Early preparation for Boat Race crews

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Olympian Fergus Pragnell will stroke the Sydney University men’s eight when they contest the annual Australian Boat Race against Melbourne University, on the Yarra River on October 27.

Pragnell has stroked the crew to victory for the Edmund Barton Trophy in the past two years – on the Yarra in 2011 and on Sydney Harbour last year.

Sydney University men’s eight coach Mark Prater is assembling an experienced crew to defend the title, with Under 23 World Cup medallists Sasha Belonogoff and Ryan Edwards, Olympic reserve Nick Hudson, and 2008 Beijing silver medallist Francis Hegerty in the squad along with Cameron Girdlestone, Tom Sacre, Kit Cunningham-Reid, Peter Koster, Alex Purnell and coxswain Will Raven.

“Most of these guys have done the race before, so we will have some good experience in the boat,” the coach said. 

“We’ll start out specific preparation in early October and will hopefully get Fergus up from Melbourne for a few training camps. I don’t know yet who will be in the Melbourne crew so it’s hard to speak of our chances.”

Debbie Fox, the coach of the Sydney University women’s eight, who will be attempting to wrest the Bella Guerin Trophy from Melbourne, won’t finalise her crew until after the Australian University Championships, which are being held on the Gold Cast next week.

But Fox has been buoyed by recent efforts in Sydney University’s women’s rowing ranks. “At our most recent competition at the Gallagher Great Race in New Zealand, the Sydney University eight finished in front of Melbourne University for the first time this year,” she said. 

“Genevieve Fick will be on board as the coxswain, where she will play a vital role steering the boat over the winding Yarra River in Melbourne.

“Other squad members at this stage will include India Evans and Holly Lawrence, who have just returned from their triumph in the Under 21 Trans-Tasman Regatta winning the overall pointscore and the coveted Rusty Robertson Trophy, and Ellena Winstanley, Lydia Yerrell and Marianna Doumanis, who were all crew members from the Gallagher eight.”

The men’s and women’s races will start at Loys Paddock and run down the Yarra River to the finishing line at Princes Bridge, with the women’s race commencing at 9.30am and the men’s at 10.15am. Presentations of the Bella Guerin Trophy for Women’s Eight and the Edmund Barton Trophy for Men’s Eight will be made at the Zinc Forecourt at 11am.

The Australian Boat Race, an annual rowing eights challenge between Australia’s two oldest universities is a stand-alone show case event, held year about, on the Yarra River in the heart of Melbourne and on the Sydney Harbour.

It encapsulates the long-standing rivalry between the two cities and the two great universities and has become a showcase, televised event on the famous watercourses of each city. The race format is a one-on-one match race.

Sydney and Melbourne’s boat clubs date back to 1860 when the two universities clashed oars in their very first match race on Melbourne’s Yarra River.

While the University of Melbourne was victorious on that first occasion, there has been a 153-year old rivalry between these two universities both on and off the water.

To coincide with 150-year celebrations of both university boat clubs their Vice-Chancellors called for a challenge of the best male and female eight oared crews from each university.

Thus tradition was revived in 2009, as Sydney and Melbourne’s boat clubs faced off in a time trial as part of the Annual Head of The Yarra. Both Melbourne’s men’s and women’s crews were victorious on that occasion.

In 2010, the two universities raced again, but this time, in a gruelling one-on-one match race across Sydney Harbour. This race, the inaugural “Australian Boat Race” set the future format for an annual long distance match race. The tradition continues on October 27.