The Sydney University Boat Club (SUBC) Men’s development eight of Jack O’Brien, Leon Chambers, Devlin Walsh, Marcus Britt, Morgan Brooking, Charlie Wheatley, Nathan Young, Matthew Murray, Harry Wright, coxed by Dani Pettit and Coached by Don McLachlan and Will Raven toured through three cities in China over the winter break as part of a series of regattas run but The Chinese Rowing Association.
The Regattas are known as the International Universities Rowing Regatta (IURR), where the Chinese provincial government sporting bodies invite the rowing teams from the top universities around the world.
The trip including, flights, accommodation, tourist activities and the loaning of boats is all provided by the Chinese Rowing Association, with the aim of hosting a competitive regatta, whilst also promoting the sport and its benefits, primarily team work, to the Chinese communities of each host city.
Races in the IURR are held over shorter distances than the rowers are used to, allowing for closer margins and a greater spectacle whilst viewing the races.
The first city to host IURR 2017 was Hangzhou, where competition was held on the West Lakes, in the heart of the city, with the theme ‘Famous City, Famous Lake, Famous Universities’.
SUBC won their heat in convincing style over Brown University, posting the fastest qualifying time over the 1000m distance.
With China experiencing a heat wave of temperatures over 45 degrees and high humidity, the racing of the final was almost cancelled. A vote by a delegate from each team as to if we should proceed with racing, saw the majority of international crews voting yes to proceed.
The final saw a great head to head battle forming at the front of the field between SUBC and The University of Amsterdam, with no more than a canvas separating the crews the entire way down the course. SUBC narrowly held on to take victory by one seat over the Dutch crew who boasted a number of world cup medallists, with the University of London taking bronze.
The crew’s time of 2minutes 45seconds was extremely fast – especially considering the oldest rower in the SUBC boat was only 20-years-old.
The second host city was Cixi, an ancient town about three hours from Hangzhou. This regatta was deemed as a ‘fun’ regatta by the host organisation, with no times to be recorded and no awarding of medals or trophies for places.
With this in mind, a number of Unis decided to mix crews up and row composites with other universities. SUBC teamed up with the University of Amsterdam, swapping the bow four from each boat. The racing format saw three straight finals of four boats in each racing down the course.
SUBC had representatives in all three winning crews, with SUBC’s Will Raven coxing the University of London boat to win the first race, the stern four of the SUBC crew racing with the University of Amsterdam to win the second race, and the Bow four of the SUBC crew racing with the University of Amsterdam to win the third and final race.
This was a great experience for all, with everyone learning about different approaches to racing and even differing styles on how to row each stroke. This unique experience was one of the highlights of the trip, as it is extremely rare for crews to mix with other international standard athletes in the same boat at international regattas.
The racing in Cixi was also notably exciting, as the majority of the population of the ancient town and surrounding regions came to support the regatta, drawing thousands of spectators, in many cases the biggest crowd any of these athletes will ever get to experience racing in front of.
The third and final host city was Changsha, where SUBC raced in 2016. Changsha has a great cultural history within China with it being the place where Chairman Mao grew to prominence with the Communist Party.
A notable monument to Mao is a 32m high statue of his head on the Orange Isle where the IURR was held. Racing in Changsha was spread over two days, with heats on the Saturday and finals on the Sunday. The heats were drawn with the rankings from Hangzhou taken into consideration, SUBC again had an easy win in the heat over a composite crew from Harvard, University of Washington and Sydney Uni to secure a middle lane for the final. The Dutch crew along with Brown University had a tight race in heat two, showing they would be crews to watch in the final.
The final saw SUBC represented in two crews, with the full SUBC eight racing, and SUBC tour reserve Harry wright getting the call up to help strengthen the line-up of Harvard and Washington. SUBC jumped out to a dominant lead in the final with clear water over the field at the 500m mark, with the following four crews dead level fighting it out for second at the half way.
SUBC had a minor setback in the closing stages with a ‘crab’ slowing the boat down, and the rest of the race closing in. The crew held on to a half-length win in the end, with Amsterdam in second, Brown in third, University of London in fourth and the Harvard/Washington/Sydney Uni composite taking fifth ahead of Shanghai Jiao Tong. Yale came away ranked seventh winning the b-final.
Overall the tour was extremely successful for the Sydney Uni crew, going into the regatta as underdogs, being the youngest boat in the series of regattas. The crew not only won each of the regattas, they also showed good maturity in racing with solid improvements throughout the tour, extending the winning margin as each race went on. The crew were not only exposed to challenging international racing competition, they were also exposed to a more enjoyable part of touring, with each host city spoiling the crews with great hospitality and a number of interesting cultural excursions to schools, tourist sites and places of local significance.
SUBC would like to extend its thanks to The Chinese Rowing Association, the local communities of Hangzhou, Cixi and Changsha, along with all the volunteers who made our experience so enjoyable.