row2k Features
Letter from St. Petersburg
Golden Blades, the race
June 14, 2011
Brad Alan Lewis

at the start

Golden Blades, the races

The long Russian winter has given way to a warm Russian spring. ‘White Nights’ rule supreme. The sun never hides for long.

The canals of St. Petersburg, frozen solid not so long ago, now run free. A steady, decent current combined with a bit of wind and narrow bridge openings makes for tricky navigation. Good boatmanship skills are a necessity here in St. Petersburg, the ‘City of 300 Bridges’.

Over the weekend St. Petersburg welcomed rowers from around the world. The regatta was called the  ‘2011 International City Sprints Golden Blades Regatta. (You’d need a pretty small font to get all that on the front of a commemorative hat.) The finals were shown live on Russian TV. Elite rowers, men and women, competed in the single scull and 8+.

The race was a mere 250 meters long. Two hundred and fifty meters (and it was a short 250 to boot, although against the current). Jim Dietz, renowned master of the Quarter-mile Dash at Canadian Henley, is kicking himself for being born too soon. Jim’s greatest skill: an uncanny ability to dance along the razor sharp line between a fast start and a false start.

Like the Royal Henley, this regatta is a single elimination affair, with no reps. A sculler might traipse all the way here from Christchurch, crank it up for 45-odd seconds, and then load it up onto the boat trailer. Game over.

That’s pretty much what happened to the two New Zealand sculling champs, Emma Twigg and Mahe Drysdale. In the first of the elite races, Emma Twigg of New Zealand lost to eventual winner Frieda Svensson, last year’s World Champion in the 1X. A few minutes later Mahe Drysdale lost to a local Russian guy who’d neglected to Google his opponent.

Regatta organizers included not only elite rowers, (who always seem to make it look pretty easy, even when they’re cranking off monster strokes at 47-strokes a minute) but also a myriad of other boats: Student 8+, Sea Yawl, Coastal 2X, Tub Gigs. The scary looking 14-seat Viking was the crowd favorite. Seven rows of seats, port and starboard rowers sitting side-by-side. All that was missing was Russell Crowe standing in the bow cracking a long leather whip.

Two hundred and fifty meters is just about the right distance for this boat. Any longer and you’re just asking for trouble; 1000 meters and you’re yelling for the EMTs. For at least one of the Viking entrants, it appeared that 12 of the 14 rowers had been summarily dragged off the street, tossed into a black windowless van,  driven to the launching dock, then thrown into the boat and told to row their asses off or they’d never see their Blackberry again.

In the afternoon races, Luca Spik of Slovenia, 2000 Sydney gold medalist in the double scull, lost to the same Russian guy who’d beaten Drysdale. Luca, like a true champion, took his loss like a man. Having won his first World Championships at the age of 20, Luca knew that there was still some very real competition yet to come at the after-regatta party.

New book by Brad Alan Lewis: LIDO FOR TIME: 14:39 now available from





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