It wasn’t Olympus and the medals, while elegant, are bronze. But what the sculling Great Eights wanted to declare, again, at the 50th Head of the Charles Regatta is that they can hop into the big boat and beat the sweep people at their own game.
“It was fun to prove that scullers can be up there on the podium,” Gevvie Stone concluded Sunday afternoon after the best two-oar pullers on the planet swept the men’s and women’s championship eights events, just as they did in their inaugural appearance in 2009.
Stone, the Newton native who won her fifth singles crown Saturday, stroked her collection of global goddesses to a whopping 20-second victory over the US Rowing boat that included five members of the crew that won a seventh consecutive world title this summer.
And their male counterparts, rowing as the Craftsbury Sculling Center with Croatian world titlist Valent Sinkovic stroking, knocked off by more than three seconds the Great Eight sweep bunch (a.k.a. Taurus Boat Club) that included seven Olympic or world medalists.
“Those were probably the eight best sweep rowers in the world and the scullers beat them, so we’ll take it today,” said Olympic singles champion Mahe Drysdale, who rowed in the first Great Eight. “But I’m sure they’ll be willing for a rematch. I don’t want to say too much because it might make them angry.”
Bragging rights around the boathouse are a side benefit of winning the Head, where for one day international rivals get to be seatmates and where countrymen and women can compete against each other. Stone went to London with her fellow Americans in 2012, but here her temporary band of sisters, racing under the Cambridge Boat Club’s ensign, included a Czech, a Lithuanian, an Australian, and a Dutchwoman.
Some had paired up and rowed against each other in Saturday’s championship doubles. Stone had raced against Kim Crow in the singles. On Sunday, Crow was sitting right behind her as the Great Eight zapped the Americans for the second year in a row, covering the course in 15 minutes, 44.79 seconds, the fastest time since the US boat set the course record of 15:26.572 in 2007.
Having a stroke and a coxswain who know the course by heart didn’t hurt. Erin Driscoll spent the last eight years on the Rivah, coxing for the Winsor School and for the Radcliffe lightweights, the reigning national champs.
“Erin steered a perfect course,” said Stone. “She nailed every single turn. And the power behind me in the boat was extraordinary.”
By carving the Weeks Footbridge, the Great Eight made up six seconds on the Americans between the Riverside and Weld checkpoints, going from nearly two down to more than four up. From there it was simply a matter of finding the swing and walking it in. Their male colleagues, who led by less than a second at Weld, had to labor longer to ensure their triumph, but having a coxswain was a delightful luxury.
“I think a lot of us were happy to get out of a single for a second and let someone else steer,” said bowman John Graves, the Yank who assembled the group.
With Peter Wiersum, who coxed the Dutch eight in Beijing, at the tiller, all the scullers had to do was pull. “We said, whatever we do today we do together,” said Drysdale, “and if we do that we’ve got power to burn in that boat.”
So the Great Eight pushed through the bridges and played it clean and savvy around the choppy corners, then motored down the final straightaway.
“When we crossed the line we said, look, that was a really good row,” said Drysdale, whose mates finished in 14:20.24. “Whatever the result we knew coming off the water that we’d done a good job.”
The scullers wouldn’t beat the sweep guys if they faced them in the Rio de Janeiro Games two summers from now, but they’ll have a conversational trump card during the upcoming winter and spring. New Zealand’s Hamish Bond, the Olympic and world champion who recruited the sweepers and who hasn’t lost an international race in six years, is Drysdale’s domestic rival.
“I don’t think he’ll count it against his international record,” figured Drysdale. “But I’m sure I’ll enjoy it for the next year just reminding him that the scullers were superior. He beat me in sculling over the last year, so I’ve probably really annoyed him now.”
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .