Report from the Head of the River, Putney, March 27th 1999.
The men's Eights' Head is the biggest club event of the spring racing season. Seven days before the Boat Race is run on its reverse course, the stalwart oarsmen of the rowing clubs of Great Britain take to the water and try to outshine their women, who raced a fortnight earlier, on the Championship Course.
The 1999 Race morning will have been a nervous one for many crews. Leander reported stroke Matthew Pinsent still out of action with an injured rib, putting Pete Gardner from Cardiff in his place, and the crew reorganised to move Richard Hamilton to stroke. Oxford Brookes University I had their lightweight world medallist Phil Baker ill, and already had Peter Haining rowing at five. Molesey I were also suffering, with Greg Searle still out of rowing shape, and keeping him out of the final line-up.
The hour before racing begins, the water is frantically busy around Chiswick and Barnes Bridges. Marshals dodge around crews in their launches, attempting to shepherd the wayward eights into some semblance of order. With the Head rowed on a strong outgoing tide, the water can pull crews fast onto bridge buttresses (and each other), and nobody wants to be just waiting in line, getting stiff and cold. So there are high entries doing their final 20 race-pace strokes, low entries just pushing off, and confused foreign crews wondering if they are in the right place. From the embankment by Barnes Bridge, it is a glorious sight, crews purposefully swinging along, the water level brim-full, just before the tide turns. Glorious weather it was, a slight westerly making it a tail for much of the course, with less of a "Harrods head-wind" than usual.
Leander looked superb, despite Matt's absence, but had to row in a vacuum for the whole course, the gap left by the London crew widening as the race progressed. Seven-man in pink, Steve Redgrave, had a grandstand view of the battle developing behind him, between London and Queen's Tower. London, fresh from last summer's victory in the Thames Cup, versus the GB national eight rowing in QT colours. Along the moored boats, QT cox Christian Cormack managed to squeeze the London crew out hard, well out of the stream, a trick the Notts County RA cox David Chung repeated on Molesey several lengths further back.
The upshot was that QT's GB eight beat Leander by one and a half seconds, despite the boys in pink racing at rate 37 for the last mile. Reasons of course are there, and the loss of Pinsent will indeed have weakened Leander, but at the end of the day Queen's Tower have their name in the record book, and the number one spot to play from next year.
Most impressive foreign crew was Gmunden RV (Austria), hauling up from 13th to 6th, and followed a few seconds later by Neptune from Dublin. Gmunden was intended to be the eight which had been beaten by the Cambridge Blue Boat a week earlier (see Regatta Online report), with some crew changes. The difference between the Austrians and Queen's Tower, who had raced Oxford's Blue Boat the same weekend, gave the Boat Race press pundits hours of speculation to ponder over. A large German entry this year also included Berliner Wiking, who finished tenth.
Top University honours were won by Oxford Brookes II, who also carried off the Senior 2 pennant and made it to 12th place, a gnat's whisker ahead of Zurich and nearly 5 seconds ahead of their real rivals, Imperial College. The Temple Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta this summer will be quite a battle. In the mean time, the University of London, starting 7th, plummeted to 20th, only just ahead of Molesey II.
Highest new entry was the orange-clad Lea, looking like refugees from a Tango advert, but finally putting to right their problems with entries and claiming 25th place. Not far behind were a crew who had occasioned great interest on the bank, Crabtree RC. Various GB and CUBC bits of kit under their race t-shirts, and an entry form including Pooley, Fowler and Alex Story as sub suggested that this London-based eight would be worth watching. They duly rose from 318th to 28th place in the rankings with a powerful row.
Hampton were the top schoolboys at 40th, with Abingdon 14 seconds behind. Oriel College, recently deposed from the Oxford Head of the River by Pembroke College, nevertheless turned in a good performance at 55th, coming in just behind the little-known club Holme Pierrepont RC, with experienced international cox Jonny Deakin steering. Leander II were the top second crew, steered by GB women's squad cox and Tideway expert Suzie Ellis, and finishing ninth.
Full results in finishing, alphabetical and event order are now up. The Rowing Service will be hosting last year's results from next week, for historical comparison (the files have currently been over-written).