Sydney reclaims men’s eight crown

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Sydney University Boat Club reclaimed the Edmund Barton Trophy on Sunday when the men’s eight defeated Melbourne University in the annual Australian Boat Race.

The Sydney University eight, stroked by Fergus Pragnell , took an early lead after the boats left Woolwich Pier and coxswain Will Raven navigated the 4.4km course across Sydney Harbour to beat the University of Melbourne by just under 10 seconds at the finish line at Darling Harbour.

Melbourne University won the Bella Geurin Trophy for the women’s eight, for the fifth consecutive year,

Led by captain Jennifer Cleary, the Melbourne eight began strongly and gradually increased their lead to win by 28 seconds from the Sydney University eight stroked by Jasmin Howes.

Sasha Belonogoff, Sydney University men’s captain and 2014 World Championships bronze medallist said the crews were treated to a wonderful day on the Harbour.

“The sun was out and it was a beautiful morning, but the conditions were definitely rolly,” he said. “We knew we had to keep our rhythm and I think efficiency won it for us in the end. This win was a year in the making. The loss last year down in Melbourne really fired us up.”

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 the Yarra.

The first official intervarsity regatta was held in 1870 when the Sydney University crew included future prime minister Edmund Barton.

While the two universities kept meeting at Australian intervarsity regattas, the Australian Boat Race went into abeyance. To coincide with 150-year celebrations of both university boat clubs the Vice-Chancellors of the two institutions called for a challenge of the best male and female eight oared crews from each university.

Thus tradition was revived in 2009 when Sydney University and Melbourne University 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.

The Australian Boat Race officially became an annual event the following year when men’s and women’s negotiated a course on Sydney Harbour. It has since been alternatively on the Yarra and Sydney Harbour.

The crews consist of graduate and undergraduate rowers, with at least seven members of each crew (nine including coxswain) required to be current students.

Cleary said Sunday’s women’s race went according to plan for the Melbourne University eight.

“Our plan was to get out in front and stay there, to try to control the race from the start,” she said.

“The conditions were perfect for rowing, it was a pleasant surprise as we expected it to be a bit choppier than what we are used to on the Yarra.

“So it was great to get the win, and we’re very happy with the result, and it’s particularly special to get a win on Sydney’s home turf.”

The races were filmed from helicopters and from land and broadcast to 430 million homes across Asia through ESPN Star Asia, and Australia via Fox Sports. The eights were also followed by a spectator fleet and ferries and a big crowd along the shores of Darling Harbour.

“You don’t often get big crowds at rowing events,” said Sydney University men’s stroke Fergus Pragnell, who has crewed for NSW in their past seven King’s Cup wins. “You are trying to stay focused in the race, but you know it’s a pretty special event.”

The crews included:

Sydney University Men’s Eight: Alex Purnell (bow), Cameron Girdlestone, Jacob Bicknell, Thomas Whitehead, Sasha Belonogoff, Campbell Watts, Nick Hudson, Fergus Pragnell (stroke) and Will Raven (coxswain). Reserve: Daniel Whitehead. Coached by Mark Prater and Rick van Hooydonk.

Melbourne University men’s eight: Connor Grace (bow), Stuart Alexander, James Redhead, Jordan Smith, George Ellis, David Crawshay, Josh Booth, John Linke (stroke) and Samantha Sloss (coxswain). Reserve: Isaac Smith.Coached by Peter Kupcis.

Sydney University Women’s Eight:  Rebecca Humphris (bow),
Emma Thomas, Olivia Ashby, Nicole Stride, Jess Richardson, Leah Saunders, Ellena Winstanley, Jasmin Howes (stroke) and Ellen Laughton (coxswain). Reserve: Lydia Yerrell. Coached by Debbie Fox and Ester Verburg.

Melbourne University Women’s Eight: Alice Macnamara (bow), Olivia Siblin, India McKenzie, Adrianna Marulli, Claudia Zucchelli, Jenifer Cleary, Olivia Honore, Hedda Cooper (stroke) and Sarah Banting (coxswain). Reserve: Holly Treverton. Coached by Mike Steele.