This is Kate Bertko’s first year as a lightweight sculler, and she is making the most of the transition. Saturday, in the women’s championship singles at the Head of the Charles Regatta, Bertko sliced past a deep women’s field to claim the title with a course record.
Bertko actually survived a crash with New Zealand’s Emma Twigg by the Harvard Bridge and went on to win in 18 minutes, 33.02 seconds, bettering the previous record of 18:45.6, set by Virginia Gilder in 1982. Newton’s Gevvie Stone was second in 18:35.55, followed less than half a second later by Miroslava Knapkova, the 2012 gold medalist from London.
Stone, gunning for her fifth title and fourth straight, looked strong and smooth as she rowed past her home boathouse at the Cambridge Boat Club, but Bertko was hot on her keel and Stone couldn’t match the pace of the 29-year-old lightweight sculler from Oakland, Calif.
Bertko, silver medalist in this summer’s lightweight double sculls at the 2013 World Rowing Championships and, like Stone, a Princeton graduate, sizzled through the first third of the race, hitting the Riverside Boathouse split in 4:11.94, while Stone went past at 4:19.25. Twigg was fastest to the Riverside split (4:10.73), but was dead in the water after her collision with Bertko and couldn’t catch up. Bertko came to a stop as well, but recovered quickly.
“We had a little collision coming through one of the bridges,’‘ Bertko said. “You know, it’s a challenging course. We just got a little tangled up. I think the adrenaline kicked in right after that.’’
“I was being overtaken so it was probably my fault,’’ said Twigg, who started in the three position to Bertko’s four. “She was always catching me, so she was obviously going very fast.’’
Bertko said her electronic stroke rate machine stopped functioning before the race, “and that probably actually helped me because I probably kept going at a higher stroke rate.’’
Stone, who started in the first position, was disappointed. She drew so far away from Ursula Grobler, who started second, that she couldn’t judge where the rest of the field was, especially in the first mile.
Stone and Bertko know each other well from their days rowing at Princeton. “I never like losing,’’ said Stone. “Kate is the toughest rower I know, hands down. We’ve rowed together a long time. But you never like losing. Especially with the collision out there — she had a faster time today. I had a fast race and it wasn’t fast enough.”
In the men’s championship singles, defending champion Kjetil Borch of Norway, the world champion in double sculls, eased to victory in 17:12.31, 10.69 seconds ahead of Nils Jakob Hoff, his doubles partner, also setting a course record. The previous mark of 17:29.8 was set by John Bigelow in 1982.
Last year, Borch weaved his way to victory from the very last start position. This time, he started in first, and finished the same way, despite being full of antibiotics to combat an illness.
“The big difference is I don’t have to pass people,’’ he said. “You get the feeling you’re being chased. It’s not easier — I’ve only got one gear so I just have to push through real hard. I had no race rhythm.’’
New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2011 Head of the Charles champion, was third.
In the men’s championship doubles, Sam Stitt and Matthew Miller, rowing out of the first position, improved on last year’s second-place finish with a record-breaking win. Stitt and Miller raced the 3-mile course in 15:51:98, beating the course record of 16:01.2, set in 1992 by the Boston Rowing Center. Nick Trojan and Austin Meyer of the Cambridge Boat Club were second, 5.90 seconds back.
In the women’s championship doubles, Inge Janssen of the Netherlands and Magdalena Lobnig of Austria, who raced against each other in the singles event in the world championships this summer, teamed up to win in 18:00.13.