|WALES AT HOME
The Welsh scored a double first last weekend: with the first regatta to be held on their new Cardiff Bay course, as well as hosting the first ever European Sports Association regatta (and the 2005 Home countries).
It’s been eighteen years since the Home International regatta was last held in Wales and despite concerns about conditions on the Cardiff course (there were white horses in evidence on Thursday) and worries about the levels of sewage after last weekend’s events, the gods smiled on the organisers.
The weather on Friday and Saturday was pretty much perfect (one of the Welsh competitors even claimed that the water was as good as he had ever seen on the bay) and although Sunday started off as less than ideal (see picture to the left for the view dwon the course from the commentary box), the sun came out for the afternoon and the water stayed fairly flat until the last few races.
The overall course conditions were greatly helped by the co-operation of the lovely people at the Cardiff Harbour Authority, who not only turned off the bubble aeration on the course (the bubbling is required for the water to meet government mandated oxygen levels and stops the bay from ponging too badly) but also instructed all commercial vessels to go dead slow for the duration of the event.
n.b. The port authority is responsible for renewing all commercial licenses for the bay, so few operators were arguing, though the last couple of races on Friday did suffer from a few speeders… needless to say, they didn’t do it again.
With any new event and/or course, there are always going to be a few teething problems and Cardiff was no exception. The regatta umpires got a more exciting ride than they were expecting – as their usual stable launches were replaced by wide dinghies with not much to hold on to when standing up. This resulted in rather more muted flag waving than normal and some of the blazeratti were even seen to have tied the rope at the front of their boat, round their waist and fastened it in a ‘secure bow’.
The other problem with the umpires’ launches became evident in Sunday morning’s heavy rain, when the umpire of the first race of the day reported that they were having problems keeping up with the women’s pairs -- despite having bailed out as much as possible.
When the weather and the commercial traffic is behaving, the Cardiff course is wonderful for racing – no one lane has an advantage and the crews in both regattas seemed to really like it. However, the course is only 1500m long and even that is quite a tight fit – the result is that crews have to easy immediately they cross the finish line, so as to avoid running into the large pontoon 100m behind the finish which runs from lanes 2 to 6.
Also, just after the finish, the edges of the lanes are marked with very large orange buoys, so it’s really not a good idea to come out of your lane in the last 100m – as a couple of the crews found out to their peril...
One Dutch pair collided with one of these buoys during practice on Saturday and removed the bows of their boat, while the Irish sculler Caroline Ryan, won her close fought Home international race in the single, only to smack into one at full pelt – her boat stopped but she continued moving and shot back two foot in her single – leaving her sculling blades out of her hands - we're still not sure how she manged to stay dry...
It must be said that these are major issues with the otherwise great course at Cardiff, however, the main problem, and one that nothing can currently be done about, is the simple fact that you can’t walk from start to finish. As the course is in Cardiff Bay, the only way to access the boating area near the start, is through through the bonded Port of Cardiff docks, which has high security and looks not unlike London Docklands 10 years ago...
Basically, the layout of the bay means that you cannot follow a race down the course, because there are inlets getting in the way, so the only way to get to the finish is via the road which takes a rather circuitous route away from the course.
Port security were not letting people either walk or cycle between the two – instead they had to get the ‘land train’ which unfortunately is neither the most regular or quickest method of transport known to mankind.
The slug has heard rumours that a causeway is planned, so the entire length of the course is accessible – and in my view, this is the singular most important thing that the course owners need to address if they really want to host any more major regattas in future years, as the current situation is simply not acceptable to coaches.
The inagural EUSA regatta saw a selection of crews of varying standards, head to Cardiff from: the Czech republic; France; Germany; the Netherlands; Poland; Serbia & Montenegro; Spain, Switzerland and Croatia -- as well as representatives from all corners of the British Isles.
Alas, the Irish EUSA contingent was somewhat depleted after the IARU refused to give approval for two of the crews entered, to compete. The third (the University of Galway) did turn up – but then again, they didn't seem to have bothered to ask their governing body for permission (in what was possibly a very good move on their part), quite why the IARU were being such poor spoilsports is a mystery, but it certainly didn't stop them sending their crews to the home international...
