With the fall head racing season nearing an end, it's Philadelphia's turn to take center stage, and this year, instead of just one regatta, there will be two events worth watching.
As of Thursday afternoon, everything was going as planned with the course buoys being set and vendor tents going up - on both sides of the Delaware River for the Head of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia, and the Gold Cup/US Lotman Challenge Racing and associated challenges races on the Cooper River in New Jersey.
This year, the Cooper River in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, will be the venue for an expanded version of the Gold Cup and the US Lotman Challenge races, which offer cash prizes for the top three finishers. This is the first year the Gold Cup and the US Lotman Challenge will be held on Cooper River. For the past several years, both events were held in Philadelphia during a break in the Head of the Schuylkill Saturday schedule.
This year, the event was moved to the Cooper River and expanded to include high school and adaptive racing in what has been billed as a trial year.
The move was made to better accommodate the existing events during an already busy schedule in Philadelphia, and to provide an opportunity to expand the racing to include boys and girls high school singles as well as an combined men's and women's adaptive singles race.
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"I think we're learning a lot this year," said Elle Carolan of the Gold Challenge Cup Foundation. "We've gone from just the Lotman Challenge and the Gold Cup, to introducing the Hoffman Challenge, which is high school singles, and the Blackwall Duling Challenge, which is the PR1 (adaptive), and live streaming.
"So we've grown exponentially, even in just this move, because we wanted to make it count. We're going big, and learning a lot. Hopefully, we want to take it from there, and continue to grow and find ways to advance the mission of the foundation. In terms of the racing, the Cooper is a great, fair course, so we are excited for that."
Except for the high school events, the Gold Cup, Lotman Challenge and the new Blackwall Duling Challenge will offer significant cash prizes for all four finishers in each of the those events.
The Gold Cup, which features some of the top men's and women's international scullers, is offering increased purses. Winners will receive $15,000, second place earns $7,500, third place $3,500, and fourth places finishers $1,500.
Racing in the women's group this year are two-time defending World Champion Sanita Puspure of Ireland, three-time Olympian and 2019 World silver medalist Emma Twigg of New Zealand, US national team single sculler and 2019 bronze medalist Kara Kohler, and New Zealand's defending Gold Cup champion Hannah Osborne.
For the men, New Zealand's Robbie Manson will defend his 2018 Gold Cup win against 2019 World Champion silver medalist Sverri Nielson of Denmark, 2019 World bronze medalist and two-time Gold Cup winner Kjetil Borch, and Lithuania's Mindaugas Griskonis, who finished fourth in the single final at this summer's World Championship.
"I think this is a great opportunity for us, and not one that we can find anywhere else in rowing," said Kohler, who is also racing in the Lotman Challenge. "To be able to come here and hang out with our competitors, and see each other in day to day life, is really cool. And then also have the chance to earn some funds for training for the year is pretty special and unique."
"This is super cool," said Borch. "We get to race the best scullers in the world over 750 meters, and as we saw last year, that means some tight racing. This year's final at World Championship was also tight, so maybe we'll get a replica of the race, just a slightly better result for my sake. I will try to make it an interesting race."
Winners of the US Lotman Challenge, a three-stage races series that awards cash prizes for the top four point scorers over the three events. Athletes are awarded points based on their finishes in a succession of qualifying races. Athletes can earn points in the first leg in either the US Singles Trials, Doubles Trials or the US National Championships.
The second leg is the men's and women's Championships Singles events at the Head Of The Charles Regatta, and finally the top seven scoring athletes meet to race for the four qualifying spots in the 750-meter sprint final Saturday on the Cooper River.
The top four scoring athletes will be awarded cash prizes of $8,000 for first place, $6,000 for second place, $4,000 for third place, and $2,000 for fourth place. If any athlete wins all three legs of the qualifying events, the prize increases to $10,000.
In the adaptive event, athletes qualified through racing at the US World Para Trials. Athletes need to finish less than one-minute between second and fourth place to qualify. If there are not enough qualifying athletes, event officials can select finalists. Cash prizes for the PR1 singles are $5,000 for first place, $2,500 for second, $1,500 for third, and $1,000 for fourth.
For the high school races - the Hoffman Challenge - all eight athletes were selected from the top finishers at the Philadelphia Navy Day Regatta.
Meanwhile, on Saturday and Sunday, over 2,000 crews of all ages and competitive levels will race the length of the Schuylkill River in the 49th Head of the Schuylkill Regatta. And like it has the past several years, the racing will be accompanied by two-day's worth of entertainment - including live music and a beer garden - for athletes and spectators.
"We're getting ready to stage the country's second largest regatta, and we're really happy to be putting on a world class event," said regatta director Jen Wesson. "There are always challenges each year, but we have a great volunteer staff that comes in and puts it all together."
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