His weather beaten face and relaxed demeanour belie one of Sydney’s hardest working rowing masters. Mick Smith is a former national lightweight oarsman and winner of the Interstate Penrith Cup in the 1990’s who after five years in charge at Sydney Grammar has engineered their first Head of the River win in 32 years. The last winning Grammar eight in 1978 was coached by Rusty Robertson who later coached Mick at elite level and so forms the connection between today’s great win and the dominating performance of the 1978 crew.
When congratulated after the race Mick, in typical fashion, said the credit went to his great coaching team. Steve Stewart, dual Olympian (2004, 20080), bronze medallist 2004 and winner of two King’s Cups for NSW brought his considerable experience to this coaching role.
Despite Shore’s dynamic win at the National Championships three weeks ago Sydney Grammar started as the highest seeded crew and favourites ahead of the Shore School. Newington, who had shown good recent form at the nationals and in local regattas, were also considered contenders,
Penrith produced a cool autumn morning for the running of the 114th AAGPS Head of the River with a moderate southerly cross breeze. This was expected to freshen but moderated as the morning went on and excellent conditions greeted the first eights as they lined up at 11.50 am
Shore, on the grandstand side, in lane 6, and Newington in lane 4 began strongly with the apparent intention of unsettling Grammar and other crews. Rating strongly Newington was first to the 500 just 0.4 seconds ahead of Shore and another 0, 4 to Grammar. It was already clear that the three favoured crews were going to contest the prize.
As the crews settled it was clear Grammar had the best of the mid race pace and moved into a narrow lead at the 1000 metre just ahead of Shore and Newington. In the third 500 Grammar applied the pressure and moved out strongly on the leading crews opening up three quarters of a length lead. With their black zooties and blades contrasting strongly with their yellow boat to create their school colours in equipment as well as uniform the Grammar crew moved to put the race beyond doubt. The Shore School were pushing hard to bridge the gap and did manage to cut the margin as they pushed back into second ahead of Newington but this was a strong and well drilled Grammar crew and this was to be their year – breaking a 32 year drought in the Major Rennie Trophy they pushed up to the line in 5m 55.7, two seconds clear of Shore, another 0.8 back was Newington who held out a fast finishing St Ignatius in a photo for third.
Then followed Scots, St Josephs, Kings and Sydney High.
In the second eights it was convincing win for Newington. They moved into the lead in the second 500 never looked threatened and won by just over a length. St Ignatius finished second for the second year running with Scots third. The Newington crew was coached by Rowing NSW Director and former national oarsman Steve Handley. Steve is also Chair of the Rowing NSW Competition Commission.
In other events Kings School dominated winning the 1st, 2nd and 4th Fours, the 3rd Eights and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Year 10 eights – quite a remarkable effort. Scots took out the 3rd Fours and St Ignatius the 4th Year 10 eight.
The 114th GPS Regatta will be remembered as the day Grammar broke through in the major race and Kings dominated the fours and the year 10 boats.