10,000 Rowers Compete in Spring Heads

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In 15 days at the end of March 2015, over 10,000 rowers and coxes raced for their lives – in military terms an entire division! Add to that several battalions of organisers, umpires and of course spectators and you have British rowing at its best.

Five action-packed head races were fought out over the unpredictable waters of the River Thames between the Chiswick and Putney bridges. Some of the sculling crews did battle on the more still waters of Dorney Lake. Many of those competing faced their own particular demons, some came up short, others surprised themselves. All were prepared to pit themselves against the sometimes-wild elements of a British spring. Of course, there were winners. But together, they showed that rowing in the 21st century is truly a sport for all.

The ‘Heads’ – effectively long-distance races – operate as a big punctuation mark, after what has often been an arduous winter’s training. They show both rowers and coaches the progress that has been made and point towards work to come for a summer racing season ahead. 

Even now, a host of boat club trailers are being loaded up; their racks burdened with shells for the long journey to Easter training camps throughout various locations in the UK and around Europe. Crew selection and shorter, more intense pieces beckon – whether you are trying to get into Jϋrgen Grobler’s top GB crew or perhaps Monmouth Comprehensive School’s J15 women’s octuple…

But before the sport can finally kiss goodbye to winter, there is one more ritual to be performed and a very longstanding one at that: The University Boat Race. The students that will race on the Thames may be fewer in numbers – just 64 rowers and coxes in four races – but nobody doubts the significance of the women from Oxford and Cambridge racing over the full Tideway course for the first time. Clare Balding, Britain’s most loved sports presenter has even chosen to cover the momentous events of the 2015 Boat Race ahead of her beloved horse-racing and the Grand National, taking place on the same day near Liverpool.

During the 2012 Olympics, Balding would have worked with many of the women in the eight that won the Women’s Head, notably Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. The Olympic champion pair anchored the eight that took the women’s headship in mid-March. They came from no less than seven clubs: Army BC, Imperial College BC, London RC, Marlow RC, Minerva-Bath RC, Oxford Brookes University BC and Southampton Coalporters ARC. Behind them the internationals from Leander Club and in 14th place the sensational schoolgirls from Headington School – just two days later they would race the same course again: this time, to win the Schools’ Head title.

Leander’s men also figured very strongly in the men’s Head. Their top crew took the title from Molesey’s internationals and the Henley club had another three crews inside the top 11. But riding high were the men of Oxford Brookes University. Their first and second eights finished just a whisker apart in third and fourth place respectively.

Some of those competitors who raced the Schools’ and Sculling Heads may well end up at some of those prestigious clubs. Those athletes who caught the eye included Westminster School, whose top eight won the Schools’ Head. In fact the whole boat club performed exceptionally well. In the Junior Sculling Head, it was the same story for the quadruple sculls of Sir William Borlase’s School and Marlow RC, whose athletes took the male and female J18 titles respectively.

The figure of 10,000 also includes a significant contingent of both male and female veteran rowers, who raced in their own competition on the Tideway. 

It all goes to show that if the excitement of the 2015 head season is matched by the summer’s racing, then athletes and spectators will have much to savour in the months ahead. 

By Martin Cross

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