The Men's Sculling Great Eight took it...
Wind: a problem when you are pushing through the headwind for the majority of the course; an answer when someone asks how your race went.
Day two of #HOCR50 was a chilly and blustery day, but still full of great fall racing. From the Great Eights to the junior crashes, the Sunday racing is always memorable. The Regatta seems to end all too quickly; an event rowers look forward to for months happens in the blink of an eye. Before the last awards ceremony of the day was even over, vendors were breaking down tents, and trucks hauling out trash. What we call FALS today, will just be a big park in Brighton tomorrow. (Littered with maybe a handful of forgotten wrenches and a sling or two.)
In the age old question of who reigns supreme – scullers or sweep rowers – the scullers have had their say.
"I think today we obviously proved that we are quicker, but they're so different " said Mahe Drysdale. " I wouldn't say we're superior, but when you've got a boat of scullers like we had--the middle of the boat probably had an average erg of 5:42--so you're always going to have a lot of power to burn there."
After watching both the sculling and sweep crews practicing earlier in the week, it was clear that the scullers were much more focused on their technique and finesse—not surprising for a boat full of men used to rowing small boats. In today's headwind, the question of sweep versus sculler came in the form of: What wins clean rowing or brute force?
"We wanted to have a very technical piece because it was very choppy and blustery around the corners," said bow seat John Graves who helped coordinate the crew. "We knew if we were going to keep our wits about us and row a technical piece that we could pick up seconds just by being clean and savvy. That was a big focus."
Racing with the guys they normally compete against
"All we wanted to do was work together," added Drysdale. "We said 'If we can do it together, we've got power to burn in that boat. Through the bridges, through the gusts, that’s were most powerful. When we crossed the line we said, look that was a really good row whatever the result we didn’t know for about an hour, but coming off the water we knew we had done a good job."
On the women's side, the Women's Great 8, stroked by champ single winner Gevvie Stone held their first position spot opening water ahead of the USA Women's 8+.
Carling Zeeman, who has been on the Canadian National Team for just a year sat 4-seat, and was thrilled to not only win, but to row with the scullers she had been looking up to for years.
"It was unreal! So powerful, so much fun rowing with people I look up to," she said.
And Zeeman's views on the superiority of scullers?
"I'm a little bit biased, I'm a sculler at heart. I think rowers in general are phenomenal athletes, the women did a great job today as well as the men."
The scullers remained diplomatic, for fear of retaliation from the sweep rowers next year. After all, Hamish Bond (half of the famed Kiwi Pair), did beat Drysdale in sculling last February. This really is anyone's game.
As for the collegiate athletes, Harvard University and University of Virginia took home the men's and women's special medals, respectively.
Harvard's collegiate win was especially impressive as they not only were never caught by the Great Eights (they began bow #2 behind USRowing), but they managed to sneak out a win over the USA Men's 8+.
"It's not every day you can say you beat the US team," said Harvard coxswain Jack Smith. "I love the US and I root for those guys 90% of the time, but it was fun to be able to chase them. There were a couple of moments where the margin was hard to tell, but it ended up being .2 so it was fun. We just got them in the finish—we had a great chase in the last stretch after Eliot."
For the UVA women, this was the fourth win in a row —HOCR is their race and today they proved it once again by dominating the college field.
Youth Hype Fest
The Sunday racing is made especially exciting by the mid-day youth fours and eights. In an event where kids committed to row at Division I colleges are competing against novices who learned to row a month ago, there are some interesting goings-on in the event. Clashes and crabs are commonplace; today even a bowman was ejected from their seat when the boat steered directly into an abutment of the Eliot Bridge.
The excitement of the juniors is palpable from the shore; kids racing the course for the first time, in awe of being at the same regatta as legends and Olympians. And the joy of winning is never so much fun to watch as it is for first timers.
The girls from Saugatuck took home the gold in the youth 8+ and their interview was one for the books. After I started interviewing two of the athletes- Lexie Bralver and Genevieve Esse – the rest of the girls began to surround and chime in one by one.
"It was the best race EVER!" one squealed.
"I can't believe we beat Marin AND Oakland—those fast Califonia crews!" chimed another.
And their excitement peaked when Esse started to tell a story about the dream she had the night before her race.
"I dreamed we won! It was my first rowing dream ever and we won by six seconds---and then I woke up and we won by 15 seconds in real life!"
It really was wild. After passing both crews from Marin and Oakland, former HOCR and Youth National champions, the girls felt like they were on top of the world. When asked what it felt like to now have the target on their backs, they replied, "Bring it on."
Another set of kids surprised themselves by pulling off a win today, but they expressed themselves in a slightly more awed manner. Jordi Cabanas and Aviv Preminger of Riverside Boat Club brought home the first ever Charles medal for the Riverside junior program when they won the Men's Youth Doubles.
"I thought we had a good shot of getting top 5, but we were racing some crews that would be hard to beat," said Cabanas. " When we were paddling back to Riverside someone yelled over 'You won!' and it just hasn't sunk in!"
The Bates Varsity 8+ had a disappointing end to their season last year when they placed 3rd at the NCAA Championships after entering the Regatta as the number one seed. This fall, they got back together, ready to redeem themselves.
"The majority of the Varsity 8+ is last years undefeated JV boat, but there are a couple of older girls the boat and there was certainly a bit of a chip," said head coach Peeter Seenstra.
The secret weapon to the Bobcat's success was their Boston-bred coxswain, Katherine Traquina, who knows ever curve and bend to the river and could lead them past crews under bridges and around turns.
"We passed two crews through the bridge, and it was so much fun, there was so there was a lot of adrenaline," said Allison Simmons.
This win will surely fuel the Bates women as they prepare to move into the season of erging, looking longingly forward to the spring.
In the Collegiate Men's 8+, the men from Michigan reigned over a crew with whom they often compete: Drexel College. The defending champions Drexel started in bow #1, but after seeing a Drexel entry in a Champ event, the Michigan men came up with a plan.
"The plan was to pass them early and get around them so we wouldn’t be held up while the other crews were coming up from behind," said Wes Vear.
So pass them early they did, passing Drexel before they even hit Riverside. With the early move, the Michigan men had clear water to row their own race to victory. On a day with rough conditions, this advantage is even more beneficial; rowing in wake on top of chop is like putting on the brakes.
There will be even more coverage to come tomorrow, but first one more story from the Masters Men's Single, where the reigning champion and his good friend—-the new champion--remind us that while competitiveness is important, friendship is more important. Mike Farry of Riverside took home the gold today after a fantastic year of racing. Farry, who started in bow #3, drove a clean, tight course, and caught up with his good friend and 2013 HOCR Champion, Pete Morelli.
"I passed Pete under Anderson and he gave me a couple quick words of encouragement and gave me the line," said Farry. "He's a standup dude—he's a consummate athlete and someone I really look up to. Being able to compete against him is a huge honor."
Rowing with and against friends is a huge honor, and a big part of why people flock to the Head Of The Charles every year. When juniors and international stars can wax poetic about the same aspects of a regatta, it's really special.
Check back into row2k for a ton of photos and some final thoughts on #HOCR50 including a feature on the para-rowers, a group of incredible athletes.