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Victoria reclaim King’s and Queen’s Cups

Cars drove the winding road for the final day of racing here at Lake Barrington this morning, a thick fog covered the course and added a touch of drama, with athletes, coaches, and supporters already on edge for the final day of the 2021 Aon Australian Rowing Championships. The wind picked up later and came in bursts all day; the headwind had a slight cross to it, creating tough racing conditions for all.

The day proved to be all that it promised, finals fever was in the air and the rowers felt it too. The result of the morning had to be the Schoolboy’s Eight, for the Barrington Cup, which was led all the way from the outside lane by the South Australian crew from St Peter’s College, coached by three-time Olympian James McRae. This is the state’s first win in this event since 1968. The St Peter’s crew held half a length off the Shore crew from New South Wales who took the silver, with another half length back to the fast-finishing crew from Queensland, Brisbane Boy’s School, who

Melbourne Girls Grammar (Copyright RA/Linda Higginson)

claimed the bronze.

St Peter’s College, Adelaide (Copyright RA/Linda Higginson)

Melbourne Girls’ Grammar School delighted their fans by winning the Sydney Cup for the Schoolgirl Eight, over Victorian rivals St Catherine’s School. It was an all-Victorian podium, with Methodist Ladies College snapping up the bronze.

The Schoolgirl single scull was won by Queenslander Sophie Malcolm who raced for her school, Brisbane State High School; this was Malcolm’s third time on the podium for the single scull as the 16-year-old took out the Under 17 single event and won silver in the Under 21 Lightweight single event earlier this week. The Schoolboy Single scull was won convincingly by Scotch College – Adelaide’s Adam Holland; the 16-year-old also claimed the silver in the Under 19 scull earlier in the week.

Strong racing through the week from Radford College, Canberra saw the school named the victors of the Schoolboys Points Score Trophy and joint winners, with Loreto Kirribilli, of the Schoolgirls Points Score Trophy.

The Club Women’s Coxless Four was a brilliant all-the-way win by home state crew, Buckingham Rowing Club. The crew of Courtney Blyth, Hannah Dobbie, Julie Janssens and Isabelle Higgins, coached by Abbie Crow, finished 4.49 seconds ahead of Sydney University Boat Club (SUBC) in second place. Both Men’s and Women’s Club eights were won by SUBC, as well as the Club Men’s Four, this secured a successful week for them and they won the overall Club Pointscore.

The Interstate Regatta kicked off with the PR3 Men’s Single scull, Jed Altschwager (SA) led from the start to take the win ahead of Queenslander Mac Russell, this being the first ever national gold medal for Altschwager. A gutsy row from ACT’s Nicholas Neales secured him a bronze, a great result for ACT rowing who have worked hard to develop their Para-rowing program.

Altschwager was ecstatic about his win, and talked about the headwind making things tough but said his race plan was about trusting his training. “I knew not to chase the rate, especially in the early stages – you needed to be solid while other people might make mistakes in the conditions. Rowing clean worked.

“I’ve been chasing this for about three of four years now – obviously, everything was cancelled last year because of COVID, I got gastro in 2019 and was unable to compete, so to be able to come here and show the results of my work in the single is awesome – I’m stoked!”

ACT’s Nikki Ayers raced a controlled, courageous race in more tough conditions, finishing just a boat length clear water back to Victoria’s Jessica Gallagher who claimed the silver, with NSW’s Bronte Marshall in bronze. Ayers said that the nerves were building as the boats had trouble attaching at the start, but that the pride of wearing her state colours kept her focused. “It’s all in the head really, rowing long, strong and loose all through the race, focusing on breathing, it was only in the last 250m where I really thought, ‘Yep – I’ve got this’ and just brought it home.”

A late change in the program saw Alexander Hill (SA) step into the race for the President’s Cup to look for his third title, throwing the challenge to the winner of the Open Men’s Scull earlier this week. Cameron Girdlestone (NSW). The two pushed away from Luke Letcher (ACT) who solidly held the bronze position from start to finish. Even with Girdlestone throwing everything at him in the final stages of the race, Hill claimed his third consecutive victory in the event by only 0.73 seconds.

Though a seasoned racer, Hill said he still got nervous for this race. “It was pretty bouncy up at the start line, I’ve not done much sculling recently – and I knew I was up against really tough competition with Cam, I knew he’d push me to the last stroke – which he did. I was happy to get away with that one!”

It was another massive effort in the women’s event, Tara Rigney of NSW came from behind in the race for the Nell Slatter Trophy, the New South Welshwoman just pipped Australian Rowing teammate Caitlin Cronin )QLD), by 0.94 seconds on the line. This was Rigney’s first Interstate title in the Australian National Championships, she said, “I had a couple of sly looks to see where Caitlin was, but the water was so wild, I was just focusing on getting two blades in at a time!”

Of racing in the New South Wales colours, she was positive about the camaraderie in the team. “It’s so cool getting together as a state and being around all the older, more experienced athletes – it brings a whole bunch of people from different clubs together to root for your state.”

The Men’s Youth Eight was a clear three-way battle between New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, with Western Australia just slipping a boat length back to fourth. It was the Victorian crew who came out the victors, leading from the start, while NSW claimed silver and Queensland took the bronze. Nick Smith, the six-seat of the Victorian eight, said the crew had been working on brining the Noel F. Wilkinson Trophy back for a while; the last win for Victoria in the event was 2014. “Our plan was to have a good first 10-15 strokes, power transition and it all just clicked. The pay off after all that work was awesome, it’s an unreal feeling!”

