BOSTON, Mass. - The Head of the Charles regatta rarely lacks star quality when it comes to who races. It is, after all, the biggest and arguably best of the fall regattas, and it is circled on many elite competitors' regatta calendars, right along with world and collegiate championships dates.
The number of rowing superstars is sometimes affected by where the world is in the four-year Olympic cycle, but with the exception of 2010, when the world championships where held in New Zealand in the fall, big names like 2012 Olympic single champion, Mahe Drysdale, are always on the bill.
But this year is a post-Olympic year and more than 100 London 2012 athletes will be coming down the Charles River for the 48th edition of the Head of the Charles October 20-21.
"We have at least one hundred plus Olympians here competing," said regatta director Fred Schoch. "And if you count Olympic alumni, we have hundreds of Olympians. But just off the London teams will be scores of athletes including our own United States gold medal women's eight and a number of the men who competed this year.
"We have the great eight men, the great eight women, the Canadian silver medal winners, and the Dutch eight. It will be a very exciting event this year with all those athletes and many of the men will be doubling up as we allow Olympic athletes to do. They'll be rowing in a great eight and also a champ single or champ double," said Schoch.
While the full 2012 gold medal women's eight lineup will not be on hand in the women's championship eight event, the U.S. national team have both a women's and a men's eight entered. Included in the women's lineup are three-time Olympians Mary Whipple and Caryn Davies, two-time Olympic champion Susan Francia, and 2012 champions Esther Lofgren, Taylor Ritzel, Meghan Musnicki. Three bronze medalists from the London 2012 quad including Kara Kohler, Megan Kalmoe and Adrienne Martelli will fill out the bill.
Other U.S. women Olympians will include, single sculler, and defending Charles champion, Gevvie Stone, and rowing in an alumni eight, women's double sculls finalist Sarah Trowbridge. London lightweight double sculler Kristin Hedstrom is scheduled to compete in the lightweight champ single.
The U.S. men's eight will have London Olympians Zack Vlahos, Steve Kasprzyk, and brothers Ross and Grant James. Mike Gennaro and Ty Otto, 2012 Olympic alternates, will join them, as well as Rob Munn, Ryan Monaghan and Ian Silveira.
Other London Olympians will represent the men's squad in various events, including bronze medalists Glenn Ochal and Henrik Rummel from the men's four, and Tom Peszek, Elliot Hovey, Will Miller, Peter Graves, Anthony Fahden and Robin Prendes.
Ochal is rowing in two events, the championship double with Germany's Marcel Hacker, and the men's championship eight - what is, essentially, a world rowing dream team that has five of the six 2012 Olympic finalists in the men's single, including New Zealand's gold medalist Mahe Drysdale, Britain's bronze medalist Alan Campbell, Lassi Karonen of Switzerland and Azerbaijani Aleksandar Aleksandrov, Filling out the lineup is legendary Norwegian sculler Olaf Tufte, Iztok Cop, Hacker and Ochal.
"Coach Bill Barry had to go deep into the bullpen to find me," Ochal said. "I got an email about three weeks ago asking if I would like to join the crew, and I said 'absolutely, yes'. It's an honor to race with some of the best scullers in the world.
"The racing will be fun and I am thrilled to get to know each of the guys. I am excited to row the double with Marcel and as a relatively inexperienced guy, learn a thing or two. Hopefully, I can steer us a solid course, as that seems to be the biggest challenge on the Charles. The eight will be less about intangibles and more about putting some heat on the stick. I feel pretty lucky to be boated with some of the strongest in the world."
The "Great Eight," is an entry that was allowed into the regatta in 2009 and it is not an easy lineup to beat, said Schoch. "That's a good lineup. They are all decorated veterans. In 2009 when we allowed this composite scullers boat to be born and have a lot of fun with it, they did manage to win comfortably, even with an equipment failure with the rudder.
"They came around the last turn without much of a rudder and the coxswain dragging her arm in the water up to her elbow to make the turn and they still managed to win by like seven seconds," Schoch said.
On the women's side, Stone organized an equally impressive "Great Eight" lineup. It includes Australian Kim Crow, silver medal winner in the double and bronze in the single; London gold medalist Mirka Knapkova from the Czech Republic, silver medalist Fie Erichsen of Denmark, Poland's Julia Michalska, who won bronze in the double, Donata Vistartaite of Lithuania, who finished eighth in the single, German Annekatrin Thiele, who was in the silver medal quad in London, and in 2008 won silver in the double in Beijing; and Anna Watkins of Great Britain, who won gold in the double. Steering the boat will be coxswain Jill Carlson, a former co-captain of Radcliffe's heavyweight crew and coxswain of the Black and White championship eight in 2011.
"Fred Schoch suggested pulling together a women's great eight during the Olympics this summer, and I loved the idea from the start," Stone said. "I've enjoyed rowing the single against some of the same women for a few years now.
"We've gotten to know each other and we're very friendly, when we're not in the moment racing one another. I feel privileged to be part of such a group of scullers, and I'm psyched to row with such a fast group of women. The 'one oar' part of it will be a fun adventure. I think we'll be able to handle it. No matter what, it will be significantly faster than racing the single."
As always, the Head of the Charles will feature thousands of competitors - 2,031 entries, 9,000 competitors from 28 countries, 37 states, 383 cities and 705 clubs.
According to Schoch, the regatta has made a few changes. Eliminated was the Alden Ernestine Bayer single event that was formerly the very first race of the regatta. Schoch said it was difficult keeping the event because it is run so early and in darkness and because the regatta directors wanted to add two medal events.
Now included in the program is a lightweight men's double and a collegiate double, which will be included in the championship men's double event. Also new is the separation of the senior-veterans singles into two events.
"We definitely made some changes," Schoch said. "We split up the veterans and senior veterans age groups for scullers, which is a big change. We've added a lightweight championship double in the open double event and we've added one other event with a medal (the collegiate double.) We've expanded to 56 events and we no longer have the Alden Ernestine Bayer race in the morning. Those are the changes, other than that, it's business as usual."
Meet Team USA
Visit the USRowing/Boathouse Sports booth 11-3 p.m. on Saturday, October 21 and 10-1 p.m. on Sunday, October 22 for your chance to meet U.S. athletes from the 2012 Olympic Games. Free team posters are available while supplies last.