One of the biggest women-only events in world sport takes place on the Tideway on Saturday and the Women’s Eights Head is so popular that organisers closed entries early for the first time, with 320 crews having secured their spots and others clamouring to get in.



However it wasn’t ever thus: when Pauline Rayner rowed her first WEHoRR in 1954, there were just a handful of entrants, and the women of the day apparently weren’t deemed fit enough to row the full 4.25 mile course.

As Helena Smallman-Smith highlights in this excellent blog, the race had been run over the full course in the ‘30s but was shortened to two miles after the war on the grounds that the full course would be "too much" for competitors after years of rationing. Rationing ended in 1954 but the race continued to end at Hammersmith until the 1970s. Meanwhile the men’s HoRR ran from Mortlake to Putney from 1946 onwards.

After 60 years of regular appearances, Pauline will be absent this year: she had a knee replacement in November and isn’t quite race fit yet, although she is back in a boat.

In the absence of GB squaddies this year, the field is wide open. The Cambridge University blue boat wearing number two must be one favourite but the Leander/Reading /Tees composite of GB development types going off 51st are another one to keep a close eye on.

Once again, the prizes will be handed out on Putney Embankment at 5pm. The battle for the new pennants for small and medium clubs will be particularly interesting to watch.

On the day before Mothering Sunday, the Champion of the Thames Masters D crew has a total of three mums who have daughters racing too.

Here are a few more crews to keep an eye out for: 





New challenger for Glover and Stanning

Helen Glover and Heather Stanning are unbeaten since they won their Olympic title at London 2012 but the duo face a serious new challenge in Rio this summer from New Zealand, who named their Olympic squad on Friday.

Olympic bronze-medallist Rebecca Scown and new partner Genevieve Behrent beat the previous second best pair in the world, Kerri Gowler and Grace Prendergast, in January and set a new unofficial world best time of 6 min 49.06 secs in January.

Although there was a tailwind and some suggestion of stream from the Lake Karapiro dam, it suggests the selection is about more than picking the next runners-up to the Brits so it will interesting to see the early skirmishes in Olympic season.

As expected, 2014 world singles champion Emma Twigg will be out to qualify her Olympic spot after taking last season out to study in Europe.


Glover pays tribute to ‘incredible’ Tait

Glover was one of those who on Thursday paid tribute to an incredible opponent after Sarah Tait of Australia, who won silver in that 2012 pairs final, lost a battle with cancer at the age of 35.



Having missed out on a medal at her second Olympics in 2008, Tait became the first mother to row for Australia and finally grabbed her medal in London.

In an interview with the BBC (17:40 into this programme) Glover said: “She's an incredible personality to have lost from the world of rowing. She was one of the people who stood out as just being a great, great person.”


Advantage Cambridge in men’s Boat Race?

Even though they weighed in this week significantly lighter, the smart money appears to be on Oxford’s women to retain their title when they race for a second time on the Tideway in The Cancer Research UK Boat Races on 27 March. On the men’s side, though, a period of dark blue dominance could be coming to a close.

The Oxford men have won the last three races but they apparently aren’t even the best crew on the Wallingford reach this year after losing a warm-up fixture against Oxford Brookes.

Dan “Fatsculler” Spring has done a seat-by-seat comparison of the two men’s blue boats and reckons Cambridge have the edge 5-3. With former Great Britain World Cup rower Lance Tredell at stroke, it has been clear all year that Cambridge have a stroke stern four but the question has been whether the rest of the crew match up. There is no place for Australian Alister Taylor, who was bidding at 38 to become the oldest rower ever in the race.




Sub-six and Chill 

What’s the secret of Graham “The Erg Daddy” Benton’s revival on the ergo? He has stopped faffing about in boats.



Benton started out as a gym rower but eventually turned into a very good oarsman, reaching three Henley Royal finals with Tideway Scullers and Taurus BC.

But he told me recently: “Since Henley, I’ve just rowed indoors. I can do 60-70k a week without all the water faff time. I’m 42 and I wanted my weekends back.”

Competing alongside 3,000 others at the 35th annual CRASH-B Indoor Rowing Championships in Boston, Benton set a new world record for the 40-49 age-group with a score of five minutes 48.3 seconds but it was also the fastest at the event, beating the time of the open champion by 1.1 secs. 




Hunter gets back to basics

How does a retired Olympic champion spend his time? There are certainly opportunities to enjoy the high life: on a trip to California with his other half recently, Mark Hunter managed to squeeze in a trip to Super Bowl 50. But he has also had the chance to return to rowing’s grassroots in his day job as programme director for London Youth Rowing.

Hunter recently returned to Dorney Lake – scene of his London 2012 silver medal in the lightweight double with Zac Purchase – with a group of youngsters from London’s East End.

“One lad was lying around on the grass and we said, ‘Come on, get on with it.’ He said, ‘I’m just chilling. I’ve never been to the countryside before.” 

Perhaps the teen concerned should be glad that Terry Hunter - Mark’s dad, Dorney rowing centre coach and famously ferocious defender of the lake’s grassy knolls – was taking a day off during the visit!

I was talking to Mark in his role as ambassador for SAS, who are the official analytics partner for British Rowing. Look out for an article in the next issue of Rowing & Regatta magazine.


And Finally

There are few words.




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