for Northeastern, Cal, Michigan, Buffalo, FIT and more--most are grads.
"We just thought it was a golden opportunity to race one of the best eights in the world--it was exciting," says DeFelice, 5/7 seat depending on the day. "It was intense going into the final, you're in the moment," he adds.
In the heats (Canada was not in Penn AC’s heat), Canada cruised, starting fast then settling, eventually to a near-paddle at 30 to finish the race and win by way too much open water. Penn AC had won the first heat.
The tailwind-aided heats starts were speedy--arguably one of the fastest in Canadian Henley history, or anywhere, really. One of Canada's coaches (Terry Paul, a 1992 Barcelona Olympics gold-medal winning coxswain) was in the launch trailing (not close, which is important) clocked the Canadian Eight at 1:14 to the 500. What? (again, this is from behind, but even as an approximation, it is blistering.) Other times he grabbed? 2:40 to the 1000, and 4:00 to the 1500. Then the Canadian boat ratcheted it back.
The finals. In spite of finishing second, there was a tremendous victory for Penn AC. Canadian Men had a huge cheering section, but so did Penn AC, so the crowds at the grandstands were completely engaged. That RCA boat sprinting down the course at Henley was an inspiration for Canadian rowers of all ages and genders--some of the rowers in that shell were in the gold-medal winning Beijing Eight--and RCA has been on those formidable coattails since 2008. For Penn AC, they had battled Goliath and performed excellently.
All in all the feeling at the end of that race was tremendously positive, as the lightweight contingents from the US and Canada finished third and fourth, and the North American squabble concluded. Athletes waved to the crowd, and the Canadian Eight posing for a few "candids" post-race. Sitting at 7-seat, Olympian Andrew Byrnes gave a big Oakley-enhanced grin and thumbs-up for the Toronto Star - isn't that how rowing should always be?
If Phil Monkton, VP of High Performance at RCA has anything to do with it, rowing would continue to grow to be big sport-section news. "The goal for Canada is to win medals in five Olympic events," he clarifies," with the law of averages that means we at least have send 10...11...12 boats to the Olympics." The country is really behind its rowers.
The Own the Podium program, which many have heard of from the winter games in Vancouver, is about Canadians being on Olympic podiums, end stop. Rowing has enjoying some funding from this program and sponsorship from private organizations that has made training easier for the athletes, with less work responsibilities. Monkton works with Peter Cookson to administer the High Performance program at RCA. He is also a three-time Olympian, with one of the 'victims' of 1980 boycott as Canada's single sculler. Monkton is enthusiastic about the growth and strength of Canadian rowing, has been with the organization for six years. "We're well supported, with a good history of success."
It is worth noting that row2k has some long interviews with Lesley Thompson-Willey ( Canadian cox women's eight for 7 Olympics, one being the 1980 boycotted event), Monkton and Malcolm Howard, we'll try to get to them but for now--back to the Canadian Henley!
Brett Sickler, Asst Coach at Michigan, Michigan grad and veteran of several US squads at World Championships and World Cups, lined up for the Championship Single here at Canley, and crossed the line almost seven seconds ahead of second-place finisher Catherine Reddick from Penn AC. Sickler had the race under control from the settle after the start; this National team regular looked pretty comfortable out there, and quite frankly, row2k reporter had to check her stats on US Rowing just to be sure, but she certainly looked more formidable out there than her 5'8"/150 size. Good show!
On the flip side, anyone watching Malcolm Howard, Canadian Championship Single entry would swear he is more compact than his size, because it is all legs. When he unfolded those legs on the awards dock, he got a lot bigger. He is big on results as well. Let's review: at Harvard, he was one of two rowers in the 2003-2005 era who never lost a Varsity race, at the Olympics, well you know this, right? Gold from 5-seat on the Canadian Eight.
Taking the rowing world on in a single, he is all about the new challenge. "For me, it is about getting the technique down," he says in response to how he will train in the long break between Lucerne and New Zealand (this is a hot topic for all in the rowing world). He seems less concerned with the physiology of peaking at the right time. "I'm learning to be more graceful, to bring a little more finesse to the stroke," says Howard, who has only really been focusing on a single for a little over a year. "It’s just miles in the boat. There are things I know how to do to make an eight work, and I haven't figured it out yet in a single.” Allison Dobb from RCA is coaching him now, and he seems optimistic. "I've got more time (before Worlds) to figure out how to use two oars," he says with a smile,"...more time to figure out this game."
Howard won the Championship single by just wearing down anyone remotely close to him. His start was powerful but not perfect, there were a few boats in striking distance, when he noticed one still in reach at about 300 meters as he settled, he picked it up again for about 20 strokes and dispatched all rowers in his final, winning by six seconds over Club De Remo Tuetonia (Argentina) entry.
The Canadian Henley concluded with a light rain in St. Catharines. No worries from the Regatta Commissioner Bill Schenck, however, he was just tooling around in that catamaran. Thanks for a great regatta, check the host's website for full results, and don't bother printing unless you have a full ink cartridge, yeesh!