Tactics and trials in University Great Race
Not far from New Zealand Rowing's national training centre is the city of Hamilton. Every year, for the past 12 years, Hamilton stages The Gallagher Great Race. The local university rowing club, Waikato University invites an Australian university, sometimes an American university and every second year Great Britain's Cambridge University.
Racing in eights, this year Waikato University took on Melbourne and Harvard University crews in the men's race with the Waikato women competing against Washington and Melbourne. Competing for the Harry Mahon Memorial Cup, the Waikato men won over Harvard while Washington prevailed over Waikato in the women's race for the Bryan Gould Cup.
The men's race turned dramatic when a clash of oars between Harvard and Waikato saw Waikato's three-seat Richard Power being ejected into the water. Power had the foresight to duck under the water to prevent being hit by oars. The umpire stopped the race, Power picked up by the safety launch and was able to get back in to the boat ready for the restart.
The clash of oars highlighted the tactical strategies in place by the coxswains who aimed to position their boats in the best rowing water of the fast-moving Waikato River. World Champion at the under-23 and senior level, Caleb Shepherd steered for the Waikato crew. This year Shepherd was the coxswain for both the New Zealand men's under-23 eight and the senior coxed pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray. Shepherd has also coxed previously in the Great Race.
Waikato was able to make the most of being close to the New Zealand Rowing training centre with many athletes from the training centre also students at Waikato University. This was an advantage for both the men's and women's crews.
The winning women's crew, Washington University was coached by Bob Ernst and included three New Zealand rowers who are currently studying at Washington. The second-placed Waikato crew had three New Zealand senior representatives, Zoe Stevenson, Kayla Pratt and Linda Matthews.
The crews had to deal with wind and rowing against a strong current over the 3.8km race, but they were helped along by a 10,000 strong audience that lined the Waikato River.
The day before an indoor rowing race was held to determine starting positions for the Great Race. For the men, Harvard won over Waikato by just 0.3 of a second. For the women, Waikato narrowly beat Washington. The indoor rowing format consisted of a head-to-head race between rowing pairs, so that the bow of each boat raced each other.
Watch the race here.
For more information: www.greatrace.co.nz