Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The World Rowing Cup at Eton Dorney, June 23, 2013

The calendar said June but it felt more like October. Numb fingers are an occupational hazard of the football spectator but you don't expect them when the terns are fishing and the swifts are soaring above Eton Dorney's flower-lined 2km lake.

It was bad enough for the wind-lashed punters huddled in our layers, sipping hot tea and cowering under our blankets. It was even worse for the best rowers in the world having to negotiate conditions that at times looked more like a choppy North Sea than a lake in leafy Buckinghamshire.

The Chinese women double scullers were the most high-profile victims. They were neck and neck with the British pair in a dramatic race to the finish. The jumbo screen showed them edging closer and closer in the last few metres when disaster struck. One of them seemed to get a blade stuck in a wave. The boat stopped dead. The British pair of Frances Houghton and Victoria Meyer-Laker streaked ahead to claim gold. They may well have won anyway but the China crisis didn't do them any harm.

Gold for the British double scullers
It's part of the regatta experience that at times it feels like you've gone a long way to sit outside in front a giant TV. The boats whizz past in a flash - five or six minutes from start to finish. Sitting around the 500m mark you can pick out the start of the race with a good pair of binoculars then get a idea of who's in front as they draw near. You then rely on the commentators following the race in a car on the other side of the lake and the side-on shots of the finish to know who's won. If it's a British medal, the Dorney roar soon follows. There was a panicky moment on Sunday when the screen failed. It was like being at a football match in the fog and listening to the radio commentary.

Inbetween races the younger spectators kept warm by challenging each other on the indoor ergo rowing machines. The best efforts were rewarded with an essential Samsung-branded blanket. Others thawed out on the bouncy slide or by ducking under the merchandise tents to browse t-shirts and car stickers.

The mobile caterers were doing a roaring trade. The queues were constant for wood-fired pizzas, spicy wraps, donuts with chocolate sauce and luke warm tea for £2.20. The highlight was an outstanding breakfast muffin from the unfailingly cheerful team at the Original Fryup Material van (@OFMLondon) - £6 got you a sausage patty, fried egg and tangy sauce on a freshly baked pastry. The half-hour queueing time was well worth it.

The cheerful banter in the queues and among the crowd summed up the spirit of the event. The rowing community is a joyful place. Medal winners smiled and waved as they did a mini row of honour after their presentation ceremony and the elite athletes happily signed autographs as they mingled with the crowd. The lightweight men's pair debut gold medal winner Mark Aldred was even joshed by his pals for signing his first ever autograph for one young fan.

By the time we'd got back to our plastic chairs normal TV service was resumed in good time for the regatta finale. The Men's Eight delivered a pulsating battle between GB and Poland. it was nip and tuck right from the start, the lead seeming to change with each stroke. But the British ramped up the stroke rate in the final few metres to send the frozen crowd scurrying into the traffic jam for the M4 with frozen fingers, full-on heaters and cheery hearts.

Here's a link to a proper sports writer's summary of the event in The Guardian.


  1. David, great blog, and I confess to being guilty of joshing Mark Aldred.

    Great intiative by Nathaniel Reilly-O'Donnell and British Rowing to provide those activity pass cards for the kids though, gave them a legitimate excuse to ask the big names for autographs, I certainly saw Helen Glover getting mobbed!

    1. The cards were excellent. And a good way for parents to meet the athletes using the kids as an excuse!