WHO WILL WIN FOURS HEAD? CAMBRIDGE UP FOR WOMEN’S BOAT RACE? STANNING RETIRES, OLD FACES IN NEW PLACES November 11 2016
If the forecast weather is kind enough, many of Great Britain’s 2016 Olympians will be in action this Saturday on home water for the first time since Rio, racing the Head of the River Fours from Mortlake to Putney.
In all there are 17 Olympians, including four who won gold medals on the Lagoa back in August.
Of course they’re in club kit this weekend, so here’s a handy guide to who is where (with lots of help from the event’s press officer Dan “Fatsculler” Spring):
Elite men’s quads: Because of last year’s results, the top three quads in the start order are lightweight so the overall winner is likely to come from among numbers four to 12. Leander II (No.4) features Olympic scullers Jack Beaumont, John Collins and Jon Walton while Leander III (No.6) features Alan Sinclair and Pete Lambert plus Will Fletcher from the GB lightweight double.
Collins and Walton – who finished fifth in the double scull in Rio – won the Pairs Head in October but “had our butts handed to us” at the Head of the Charles in the US (before making up a fun quad with Irish folk heroes Gary and Paul O'Donovan). Meanwhile “Plumber Pete” Lambert has been dealing with challenges closer to home.
At No.7 are a Sport Imperial crew featuring three Swiss Olympians including Mario Gyr – whose Olympic champion lightweight four has this week been nominated as one of World Rowing’s crews of the year – plus GB’s 2015 world champion Sam Scrimgeour.
Elite women’s quads: Leander VIII (No.48) are followed directly by an Imperial College/Putney Town composite which includes Rio silver medallist Zoe Lee and fellow Olympian Charlie Taylor, with the title of fastest women’s crew likely to be on the line.
However the Wallingford (No.51) lightweight quad that includes world champions Brianna Stubbs and Eleanor Piggott might run both of those crews close.
Jess Leyden in the Leander boat has a new-found affinity with the Tideway after winning the Wingfield Sculls on the Championship course last month. Holly Nixon, a world champion in the four this summer, is a crew-mate.
Elite coxless fours: Three members of GB’s Olympic champion eight - Will Satch, Matt Gotrel and Tom Ransley – race in Leander V (No.13), along with Stewart Innes from the Olympic finalist men’s pair. Another Leander crew and some Oxford and Cambridge squad crews feature in the event but the other top fours appear to have coxes aboard.
Elite coxed fours: Here’s an early chance to make some early Boat Race predictions. The top Oxford (Isis) crew (No.23) includes Olivier Siegelaar from the Rio bronze medallist Dutch eight, US Olympian Mike DiSanto and British 2016 world champion Oliver Cook. The dark blue quartet broke a 26-year-old British record last month in winning at British Rowing Championships, two seconds ahead of the best Cambridge (Goldie) crew. The top light blue boat on Saturday looks like No.21.
In the Elite women’s coxless fours, three Cambridge crews take on a Leander line-up including Holly Norton and Fiona Gammond – world champions in the boat class this summer.
And in Elite women’s coxed fours, four Cambridge crews take on three from Oxford.
The prize, as ever, includes an invitation to a p***-up in a brewery, courtesy of sponsors Fullers.
Meanwhile entries for the Veteran Fours Head filled up before its junior counterpart this year, resulting in 240 crews racing in the opposite direction on Sunday.
If you’re watching either race from Hammersmith this weekend, keep an eye out for the hot dog stand at Sons of the Thames RC. They’re aiming to raise £39,000 to help friends at Cherpokov Rowing Club in Bulgaria, who lost the contents of their boathouse in a fire.
Also a diagram of the finish (W4 3TP): pic.twitter.com/7l8WXBnYR6— Veteran Fours Head (@vetfourshead) November 4, 2016
Cambridge women to win Boat Race?
