California coach Mike Teti likes to call this planetary paddle the Rose Bowl of rowing. Not that the football Bears can testify to that — it’s been eight decades since they’ve prevailed in Pasadena on New Year’s Day. And the men’s crew never had won at the Head of the Charles Regatta.
Cal filled in that blank emphatically on Sunday afternoon, outpulling the all-star Great Eight, national college champion Yale, and Harvard on the 3-mile upstream course to win the championship eight and shatter the course record by more than 31 seconds on a day when the first 11 finishers were under the old mark.
“We knew this boat was pretty good,” said Teti, whose crew was second the last two years. “Good enough to win? You don’t know. It depends on the other crews. But we knew for sure it was the fastest boat we’ve had the last three years here.”
Fast enough (13 minutes, 27.469 seconds) to demolish the mark that the US crew set here 20 years ago. Even then, the margin over the Great Eight’s amalgam of global scullers (rowing as Wairau RC) was less than three seconds with Yale less than four/10ths behind them.
“We knew it was going to be super-close,” said Bears stroke Joachim Sutton, whose seatmates had to wait more than an hour for the final results because of a technical malfunction. “We didn’t know anything, really.”
Neither did the women’s Great Eight (rowing as Sudbury RC), which doused one of the two US team entries by a dozen seconds in 14:48.423, obliterating by 38 seconds the standard set by the US boat a decade ago. “We thought we might have beaten them but we had no idea,” said stroke Gevvie Stone.
All they knew was that on a day that produced 16 course records that the winning time was going to be jaw-dropping. “The conditions were perfect,” said Stone. “There was no current and we had a tailwind the entire way. That [record] is not going to be broken for a while.”
The Great Eight, which collected its fourth crown in five years, became a less imposing favorite after three members, including Swiss world champion Jeannine Gmelin, came down with a stomach virus.
Two of them laced in gamely and Stone, who’d won her record eighth singles title on Saturday, replaced Austria’s Magdalena Lobnig. “Gevvie, thank goodness, could jump in,” said countrywoman Felice Mueller, who’d been second in the single. Said Stone: “There’s no boat I’d rather be a spare in. You have to say yes.”
The Great Eight muscled its way past Brown and Yale on the course but wasn’t sure how much of a margin it had on the two American boats (which placed second and fifth) or the Canadian group (fourth behind Washington), stocked with world silver medalists. “You just pull as hard as you can,” said Stone, “and make the boat go as fast as you can.”
That’s the only way to row a head race, where the victor is determined by elapsed time and where the fastest boat may be a couple of bridges downstream. When Cal’s men closed the gap on defending champion Washington at the Eliot Bridge they knew they were very much in contention.
“You don’t know what’s happening behind you but you know that Washington’s an excellent program,” said Teti, whose four finished second to the US boat. “So if you’re close to them and you’ve moved on them then it’s probably going to be a good result. We have severe respect for them. If we’re that close to them, then, OK, maybe we have a chance to win the whole thing.”
College crews triumph here more often than they once did. Since 2008 seven varsities have managed it, with Washington winning four times. This was a novelty for Cal and after coming a distant fifth at last spring’s IRA nationals after winning in 2016, the Bears wanted to make a statement here.
So they stacked the boat with the five men who’d rowed at last month’s world championships in Florida — Sutton (Danish four), Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk (Polish single), and Ferdinand and Rudolph Querfeld and Christoph Seifriedsberger (Austrian four) — and revved up the motor for a run for the Roses. “It’s really satisfying,” said Sutton. “We wanted to have a good season because the IRAs didn’t go how we wanted them to be. So it’s a good start.”
Photos from Sunday’s Head of the Charles activity: