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The Gallagher Great Race on the Waikato River was run for the 11th year on Sunday (9th Sept). This year crews in the men’s and women’s eights were from Waikato University and Sydney and Queensland Universities. The day started with quite a bit of rain making things a little uncomfortable for spectators. In the women’s eight Sydney University led by Olympians Sally Kehoe and Sarah Cook took an early lead over Waikato. In this race it is important for crews to stay in close to the bank to avoid the 4 km per hour plus current that flows. At one stage Sydney got a bit wide off the bank allowing Waikato to make a push on the inside and take a lead which they held to the finish. Result: Waikato, Sydney and Brisbane.

The crews select their start positions based on the results of the erg challenge. Sydney won this and got first choice of lanes. After a few hundred metres the crews pass the buoys that define the start area and can move to either side of the river. Waikato and Sydney both started well but it was Waikato that eventually prevailed in the race for the bank and the preferred sheltered position. Sydney eventually had to make the decision to tuck in behind Waikato but cox Toby Lister impressed on his crew the need to stay close to Waikato and to be ready when and opportunity opened up. The crews crossed from the left to right bank after about one kilometre of the race with Sydney still close behind Waikato and Queensland in third. Sydney shadowed Waikato till the crews reached the final bridge about 1200 metres from the finish.

At this point Waikato decided to move along the right bank but Sydney cox Toby Lister ( Olympic Eight 2012) thought there would be better sheltered water on the left bank made a dramatic river cross and called for maximum effort from the Sydney crew. Sydney began closing the gap on Waikato even as they were crossing in the main current. Waikato countered by moving across but too late – as the crews came together back on the left bank it was Sydney who had the lead and consolidated this to over two lengths with 500 meters to row. Sydney now had the advantageous position and as they were second through the last bridge was able to finish on the bank. However a mis-communication from the umpire’s boat meant that Sydney thought with 200 metres to go they had to move to the centre station and finish within the centre buoys. Fortunately Sydney had built up a good lead and was able to move into the stream and still hold on to a handy margin finishing 7 seconds clear of Waikato University with Queensland in third place.

Sydney became only the second foreign crew to win the Harry Mahon Trophy since the race’s inception.

Waikato crew captain Richard Harrison said during the prize-giving that he was surprised by Sydney’s tactic of rowing such a large distance in the main stream of the river and believes Sydney’s ability to hold on for so long was the difference in the end. He added, “Strategically Sydney rowed a superior race and their sheer strength really showed.”