June 6, 2013
SEATTLE, Wash. -Tennis has Wimbledon, Horseracing has the Kentucky Derby, and rowing has Henley. The Henley Royal Regatta is the world's premier rowing event, drawing elite crews of every age from all over the globe to compete for lifelong bragging rights. This year, that elite field will include two boats of Washington Huskies.
After winning their 3rd straight National Championship in dominant fashion - a second consecutive sweep of that regatta - the Washington men have decided to test their speed against the world's best at historic Henley.
The Huskies have taken on the extra challenge of rowing "up" into more exclusive categories than those traditionally reserved for their respective crews. Henley Royal includes twenty events for various boat classes rowed by athletes from the Olympic to high school level and every development increment in between. In each event, entrants race for a specific cup, which is the namesake of a particular event.
The varsity men will seek the Grand Challenge Cup, the absolute top category of the entire regatta and one usually reserved for Olympic and National Team boats. In entering the Grand, the Huskies know they will likely face crews who are preparing to represent their countries at the World Championship.
The second varsity eight will race for the Ladies Plate Challenge Cup. The Ladies Plate is a category traditionally reserved for top university crews and clubs, including America's top varsity eights. For example, in 2003 Washington won the Ladies Plate with its varsity crew. By racing in this "varsity" category, it will be a true test of just how fast this second varsity boat can go.
It is rare for a collegiate crew to enter the Grand Challenge. It's been more than 30 years since Washington's varsity eight entered and won this event. This now legendary 1977 Husky crew won under iconic coach Dick Erickson, and included Husky Olympians Mike Hess and John Stillings, Since then, only one collegiate crew - Harvard, in 1985 - has won the Grand.
Why are the Huskies putting themselves up against such tough competition this year? Coach Callahan believes he has two special crews and wants to see them push themselves, even if it means winning is less assured. "We want to know how fast we can go," says Callahan. "I think racing as the underdog after a high pressure season of being ranked #1 gives us a fresh opportunity and perspective."
Callahan also believes the timing is right to send two varsity crews. In 2010 and 2012 Washington sent its top freshman eight to race in Henley's Temple Cup (a category American junior varsity, freshman, and top lightweight crews usually enter). Both years, the Husky frosh won. Now those oarsmen are seniors and sophomores, and the opportunity to race in a more elite category is compelling. Washington hasn't taken a varsity eight to Henley since 2003, in part because so many upperclassmen have had commitments to internships, academics, and national team rowing. For example, last summer nine Husky oarsmen represented the United States on the U-23 team, winning Gold and Silver for Team U.S.A. at the U-23 World Championship.
This year though, the team has been committed to Henley from the beginning. "Every year we talk about the best way for our student athletes to spend the summer," explains Callahan. "This year it seemed like there was an early push for Henley. The guys wanted to represent Washington this summer, and there is no better way to do that than by racing at Henley."
Founded in 1839, Henley Royal Regatta is famous as both a great sporting event and social scene. The racing takes place on a 2,112-meter stretch of the Thames river, and its banks are lined with tens of thousands of spectators. If you plan to join the spectators, don't forget to pack your formal wear, the dress code at Henley is notoriously strict. Men are prohibited from removing their jackets, women's skirts must cover their knees, and formal hats are "encouraged." The five day event is unique within rowing in that all the races are duals so each crew advances through a single elimination bracket (rather than the six-boats-across format used in U.S. Championships.) Similar to basketball's March madness, a crew will have to race and win against a new opponent each day as it advances towards the final.
Washington won't know the other crews in their bracket until the formal "Draw" on June 29th, but rest assured this team isn't resting on their National Championship laurels. Says Callahan, "We know we are taking on a big challenge; it's a testament to the type of students athletes we have that taking this on is how they want to spend their summer. This is how they want to represent Washington rowing."
The support Washington Rowing receives allows the Huskies to continue to compete internationally to establish themselves as a rowing powerhouse, both nationally and around the world. To support the Huskies' trip to Henley this summer Support the Huskies' Trip to Henley.
For more information on the Regatta, visit http://www.hrr.co.uk