If you’re reading this on Saturday morning, chances are that you’re not racing the Women’s Eights Head, which starts at the unconscionably early hour of 9:30am this year. A massive 2700 people are, though: a great validation of Sport England’s assertion that #thisgirlcan six days after International Women’s Day 2015.

The battle at the top will be a battle of Great Britain squad eights from Leander and the Rest of the Country. Off first in pink are cox Zoe de Toledo, plus the likes of Victoria Thornley and Polly Swann. Rowing for RoC (aka Army/Imperial/London/Marlow/Minerva/Brookes/Southampton Coalporters) and wearing number 51 are Olympic champions Helen Glover, Heather Stanning and comeback queen Katherine Grainger, plus an extra 5kg of cox in the shape of Phelan Hill.

Grainger is chasing a record eighth WEHoRR win, which would put her ahead of Ann Sayer, who won seven races in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Headington School start 10th, aiming to win the School/Junior pennant for a fourth straight year. Competition looks likely to come from CUS Milano, starting three behind them, a crew apparently including five girls who represented Italy at the 2014 Junior World Champs.

Keep an eye out for provisional results on the WEHoRR website while racing is still going on, and let’s hope race organisers share their methodology with other major events on the Tideway. After last year’s successful debut, the prize-giving will again be in the open air on Putney Embankment at 1:30pm.


Schools Head favourites

The girls in blue of Headington are actually aiming to win three races in four days as the Women’s Head starts their annual binge that continues with an eight at Schools Head on Monday and quads at the Junior Sculling Head – “The Scullery” – at Dorney on Tuesday.

The Junior Rowing News blog has them down as favourites to win a third straight Women’s Champ VIIIs title at SHoR, saying: “The success that Headington have achieved over the past six years is the result of practical and efficient training methods that have been refined over Ryan [Demaine]’s tenure as Director of Rowing.”

After a few years of winning lots of things in quads, coach Bill Mason’s boys in pink from Westminster School are back in an eight and have been taking recent head races by storm, winning at Hampton and finishing second overall at Hammersmith Head, where they beat last year’s SHoR winners St Paul’s.

Junior Rowing News reckons home-water advantage will see both of those schools beat Eton, who were clear of the school pack at Reading Head last weekend.

If you think you know better, have a go at predicting the winners on the new Fantasy Rowing website, which launched a month ago and is a really fun way of enlivening those dull bits of races when you’re waiting for your crew to appear.


Lords A-Rowing

Perhaps enthused by their victory by default in last year’s Parliamentary Boat Race, members of the House of Lord’s were discussing rowing last week as Lord Thomas of Gresford lead a short debate “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to encourage women to participate in the sport of rowing at every level of ability”.

Lord Thomas of Gresford is president of Rex BC in Chester, although he got his quads, fours, pairs and doubles mixed up as he listed Great Britain’s Olympic successes in his opening. You can ready the full text of the debate online in Hansard.



The Lords and Ladies talked around the subject for an hour, highlighting the paucity of women coaches and times of access as potential barriers to women getting involved and staying in the sport. They also mentioned the importance of involvement from local authorities to make sure that it is not solely a public-school sport.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said: “… perhaps investment by clubs and schools in women’s equipment, programmes and coaching does not have a high enough priority. I hope that having the men’s and women’s Boat Race on the same day will change this.”

Some mention was also made of this excellent piece on the BBC website by Annie Vernon (the last female blue to win a world title) looking at how far the Women’s Boat Race has come since its inception in 1927.

When will Her Majesty’s Government reply to the question? Actually it doesn’t have to, but the profile gained by the debate is likely to help British Rowing push initiatives in this area further.


Tributes to Oxford great Topolski

The Boat Race will take place next month without Dan Topolski, who died at the end of February following a lengthy illness. Topolski rowed in two Boat Races then coached Oxford to victory in a further 12. He went on to become a coaching consultant with the dark blues as well as a commentator for BBC television. 


Obituaries were plentiful, including this by Chris Dodd in the Guardian, which gives an idea of the size of his character in and out of the boat and mentions the Oxford mutiny of 1987, which led to Topolski’s book True Blue and the film of the same name. 

Perhaps some of the best tributes, though, are on this website, including many from his crew-mates in the Great Britain lightweight eight, which won the world title in 1977. 

Chris George writes: “I would say RIP but I am pretty sure Dan Topolski would not want to be resting … and certainly was not interested in peace so let’s all, instead, thank our lucky stars we knew him and realise just how lucky we were, and are, to have had that privilege. “ 

True Blue had its critics – many of the names of the lead protagonists were changed in the film for legal reasons. Topolski’s best rowing book is arguably his 1985 work Boat Race - The Oxford Revival. Out of print, it has recently been trading on Amazon for more than £70 a copy!


Michael Hill remembered

Those coached by Michael Hill - another London RC member – paid tribute as his body was discovered after a five-week search around Putney.

A 15-year-old Latymer Upper School pupil was quoted by the Standard as saying: “He helped me fall in love with a truly incredible sport which has helped me become a better and stronger person. “Because of him, I now truly understand about yearning to be the best you possibly can be, and to live and give your most whilst you have the chance.” 

Latymer head David Goodhew told the BBC: "Although we were anticipating such news, it is still a shock and our thoughts are with Michael's family and the rowing community.”


New Zealand drop world champion Twigg

While Great Britain are still over a month away from finalising crews for Olympic qualifying season, New Zealand and Australia have already announced their line-ups.

As expected, the Kiwis have dropped Emma Twigg, the world champion single sculler who was warned that she would lose her place if she opted to study in Europe this season. She did it anyway.

Interestingly, Twigg is eligible to compete for Great Britain in World Cup regattas (but not the World Champs) because she is a member of Imperial College BC, where she has spent some of the year training. The move would need approval from British Rowing, which would be unprecedented for this country. Other national federations have allowed similar moves in the past, though. 

(Thanks to Dan “Fatsculler” Spring for the heads-up on this and to Chris Anton for pointing out Fisa Appendix 11 regulation 3 modifying rule 19!) 

NZ have also brought George Bridgewater – an Olympian in 2004 and ’08 – back into the squad at the age of 32, with a clear vision of what he wants from his comeback.

Asked recently by Rowing Related what his goal for 2015 was, the former Oxford blue replied: “Simply a World Champs Gold. I think that I would be pretty happy with a medal of any colour for this year, being the first year back.”

It looks like the Aussies have given up hope of having an Oarsome Foursome in Rio, moving Fergus Pragnell and Joshua Dunkley-Smith from their bronze-medal four to the eight this summer.


Coaching tip

American website Rowing Related is a treasure trove of interesting rowing gubbins and the latest is the Best Rowing Drills series, featuring big-name coaches. Here's Dartmouth women's head coach Linda Muri talking about the benefits of using an inside-arm-only exercise to coach the catch.


And finally

When Molesey BC coach Franz Imfeld put this video of the club cat in a rowing boat on Facebook he was deluged with likes – a good 7,000 he reckons. No wonder, then, that Bradley the Cat has expanded his social media presence and now has his own Twitter account. Give that feline a follow!


But really, finally



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