Sunday Racing Report

Day 3, Sunday, June 10, 2012

You all know that we raced at Reading Sunday on our third day in England.  Sorry that I didn’t write this up last night but I collapsed asleep at the computer.  And today I needed to finish my academic comments.  But those are done and I can now give you a racing report.

The Sunday regatta is completely distinct from the Saturday race.  They are in effect two separate regattas that just happen to be held on the same course.  Some crews race each day; some choose one or the other.  Well, there is one difference: the Sunday races are 1100 meters; the Saturday races were 1500.  That’s probably about a minute and fifteen seconds shorter.

I’ll start off with the girls 4+ — because I saw all of their races, because they raced first thing Sunday morning, and because they raced six different times during the day.  If that sounds like a lot, it is.  During our spring season at home we race twice in a day just two times – at the Weston Wayland Regatta and at the NEIRA at Lake Quinsigamond.   So, six races is an incredible number.  Blame me, I told the girls.  I entered them in two events, the Intermediate 3 and the intermediate 2.  (On Saturday the only event available to them was the Intermediate 1.)  In past years, there hadn’t been many coxed fours entered, and because I wanted them to have ample opportunities, I thought “Well, let’s try two events.”

First off, actually, was our assistant coach, Steve Timpany.  Steve is a fellow I met through Luis. Viacava; he lives near Hopkinton, where the Boston Marathon starts.  He has now helped coach our boys JV crews for two years.  He’s a tireless Energizer Bunny of a person, always excited to help our boys learn about the sport of rowing, always helpful to the rest of the coaches.  We asked him to come along on this trip because we needed a third adult to help with the 24 oarsmen and oarswomen.  And although he runs his own business, a company that cleans up houses, buildings, and businesses after natural disasters, he managed to arrange his schedule so that he could join us here for two weeks.  (Great thanks go to his wife, who is minding the store while he is away.  Come to think of it, great thanks go to my own wife, Cola, for taking over everything that I should be doing at home for the next month.)

Anyway, Steve asked me to enter him in a single sculling event.  “As long as I’m over there I want to try racing on the famous Thames.”  So we got him a boat and entered him in the Intermediate 3’s.  (If all of this intermediate 1, 2, and 3 stuff is confusing, you’re not alone.  In England there are very few age-restricted races.  Most regattas you race people of similar racing experience, no matter what the age.  High school races do exist but they are not the norm.  Most often a good rowing school will have to race against adult clubs or universities in order to find competition.)  Steve has rowed with Luis on our own Nashua River.  And he raced against a good sculler who was at least 25 years his junior.  Steve had a good start but then the other guy began to move and Steve had a bit of trouble steering.  And that was it.
Steering is a really important part of the sport, by the way, and coxswains – all too often underappreciated – are really important in races.  Kids don’t often appreciate that races can be won or lost on the steering, but they can be.  I’ve always thought that we are really lucky at Groton to have such good coxswains.  Smart, lively kids are what you want, and Groton is blessed with a good number of these types.

The next race was our girls coxed four.  Although the core of this boat is our second boat from the spring, Sarah Black has moved from starboard to port, where she is still the stroke.  Marissa Garey is at three, having moved to this boat from the first because she had not done any sculling and the core of the first boat was going to scull in the quad.  The bow pair of Marianna Gailus and Christina Strater is the same.  Diana Chen is the coxswain of this boat because the quad does not have a cox.

The first race was a row-over.  Their opponents, Kent University did not show up at the starting line.  This allowed us to row easily down the course, practicing steering and mapping out where they would take their tens.  Diana, especially, was happy to have a chance to steer the course because she had not been on it since last year.

Next up was a race with Curlew Rowing Club, one of suburban London’s big clubs.  Curlew was composed of big strong women.  They rowed a fairly common race plan – try to get ahead by rowing high – got almost a length against us, and then could not break clear.  Diana called a mid-race sprint and we moved back even and then shot past them.  It was thrilling.  Now the schedule got interesting.  The girls finished the Curlew race, landed on the dock, ran to the bathroom, jumped into the boat, and rowed up to the start again to race just 30 minutes later.  This was against Osiris Rowing Club in the Intermediate 2’s.  Osiris is the name of the rowing club for the best women at Oxford University (Isis is its male equivalent.)  Two of the four in this boat are members of their Blue Boat, what we would call the varsity.  (In 2015, the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge, the oldest boat race in the world and a spectacle that close to 500,000 people line the banks of the Thames for, will include the Women’s Race.  There is great excitement about this among oarswomen.

Osiris took off with a powerful start and moved about a half-length ahead.  Our girls were not quite as cool and collected as they would have liked to be – remember, they don’t have much experience losing races – but they rowed well alongside Osiris.  In a lot of racing, getting ahead is the name of the game.  Only experienced or very good crews seem to have the ability to come from behind.  Remember that in rowing, once you are behind, you can’t even see your opponents.  It’s tough.  As Osiris tried to break out to a length clear, we surprised them by upping the stroke rate and moving back even.  Then, to their great dismay, we moved through them and kept going, winning by 1 ¼ lengths in the fastest time that any women’s four would post that day: 4:01.  Their coach is an old nemesis of mine.  In the years that I coached the USA lightweight women’s national team, we only lost to Great Britain once, and he had been their coach.  I saw him and exchanged a few words.  He was shaking his head.  When one of the Oxford women asked him “Who were those girls?” all he said was “They were fast.  Very fast.”

At that moment I felt like we had already achieved what we had come for.  The girls had won against tough competition, coming from behind.  It’s what a coach dreams about.

