It had been a summer of fantasy and fulfillment for her, winning the Olympic silver in the single sculls in Rio de Janeiro. On Saturday afternoon as the leaves were falling on her home river Gevvie Stone capped her career with yet another autumnal triumph at the 52nd Head of the Charles Regatta, claiming a record-tying seventh victory in the women’s championship single.
“It was so special because this might be my last Champ Single,” said the 31-year-old Newton native, who’ll start her medical residency in June. Her first title also came in an Olympic year (2008), when Stone wasn’t quite sure whether she wanted to commit herself to elite rowing. Since then she has made two Olympic teams and established herself as the Queen of the Rivah.
If this indeed would be her final shot at the Head’s biggest individual crown Stone wanted to make it memorable. “Give it a great one,” her father/coach Gregg urged her before she shoved off.
So Stone did, powering away into clear water at the start of the twisting 3-mile upstream pull and leaving a bunch of Olympian pursuers behind, beating countrywoman and three-time world medalist Stesha Carle by nearly 40 seconds in 19 minutes, 15.6 seconds. “I didn’t want to leave anything to chance,” she said. “I went for it.”
Stone also was going for a place in the record book. Only Anne Marden, also an Olympic sculling silver medalist, had won seven crowns, collecting them between 1986 and 1993. “I knew she had seven,” said Stone. “It was definitely in my head.”
Stone had been so dominant on the Charles and her knowledge of the tortuous turns and whimsical winds so extensive that her top two potential challengers, Olympic champion Kim Brennan of Australia and former world titlist Emma Twigg of New Zealand opted instead for what Twigg dubbed the “Antipodean double.” They meshed nicely, dunking Austria’s Magdalena Lobnig and Ireland’s Sanita Puspure by nearly a dozen seconds in 18:08.7.
Norway’s Kjetil Borch, who’d won bronze in the Olympic double with Olaf Tufte, opted to go solo this time and won his third laurels in the men’s single, outracing US rival John Graves by 10 seconds in 18:26.4 with Croatia’s Damir Martin, the Games silver medalist, in third.
With Rio in the rear mirror it was a welcome chance for the Olympians to mix and match, as they’ll do again Sunday afternoon when they’ll be Great Eight seatmates in the championship events. Stone will stroke the Cambridge Boat Club entry that will include six of the top seven scullers from the Games while five medalists from four events, including sculling champ Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand, will make up the men’s combo racing as the West End Rowing Club.
Drysdale could have chosen to go for a fourth individual crown here but he was looking for a fresh challenge so he teamed up with Tufte in the double. It was a loaded field that included defending champs Sam Stitt and Willy Cowles, three-time victors Tom and Peter Graves, and Olympic lightweight medalists Gary and Paul O’Donovan.
But the winners were two guys from the Penn AC who weren’t even on the betting board. Justin Keen, who was fourth at the Olympic single trials, and New Hampshire native Erik Frid, the “Frid Kid,” came out of the distant 19th slot to prevail by nearly six seconds over James McRae and Julien Bahain in 16:58.9 and by more than 15 over Drysdale and Tufte.
They’d teamed up this summer in the Schuylkill Navy quad that upset holder Leander in the Prince of Wales Challenge Cup at Henley and stayed in Philadelphia to train. They were were wait-listed for the championship single in the Head but were offered a spot in the double. “We said, OK, so be it,” said Keen.
So they tuned up at last week’s Navy Day Regatta on the Schuylkill and figured that they’d take a darkhorse shot against the global aces. “It was tough out there but we did the best we could,” said Keen. “When we finished we thought, we’re probably not going to win but at least we’ll get our bib back for next year. We were pretty shocked when the results came in. I guess we’re stuck in the double now.”
Keen and Frid have earned the first starting spot for next year, with nothing but geese upstream of them. Stone knows all about the advantage of getting to see all of your pursuers behind you. That’s her privilege again for 2017 if she wants it. If not, this was a lovely one to quit on.