April 28, 2010
By Michael Jeremiah
SEATTLE - The 24th annual Windermere Cup held its press conference on Wednesday ahead of the Opening Day Regatta this weekend on Lake Washington. Washington is joined by crews from Syracuse and Oxford in the weekend's marquee races which will create excitement that will hopefully match the pageantry of the Opening Day of boating season.
With representatives from Washington and Oxford across the interview table, Coach Michael Callahan discussed the opportunity to face off against the Dark Blues when the Windermere Cup races begin on Saturday, May 1 at 10:20 a.m.
"A few years after hiring [Washington freshman coach and former Oxford rower] Luke McGee, we sat down and talked about making unique experiences for our student athletes at Washington," said Callahan. "One of the ideas that we cooked up would be to go to England and participate in a pre-Boat Race fixture. That got us started. We wanted to do a home and home and invited them to come do our special event here also."
Oxford brings a rich history of rowing to the Windermere Cup. A part of the legendary Boat Race along with Cambridge, Oxford traces its origins back to 1856 and the historic Oxford-Cambridge races on the Thames. This year, Oxford lost to Cambridge in the 156th annual Boat Race, allowing the Light Blues to come from behind to win in 17:35.
Instead of the curved 4.25 mile Boat Race course on the Thames that the two competed in last year, the Windermere Cup will be the usual Olympic-style 2,000-meter race starting parallel to the Evergreen Point Bridge and ending where the Montlake Cut enters Portage Bay.
Washington boasts one of the top crews in the United States, while Oxford is routinely one of the best in the world. Washington Rowing Director Bob Ernest was clear that the Windermere Cup's final competitor, Syracuse, is also a threat to cross the finish line first on Saturday.
"I'm really pleased that [Syracuse] is coming," said Ernst. "They are really good, they're credible and I'm telling you that both the Washington and the Oxford crew will have to keep their eyes on [Syracuse]."
Comparisons to the Boat Race were made throughout the press conference. Thousands line the Thames in London for the fixture between Oxford and Cambridge, while Washington boasts another premier race in terms of attendance and quality by scheduling opponents from all over the globe.
One of the most exciting features of the Windermere Cup is that it will feature both sides of the Crew programs. That part positively inspired the always gregarious Ernst to stake the Windermere Cup as an advertisement for women's rowing.
"One of the most important things about the Windermere Cup is that almost every single year you see the counterpart men's and women's team from each institution," said Ernst. "In a lot of places in the world women's rowing is not promoted at all. It has been my personal crusade because I've been lucky to coach both high caliber men's and women's crew, to make this opportunity available for women's crew all around the world as well."
Oxford Women's Coach Chris Reed supported that point, hoping to take this experience to help his own program, as well as Women's rowing across the United Kingdom to gain more exposure and take the next step.
Despite the other two competitors being across the nation and across the world, there are ties to the Northwest among them. Washington Freshman Coach Luke McGee rowed collegiately at Oxford, and recounted having his van rocked by excited fans on the way to the Boat Race in London. Former UW champion Ante Kursurin went on to row in two Boat Races for Oxford, and is a part of the Oxford delegation.
"Windermere Cup was one of the reasons I came to UW," said Kusurin, who mentioned that he grew interested in Washington after a boat from his native Croatia rowed in the Windermere Cup.
Both Syracuse coaches have ties to the Northwest, as Women's Coach Chris Sanford won a national championship as the stroke of the Varsity at Washington under Ernst in 1987. Men's coach Dave Reischmann rowed at Gonzaga before coaching some quality Oregon State teams and recently moved out to Central New York where he is presiding over a fast rising team in the Orange.
With pageantry, prestigious opponents, history and peculiar familiarity between non-geographical opponents, the 24th Annual Windermere Cup will go down as one of the most anticipated editions of a beloved Northwest tradition yet.
Those who have already competed in the event, as well as the Boat Race and the Olympics in Beijing, know the unique excitement that comes along with being a part of the Windermere Cup.
"It was definitely one of the most fun regattas that I've ever had in my life," said Kusurin.