Sept. 9, 2005
HAMILTON, New Zealand - University of Washington men's rowers stunned their older and more experienced competitors from New Zealand's Waikato University on Thursday, winning the ergometer competition that serves as a tune-up for the Great Race.
Each year a foreign crew is invited to compete against Waikato in a spectacular event that draws 20,000 spectators and is televised throughout New Zealand. The two eight-oared crews battle upstream over a unique 4,800-meter (approximately 3-mile) course on the Waikato River. The current and the distance, which is longer than twice the traditional length, will be unfamiliar to the Huskies who are accustomed to their relatively placid 2,000-meter Montake Cut home course. Previous Great Race entries included English crews from Cambridge and Oxford.
"It's a unique race and really a big deal in New Zealand where it is televised nationally," UW coach Bob Ernst remarked. "The course is different than we are used to, but it's still rowing and we'll train hard to put on a good show."
It bodes well for the Huskies that the winner of the indoor competition won the previous three Great Races. The teams were split into fours, with UW winning by narrow margins for both groups on the rowing machines that simulated a 750-meter course.
The UW stern four clocked a time of 2-minutes, 4.8-seconds, 1.5 seconds faster than their Waikato counterparts. The Huskies won the battle of the bow fours by half a second with a time of 2:10.3.
"They are a slick outfit," Great Race organizer Rob Hamill exclaimed of the UW crew. "But it says a lot about our crew that they were right up there too, so it's going to be a hell of a race tomorrow."
Washington sustained a serious setback when its most accomplished rower, senior Ante Kusurin, was not allowed into the country. The native of Zagreb, Croatia placed second in the "B" final of the men's double sculls last week at the 2005 World Rowing Championships in Gifu, Japan.
Kusurin was planning to travel from Japan to join his UW teammates, but Croatia is regarded as a high-risk country by the New Zealand Immigration Service and his visa request was denied.
The re-configured Husky lineup, comprised of rowers eligible for the 2006 season, includes junior Kiel Petersen from last season's varsity eight. Three members of UW's 2005 national championship open four are in the lineup -- Craig Tyler, Adam Van Winkle and coxswain Mary Katherine Langlais.
The crew also has four members of the bronze medal freshman eight from the 2005 IRA championships -- Drew Fowler, Steve Full, Rob Gibson and Thomas McCrea.
In preparation for this event, the Huskies practiced a few days in late August on some choppy water in the Everett area. They've had plenty of time to get acclimated to New Zealand as they departed Seattle Aug. 27 and have been training down under ever since.
The course will be difficult and the competition even tougher. Waikato is a formidable opponent with veteran rowers all older than 20-years-old. The Kiwi crew has five national team members, including Nathan Twaddle who was in the winning coxless pair at the world championships.
The festivities surrounding The Great Race include a traditional Haka dance prior to the race and a ball afterwards. But during the race, it won't be a party for the competitors as they strain to row upstream.