They received plenty of plaudits for braving near-sinking conditions on the Tideway last year but Cambridge have not won the Women’s Boat Race since 2012 and have lost eight of the last 10. All that could change this year, though, if early season results are any guide.
Not only did CUWBC win two medals in fours at the British Rowing Champs but they also placed three scullers in the top 10 and boated the fastest pair in the first GB Rowing Team trial of the season. Meanwhile, Oxford only entered one athlete.
Squads for the Boat Races were announced at the Challenge earlier this month, with Irish Olympic finalist Claire Lambe among the new faces at Cambridge and Grace Clough from the British Paralympic coxed four in the Oxford ranks.
Stanning calls time on career
Heather Stanning won Great Britain’s first gold medal in any sport at London 2012, and she and Helen Glover also became the first British female crew to defend an Olympic title in Rio this summer. Now Stanning has decided there is nothing more to prove in rowing and has announced her retirement.
Today she's announced retirement. Friend first and crew-mate second. Thank you for the journey Heather, I'll miss you x (my statement below) pic.twitter.com/bfhCGkFFyH— Helen Glover (@Helenglovergb) November 9, 2016
No one could match Glover and Stanning in Rio (although New Zealand pushed them hard) but there was literally no one to match them in their first race together - Wycliffe Small Boats Head in December 2009, when the results show the Bath University duo had no opposition.
“It wasn’t pretty, it was pretty uncomfortable but it moved from A to B quite quickly,” Stanning told me later. “Maybe because we could do that without being technical, people realised we had potential and we improved a lot, quickly.”
Glover, meanwhile, will take a year away from rowing and has announced she will be running the London Marathon in April.
"I'm taking this year out for sure,” she said during the Bath Sports Awards. “By the end of the year I'll decide whether I'll go back or not, but I'll stay fit so I'll be able to go back if I decide to."
Old faces in new places
Stanning isn’t the only GB squad veteran to call time on their careers after Rio but while she has a career in the Army to return to, others are sticking with rowing.
Richard Chambers, a silver medallist at London 2012, announced in September that he would be taking over as assistant coach at Cambridge University, where he is number two to Steve Trapmore.
Fellow lightweight Jamie Kirkwood (by the way a crew-mate of Chambers’ in the lightweight boat that won last year’s Fours Head overall) has taken up a similar coaching position with Oxford’s women.
Sam Townsend is taking over as master in charge at Radley College after a rowing career that may not have brought as many medals as he deserved but included the first ever world medal for a British quad.
Imogen Walsh, a double world champion in the lightweight quad, has taken six months out to coach in the Maldives and – as well as taking some jealousy-inducing photos – is writing a regular blog about the experience.
Meanwhile, some new faces have been staking their claims to places in British boats at the first GB Rowing Team trial of the Olympiad, starting with some eye-watering 2k test results in Boston, Lincolnshire before they juked it out on the water.
And while rowers of a more recent vintage say farewell to the competitive scene, some older faces don’t give up that easily. On the same weekend as that GB trial, James Cracknell won Vet C 1x at Henley Sculls, while schoolboys racing IM1 pairs at Kingston Small Boats Head may have been surprised to spot two junior world champions from 1975, Martin Cross and Ian McNuff, racing among them. The veteran duo finished fifth.
Remembering “Colossus” Ayling
Martin Cross penned the obituary for a man he termed "a colossus of world rowing", Olympic oarsman and coach Richard Ayling, who died earlier this month at the age of 64.
Ayling was part of the first integrated British squad under coach Bob Janousek in the 1970s. He won the Grand at Henley in 1975 and raced in the coxless four at the Montreal Olympics. Turning to coaching he took a Kingston RC club crew, including Andy Holmes, to the World Champs in 1979 and remained an active coach until very recently.
“He was a giant of a man, who loved, just loved, the sport – every bit of it,” wrote Cross. “He always wore his heart on his sleeve. And his laughter – Richard could take a joke as well as dish them out – was raucous.”