Save in extraordinary circumstances, I've often thought it a bit weak to start a race report by talking about the weather. Today's conditions, however, definitely qualified as extraordinary circumstances. After a morning and afternoon of relatively routine (if a bit cold and raw) nor'easter conditions, the Charles became a winter wonderland in mid-October as "snowflakes the size of silver dollars" (as the CBC commentator noted) began falling just as the lightweight crews got off the water, and persisted until after the medals had been given out and night fell over the river.
Folks hardy enough to brave the conditions saw two somewhat unusual and exceptional eights barreling through the snow to end the day as the women's Super Shark "Luminary" eight and the men's Great Eight put on impressive displays to capture the top spot in their events by 24 and 12 seconds, respectively. The men's victory was all the more impressive in that they had almost no warmup, having broken their fin immediately before the race (and for the second time this week). They pulled into the BU docks, the BU folks went into boat triage mode, and the crew scrambled back in the boat just in time to stuff their bow into the starting chute and start racing.
Even that wasn't sufficient, and at least three times the crew had to have the port-side bow man stop rowing, and the coxswain stab a hand into the water, to make the sharp turns to starboard that define parts of the Charles course.
"They offered us to go last, but we said no we're going to go do it," said coxswain Ali Williams after the race. "So we did it, and I had to put my hand in the water. And it was hairy."
Five-man Mahe Drysdale said he enjoyed the race enough that if he had to choose between the single and the eight at the Charles, he would choose the eight. "If I had to choose one, I think I would have chosen the eight, it's pretty special," he said. "Plus I can't steer. So it's good to have someone to do that for me."
Of the snow, Drysdale said "That was a pretty unique experience. I've only rowed in the snow a couple of times in my life, and certainly I've never raced in it, so when we looked out the window as we were warming up it was quite a shock."
Among collegiate crews, Cal took top honors, a mere 0.2 seconds ahead of Washington. The rivalry continues.
In contrast, the Super Shark "Luminary" women's eight had a pretty clear run, starting in second position, and rowing through to the lead fairly early on to row out in front alone to the finish line for the rest of the way. Coxswain Katelin Snyder said the crew "had no idea going into it" how well the crew might go. "We just went for a paddle on Friday and said 'okay let's go!' On the way to the line, she started to get a sense that the crew had something going for it. "We had a really good warmup," she said. "We took some strokes in the first mile that were just really long and really powerful, but we didn't know until we got off the water and saw the results."
Among collegiate crews, Yale took top honors, placing second overall, 16 seconds ahead of Washington, Princeton, Virginia, and Brown, who were all within a second and a half of each other.
Speaking of extraordinary circumstances, ten months after his 60th birthday, Jim Dietz won the 60+ single today to take his 11th singles title and 21st or 22nd Charles win overall since he started rowing the race at the inaugural HOCR in 1965. Dietz has subsequently rowed in 44 Charles regattas, missing only one in the history of the regatta when he when he passed on the race in 1988 to get married. Thus he has won about half of all the Charles regattas he has rowed; wow.
After winning the Champ 2x yesterday by, well, about 15 lengths yesterday, Megan Kalmoe and Ellen Tomek made it a two-fer weekend by teaming up with US sculling teammates Brett Sickler and Margot Shumway to win the women's Champ four today. The group had originally planned just to row the four, but when the rules allowed 2009 national squad members to double up in one sweep and one sculling boat, Kalmoe and Tomek went for the double as well. Listen in on their comments about the two races in our video interview with them.
With 21 mph northeast winds, only one course record fell today when Susan Kinne beat the course record in the Veteran women's 1x by more than 30 seconds; Kinne won the race by one minute and 24 seconds today.
The NYAC light men, a crew that was very close if not the same as this year's Worlds crew, won the men's lightweight eight race by four seconds after Princeton suffered a buoy violation that added 10 seconds to their official time, dropping them into second place. In the light women's eight, Wisconsin won by a whopping 26 seconds over Vesper; Georgetown was the closest collegiate eight, some 49 seconds behind.
In the light men's four, only one-tenth of a second separated winner Don Rowing Club and Riverside, and the top four were within two seconds overall. That's lightweight rowing for you.
St. Catharines won the Youth men's four for the fourth consecutive time today.
In the Senior Veteran's men's single, Richard Kendall won his ninth title in nine tries over the past 10 years, having missed the regatta in 2006 while undergoing treatment for cancer. Kendall said this wasn't his best race today: "It was hairy! I carved my initials in the course today, my mirror blew sideways," and he almost hit the Eliot Street Bridge, he said with a laugh after the race. "These were the toughest conditions I've raced in in all the years I have raced here." Kendall gave thanks to John Helliwell: "I was very delighted by John Helliwell, who pushed me all the way," he said. "I think he beat me by a couple seconds on actual time."
Of his secret to longevity in rowing, he says "all it requires is love. If you love the game, and you look at it with longevity in mind, it's kind to the body. My running friends, who are still running, my 5k rowing time is faster than their 5k running time. It keeps you lengthened, and not only that, it's a great environment. You're out with the herons…" Kendall is a versatile athlete, having won the Henley Royal Regatta as a lightweight at Penn, and later competing as a sub- 3 hour marathoner. (Hear more from Kendall in our video interview.)
Eighty-two year old Mary Elizabeth Stone placed third in the Senior Veteran's single, having come to rowing 17 years ago at the age of 65 after joining the open water rowing group in Sausalito, CA. "I have discovered that I am a competitive person," she said after the race, her fifteenth consecutive Head of the Charles. Over the past 15 years ("if you forget this year," she said), she has slowed down almost not at all; she has been able to post the same time each year.
Be sure to check out all the videos from the 2009 HOCR, including many of the people we covered in our reports. Here's to the close of another Head Of The Charles; see you next year, we hope you enjoyed the coverage!