There are many a great crew racing at the Head of the Charles: national teams, collegiate champions, composite crews who come together only once a year, groups of former champions who have the drive to race once again.
The crew from Molesey Boat Club falls in the last group. A superstar line up of GB Olympians, including (recently unretired) Katherine Grainger, Cath Bishop, and Phillippa Cross arrived in Boston ready for success. Months ago, in England, Gillian Lindsay (1992, 2000 Olympian) began to yearn for speed again. Most of the women with whom she had rowed were still in shape, but family, jobs, and all those commitments of "real" life were getting in the way of competition.
"It was a desire in me, and I knew a lot of like-minded girls who I stayed touch with felt the same as well," Lindsay said. "I just knew the talent never leaves you. You never forget what it feels like to do really well. Although I initially was the factor behind it all, we've all chipped in so many ways to keep the training going along."
This training took the form of once a week rows as legends from around England came together to practice a crew that would only be raced a handful of times.
"We really just had to make that one practice as effective as possible, but you know, no body ever posted erg scores, and nobody asked each other what kind of method of training they're doing during the week" Lindsay said. "They just trusted because we knew what we were trying to achieve here."
The women raced one other time together, in the Women's Eights Head of the River Race last March, where they won and broke the course record.
Prior to the race I spoke with coxswain Adrian Ellison, who has 30 years of coxing experience under his belt, including 13 years as a National Team cox for GB (and an Olympic gold medal to prove it.) In past years, Ellison has raced HOCR with a Masters 4+ from Marin, consistently finishing in second place, six or seven times. This year, with his fellow Brits, he was determined to find that gold.
"There is an expectation that we are going to do well, and we have to try to live up to that, but very much I feel honored to be steering a boat full of British Olympians," he said. "Just in the stern of the boat we have 7 Olympic medals. There's no way we can make it even better."
A few hours later, the Molesey Crew had not only won, but set a new course record to boot.
"I was aware of the record as soon as we crossed the line," Ellison said. "I had a quick look at my monitor halfway and I thought we were more or less on for a 17-minute row, but to do 16:38, just amazing.
"We were trying to get 500m splits of 1:46, which would give us a 17 min finish time and we were way under that. The first two or three minutes I was thinking should I call it down because we were going so fast, we were hitting 1:40 or just below."
The record was not only set, but crushd by a whopping 38 seconds.
Cath Bishop stroked the crew full of her fellow British Olympians, and told her teammates afterwards that it was unlike stroking other races. Lindsey, who had previously stroked, agreed.
"You push yourself, and push yourself in training and get to the race and feel like 'Good God!'" Lindsay said. "The amount of effort and momentum behind you is just unquestionable. Cath stroked it today, and I stroked it at the Women's 8+ Head and I felt the exact same what she said today, that as a stroke you feel responsible for leading the crew, but on race day the momentum... It just felt easy!"
"I didn't feel I had to do anything," added Ellison. "I was just there for the ride, giving them coordination calls and commentary on what was going on around them, but they don't need telling how to row or how to push hard."
Ellison waxed on about the moxie of the women in the crew, and how this experience was unlike any other he has had in his career.
"The crew spirit in this boat is something I never experienced in 30 years of coxing men's crews," he said. "The girls have so much commitment to each other, it's just an amazing feeling. You know there are no weaklings in the boat, everyone will just do everything for each other, total commitment, and a passion to do well, to train well and to do race well and to do themselves justice."