The Sydney University Boat Club Women’s Eight last week competed in The Gallagher Great Race, for the Bryan Gould Cup. The Gallagher Great Race is a unique river race attracting high profile international universities to race into the current for 3.8km through the town of Hamilton in the Waikato Region of New Zealand. The Sydney crew was competing against host university Waikato, and Melbourne University. The Crew consisted of coach Esther Verberg, cox William Raven, stoke to bow, Olivia Ashby, Carina Simpson, Kate Pearse, Fiona Ewing, Lucie Holden, Laura Triggs, Candice Williams, Loren Parsons and reserve Rebecca Humphris.
The week included a number of activities to both promote the event and allow crews to enjoy the local attractions. Wednesday morning saw the crews were formally welcomed to the land by the local Maori, who own the land on which Waikato University resides, this ceremony is known as a Powhiri. This was a traditional ceremony, with many aspects, primarily to welcome crews to join the local ‘family’. The welcoming function was followed by a photo shoot of all crews on the lawn of the University. Wednesday night was the Gallagher Dinner, where all contributors and notable alumni were joined by the crews for a gala style dinner. All crews were required to perform a song and dance for the locals, Sydney University was noted as being the best performance, and as such was welcomed back onto the stage for an encore.
Thursday morning the international women’s crews were invited to have a go at the Avantidrome, home of track cycling in New Zealand. This was an interesting experience with the majority of the crew having ridden road bikes for rowing training, having to make the adjustments for a fixed gear bike. A notable performance was seen here by former Cyclist Laura Triggs. Thursday night was an important part of the weeks racing with crews competing in ‘The Ingham Hyundai and Schick Construction & Cartage Indoor Row’. This was a 500m sprint erg, with each competing crew split up into four pairs for the ergs. Sydney University had a very promising result on the erg, falling just short of the host crew Waikato, whilst comfortably defeating Melbourne University. The result of this erg meant that Sydney University would start on the Western Bank for Sundays race.
Friday and Saturday was full of training and last minute preparations for the race, including start practices with all crews together, in preparation for the live TV-coverage the crews were to be part of on Sunday.
The Gallagher Great Race has many aspects, including a festival style atmosphere with live entertainment running all day, all whilst crews compete in corporate, schools and finally the Universities races. This resulted in Sunday being a packed and busy day for all crews involved. The Sydney crew got off to a good start in the race, holding Waikato whilst on the inside lane, after the first and most crucial crossing, Sydney was only a few seats down on Waikato, with Melbourne sitting back in third. With the strength of the current, the crew decided to drop back and sit in behind the Waikato boat, whilst hugging the bank. Waikato attempted to play a tactical race, trying to force the Sydney crew to slow enough that they'd have to give way to Melbourne to come through on the inside run. Full credit to the Sydney gris must be given for sticking with Waikato through these early stages, allowing the Sydney crew to move clear of Melbourne. The race then became a procession with Waikato pulling out in front, Sydney hotly chasing, and Melbourne struggling to find form further back on the river. Due to the race rules, the leading crew gets a slight disadvantage having to pull into the stream for the closing stages, the Sydney girls were aware of this, and kept fighting through the middle of the race, with hope of chasing down Waikato in those final stages of the race. Unfortunately this was not to be, as Waikato has an extremely impressive middle section of the race, and had put too much distance between them and the chasing crews. The final result was a win to Waikato, Sydney in second, and Melbourne in third. The Sydney girls should be very proud of their performance, having closed the gap from the last few attempts at challenging for the Gallagher Great Race, whilst learning lots both technically and mentally on how to race, placing the entire crew in a good place to step up from as the summer season progresses.