Czech Mate and "Choco" on top
Friday 24th March 2000This afternoon the warm-up event to tomorrow's Men's Boat Race took place on the Tideway in London. The Hackett Thames World Sculling Challenge was won by the two heaviest contenders: Byelorussian Ekaterina Karsten (nee Khodotovich) winning the Women's HTWSC trophy and Czech Vaclav Chalupa carrying off the men's after a sustained battle with last year's title holder, Iztok Cop from Slovenia. The women's race went first, lightweight Sarah Garner from the USA having drawn the more favourable Surrey station in the stiffish south-easterly cross-wind. Below Putney Bridge there was some confusion about which arch the scullers should go through, but they then aligned smoothly, and umpire Martin Levy got them off very smoothly on the free start beside the University Stone, which will mark the starting point for tomorrow's Varsity Boat Race. Garner dropped behind quickly, her lighter weight outgunned by the heavier power of Karsten and German Katrin Rutschow-Stomporowski. Karsten, rating high in her first few strokes, took a slight lead, but Rutchow had the better line along the moored boats beside Putney Embankment, and at Beverley Brook Karsten started to steer as if to cut right across the Fulham Flats. She corrected as she saw the Fulham FC ground appear, and it did her no harm as she settled into a steady rhythmic pace around the inside of the corner. Strong pushed-out finishes from the Byelorussian inched her steadily into a 2-length lead by the Milepost, and although Rutchow steered considerably better through Harrods Village, she could only sneak back a few feet, rowing shorter in the water. By this time Garner was well behind, steering undoubtedly the best line of the three, but to no avail. At Hammersmith Bridge Karsten jinked to bowside and seemed to be aiming for Chiswick Eyot, Rutchow following, but corrections were made and as the press boat left the race to return to the start, the outcome was clear.Karsten won in a time of 22:49, Rutchow seven seconds behind her, and Garner a further 34 seconds back. Christine Collins (USA), Garner's doubles partner, had been struck by 'flu as she arrived in Britain, and was unable to take part, although the "unbelievable" conditions made her extremely glad she was on the bank.
Rachel Quarrell reports from Thames Rowing Club
The start of the men's race was considerably less dignified: the four scullers went through Putney Bridge with no trouble but it then took a bellow from Peter Haining to remind Michal Vabrousek (Czech lightweight) that he needed to level his bowball with the others. Heavyweight Czech Vaclav Chalupa was beside him in the best Surrey-side lane, with American Aquil Abdullah next and last year's champion Iztok Cop in the least useful position of the draw. Finally they were off, rating 40 across the board and settling after a prolonged sprint into a rate of 30-32 along the Fulham Wall, with Cop sneaking an early lead but Chalupa and Abdullah hot on his tail. Umpire Greg Searle's flag was in action at once, waving hard to shift Cop away from Abdullah, as the two closed in towards the other scullers in an effort to find the best water. "I was pretty happy with the first bit", Searle said afterwards, "for a while I thought they were all going to crash into each other". The scullers responded swiftly, though, and they eventually negotiated the first minutes of the race and came out into the comparatively open area towards the Milepost with blades and hulls intact. All were slightly out of the stream by now, but the main concern was to keep Cop and Chalupa from boxing Abdullah in. This year two major changes had been made to the race: the scullers could go under any arch of Barnes Bridge, and they were able to overtake from any position, without returning to their stations first. By the Barn Elms boathouse, Chalupa had been having the best of the rough, and was sculling very sweetly, with Cop hitching the rate up to keep with him, and Abdullah behind having a little more trouble connecting and keeping his sculls clear of the choppy water. Again the lightweight had the worst of it, Vabrousek unable to stay up with the pack, but nevertheless sculling well and hanging just a few lengths behind, never giving up. The turn of the corner had again given the advantage to the inside sculler, and at this point Cop had showed a length or so ahead of Chalupa, but both washing Abdullah down quite badly, which brought out Searle's flag once more. By the Milepost Chalupa had regained a sniff of a lead, moved right onto the Surrey station, and Abdullah still in third was starting to have a little more trouble. "I got caught between [Cop and Chalupa], and tried to take an outside tack", he explained. "They got the stream, and went away." Not far, but it was enough, and the two leaders pushed each other on, rating a steady 30. Towards the Harrods wall, Cop stuck in a tactical burst of higher-rate work, which served to keep him with Chalupa but was unable to take him up before the long Surrey bend. The Czech was extremely comfortable now, sculling long and smoothly straight over any bouncy water and well within himself, a length and a half up. At Hammersmith the weather started to interfere, the wind creating very choppy white-capped waves which lasted right around past Chiswick Eyot up to Barnes Bridge. Either this or the tricky Tideway navigation prompted the scullers to head for the island, Vabrousek and Abdullah at one stage looking as if they would be taking a short gardening break or "do a Porter" (the Canadian fell in last year). The flatter water helped their technique, but meanwhile Chalupa and Cop were well out in front, the former extending his lead with some extremely impressive sculling, apparently undisturbed by the conditions. His margin was over two lengths at the Steps and extended steadily from there to Barnes, by which time he was eighteen seconds to the good and the race proper was over. All four scullers wisely took the inside arch of the railway bridge, and the conditions eased for the file mile, giving the two laggers a little heart and helping everyone pick up pace. But by now the damage was done, and short of a capsize the result was inevitable. Chalupa won in 21:44, Cop second in 22:03, Abdullah 22:12 and Vabrousek a very respectable 22:33. The Czech soldier who has reached the A final of every Worlds or Olympics in the last ten years had beaten the Slovenian policeman TWSC Champion of 1999 fair and square, and by dint of watermanship and skill in testing conditions.After the race, organiser and founder of the TWSC revival Peter Haining was bullish. "Fan-tastic. What a race. I wanted to be out there, especially in the rough water. I reckon the wee Scotsman would have had a chance...." GB trials beckon for Haining, who had to forgo the opportunity to add the Challenge to his Wingfields win this year when Giles Monnickendam had to bow out last week. A growing number of champions' names now share the trophy with Haining, but he remains very much in charge, along with his indefatigable wife Rachel, who did huge amounts of organising for this year's race.
The Hackett Thames World Sculling Challenge will be shown on BBC Grandstand on Saturday 25th March during the pre-Boat Race coverage.