We have heard the term "Gladitorial" frequently during our stay. The definition of this word highlights the central theme of combat. For all of the civility and incredible hospitality we've encountered, this rowing nation revels in the primal aspects of this sport. Two opponents waged against each other in a test of strength, skill, and will. Upon reflection, I suppose that for all of the idyllic sunrises, team bonding, physical and mental wellness we derive from rowing, it is the thrill of competition that keeps many of us enraptured by our sport.
The outcome of combat:
I couldn't have been more pleased with the four. This group; Jessica Prashaw, Brooke Cotta, Olivia Durand, Liz Audet and Dominique Throop have become affectionately known as the Fabulous Four. All first year-students, four of the women had never rowed prior to September 2010. They have learned an incredible amount during this year, but at the end of the day "experience" is not something you can learn, it is something you must live. Entered in the Senior 4+, an event that captures many post-college/pre-elite rowers, our freshmen saw an end to their Henley experience with a gutsy race against York City Rowing. They understood they needed to row beyond their limits and swung for the grandstands. They lead the race early but ultimately were overtaken by experience. They never gave in, and forced York City to earn the privilege to progress into Saturday's racing. The final verdict was 2 lengths!
An interesting post-script to yesterday's race. As I wandered the course today many individuals inquired about the progression of the four. Many saw the race from the start and presumed we had progressed. Ed Hewitt, from row2k approached me and indicated he had a great shot of the four "bending" the oar off the catch. Ironically a focus during the last month! He claimed he hadn't seen bend like this since the days of wooden oars! A great indication of the role these athletes will play in the many years ahead! Here is the link to the photo:
MORE GREAT SUSPENSION:
In my 20 years of coaching this race stands as one of the most memorable and frustrating. This race epitomized the meaning of Gladitorial, providing a great lesson for myself and the entire crew. To start, we drew Thames Rowing Club. This is the largest rowing club in all of London and has a reputation as a very strong club. They won the Senior 8 last week in Reading so we anticipated a difficult race....little did we know. Off the start our 8 held even and Coach Pat (riding the umpires launch) felt we may have had a slight lead. A clean start! Within 10 strokes our opponent began to press towards the center line, encroaching into our lane and making the wooden barrier that runs the entire length of the course feel even closer. For those who have not been to Henley you must picture our buoyed course only two lanes wide. Replace the harmless plastic floating buoys with wooden pylons extending 5 feet out of the water. Then fasten floating telephone poles between each pylon on the outside of the two lanes and remove the center line separating the crews. The gladiator's arena is now set. As the Thames Rowing Club continued to push our coxswain closer and closer to the outside edge of the course the referee continued to command Thames Rowing Club back to their lane. He failed to yield, making no noticeable attempt to reduce the pressure on our coxswain, Emily. We trailed only slightly at the 500. The combat continued, the lane continued to narrow, and then the inevitable happened. In an ongoing effort to avoid starboard clashing of oars with our opponent we collided with the pylons on the port side. We limped through a few strokes, Thames moved to a two length lead, and held this distance for the remainder of the race. The verdict was two lengths. Thames ended the day with one of the fastest time of the day and progressed to race on Saturday. We lodged a protest, and while the Umpires reprimanded their coxswain harshly, claimed they "should" disqualify them, the disqualification never came. Such is the life of our gladiators! It was a very difficult circumstance but our women handled the situation with the poise and grace you would expect of this group.
Below are some photos. I also encourage you to read the HWR coverage at http://www.row2k.com/. There are some great photo galleries and excellent synopsis of days racing.
I post any final observations from the athletes tomorrow.