Sept. 8, 2005
HAMILTON, New Zealand - The Huskies will gain a newfound respect for salmon this weekend. A Washington men's crew will row upstream, competing in an unconventional event called The Great Race.
The UW eight leaves the relatively placid waters of the Montlake Cut to compete Saturday on the raging Waikato River in Hamilton, New Zealand. Not only will they be rowing upstream, they'll be doing it for longer than twice the distance of their traditional 2,000-meter course.
The Huskies are guests of Waikato University, invited to compete against the host in the fourth Gallagher Great Race. The nearly three-mile (4800-meter) race annually features Waikato against a foreign crew. In its first two years, the event included English crews from Oxford and Cambridge University.
The unusual nature of the course, on the central North Island, forces the hosts to provide visitors with a detailed briefing on the complexities of the route. The current flows from side to side, constantly changing directions and drastically slowing down the boats.
"It's a unique race and really a big deal in New Zealand where it is televised nationally," UW coach Bob Ernst remarked about the event that will also be broadcast on radio and is expected to draw 20,000 spectators. "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."
The Husky crew is comprised of rowers eligible for the 2006 season. Four of the rowers were members of UW's bronze medal freshman eight at the 2005 IRA championships: Drew Fowler, Steve Full, Rob Gibson and Thomas McCrea. Ante Kusurin and Kiel Peterson competed in the Huskies' fourth-place varsity eight while Tyler Smith rowed in the national championship junior varsity eight. Adam Van Winkle and coxswain Mary Katherine Langlais collected gold medals in June as members of the national championship open four crew.
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 a lineup featuring one Olympian and five national team members.
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.