The boys four now had a race.  Like our girls, they had been in a tough level of competition on Saturday and we thought that this would be a better day for them.  They were in the Intermediate 3 fours, a level better suited to their experience.  Against Southampton University, which had a bunch of big strong guys, we concentrated on starting fast and pulling out ahead.  Things went according to plan and Groton won its first race on English waters.  They looked very strong, coming in 2 ½ lengths against a dispirited Southampton boat.  Next up, our boys four raced Henley Rowing Club.  Henley being a magnet for rowing, it is probably no surprise that the Henley rowing club has some very good boats.  These guys ranged in age from 17 to 21 and they were big and muscular.  Our four has its work cut out for it over here.  Remember that it is composed of one boy from our second boat, Bo Harwood, who is 2 days too old to row in the age-restricted princess Elizabeth Cup at Henley, two boys from the third boat, Johnny Bianco, switched from starboard to port, Nick Wray, who is a fine stroke, and a third former from the fourth boat, Michael Ma.  The coxswain duties are shared by Alia Kopp from the third boat and Willy Anderson from the fourth.  It’s a tall order for these guys to compete against young men, but they have been doing a very good job.

Our guys raced even with Henley for 600 meters and then Henley began to slowly pull away.  It looked to me like it was simply a case of Henley being more powerful.  I thought that we were racing very hard – at a 35 – and giving them a good battle.  At the end, though, Henley finished up 1 1/3 lengths.  It always hurts to lose a race, but the boys did have the satisfaction of knowing that they had rowed their best race of the trip so far.  They had really pushed their opponents.

At 3:15 our girls four was back on the water for the semi-finals of the Intermed 3.  They had City of Bristol Rowing Club.  We suspected that this might be our only race that could possibly be called easy, but we were ready for it to be tough.  We did jump out to a lead, but because we were trying to conserve energy, we rowed at a 31 to Bristol’s 34, and these adult women kept the pressure on right to the finish line.  We had won by 1 ½ lengths but it hadn’t been easy.  Without even time to go to the bathroom this time, we turned around and rowed back to the start for a race 16 minutes later against Henley Rowing Club.  Semi-finals of the Intermed 2.  The girls gamely fought Henley, but by this time, their fifth time down the course (and two very fine, come-from behind victories) they were looking really tired.  We just didn’t have enough in the tank to move back on a good crew.  They beat us by two lengths.

Now came the boys 8.  Their event had only five entries, so they had been able to sleep in – a well-deserved rest after the four tough races that they had rowed Saturday – and now their first race was at 3:42.  They were up against a boat from Southampton University; it had a bunch of big strong guys and had done well in races the previous day.  I can’t give you a blow by blow description of the race because I saw only the finish of it.  I had been cycling along watching the girls and did not have time to turn and get up to the start to see the eight.  Maybe one of the boys will supplement my account with their own.  But the announcer (they announce the races over speakers) said that it had been a tight battle over the first 800 meters.  As they approached the finish line, he used the expression “there’s nothing in it,” meaning that it is dead even.  As they came into my view, it looked like we raised the rating to 36 and then 38 and moved slightly ahead but then Southampton raised its rating in the last five strokes two beats higher than us.  As they crossed the line, no one could tell who had won.  As the crews paddled away from the finish, neither knew the result.  A couple of minutes later, after reviewing the video tape, the decision was announced: “Southampton by one foot.”

It was a tough loss because we had raced so hard, but the boys could hold their heads up knowing they had turned in a good strong race.  Two hours later, after almost everyone had gone home, Southampton won the finals by 2 ½ lengths.  So they and Groton had really been the class of the field.  It is worth remembering that the reason we came over as early as we have is that prior to this weekend, the boys had raced in zero eights races.  Now, they have had five.  And every time you race you learn something.  They had a good weekend, one that we hope will help them as they get ready for Henley.

By now we had been at the race course for a long time – it hadn’t rained which we had feared, but it looked like it might at any minute – and so the boys packed up their boats and headed home for showers.  The girls four had one more race at 5:51, the finals of the intermediate 3.  I wish I could say that they had saved the best for last and come away with a dramatic victory, but they didn’t.  They had been sleeping on the ground under a boat trailer for an hour and half after their fifth race; it isn’t often you can actually sleep on race day – you get so keyed up that your body, tired though it may be, stays alert.  But they were so exhausted that they were out cold.  They woke and went out to race against University College Dublin.  There is quite a bit of rowing in Ireland and it isn’t unusual at all for them to come across for a weekend of racing.  The Reading Regatta is one of their favorites (as it is mine) and they had done quite well throughout the weekend.

We started aggressively and moved ahead by a bit, but they were big strong college students and they moved back after four hundred meters.  We tried to hang on and move with them but they were too strong and they worked their lead out to about a length.  Groton didn’t give up, though, and as the boats neared the finish, our sprint was moving like crazy.  We got it down to a ½ length  but ran out of room and that’s how it ended.  Again, I was very proud of the way we kept fighting and moved back against them.  Had it been a longer race, who knows, we might have caught them.  But we showed the toughness and the speed that we hope will carry us through this weekend’s Henley Women’s Regatta.  The tally for this four today (4-2): two great comeback wins, one very impressive loss in the finals, one disappointing loss, one solid wire to wire win, and one row over.  I am as happy with their comeback wins as any races I can remember.  These kids are racers.

The girls quad?  They had no races today.  All of the quads had raced on Saturday.  So they watched races, filmed, and supported all their friends.

So that’s the Sunday report.  Thanks for staying with me till the end.  I’m attaching some photos that Simon Colloredo-Mansfeld, also an oarsman, over to watch his brother Johann, took.  They are very nice.  Thanks, Simon.

It started raining Sunday night and shows no signs of letting up.  We are in for some wet practices this week.

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