The Women’s Youth Eight race, for the Bicentennial Cup, was an absolute humdinger between NSW, Victoria, and WA – with defending champions, NSW, going out early and leading through the 1000m mark. Victoria held silver and WA were in the bronze position until West Australians put on a turn of speed and surged forward to the front, while NSW seemed to fall back, perhaps having gone out hard too early. Victoria continued to push, but WA had the momentum, and the three crews crossed the line within three seconds of one another – WA claiming the Bicentennial Cup for only the second time ever for this event, with Victoria finishing in silver, while NSW snapped up the bronze.

The WA Youth Women’s Eight (Copyright RA/Linda Higginson)

Rebecca Pretorius, stroke of the WA Eight, said they loved Tasmania – the last time the state won the event was in 2003, at Lake Barrington. “We’ve been training this for a bit – we have raced some of the regattas in Perth against the schoolboys. But it was so tight; I had no idea where we were sitting until we finished! It was so exciting to finish and see we had come first. To win here in Barrington is very special.”

The Lightweight Men’s Four was, as predicted, anyone’s race. The headwind seemed to even out the field, but it was a stellar effort from Queensland that won them the Penrith Cup, with NSW charging home to steal the silver from Victoria who took the bronze, Tasmania only a length behind. Tom Williamson, stroke of the winning boat, said, “That is absolutely one to remember! Grey skies, headwind – nothing can ruin that. Straight to the memory bank.

“We had a hit out yesterday in the Open Lightweight Four, and it didn’t go to plan. We came out with the mindset to change that and were still not quite on the pace we wanted, but stayed in our framework, found our rhythm, and sat in it. NSW gave us a scare in the last kilometre – they came back absolutely hammering, but we managed to hold on to it. The lads just performed out of their skins today, it was so good to see everyone step up to this level that you need when you throw on the Queensland zootie!”

The Lightweight Women’s Quadruple Scull for the Victoria Cup was one that many locals were keenly interested in as Tasmania were looking to defend their title. The crew did not disappoint, the combination of Kate Hall, Anneka Reardon, Eve Mure and Georgia Nesbitt sculled brilliantly to lead from the start and finished a length clear of a tight tussle for silver which Queensland nabbed, while NSW took the bronze. This was Nesbitt’s fourth win in the event, but the first time in front of the home crowd. “It’s awesome to win here at Lake Barrington, Eve and I were just saying, when we rowed at school for the National Championships here in 2009, our Tassie lightweight quad won that year, and that was so awesome to watch – that’s us now, it’s pretty cool!”

The King’s Cup was another battle of the giants as NSW and Victoria pushed out to a length’s lead by the thousand metre mark over Queensland. The crews sat within a second of each other the entire way, changing leads multiple times as they charged over 40 strokes per minute the entire length of the course. The final 500m was an all-out sprint, both crews taking as many strokes as they could, with Victoria hitting rates of 48 strokes per minute in the closing stages, and the race ended with a photo finish. It was Victorian crew of Benjamin Canham, Ben Coombs, Jack Robertson, Rohan Lavery, Nick Lavery, Simon Keenan, Joshua Booth and Angus Widdicombe, coxed by Stuart Sim, who took the Cup by only 0.16 seconds over NSW. Queensland raced ahead of WA to take the podium finish.

Victoria with the King’s Cup (Copyright RA/Linda Higginson)

Joshua Booth, seven-seat of the Victorian crew, said it was unbelievable feeling to get the Cup back. “Obviously we were rowing against a very strong crew, we’re two very strong states; we put it all in to the first kilometre and had to back ourselves into a corner – we felt like we were the underdogs. We executed our race plan, had a couple of young guys in the boat that brought some good belief and brought a lot of energy – it paid off, it felt like we hung on to it by the skin of our teeth.

“The atmosphere when everyone’s down here and with the finals – it’s just electric, and it’s just a nice place to be. After so long at Penrith, it’s a really welcome change of environment, and great to take the best of Australian Rowing all around the country.”

The Interstate Women’s Eight was the blue riband event of the day, celebrating 100 years since the first Queen’s Cup was rowed, then, for a coxed four. New South Wales were the defending champions of this event, breaking Victoria’s 14-year winning streak back in 2019, so spectators were keen to see whether the ladies in light blue would do it again.

The Victorian crew left nothing to chance – they went out hard, early and never let up, extending their lead throughout the whole race to close with a dominant win, two lengths of clear water back to the crew from NSW. Queensland won the bronze medal.

Lucy Stephan, seven-seat of the Victorian boat, talked about how the 2019 result affected her, and how it drove her to push for the win today. “I was not a very good loser – I tried my best, I said well done to the girls, and then I put that feeling away and have just had it festering for two years.

“You get to this point where there’s just relief when you win – you don’t want to be in the Victorian crew that loses, and we were the crew that lost, so it was a pretty heartbreaking day. This whole week we’ve been meticulous, making sure every single pre-row was on, every stroke was on point, and we all put it in place when we had to, and that really put us on the front foot. This is very exciting!”

While New South Wales were not the victors in the Eights, the State was crowned the most successful during the Interstate Regatta and were awarded the Rowing Australia Cup.

Victoria with the Queen’s Cup (Copyright RA/Linda Higginson)