The EUSA regatta was organised to that every crew had at least two races – so, where there are six or less entries, the first heat is actually a race for lanes. Friday's racing thefore consisted of RFLs and heats; Saturday had a few repechages (the rest of the day being dedicated to the Home International) and Sunday was A and B finals.
The EUSA organisers did a good job of spreading the races across the three days; for example, Sunday's finals were scheduled to be 20 minutes apart - and while this may seem excessive it was a good strategy to adopt for an untested venue which already has a reputation for activity being cancelled in adverse weather conditions.
Overall the atmosphere at the regatta was a really good one, the European crews showing great enthusiasm and teaching the brits a few things about how to collect prizes (the crew pictured is the German men's eight who won silver - and was quite the most bizzare entry to a medal ceremony that the slug has ever seen!!).
The German contingent were in particularly fine form - both on and off the water, taking home quite a lot of the medals on offer. They also managed to take over the tent set aside for the English Home countires crews on Friday and when one of the organisers pointed out that they had just invaded England and should remember what happened the last time - they just laughed and said they'd be back! (which they were on Sunday after the home countries crews had left... when the slug also noticed that France had invaded Ireland)
The only sour point of the regatta started because of the bad weather on Sunday morning - the finalists in the women's coxless IV's race were having big problems getting attached, so they had to do a free start - unfortunately, it turned into a free start with more than four lengths between the the crews when the flag went down. So although Nottingham Uni were first across the finish line, both Oxford University and the Dutch crew from Rotterdam complained vociferously about the race and, after much deliberation, it was scheduled for a re-row in the afternooon...
What followed was possibly not the most astute political move of Ian Shore's life, as after kicking up a hoo-hah, the Oxford crew then withdrew from the IV- final so they could concentrate on the women's eight, as (like most of their opposition) they were due to double up.
Nottingham went on to win the re-row (again), whilst the Oxford girlies picked up gold in the women's eights in the last race of the day (in quite bad racing conditions). However, it must be said that the Oxford eight were the only crew to be booed when they went up to collect their medals.
Most of the home countries athletes arrived in Cardiff on Friday afternoon, in preparation for the home international regatta which took place on Saturday in the middle of the EUSA event.
The English squad put a few noses out of joint as soon as they arrived, when they insisted on going out to train on the bay on friday, while the EUSA racing was still going-on, however curiously the EUSA crews were forbidden from training during the home countries races on Saurday - nothing like double standards to get backs up, eh?
England won all four team events for the first time in a long time, but their domination was not as complete as they would have liked, as Ireland was biting at their heels in the Junior and senior men's events and the senior women's, whilst the junior women's event was tied between England and Scotland in terms of both points and number of events won - England finally securing the cup because a strong crew from Molesey and KGS won the Junior women's eight.
Other English wins of note were the Men's coxless IV and eight - again featuring a Molesey contingent - the Saturday evening sun glinting off Clive's bald spot, er, I mean biceps, as they rowed home comfortably in front of the rest of the field , and the Women's 8 - not a bad result for scratch crews.
Of course, What you must keep in mind is that there are more rowers eligible to row for England than there are for the other three home nations put together - so although the team did well, they should probably have done better...
The Welsh hosts didn't take home many scalps, but they were successful in several sculling events and the Welsh national anthem was played a few times during the day. Indeed, the five wins they did manage set a new record for Wales at the event. The English were somewhat cursed with having to suffer Vivaldi's four seasons for their national anthem, after the team managager turned up with a tape cassette of land of hope and glory, only to discover that the commentary team only had a CD player at their disposal.
Overall, Scotland was really the only home country that could be said to have underperformed - failing to live up to promise but still providing a few great performances from some of the Scottish athletes.
The post regatta dinner was a drunken affair (as per usual). Amusingly the Scottish juniors (who were on the young side) had been told they had to get the the 11 o'clock bus home whilst the Welsh junior's were told to get the 12:30am bus back. Further investigation revealed that the English juniors had been given the option of the 11:50pm or 12:30 am coach home - as well as a map of cardiff and instructions on how to ask for a taxi in Welsh...
|WHO'S A PRETTY BOY THEN
The slug nearly choked on its cereal the other morning when, while watching GMTV's LK today, as who should appear on screen as a contestant in their "hunks in trunks" - hunk of the week competition, but Molesey boy Mike Reynaud.
