Oct. 21, 2005
by Adam Mesick
Every May for the past 20 years, the University of Washington has hosted an array of crews from around the globe in the annual Windermere Cup regatta.
This fall, one international crew returned the favor.
New Zealand rowing powerhouse Waikato University extended the Huskies a special invitation to compete in an event dubbed "The Great Race" due to its extreme difficulty. Spanning 4.8 kilometers, and run against the current on the Waikato River, the race is a battle of strength, endurance and will between hosts Waikato and their invited guests.
Washington head coach Bob Ernst believes that the Huskies' ability to launch rowers on successful international careers, as well as the regular international competition that is a part of the annual Windermere Cup, each played significant role in the Huskies' invitation to compete in the prestigious match.
"The reason we get included in a lot of these neat events is because we have the Windermere Cup, and we invite international teams every year," he says. "There were also more Huskies on the Olympic (rowing) team in 2004 than any other university."
Waikato in fact hosts two events, The Great Race up the Waikato River, and an ergometer competition held two days prior. Knowing that the team that has won the ergometer competition has gone on to win every Great Race in the regatta's history, the Huskies came out strong and stunned the more experienced Waikato crew, as well as the national teams from Australia and New Zealand.
"I told the guys that, between the Kiwis and the Aussies, the only way you were going to see more world champions than were in that room at that time was if you went to the party after the World Championships in Japan," Ernst says.
An estimated 20,000 spectators packed the banks of the Waikato for the race, while thousands more watched on a national television broadcast. Ernst knew that for the Huskies to win, they would have to take advantage of two critical components.
"First, what lane you chose, and second, whether you got ahead in the first two minutes of the race," he says. "If you don't get the left hand lane, you just have to fall in behind the other boat; there is nothing else you can do about it. It is almost impossible to pass on the course."
Unfortunately for the Huskies, Ernst proved prophetic. Hosts Waikato earned the favored left lane and shot out ahead of the Huskies, leaving the UW rowers to trail behind the Kiwis' wake for the duration of the race. Despite the defeat, the young Washington crew -- including five sophomores -- learned some valuable lessons that they will certainly apply if they have the chance to race Waikato again.
"We have the crews invited for the Windermere Cup in 2006, but they will be included as an option for 2007," Ernst says. "We would like to have them come up here, and we would like to go back down there.
"And next time, we are going to do some things different."