Sydney University avenge 150-year-old defeat

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Graham Croker

Sydney University avenged a 150-year-old defeat when they out-rowed Melbourne University in a gruelling 7.3km men’s eight match race on inner Sydney Harbour yesterday.

Having been beaten in the first inter-varsity race, on the Yarra River in 1860, Sydney University waited until yesterday to settle the score in what is planned to be the annual Australian Boat Race between the two universities in men’s and women’s eights.

After hauling in the Melbourne crew, who got off to a flyer from the Iron Cove starting point, Sydney University were 10 lengths ahead when they passed the Riverview Wharf finishing line in 22min 3sec.

Sydney University Boat Club men’s eight captain Mitchell Estens upped the ante for next year and echoed the importance of the race from a student’s point of view in his acceptance speech.

“To be able to say we bring back redemption is the ultimate bragging rights,” Estens said. “The University has waited 150 years to atone for the loss on the Yarra. There is a common misconception that Victoria is the sporting state. Tell that to Ian Thorpe, who is a New South Welshman. Tell that to Casey Stoner, a Tamworth boy. Tell that to Mark Webber, a Queanbeyan man. Tell that to Mark and Steve Waugh – Bankstown boys. Tell that to Ellyse Perry, a Pymble girl. Tell that to my team-mates. Go NSW – tough as nails!”

Starting near the Leichhardt Rowing Club, the course followed the Balmain peninsula in a loop, past Cockatoo Island and into the Lane Cove River, finishing at St Ignatius College Wharf.

While the universities have competed in standard still water events since 1870, it was the first match race between the two boat clubs since 1860. In match racing, crews can change course and battle for the inside running.

The record show Melbourne won the first event down the Yarra in 31min 4sec. Seated second in the Sydney University crew on that day was Edward Barton, who became Australia’s first prime minister in 1901.

Sydney University Boat Club vice-president Chris Noel, who helped with the organisation of yesterday’s race, hopes it will now become an annual event, with the next one scheduled for the Yarra River on the Sunday before the 2011 Melbourne Cup.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for Australia’s two leading universities to stage a world-class event and build on their historical rivalry, based on the Cambridge-Oxford clash,” Mr Noel said.

“The original Boat Race has shown the potential for rowing to attract a real following, something we’d love to work towards at our event.”

Sydney University Vice-Chancellor, Dr Michael Spence, and his Melbourne University counterpart, Professor Glyn Davis, who both supported the efforts of students in organising the event, following the race as part of a sizeable spectator flotilla. They were also on hand to present medals to the winning crews from the Sydney University men’s eight and the Melbourne University women’s eight.

As part of the rules for the event, each crew was made up of current students or graduates of the respective universities, giving young rowers the opportunity to join their more experienced counterparts in the event.

The Sydney University crews:

Men: Tom Iredale (cox), Toby Ledgerwood (stroke), Cameron Girdlestone, Sasha Belanogoff, Mitchell Estens, Tom Sacre, Edward Alexander, Henry Mander, James Goswell (bow).

Women: Gen Fick (cox), Chloe O’Regan (stroke), Kylie Duff, Emma Costello, Charlotte Walters, Beatrix Sheldick, Greta Beale, Sarah Sackville, Jo Wood (bow).