After weeks of looking at hundreds of pictures of young men's hot bods, Lorraine Kelly and her panel of judges had the arduous task of whittling the contestants down to just three lovely lads, including the boy from the black stuff.
Alas young Mike, failed to win - a pity as we would have loved to have seen him in a sash clutching a big bunch of flowers.
You can even re-live Mike's on-screen poncing (surely action? Ed), if you've got a decent interenet connection...
It was with some amusement that the slug noted one boat owner proudly displaying a large, professionally-made banner directly opposite the enclosure at Molesey Regatta at the weekend.
Not sure what his problem is, though perhaps he has had a few run-ins with those nice boys from the black death?
Somehow I can't see any rowing boat doing much damage to his vessel - as it's a huge steel hulk.
As for the environment, yes rowers do disturb river weed, whack the odd duck and occasionally relieve themselves overboard. But in the grand scheme of thngs it's hardly going to affect the planet's well-being is it?
Now coaching launches...
|NOT TRYING HARD ENOUGH?
At least one crew unnecessarily came a cropper of a rule which has been introduced at Nat Champs but is not widely known.
Crews which are seen to be well off the pace - ie. those who probably shouldn't have entered, can now be given a "Not rowed out" verdict on the umpire's discretion. This gives the event organisers a way of preventing crews from progressing to further rounds when they have come last, by a long distance, in eliminator heats where no-one is eliminated due to the overall number of entries.
The crew in question was in a heat containing 5 crews. The first two went to the final, the last three to the repercharge. Once the first two boats had blasted off from the start, the crew in question realised after 750m that they weren’t going to catch the leading two crews, so gradually wound down to a medium pace and paddled over the line – coming in last but still apparently qualifying for the rep.
All seemed fine (no flags waved, no announcements) but when the boys went to have a look at the times and found there wasn’t one for them, they asked and were simply told that it would be looked into.
In the meantime, as they thought they had qualified for the rep, they scratched the eight they’d been planning to do. Later, having heard nothing more, they went to go and pick up their number only to be told they had been disqualified.
Why? Because they ‘hadn’t been trying hard enough'. Curiously, the explanation given about the not rowed out verdict was not concerning the ability of the crew or the time achieved, but the amount of effort the umpire felt had been applied...
When this was objected to, especially the lack of notification, the umpire admitted there had been a communications problem but by this time the repercharge was on the water and the boys had no option but to put their boat back on the trailer.
The question is, what constitutes Not Enough Effort? And why was there no notification at the time? In the junior racing on Friday, some crews were finishing many hundreds of lengths behind the leaders; and some of the crews in the other heats were clearly outclassed yet were permitted to row in the repercharges, though likewise, some of them weren't - the thing with "discretionary rules" is that they need to be seen to be applied consistently.
Clearly Nat Champs, needs to ensure it remains a high quality event by discouraging poor quality entries. The proposed introduction of a National Junior Championships in the next couple of years, will no doubt help by providing an alternative home for many of the junior events which now take up the bulk of the 3 days racing, but as the NRO rule is unlikely to go away, competitors who deliberately cross the line 5 lengths behind the umpire's launch, must be aware that they risk being judged to be worse that they actually are.
|BOLT FROM THE BLUE
As officials gathered in sultry 32 degree heat at Nottingham on Thursday evening to prepare for the 2005 Nat Champs – and offer up the customary prayers and sacrificial goat to the weather gods – the skies darkened ominously and the lake was quickly cleared in anticipation.
In the ensuing tea-time thunder storm, staff at the National Water Sports Centre recorded six lightning strikes in the park area, including one which temporarily knocked out part of the timing system and another which set off the fire alarms in centre, forcing everyone to stand outside in the torrential rain. A local farmer was less lucky – one strike set fire to a field of standing crop; it’s toasted barley now.
Fortunately, the storm cleared the air for the weekend and the Championships were blessed with good weather and fair racing. Indeed it was almost too hot to be comfortable on Saturday and Sunday - and by the end of the regatta there were a large number of officials sporting Leander tans, faces out-glowing their pink ties...
One Reading rower who medalled, was suffering from the heat and threw-up on the presentation platform. While sitting with his parents recovering afterwards, the hot weather also appeared to have caused a sense of humour failure, as he didn't seem to find it very amusing when one of the officials jokingly suggested he might like to get a bucket and a sponge and clear it up...
