The 2008 National Regatta was marked by fantastic conditions and in the final race, the Kings Cup, one of the most spectacular finishes in the recent history of interstate rowing. They say if you want victory or power you must grab it in a most uncompromising way - that is exactly what the Sky Blues of the NSW Men's Eight did today in the Kings Cup. A narrow, tenacious victory in a race where the three leading crews competed with passion, determination and a ruthlessness that brought the emotions of both competitors and supporters out in the open.
The NSW crew had been steadily building their momentum since pushing the champions, Victoria, at Nagambie in 2007.
The crew was boated with Athen's bronze medallist Steve Stewart changing sides to stroke on bowside and newcomer Terrence Alfred in the seven seat. Backing up in six was Stewart?s fellow UTS stalwart James Chapman and immediately behind in the engine room was NSW?s biggest gun, Tom Laurich from Mosman. In 4, 3 and 2 were Alfred?s fellow SUBC club mates ? Fergus Pragnell, Francis Hegerty and Matt Ryan. The bow position was brilliantly handled by Sam Loch who returned to Australia in 2006 from Princeton and achieved selection this year in the Olympic eight. Fergus Pragnell and fellow crew members joked that with an athlete of Sam?s ability in the bow they had invented a ?front wheel drive? boat.
Steering was 2008 Olympic cox Marty Rabjohns. Marty who recently, after a team bonding session, has entered the windscreen repair business, but was on this occasion working in a field in which he had greater expertise.
Although all members of the crew and reserve Nick Baxter were competing against each other for positions in the Australian Men?s Olympic Eight over the last 12 months they never lost connection with their desire to claim this prestigious trophy which has been rarely in NSW hands in the past twenty years.
The draw which saw the most favoured crews NSW and Victoria in Lanes 1 and 6 ,on opposite sides of the course, was always going to affect how the race was run but ultimately heightened the tension of an incredibly close finish.
The West Aussies started like an express train in the following conditions and knocked over the first 500 in 1.21.25 taking a 2.5 sec lead over NSW with the Vics only 0.17 behind. The Sandgropers were trying to steal the race but the Light Blues and the Navy Blues of NSW and Victoria stayed calm believing their race tactics would bring them through WA as the event progressed.
In the second 500 NSW cut 1.2 secs from the WA lead and the Victorians a little less. At the 1000 it was WA by 1.32 secs and Victoria only 0.4 behind NSW. At the 1500 it was still WA but into the last 500 NSW sliced the lead quickly and shot ahead of WA with around 350 to go BUT the Victorians were also now swamping the former leaders. The Vics were now attacking and cox Rabjohns and stroke Stewart were covering their effort and holding an advantage of about 0.45 with only 250 to run to the bubble line.
The Vics with their legends, Tomkins, Ginn and Crawshay on board unwound their traditional blistering finish. A finish, which, in most of the past twenty years, has destroyed the hopes of other contenders. A finish which is exciting and which brought the crowd to its feet. The Victorian supporters were hoping for the usual effect. The New South Wales crowd were willing their team to hold out the big V.
The crowd noise was drowning out the commentary and the NSW crew rose to the occasion, and despite some erratic movements in the boat?s course as the Vic?s applied the pressure, it looked like NSW may have just held on in a photo for first.
A minute of tension for the crowd and then the announcement of the photo ? NSW Kings Cup winners over Victoria by 0.21 with WA 3.14 back in third.
The passion for this race was evident in the crew and the supporters of NSW and just as poignantly on the faces of the Victorian eight.
It was obvious in the crowd as parents of the winning and losing athletes cried tears of joy, elation and sadness for their sons. For this correspondent one of the moments of memory will be being offered gracious congratulation for NSW's victory by the mother of one of Australia?s greatest ever rowers while the disappointment for her son was so evident on her face.
The emotions of the crews and the crowd combined with a thrilling race made this one of the most memorable of all Kings Cups.
The NSW crew wore black armbands to honour the memory of Francis Hegerty?s grandmother who passed away only two days before.
After the race a magnanimous Rowing Victoria President, Andrew Guerin, presented the traditional slab of beer to the winners and the crew posed for photos before returning to the boatsheds to catch up with family and friends.
To all members of the NSW Eight our club offers congratulations. To our club members of the winning boat for 2008 , Francis Hegerty, Matt Ryan, Fergus Pragnell and Terrence Alfred and cox Marty Rabjohns - well done and thanks for flying the colours of our State and club so high today.
To quote some of the NSW athletes after the race:
James Chapman (UTS) No 6: ?We treated this race with seriousness it deserves from day one and it is all worth it now."
Steve Stewart (UTS) Stroke ?The boat seemed to be bouncing around in the conditions and felt unstable as the pressure of the finish came on. I was concentrating on covering Victoria?s moves.?
Terrence Alfred (SUBC) No 6. (Terrence was 7 on stroke side and so was ?facing? away from all the other crews. ?I thought we were in a struggle with the Vics for second when we crossed the line. Marty was calling off the Vics and I was following Steve - I didn?t realize we had passed WA.?
Francis Hegerty (SUBC) "I looked across to the Victorians and saw them slumped in the boat and said "YESSS !!"