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Cool temperatures prevail as competition heats up

It was still and clear as the sun rose this morning on picturesque Lake Barrington – a photographer’s dream as rowers arrived at the course rugged up for the fifth day of the 2021 Aon Australian Rowing Championships. Breath misted the crisp air as rowers to the serene waters for the second day of finals, beginning with the rescheduled PR3 Men’s Single Scull Final.

It was Thomas Birtwhistle of UTS that shot out of the blocks early, with Sydney University Boat Club’s James Talbot hanging on to his stern; Torrens Rowing Club’s Jed Altschwager was half a boat length back in third through the halfway mark, but put in an extra burst through the third 500 to try and reel the leader in, but it was Birtwhistle who commanded the race and crossed with clear water back to the field, with Altschwager claiming the silver and Talbot securing the bronze.

The Under 17 Women’s double scull saw a phenomenal finish from the Loreto Kirribilli crew of Alyssa Fikkers and Lauren Moran storm through to nab the gold medal, 0.52 seconds back to the Mosman crew in silver and only 0.64 seconds back to the Loreto Marryatville crew who claimed the bronze.

It was an all-the-way win to Queensland’s Pine Rivers crew of Ella Smith and Jaeve Proberts, who took the gold ahead of favoured Canberra Grammar School duo Zoe Bond and Madeline Vagg.

It was Gippsland Grammar’s Lindsay Hamilton and Billy Osborne who stormed to a four second lead in the first 1000m of the Under 19 Men’s Double Scull in search of the Tim Hawkins Memorial Trophy. The Victorian duo led the race from start to finish, with Newington, Redlands and Ballarat Grammar duking it out for the silver and bronze medals. Ultimately it was Redlands School’s Alexander Verschoor and Alexander Holtheuer who took silver while Will Clarke and Hugh Bond took the bronze for Ballarat Grammar.

Gippsland Grammar won the Tim Hawkins Memorial Trophy (Copyright RA/Linda Higginson)

Hutchins Schoolboys delighted the home crowd with an all-the-way win in the Under 19 Men’s Coxed Four; Harry Sillifant, Oscar Newbury, Samuel Mounter, Benjamin Boman and cox Angus Whatling won in a time of 6:33.96 with clear water back to the rest of the field. It was a three-way tussle for the minor positions between St Peter’s College, Adelaide, St Patrick’s College, Victoria and Brisbane Boys; it was the South Australian crew, coached by three-time Olympian James McRae, who snared the silver with the Victorian crew claiming the bronze. A great cheer rose from supporters around the dais when the local Tasmanian crew from Hutchins claimed their gold medals.

Griffith University Surfers Paradise RC duo of Olivia Georgilopoulos and Danica Free, coached by Lincoln Handley and Olympian, and Danica’s father, Duncan Free, showed strength in the Under 21 Women’s Double Scull thriller, edging out local North Esk crew of Abbey Boutcher and Greta Brown to claim their first National Championship gold, while Mercantile pipped the ANU crew at the line to claim the bronze.

Danica spoke about how thrilling it was to win here in her family’s home state of Tasmania. “We put a lot of work in, it’s exciting to win!” She also spoke positively of having her Olympic Gold Medallist father, Duncan, coaching her, “It’s a bit different to other people, being coached by your dad, but I really enjoy it.” Teammate Olivia was relieved that the conditions were near-perfect for their race, “We were so happy when we arrived and saw the course today, we knew the race was going to be tough but our plan was go out early and finish hard – and it worked today!”

In the U23 Men’s Four, the composite crew of Gus Lauffman (West Australian RC), Myles McQuillam (Swan River RC), Alexander Potter and Alex Nichol (both Sydney) had a measured race to pace themselves through the pack to move from third, to second and the half way before taking the first place in a time of 6 minutes 15 seconds.

“It was about being mature racers, we knew we might not be in front to begin with but we have the confidence to work our way through the pack knowing we’ve got good rhythm,” said Potter.

“We backed our mid-race, which we knew would be tough with the head breeze, and we knew our rhythm and fitness would stand us in good stead. We’re all aiming for Under 23s [Australian Rowing Team] so this result is a good one for us,” added McQuillam.

Racing in action (Copyright RA/Linda Higginson)

The Open events saw the recently named Australian combination of Tara Rigney (Sydney University BC) and Amanda Bateman (Mercantile) win the Women’s Double Scull, while Campbell Watts (SUBC) and David Watts (Sydney Rowing Club) take home the men’s title.

