Sydney Uni Women’s Eight Tour to Zhejiang Province , China – wins University Regatta

Sydney University Boat Club was recently very fortunate to once again, be invited to China. This trip saw a women’s 8+ travel to the eastern cities of Hangzhou and Quzhou to compete in the 2019 World Famous Campus Sports Series- River Rowing Race. The SUBC women returned victorious, claiming the championship titles in both the ‘Hangzhou- West Lake’ and ‘Quzhou Qujiang’ stages of the series. In addition, they claimed triumphs in the ‘Hangzhou indoor rowing championships’, receiving a gold in the 1min, 500m,1000m and 2000m relay, as well as, a bronze in the 1 min, and 2000m event.

Heading to Shanghai
Heading to Shanghai

Heading to Shanghai

This trip was especially anticipated for the attendees as it would be the first-time Sydney University sent a Women’s 8+ to China (China tours usually call for the women’s Quad 4x and Men’s 8+). The requirements were that the crew must consist of rowers currently studying at university.

So firstly, to introduce the crew:

Cox: Eliza Fessey

Stroke: Ella Mentzines

7: Wallis Russell

6: Kelly Drenth

5: Georgina Smith

4: Michaela Franz

3: Emma Jalalaty

2: Lucy Coleman

Bow: Bianca Gillett

Reserve: Zoe Haseler

and now, to report our adventures:

We arrived in Shanghai, China on the 5th of September, excited for the competition and adventure that awaited us. Generally, these tours are filled with surprises, information being lost in translation and a whole new dimension of cultural differences yet to be discovered. Our first obstacle, however, occurred on the 2hr bus ride to Hangzhou. The tire burst. It was an unfortunate but comedic situation that in no way foreshadowed what was to come. Eventually after a 3.5hr commute we arrived in Hangzhou surprised with an international cultural event being held in the city. This was the first insight towards how accommodating and excited the locals were to have us as their guests.

The following day we attended the Liangzhu Museum to learn about the rich history of Hangzhou. Hangzhou is specifically renowned for being one of China’s Seven Ancient Capitals and one of the most prosperous cities during the last millennium. It is also very appropriately known for West Lake, where the regatta would be held. West Lake is picturesque scene of classical beauty in China. As a UNESCO listed heritage site, the banks are lined with old willows and meticulously manicured gardens. Its beauty has been cemented in Chinese literature and the arts, acting as the muse for many poets and other artists.

Next came what we had travelled across the equator for: ROWING! By now we had discovered our competition. The Line-up consisted of: The University of Otago, The University of Pavia, University of London, XJTU, Tongji, JianLan and Zhejiang. We were given the opportunity to set our boats and familiarise ourselves with the course before the regatta commenced the next day. This was our crews 3rd row together.

Regatta Day:

Aware of our competition but totally unaware of their speed and skill, it was vital to come first in our heat. It would guarantee us a place in the A-final and allow us to avoid an extra race in the repechage. This was especially important considering a typhoon warning was looming over us, with the possible threat of cancelling the finals. In this circumstance the fastest time of the 2 heats would be declared the champion. We were determined and confident when pushing off the pontoon and setting out to achieve our goal: come first with the fastest time, and we did it. This immediately qualified us for the A-final where we secured a gold for our club in a time of 3:26.03 and took out the first stage of the tour!

The next day competition resumed but in a different form. We travelled to the Civic Centre Square where we would compete in the Indoor Rowing Championships, which were outdoors but on ergometers, so an indoor form of rowing…? There were 5 events: 1min, 500m, 1000m, 2000m and 2000m relay. Naturally, we were all very competitive and set out with the intention of doing well in all events and the results reflected this:

1minute: Gold- Ella Mentzines, Bronze- Georgina Smith

500m: Gold- Zoe Haseler, 5th- Lucy Coleman

1000m: Gold- Kelly Drenth, 7th- Emma Jalalaty

2000m: Bronze- Wallis Russell, 5th- Michaela Franz

2000m Relay: Gold- Wallis, Ella, Zoe and Kelly, 4th: Michaela, Georgina, Lucy and Emma

Never had we been so grateful for all the km’s and hours spent on the erg within regular training (don’t tell the coaches)

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Our time in the stunning city of Hangzhou had come to an end. We farewelled the city with a gala dinner experiencing all sorts of unique and interesting Chinese cuisine that diversified our palates.

The next destination was Quzhou, 3 hours south of Hangzhou. Quzhou was a smaller city known for being the dwelling of Confucius’ descendant in South China. The area is also surrounded by farmland with many citizens growing fresh and organic produce. Upon arrival, our first activity was to visit Jianfeng Village. This was an incredible experience as we could see a more authentic side of China. The ancient village was still populated by friendly and curious citizens, all braving the 35+ degree heat to say hello and show us their home. We were taken to Xu’s Ancestral Hall and presented a traditional opera. Whilst we watched the performance the residents watched us. It must have been a spectacle, over 50 ethnically diverse, tall, athletes visiting a remote village where much of the scenery was frozen in time.

The next day we were taken to Yaowangshan Mountain where we hiked through a lush green canopy towards towering peaks. The humidity was extreme at 95%, the temperature was over 30 degrees but nonetheless, a convoy of tourists trekked up the path towards the top. We crossed at least 5 small stone bridges, a waterfall and a swing bridge before being surprised with a glass floored bridge. It spanned the vast expanse of the canyon and allowed you to experience the sensation of walking on air with a totally uninterrupted view of the forest surrounding. But, It got better. We continued along the walkway expecting a long hike back down the mountain, only to find a glass bottomed slide, zig zagging down the hill side. “It went above and beyond our expectations” We spent that afternoon training and preparing for racing the following day.

Racing Round 2:

The competition in Quzhou was similar to the last: 1000m, hot humid conditions, slightly windy and a similar field of competitors. This time, however, we were placed in a heat with our closest competition: University of Otago. In the last regatta, they finished 5.5 seconds after us but we were aware they had every intention of improving this result and were hungry for a win. Regardless, we came out on top winning in a time of 3:27.39 and progressing immediately to the A-Final. In the A-final we carried out a similar result. With morale high and everyone set on finishing the tour strong, we raced hard and won in a time of 3:23.12. This was a great result to finish on and we were all very satisfied with not only our placing but also, the improvements we had made as a crew. We celebrated with another gala dinner where our hosts put on a magnificent show featuring singers, dancers and a mask changing act.

Our last day was spent participating in more cultural activities at the local middle school ‘Zhejiang No.3’ who were also one of the teams that we competed against. There, we were learnt Chinese calligraphy, participated in a music lesson and were shown some of the schools very talented aerobic athletes skills and routines. The trip concluded with a visit to a dairy pasture where we were treated to a banquet of local dishes made with fresh produce from the surrounding areas.

Once again, we returned to Australia and to the home of rowing, Sydney University Boat Club. We were not only enriched with hard fought victories but also rare cultural experiences. China tours are so unique and educational because they teach you to race hard and be adaptive in a totally foreign environment. They strip you of all that is familiar and simplify the sport to a competition where skill and determination are the main factors required to win. The women’s 8+ is very grateful to have been given this opportunity. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and hope to be invited back again!