The NCRA open 8 that won bronze on Sunday, very nearly came a cropper after their cox'n weighed in, in the 30 deg heat, wearing leggings, a long sleeved t-shirt and basically as much kit as she could get away with. However, on turning up to boat for their race, she was only wearing an all-in-one.
The weigh-in officials, for once awake and paying attention in the hot afternoon sun, twigged what was going on and frog-marched her away to be re-weighed. Her amazing weight loss of 2kg was soon remedied with a 3kg weight, and just to make sure they spot checked her again after the race, before the crew were allowed to pick up their medals...
Highlight of the weekend for the form watchers must have been the performances by the newly selected GB junior crews, rowing as Nautilus BC in the senior events. Pretty much all the junior Nautilus crews won, in some cases claiming high profile scalps from senior crews who had recently won at Henley Royal Regatta. It could be a good year for the GB junior team and certainly bodes well for the future of GB rowing...
As the slug browsed on its ‘vegetarian option’ (recycled from the ARA's volunteer lunch earlier that day) at the Nat Champs dinner on Saturday night, it was amused to see one of the regatta worthies testing the consistency of the pudding – which, it has to be said, did look pretty firmly welded to the plate.
Urged on by fellow diners (and several glasses of wine), our bold hero was tempted to see if the pudding plate could be inverted above his head without the sticky chocolate offering succumbing to the power of gravity. Alas, the laws of physics took over and the dessert slipped into the diner's lap napkin – to a roar of approval from his tormentors.
Maybe the off-white suit wasn’t the ideal outfit for trying such pranks . . .
|ONE MAN AND HIS MICROPHONE
One Mr Kevin Denniss, pictured, happy as a sandboy, performing commentary duties at Henley Vets.
This and some other good pics from the red, yellow and black contingent are available on their website at www.glasgowrowingclub.org/photos.htm.
|FUN IN THE SUN
The Slug popped down to Dorney lake on Sunday for some full on comedy rowing action as Sir Fatt's Corporate regatta came to its climax with six lane novice sprint racing. (oooh yes...)
The warm up lake was closed off to competitors fairly soon after the day started -- as they kept running up the bank, so most of the crews had only had four outings (either at Dorney or on the Docks) before lining up (well, attempting to line up) on the start.
It appears that quite a lot of the oodles of cash required for entry fees went to paying off the people who organise the weather, as after the misery of Saturday, Sunday was gloriously hot and sunny -- perfect for the crowds of friends and families who lounged around drinking Pimms whilst watching their lycra-clad collegues criss-cross down the lake. Though maybe not the best conditions for the crew who'd decided to race wearing blazer, whites, shirt, tie and wool coxing cap... (though they did look quite impressive!)
The event wasn't quite like anything else the slug has ever witnessed - the usual blazeratti were conspicuous by their absence, their place taken by some young real-rower types. The finish judges (complete with hand held video camera) were providing much entertainment, as they tried to work out just who had crossed the lane in which order, typically after four crews had come through in lane 6; one was stuck in reeds half way down the course; and the last one had stopped dead somewhere near the start.
The other obvious omission was that of an umpires launch - this being replaced instead by a large inflatable safety boat and a small launch to shepherd crews heading at 90% to the course , back on track. We did suggest to one of the crews that should someone run into them, they should start shouting "re-row!!! re-row!!" just to see what happened...
There were about 30 crews entered in the regatta, which was heavily sponsored by Xchanging (the company who do the boatrace) and had lots of entires from them as well as Dakin, Heinz, Opodo, Arrow, Accenture, Atkins, Carpet Right and Insure your motor amongst others. The winning crew in the men's even was from Dakin and had been coached by Jane Hall, who had done a damn good job with them - especially as they'd only managed three outings. The mixed event was won by an Xchanging crew, though not the one with Mr Xchanging himself (CEO David Andrews), rowing at 2.
Altogether an entertaining day for all involved, though they did miss a trick by not getting proper commentary in - with so much lane swapping, running aground and crabbing going on, there was plenty of good fooder for talking up the races.
As to whether the companies involved felt they were getting value for money? - I suppose we can only wait and see who enters next year...