In the Open Fours, predictably the women’s event was won by the Hancock Prospecting Women’s NTC composite of Lucy Stephan (Melbourne University BC), Rosie Popa (Banks), Jessica Morrison (Mercantile) and Annabelle McIntyre. The men’s race left no surprises either, with Australia’s recently named Men’s Four, out of the Reinhold Batschi Men’s National Training Centre, winning the Bob Aitken Memorial Trophy. The crew of Alexander Purnell (SUBC), Spencer Turrin (Sydney), Jack Hargreaves (SUBC) and Alexander Hill (Adelaide) led from start to finish clocking a time of 5 minutes 59.84 seconds.

In the Underage Lightweight sculling events, there were wins for Wallis Russell (SUBC) and Maddie Williams (University of Queensland BC) in the U23 Lightweight Women’s Double, with the Sydney/WARC duo of Grace Sypher and Georgia Seed taking silver and the Huon pairing of Katja Cook and Kate Hall snapping up bronze.

The U23 Men’s Double Scull was taken out by North Esk/ANU composite of Connor Ryan and Hamish Harding, with Swan River/Adelaide combination of Rohan James and Oscar McGuinness crossing in second ahead of the Melbourne University/Sydney University composite of Damien Schroeder and Wyatt Batt.

The Open Lightweight Women’s Double Scull result was as predicted, with the recently named Australian Lightweight Double Sculls of Georgia Nesbitt and Sarah Pound (Huon/UTS) taking the win, while in the male event it was the UTS/University of Queensland of Michael McCrea and Morgan Hodgson took gold.

The U19 Women’s Coxed Four medallists (Copyright RA/Linda Higginson)

The spectacular Buckingham Trophy was awarded today, by Buckingham Rowing Club Life Member and Australian Rowing Team alumni, Ian Jordan. The trophy, for the Lightweight Men’s Eight was won by a predominantly Toowong composite eight with ANU, North Esk, and Mosman crews to post the win in five minutes 55 seconds ahead of a Barwon/Banks composite crew who took silver.

The PR1 Men’s Single Scull event raced alongside the PR2 Men’s Single Scull event, seeing five-time World Champion and two-time Paralympic silver medallist Erik Horrie racing against Simon Albury, newly selected into the Australian PR2 Mixed Double Scull with Paralympic silver medallist and multiple World Champion Kathryn Ross, and a PR1 competitor from Queensland, Ned Sparksman.

“It’s great to see new competitors – having Simon next to me, even though he’s the class above in the PR2, it’s unbelievable, and to have someone new, Ned, come down from Queensland and have a go shows that the rowing is improving within Australia and I think that with all the support that we’ve been getting over after the last couple of years, the entire para-rowing program is certainly making leaps and bounds.”

Within the race, Simon and Erik seemed to pace each other through the first 1500m, however it was the Torrens Rowing Club sculler who put on a burst and finished first, though both were Australian Champions in their respective class.

“I think certainly, if it wasn’t for Simon sitting beside me in that race, and taking off at the end – you would have thought he could have been nicer to an old man like me and let me beat him – but it’s so good, without him pushing me there I don’t think I would have got the time that I did.”

Later in the afternoon the clubs and schools took the water for a variety of repechages, heats and semi-finals.

The Schoolboy Eights raced their heats in the final two races, which saved the best till last. There was buzz on the bank about the Victorian crews as they raced their Head of the River last week and Brighton Grammar School won the Schoolboy Eight for the first time since 1983, with St Kevin’s College crew in second and Scotch College Victoria coming third.

The crews did not disappoint with all laying down statements in their heats; Scotch posted the fastest time of five minutes 51 seconds in the first heat, with 2.88 seconds back to the Brighton Grammar crew, while the second heat was an absolute humdinger; the four leading crews crossed within 0.75 seconds of each other with St Kevin’s a bow-ball behind, the margin only 0.09 seconds between first and second. Tasmanian locals The Hutchins School crew were third with South Australian crew St Peter’s College in fourth.

Tomorrow morning will see finals of Quads and Eights throughout the day with semi-finals and repechages of school and club events; the afternoon’s racing will see the fast and furious sprint racing where crews fight off over 500m for the sprint prize. Tune in on the livestream for all the action!